Saturday, March 28, 2009

Email: I Voted Democrat Because...

One of the big problems with too many in the GOP these days is their fear of the big liberal bogeyman, a person or group that doesn't really exist in reality, but has been perpetuated via the conservative echo chamber (Foxnews, Townhall, Worldnetdaily, etc.) and kept alive by the epistemological habits of the conservative faithful who associate with no one else, and dismiss anything that conflicts with their worldview as a biased product of the liberal media, elitist universities, Hollywood, etc.

A perfect example of this mindset shows up in an email making the echo chamber rounds called "I voted Democrat because...". A comparison of the contents of this note and reality:

I voted Democrat because...

I love the fact that I can now marry whatever I want.
I've decided to marry my horse.

This is a very revealing way of describing the push to recognize same-sex marriages. It is very reminiscent of the reaction to racially mixed marriages some years ago. I recall one man I debated in person on the subject of his white cousin marrying a black man. His retort was "What would you do if your cousin told you he wanted to marry a sheep?". Two things are at work here: first, the tendency to dehumanize opposing or different groups as somehow not being human, and second, a myopic moral view that essentially says "anyone who doesn't have my morality has no morality at all". The actual argument, that the current definition of marriage, "two people of opposing sexes committed to each other" would fit the modern world better were it shorter by three words, is of course completely ignored.

I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are
obscene but the government taxing the same gallon of gas
at 15% isn't.

As one who has no love for taxes, I can sympathize with this sentiment, but it is comparing apples and oranges. Government taxation is based on perceived costs of the taxed item in question, and has little to do with acceptable profit levels for companies. To show how silly this argument is, simply turn it around. What if it were a demonstrable fact that the social costs of driving (road maintenance, ancillary costs of DWIs, insurance, etc.) was indeed 15% of the cost of gasoline? Would we then decide that it was OK for Exxon to make 15% profits? Of course not. Government is not a business, nor should it be run like one. Oversimplified, business is the player in the economic game, government is the referee.

I believe the government will do a better job of
spending the money I earn than I would.

This is stated as if it is obviously false, when it is certainly demonstrably true in many cases. We'd have never built the interstate highway system, gone to the moon in 1969, maintained public parks, or many other deeds that were too long term and not-for-profit to interest the private sector. Like it or not, there are some things on which government does indeed spend the money we earn better than we would have: which is to say, not at all. To argue otherwise is to argue for anarchy.

Freedom of speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

It is hard to know exactly what this is referring to, but if it is church/state separation, it's another red herring. Objections to some religious comments by government officials and employees isn't about offense. It is about constitutionality. Many of us believe the intention of the 1st amendment was to keep government neutral on the subject of religion, and therefore anything that crosses that line must be opposed. One might argue with that legal interpretation, but even if it is completely wrong it has nothing to do with anyone being offended by anything. This argument is also hypocritical, since it is often proreligious groups expressing offense at displays promoting a view other than theirs (think Seattle). Freedom is a two-way street.

When we pull out of Iraq I trust that the bad guys will stop what they are doing because they now think we are good people.

This one is so silly it is hard to understand what exactly is being said. Are the “bad guys” Al Qaeda, or the warring factions of Sunni and Shia in Iraq? Either way it makes no difference. No one is saying anything remotely like the quote above. Some people simply think our occupation of Iraq has inflamed US/Islamic relations and fueled the fires for more hatred of and attacks against the US more than it has reduced them.

I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves.

Whenever people talk like this, I wonder if they realize just how low the crime rate is. Annually, its about 14 acts a year for every 1,000 people annually. That's everything from petty theft to murder, and hardly a justification for gun ownership. However, it is equally unpersuasive as an argument to ban guns. Still, the argument has nothing to do with irresponsibility, and isn't connected to police response times, and so paints a muddled picture of what the gun control debate is.

I believe that people who can't tell us if it will rain on Friday can tell us that the polar ice caps will melt away in ten years if I don't start driving a Prius.

This common anti-global-warming canard reveals a basic ignorance of statistics, in particular the law of large numbers. In short, the LoLN says that groups are more predictable than individuals, and the larger the group, the more predictable it is. For example, if I were to predict the total of the roll of a single die, the expected value is 3.5. However, there is a 33% (2/6) chance that such a prediction will be off by 71% [(6-3.5)/3.5 or (3.5-1)/3.5]. However, if I roll 1,000 dice and predict the total, the expected value is now 3,500, but the probability of being off by 71% is now practically zero, since it would require rolling 1,000 1's or 1,000 6's, both extraordinarily unlikely events. Predicting the total outcome of 1,000 dice rolls is far easier than predicting the outcome of any one of them.

