Thursday, June 21, 2018

Ignorance and responsibility

You can well imagine, with my strong views on immigration and on attachment, that I've been pretty upset lately learning about the children separated from their parents at the border.  I'm glad the automatic separation policy has been revoked, but detention as a family is still pretty bad, and what is really needed is for their asylum claims to be heard promptly.

Anyway, let's take it as given that I have a strong opinion here.  And naturally I have felt very angry at those who defend the policy.  What has got to be wrong with a person's conscience that this doesn't bother them?

Well, I don't like to rush to judgment so I went looking for where my friends on that side have been getting their information.  Perhaps there's some justifiable explanation, you know?

So I read the DHS "myths" page that a friend-of-a-friend shared.  And I read this article on Breitbart, which paints child detention as a happy daycare that citizen children would be lucky to be sent to.  And it's true, both are masterpieces of propaganda which take careful research to break down.  If you read only those, and nothing else, it makes sense that you'd think people are being hysterical by fussing about this policy.  After all, our country isn't actually ripping children from their parents' arms!  It's rescuing children from human traffickers and keeping them in palatial residences, on the taxpayer dime.  Who could be against that?

Obviously this stuff can also be debunked.  You could read any of these posts:
WaPo: The facts about Trump's policy of separating families at the border
Slate: How the Trump administration defends its indefensible child separation policy
ACLU: The Bogus Reasons ICE Uses to Lock Up Asylum Seekers
Texas Monthly: What's Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families Are Separated
Slate: District Court Judge Denounces Forced Child Separation as “Brutal” and Clear Constitutional Violation
Aplus: DHS Called These "Myths" -- But Are They?
I understand why people don't feel as much trust in the ACLU or WaPo as they do in Breitbart.  Somehow they feel Breitbart is on their side and the others are "liberal." I disagree, but I understand.

But at some point I have to say, you're responsible for what you believe.  You're responsible for educating yourself.  Catholic teaching believes in vincible and invincible ignorance -- ignorance you can overcome versus ignorance that's not your fault.  If you aren't allowed access to the internet and all you hear is conservative talking points, I'll acknowledge that your ignorance isn't your fault.  But if you have an internet connection, you could find out.  It's just that people don't want to.

I admit, usually I'm a lot more tolerant of this kind of thing.  We do our best, there are so many blockages to people finding the truth about anything, when we know better, we do better.  But one of the big blockages to finding out the truth is this fallacy: that you're not responsible for what you believe.  That if you already believe a thing, you have zero responsibility to question that because, after all, you think it's true so why would you?

I have to disambiguate a bit here, because I know people are going to be shouting (if they actually pay attention to what I write) "But you say that belief is not a moral choice, that you automatically believe what the intellect presents to you as true!"  And yes, this is true.  But it is a moral choice to investigate in order to find the truth.  It is a choice to set the standard of proof on a level that true things are likely to pass and false things are likely to fail.  There is a right and a wrong way to go about finding the truth, and people all too often pick the wrong way.

Consider the way you react when a big story hits the news.  The natural pull is to do the following: first, you have a reaction based on whether the story confirms or challenges your worldview.  Your brain really doesn't like changing its mind, so it reacts defensively when the story challenges your viewpoint.  You immediately -- barely on a conscious level -- start trying to refute the claims in the story.  Is there a flaw somewhere, anywhere, you can latch onto?  You open another tab and go looking for another article that claims to debunk the first.  But this second article, you don't react defensively to at all.  If there are flaws or holes, you ignore them, because the story seems so obviously true you don't need them.

I know because I do this all the time.  I work really hard to try to stop it, because that's no way to find out the truth about anything, but it takes real effort to go looking for counterarguments for something I want to believe, or take seriously an argument I don't want to believe.  Some people don't make that effort.  Maybe they think it would be wrong to make that effort, because it betrays their "team."  I'm not sure.

All I know is, people not knowing the truth is one of the major forces for evil in the world.  People aren't evil enough to make all the evil we see on purpose.  Instead, they create that evil through ignorance, and no one confronts the evil because of further ignorance.  We always used to ask, "How did the Holocaust happen?  How did the Germans agree to gas the Jews?  How did no one else stop them?"  But we know the answer, I think.  The answer is that people chose to believe it wasn't that bad or wasn't happening at all.  The government had soothing answers, like that Jews were just being sent somewhere else, somewhere pleasant, where gentiles should be so lucky to go -- and on the taxpayer dime!  Rumors of the camps had reached America, and Americans said, "That's ridiculous.  That's overblown.  That can't be happening."  So they turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees, afraid that Communists might be sneaking in on those boats.  It was a terrible thing to do, but they did it based on the information they believed.

But why did they believe that information, rather than the truth?  I guess because they had a preference.  It's hard to find the truth when you strongly want one answer to be true.  And people don't wind up asking the crucial question, "What is true?"  Instead they ask, "Is there a way this can be false?"  When you approach a news story or any other source with the plan to debunk it, you aren't seeking truth.  You're defending yourself from truth.

