Friday, September 28, 2007

Dennis Prager's Alternate Political Reality: Another Conservative confuses conjecture with data

You have to love reading opinions from other planets. Today’s gem comes from Dennis Prager, who attempts to make the case that conservatives are somehow more interested in truth than are liberals. But as is too common with political commentary today, speculations are substituted for facts, and differences in opinion are misrepresented as denials of reality. Here is how Prager sets up the comparison:

”In the hierarchy of leftist (as opposed to traditional liberal) values, truth is below other values, such as equality, opposition to war, the promotion of secularism and a number of other highly regarded values on the left. This does not mean that the number of truth-tellers among individuals on the left is necessarily smaller than the number of individual truth-tellers on the right. It means that truth-telling is not high on the left's list of values…

Leftist denial of what is true is so widespread that we have a term for it, political correctness. There is no comparable right-wing political correctness, i.e., denying truths so as not to offend right-wing values or certain groups. “

You’ve got to be kidding me. This is classic cherry-picking. Prager lists areas where leftists might fudge or ignore reality, but does not perform a similar examination of the right, where such issues abound: sexual abstinence, AIDS as a gay disease, creationism, supply-side economics, and global warming denial are but a few examples one can list without much difficulty. All are pandered to by conservative politicians so as to not offend the Religious Right, a group to which Prager, not coincidentally, belongs.

Prager then lists some good examples of leftist ideology getting in the way of good science, such as the attachment to the Blank Slate theory of human cognition, a view demolished by current evolutionary psychological studies, and which leads some left-leaning academics to have difficulty, at least in their public pronouncements, dealing honestly with the differences between men and women, or different cultures. But Prager can’t leave well enough alone and again leads with his chin into an area no one claiming the innocence of the right should go: textbooks:

” A prime example of the left's view of truth is its changing the goal of high school American history textbooks from telling truth to promoting self-esteem among minority and female students by depicting more women and more non-whites in American history textbooks.”

I would be curious to see some specific examples of what Prager is talking about here. It is telling that he provides none. Does he mean that textbooks are saying things that are incorrect to further this agenda of self-esteem? Or is he merely complaining about a choice of emphasis? If the latter, he would be guilty of confusing a factual difference with a difference of subjective opinion as to which stories are worth focusing on, and why.

It is even further telling of his ideological blindness that he would bring up textbooks as evidence for all-lefty denialism theory, because there is no greater fraud attempted via textbooks than the right’s constant attacks on evolution, as solid a science as any, and far more solid than any differences Prager might have with history texts. In the evolution/creation battles, it is about factual content, not subjective differences of opinion on emphasis, and it is the right-wingers that fall squarely in the “truth is below other values” camp.

I have a standing challenge which I will repeat here: Let Prager or any other conservative show an issue where the left-wingers deny objective reality as defined by the scientific, philosophical, or whatever other intellectual authority exists. None has been forthcoming. All they point to are subjective issues where they treat the leftist views as objectively wrong when in fact the issues are still very much debated. Take Prager’s next example:

”Currently, the most widely repeated lie of the left is that President George W. Bush lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. It is repeated so often ("Bush lied, people died") that many Americans now believe this. But it is not true. There were valid reasons for anyone to believe that Saddam Hussein had WMD. Saddam had used them in the past; he refused to allow unfettered inspections; he was the major foreign sponsor of Palestinian terror; and most important, virtually all Western intelligence agencies believed Saddam had WMD.”

All well and good, but completely beside the point. Prager does not know, for a fact, that Bush told the truth. Sure there were facts in evidence that could have led a reasonable person to conclude Saddam had WMDs. There is also the fact that there were no WMDs. Neither tells us what Bush knew, and whether he was truthful when he made the claims he made. It all depends on how one distributes credibility to the various facts. Again, Prager is confusing a difference of opinion with a difference of a factual nature.

Prager finishes with a token gesture or even-handedness, but again, what he leaves unsaid exposes his bias:

”This does not mean the right is always honest. For example, conservatives who say that ‘pornography causes rape’ are doing what the left does -- putting their agenda, in this case a loathing of pornography, above truth-telling. I have seen no credible statistics linking the proliferation of pornography with increased rape.”

Glad to hear it Mr. Prager. I wonder if you would be willing to be so candid as to admit the complete lack of credible statistics to back abstinence sex education programs, or the Right’s criticisms of condom use, evolution, and global warming? Will you be up front about the complete lack of credible data behind the Right’s rabid support of education vouchers, the Laffer curve, or the drug war? There is nothing, nothing, in the mainstream of the Democratic party to match the denial of reality found in the mainstream of the Republican party. One cannot rightly compare differences of political opinion with scientific fact, and by doing so, Prager gives up any pretense he had to intelligent objectivity on such issues.


Anonymous said...

"Sure there were facts in evidence that could have led a reasonable person to conclude Saddam had WMDs. There is also the fact that there were no WMDs. Neither tells us what Bush knew, and whether he was truthful when he made the claims he made."

Everything you said in the above statement is correct, and I am willing to bet Dennis Prager would agree. What you fail to understand is that if one, as you yourself admit, does not know whether the president was truthful, to assert as factual that he lied is not merely an opinion, as you suggested, it is, in and of itself, a lie. If one stated, "I believe the president lied, and because of it people died," then you would be correct to categorize it as opinion. However, an assertion as fact without evidence is a lie unless proven otherwise. Moreover, the onus of proof is upon the accuser, not the accused. Otherwise, it would be fair to call anyone a liar, claim it as fact, and never be called upon for proof, while simultaneously rejecting supporting evidence to the contrary. It's dishonest and lazy.

ScienceAvenger said...

You are playing semantic games and confusing the issue with what should be clear definitions of the words in question. A lie is a falsehood told with knowledge. Making an assertion without knowledge of its truth isn't a lie. It's an unsupported assertion. Were I to adopt your view I could rightly accuse Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and just about every right-wing shill of being a liar, since they rarely demonstrate any knowledge of the trith. Tacking on "I believe" changes nothing, since everything out of anyone's mouth is their belief, and we know that already.