Predicting the temperature is similar. I can't tell with much accuracy at all whether today will be cooler than August 5th, but I can tell with great accuracy that the average temperature in February will be cooler than the average temperature in August. And so it goes with predicting weather decades and centuries in the future. If current trends continue, predicting the melting of the polar ice caps is a snap compared to predicting the rain on Friday.

I'm not concerned about the slaughter of millions of babies so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

This argument, as do too many arguments on both sides of the abortion issue, ends the argument by merely assuming the point in contention: are those things being aborted indeed babies? No one on the pro-choice side of the aisle would make the comment above, because they do not consider fetuses babies, and because most people on the pro-choice side are very concerned with the number of abortions. Their strategy is to make birth control and information about it more available rather than outlawing the procedure. One can argue against that on practical grounds, but that isn't what the statement above is doing.

Likewise, most people who oppose the death penalty do so because they don't think it is the role of government to execute its citizens, or see death as an irreversible decision in a system full of decisions in need of reversal, or oppose it because they see it as a discriminatory penalty imposed arbitrarily and in a biased manner against certain racial or economic groups. Personally I don't find those arguments persuasive (if a penalty has problems, fix the problems, don't do away with the penalty). But nonetheless, none of those arguments has any logical bearing on whether one considers a blastocyst a baby.

I believe that business should not be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to
the government for redistribution as the democrats sees fit.

This socialist statement reveals a lack of understanding of Keynesian economics, which says (and recent history supports this) that economic growth is aided by taking money from the top of the financial pyramid, large businesses and the wealthy, where it is most likely to be saved, and giving it to people at the bottom, who are most likely to spend it and send it multiplying through our marketplace via other transactions. No one is saying that businesses should not be allowed to profit, or that there is something wrong with being rich. It's just a simple, very intuitive fact that taking $100 from a billionaire and giving it to someone who is poor is going to benefit the poor person far more than it injures the billionaire.

Now whether it is right to do this is another argument entirely, and that debate needs to be had. However, misrepresenting one side of the argument as being socialist does nothing to further anyone's understanding of the issue, and amounts to ad hominem.

I believe liberal judges need to rewrite The Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.

This shows a lack of understanding of the role of the Supreme Court in our system, which is to enforce the constitutional limits on our democracy. There are some rights, or agendas if you like, that are beyond the rights of the voters to deny in our constitutional system. It makes no difference whether the people promoting these constitutional positions are fringe kooks or not, the constitution must rule. The accusation that judges are rewriting the constitution, or legislating from the bench, hopelessly begs the question. “Activist judge” in the end amounts to “a judge who made a ruling I didn’t agree with”.

My head is so firmly planted up my ass that it is unlikely that I'll ever have another point of view.

This is ironic coming from the party of Rush Limbaugh who recently made it very clear that conservatism does not change. "It is forever." Democrats as a rule do not think like this. Indeed, their willingness to change their views is what makes them Democrats in the first place, and is one of the main reasons conservatives criticize them. Moral relativism anyone? That's not the position of those who don't change. Absolute god-given morality is promoted by the changeless side. Compare Democratic party positions on various issues now compared to 20 years ago, and do the same for Republicans. When it comes to predicting which party will never have another point of view, its not the left side of the aisle the evidence points to.

"A Liberal is a person who will give away everything they don't own."

And of course, any otherwise liberal person who doesn't is called "not a true liberal". The far right is engaging in the No True Scotsman Fallacy with this and just about every statement involving the word "liberal". This email is a perfect example. No one as described actually exists. Actual left-leaning people are a mix of various views, as are conservatives. The far rightwingers have simply created a bogeyman on which to blame all their problems. In church, that person is Satan. In politics, it's The Liberals. Notice their persuasive power is about the same with both.

1 comment:

Luke H. said...

... people who can't tell us if it will rain on Friday ...

I think this canard is appealing to old fogies whose impression of forecast accuracy comes from the 1950's. Meteorologists usually can tell you if it is likely to rain 3-5 days in advance, which is pretty good. It is raining here today, just as the forecast said on Tuesday. When it comes to severe and tropical weather, the forecasts err on the side of caution, but are perilous to ignore.