White Knighting and Other Argument Techniques
“White knighting” is what is called a “thought-terminating cliche”. A TTC is essentially a word or phrase of a short that is used to shut down thought, or quite often dissent. Even if you don’t have a counterargument, you can always rely on a TTC, and if the public is already on your side, then you have won. Once you understand the concept, you’ll start to see TTC’s everywhere. In every debate, on every side.
The Internet is especially bad. There’s “You’re just offended”, and “That’s racist!”, and “That’s political correctness gone mad!” (see what I say about both sides?), “Hater/hating on”, etc. “White Knight” is a TTC used for when someone is viewed as ruining someone else’s fun, when that fun is harmful to other people. Whenever someone says “Stop being a white knight”, that is slang for “Hey, stop telling me to stop being immoral; it’s causing me cognitive dissonance.”
There is a valid use of “white knight” of course. For example, when someone is being way too protective over a girl (where one’s protection is not necessary and overbearing) in the hopes that the girl will send him nudes in thanks. But the word has been expanded to mean “Anyone who has ever argued for morality over being dicks” so much, that it’s not even worth using the word anymore, even in valid contexts. It’s ruined, in my mind.
Worst thought-terminating cliche? Excusing something crappy you do with “Life’s unfair.” Just screw you if you ever use that.
Similarly, there are words that are known as “curiosity stoppers” or semantic stopsigns. Just like TTCs, CSs shut down thought.
Back before we understood as much as we do about the world, there were various theories floating about that we now known to be bunk. One such theory was the Phlogiston theory which was an attempt to explain processes of burning such as combustion and the rusting of metals, which are now collectively known as oxidation.
If you asked “Why do things burn?” they’d say “Phlogiston!” and you’d stop looking for the real answer. Of course, one didn’t use phlogiston theory to predict the outcome of a chemical transformation. You looked at the result first, then you used phlogiston theory to explain it. It’s not that phlogiston theorists predicted a flame would extinguish in a closed container; rather they lit a flame in a container, watched it go out, and then said, “The air must have become saturated with phlogiston.” You couldn’t even use phlogiston theory to say what you ought not to see; it could explain everything.
This was an earlier age of science. For a long time, no one realized there was a problem. Fake explanations don’t feel fake. That’s what makes them dangerous.
Today, if you ask “Where did the universe come from?” some people might say “God!” And to them, that answer is sufficient. But saying “God!” doesn’t so much resolve the question, as put an end to the obvious question and answer chain.
The transhuman technologies — molecular nanotechnology, advanced biotech, genetech, Artificial Intelligence, et cetera—pose tough policy questions. What kind of role, if any, should a government take in supervising a parent’s choice of genes for their child? Could parents deliberately choose genes for schizophrenia? If enhancing a child’s intelligence is expensive, should governments help ensure access, to prevent the emergence of a cognitive elite? You can propose various institutions to answer these policy questions—for example, that private charities should provide financial aid for intelligence enhancement—but the obvious next question is, “Will this institution be effective?”
If we rely on product liability lawsuits to prevent corporations from building harmful nanotech, will that really work?
I know someone whose answer to every one of these questions is “Liberal democracy!” That’s it. That’s his answer. If you ask the obvious question of “How well have liberal democracies performed, historically, on problems this tricky?” or “What if liberal democracy does something stupid?” then you’re an autocrat, or libertopian, or otherwise a very very bad person. No one is allowed to question democracy.
Additional, good information for reference is Semantic Stopsigns.
What if history has already been heavily edited by the meddlings of time travelers?
Most people would say this is preposterous. They would point to the Nazis, the Rwandan genocide, the terrors of Mao, etc. and say why would someone with the ability and will to control history allows such evil to exist?
We see the terrors that have existed, and we see them as ultimate evil. Yet we don’t see and consider the terrors that our timeline was blessed enough never to encounter.