So you know what?  I'm done excusing bad behavior on the grounds of ignorance.  If somebody, say, denies their child a blood transfusion on the grounds of religion, I'm through with saying, "Well, it's their belief."  Those are terrible beliefs, seriously, they don't ever worry about whether they are false?  You have a responsibility to check if your beliefs are true.  Even if you were raised with them.  Even if you have heard a lot of positive arguments and the only negative arguments were weak ones brought up in apologetics class.  The main responsibility still lies with the leaders of that religion, but everyone who is a part of it also has the responsibility to check it for themselves before they do morally questionable things.  If you make an error in reasoning, I will try to understand, but if you don't even try because you think your beliefs aren't your responsibility?  I'm going to judge the heck out of that.  Because I've heard that a lot of times and I'm getting tired of it.

I'm also done with people who comb through dozens of websites to find one rare tylenol side effect, but explain away side effects of "natural" teething tablets or adult aspirin because they like those treatments.  At some point you've got to notice you're trying to confirm your own biases.  I know because I've done it.  At least have the humility to recognize that you could be wrong, so don't pass yourself off an as expert all over the internet on every topic you read a couple of articles about.

I'm done with people who yell FAKE NEWS at anything they disagree with, and then pass around sketchy unsourced stuff without factchecking it.  You get a pass on the first time, because you didn't know, but after you've seen it debunked and the promised FEMA internment camps didn't show up, then you know you made an error and it's on you to tighten up your standards.

I'm done with people who look at rape victims cross-eyed because "they can't proooooove they were raped" -- except for Juanita Broaddrick and a few choice others, whose assailants you don't like.  Are you unaware that you accept eyewitness testimony for a million other things every day?  When do you start to notice the double standard?  Why is "can't be certain, but he probably did it" abandoned for "you can't prove it so it didn't happen" the second it's a rape case?

And I'm angry at those who defend the splitting up of families.  I'm not just angry at Trump, Sessions, and the rest who dreamed up this policy and know what they are doing.  I'm also angry at all the people who refuse to even entertain the idea that their heroes could be doing something wrong.

Seriously, people.  Make an effort to be objective.  Be skeptical of the things you want to believe as well as the things you don't want to believe.  Ask yourself, "What is the truth, and how can I find it?  What is a method that is likely to reveal the truth?  If I am wrong, how will I know?  What are the risks to being wrong?  How sure am I?"

Because at this point, I'm beginning to think that the root of evil is actually ignorance.  And a lot of that ignorance is willful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Enriched dough and the things it makes

The other day I got a compliment from a friend on my chocolate rolls.  Of course I was very chuffed.  (My feelings on baking have to be expressed in British-isms, because of British Baking Show.)  So I thought I'd share the recipe for the dough, plus a few of the different things I've made out of the same dough.

Chocolate couronne

Simple bread dough is just flour, water, salt, and yeast.  That makes a nice fluffy bread, but when you want sweet rolls, you add different ingredients to enrich the dough: butter, milk, eggs, and/or sugar.  That makes a very soft bread that doesn't form a hard crust on the outside, and pairs well with toppings like cinnamon or chocolate.  Here's my recipe:

Enriched Dough

1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) yeast
3+ cups all-purpose white flour

Mix together everything but the flour.  I like to warm up the milk and melt the butter before adding them, but it's important not to get it so hot it kills the yeast.  Just warm is fine.  That'll speed up the rise a bit.

Add in three cups of flour and mix it well.  This probably won't be enough flour, so keep adding more as you mix -- probably with your hands at this point.  Once it's come together as a big lump of dough, turn it out on a floured counter and start to knead.  Keep sprinkling flour if it's still very sticky.  Knead about eight minutes or until it feels smooth and only a little bit sticky.

Enriched dough can rise a little slower than plain dough.  Cover it tightly and leave it in a warm place for at least an hour.  An hour and a half is better, unless it's already rising out of the bowl before then.  At this point you can refrigerate it, tightly covered, if you're not going to bake it today.  Otherwise, shape into whatever shape you want and leave for half an hour.  Preheat the oven to 350 and pop it in.  How long to bake it depends on the shape, but it should be golden brown on top and not squishy on the sides.  Rolls will be done within 20 minutes, but a loaf will be a good bit longer.

Cherry kolache

So what do I make out of it?  Donuts are a big hit -- just fry instead of baking.  Cinnamon rolls are good -- roll it out into a rectangle, spread butter and sugar inside, roll it up, and slice into individual rolls.  You can also do the same thing with other fillings, like jam or Nutella.  Couronne, babka, and kolache can be made with the same dough.

What I'm making today is a very easy kind of stuffed bread.  You just roll out the dough in a rectangle, spread filling in the middle, and fold in the sides.  You do need to cut some slashes in the top so that steam can escape.  I've used a variety of fillings from sliced apples to pie filling.  Today I'm doing cream cheese and cherry pie filling, because I'm a lily-gilder apparently.

Just roll it flat, add fillings...

...fold and slash some vents...

...let it rise, and bake for forty minutes or so.

Be sure to cool it down before you slice it, or the fillings will all spill out!

If you try my recipe, I'd love to hear what you make and how it works for you!

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