As I alluded to, the butterfly effect makes any historical revision essentially random. You change the past by merely stepping into it. Travel to 1900, and your very presence there will disturb minute air currents, thus completely changing history’s weather. This alone will completely change all of history when you travel to a point significantly far in the past.
As such, temporal modification isn’t an exact science. Hell, it’s not even an art. It’s just going back and hitting a great big “reset” button in the hope that the timeline that results is better than the one that you came from. You re-roll the cosmic dice and hope for a better outcome.
What if our timeline is actually one of the best possible timelines out there?
This sounds unlikely, but think of the twentieth century. The twentieth century saw the end of colonialism and the introduction of truly historic weapons, weapons capable of decimating the entire human population in a matter of hours.
How have often have chemical weapons been used? How often have biological weapons been used? How often have nukes been fired in anger? Compared to every other weapon that has ever come before, these unholy tools of mass death have been used incredibly rarely.
We don’t think about biological weapons much, but American and Soviet scientists cooked up some pretty nasty stuff back in the day. Artificial diseases that make smallpox look like the common cold. Yet these weapons have never been used at all.
Sure, we had Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, but the damage could have been a lot worse. Hell, World War Two, as horrific as it was, didn’t even reduce the total human population. Even as Stalingrad was raging and Auschwitz was running at full capacity, natural global population growth was still canceling out these horrific atrocities.
What about the conflicts we didn’t see?
The first obvious one is the US-Soviet Cold War. In numerous timelines, the Cold War ended with a nuclear exchange of 10,000+ hydrogen bombs, chemical weapons, and plague-tipped missiles. In numerous timelines the USA, the USSR, and their allies suffered 95% population loss from the blasts themselves, radiation sickness, famine, and social collapse.
Another obvious one is if the Germans had won World War Two. Maybe Hitler can finish off Britain before attacking the USSR. Maybe he can somehow invade the USSR first before invading Poland, portraying himself as a grand crusader against Communism. Without a two front war, Nazi Germany takes over continental Europe, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Instead of the Holocaust being remembered as the murder of 12 million Jews and others, it’s remembered as annihilation of 200 million Slavs, Russians, and Eastern Europeans. The Jewish deaths are but a footnote.
On even more divergent timelines, atrocities not even comprehensible on our timeline occur.
For instance, imagine a timeline without the world wars. Instead of being smashed as anachronisms, the ideas of colonialism, white superiority, and nationalism only continue to grow. Instead of the British empire disintegrating, they use the full fury of modern technology to preserve their empire.
The Indian independence movement, championed by Ghandi or someone like him, isn’t met with reluctant acceptance. Instead, the British decide to simply annihilate the “rebelling savages.” In our 1950, this is inconceivable. In an alternate 1950, 400 million Indian civilians are brutally murdered in British VX nerve gas attacks. Survivors are rounded up and taken to death camps very similar to those of our Nazis. The empty subcontinent is then repopulated by settlers from the rest of the Empire.
What about the great French vs Russian Empire War of 1978? In this timeline, the Tzars never fell and Russia modernized. Additionally, Germany never unified and the three major continental powers are France, Russia, and the still present Ottoman Empire. In this war, both sides refine their biological weapons. A cold war develops that eventually becomes hot. The multiple horrific plagues released from by both sides don’t stay within French and Russian borders. They spread across the globe and wipe out 99.6% of all human life on Earth. It’s like the post-Columbian introduction of European diseases to the New World, but on a global scale, with all the speed of modern transport.
What about the timeline where Japan never allies with the Nazis and attacks the US? In 1947, the Japanese Empire, tired of fighting an endless guerrilla war against the Chinese resistance, decides to take a cue from the Nazis and just flat out exterminate the entire Chinese population. With the US committed to isolationism and all other powers occupied in Europe, the Japanese have free reign in China. Death toll? 600 million innocent Chinese, Mongolians, and Vietnamese in Japanese gas chambers.
What if our timeline is literally one in a billion? What if our timeline, for all its horrors, is really one of the best possible outcomes? Compared to the global mass death that could have resulted, we actually got off very, very lucky.