Quick Thoughts 20: Of Typos and 57 States

One of my many pet peeves is the use of unintentional errors as evidence of ignorance.  For example:  if I type “ignoraance” instead of “ignorance” in a comment online, chances are decent that someone who disagrees with me will point it out to make the substance of my point seem wrong by association or even to make blanket statements about people of my political or religious persuasion.  Yes, these are logical fallacies that tell us more about the accuser than about the accused, but there is another problem:  one shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that a mistake is anything more than that.  “Ignoraance” could simply be a typo, a case of my finger hitting the wrong key.  Good people who recognize the plausibility of such an explanation do not pick a different explanation to make themselves feel superior.  Even just reasonable people should recognize that the chances that I think that that particular misspelling–a double ‘a’ between an r’ and an ‘n’–is the correct spelling are much lower than the chances that I simply mistyped, especially if I spell the word correctly elsewhere.

This always comes to mind when I hear conservatives mock Obama for talking about 57 states in one speech.  To claim that this comment reflects his actual beliefs is to claim that a graduate of Harvard Law School, civil rights attorney, professor of constitutional law, senator, and president, surrounded by other very intelligent people, could be ignorant of such a well-known fact.  That claim is ridiculous itself.  Failure to acknowledge or even think to find out that he correctly referenced 50 states before that speech, proving that he knows the truth and merely misspoke, is willful ignorance and foolishness.

The reasoning is the same in both cases:  both the keyboard warrior and the political commentator have such a low and unjustified opinion of their opposition that they eagerly pounce on any mistake as evidence of ignorance.  But they only show themselves to be ignorant.

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Republican Debate #3 and Media Bias, Addendum

Despite the Republican candidates’ complaints about moderators trying to get them to attack each other, it didn’t take long for Trump to attack Rubio afterwards: Continue reading

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Republican Debate #3 and Media Bias

It is taken as fact within many conservative circles that liberals are a group of whiners who love to play the victim card.  Even if that’s true, the debate this week proved that conservatives are no better.

During the third GOP presidential primary debate, candidates bristled at CNBC moderators’ supposedly offensive or useless questions or statements and took advantage of the situation to take shots at a favorite conservative target:  the liberal media.  Afterwards, Carson called for the candidates to band together against such treatment.  And now the RNC has suspended its relationship with NBC News.

Consider some examples of the abuse that these poor adults running for the highest office in the country had to endure:
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Quick Thoughts 19: Homosexuality and the Universalization Argument

Until recent times, theists have been able to rely on the public to oppose gay marriage for religious (God says no) or just-so (It’s just wrong) reasons.  Now that many religious people have come to accept gay marriage either because they see nothing wrong with it or because they do not want to impose their religious beliefs on others, theists who oppose gay marriage have lost much of their support.  And now that people in general–and young people in particular–expect better arguments than “just because,” these theists have had to try to engage with the secular world on its own terms.  This means identifying the harm that gay marriage does to individuals, families, and our society; showing that said harm outweighs the good of gay marriage; explaining why other unions or behaviors that may do harm are not illegal; and so on.

They clearly struggle with this line of reasoning, often bringing up wholly unrelated matters (divorce) or technically unrelated ones (adoption by gay parents) and citing dubious studies with results that are not consistently reproduced.  This is to be expected from people who took for granted that people would continue to accept their baseless moral code.  But I want to call attention to another popular argument, often used in conjunction with the naturalistic fallacy, that goes something like this:

Premise 1:  The human race ought to continue to exist (i.e. to reproduce).
Premise 2:  If we were all homosexual, we would be unable to reproduce.
Conclusion:  Therefore, homosexuality (or at least homosexual behavior) is wrong.

Of course, the conclusion is used to condemn gay marriage as well.

In terms of logical validity, the argument is fine.  But that is literally the only good thing that I can say about this argument.

Problem 1

The idea that evaluating the consequences of a behavior if everyone engaged in it is proper moral reasoning is absurd.  Consider:  if everyone decided to become a plumber, no one would be able to do anything else.  But we do not therefore say that no one should become a plumber.

Or consider an analogy that might hit a little closer to the theist’s home:  if everyone decided to become a priest and thus be chaste, the human race would die out as surely as (in fact, more surely than–see problem 2) it would if everyone were homosexual.  Does this mean that there should be no priests?

Problem 2

Premise 2 is false:  reproduction requires neither heterosexuality nor sexual intercourse.  As long as a sperm meets an egg and the resulting zygote develops in the proper environment, we will produce more humans.  If we were all gay and we wanted our species to continue to exist, we could easily make it happen.

Problem 3

No matter how popular the first premise might be, it is not a given.  If humanity died out, there would be no people to mourn its loss.  Our species is not an entity capable of thought, feeling, or desire anyway.

This is the quality of secular argument that one can often expect to get from someone whose primary motivations are religious.  When asked why murder or theft or fraud is wrong, I suspect that most people would first appeal to harm, not God or the soul.  So when someone first appeals to God or the soul in support of his position on an arguably less obvious moral issue, it should be no surprise when his secular arguments are poor.


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Quick Thoughts 18: Archie Bunker and Modern Conservatives

I have a family member who, despite seeming intelligent and reasonable in other matters, occasionally posts conservative memes and videos on Facebook that show a remarkable lack of understanding of liberal positions.  Many of us know someone like this, but yesterday he shared a video and caption that surprised me.

The video is set up so that President Obama gives part of his speech and Archie Bunker responds with something relevant.  Here’s one example that really stood out:

Last month we marked the eighth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11.  And on that terrible day when terrorists brought so much death and destruction on our shores and so many lives were lost, many of you were the first on the scenes, saving lives, working tirelessly to bring those responsible to justice, and guarding against future attacks in subsequent weeks and months and years.

Now I wanna talk about another thing that’s on everybody’s mind today and that’s your stickups and your skyjackings.  Which, uh, if that was up to me, I could end the skyjacking tomorrow.
You could?
All you gotta do is arm all your passengers.  Your skyjacker knows the passengers are armed, and then he ain’t got no more superiority there, he ain’t gonna dare to pull out no rod.  And then your airlines, they wouldn’t have to search the passengers on the ground no more; they just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip, and pick ’em up again at the end.  Case closed.

The caption shared with the video reads:  Archie Bunker.  Correct then.  Correct now!

The creator of Archie Bunker intended, at least in the beginning, for the titular character to be an unlikeable parody of conservative bigotry and foolishness in the 1970s.  Instead, he became popular.  That what was thought to be an unlikeable parody of conservatism in the 70s is still praised today, 40 years later, is ridiculous.  But I shouldn’t have been surprised:  these are the people who make up a party that favors Donald Trump for president.

I wonder if, forty years from now, conservatives will be praising South Park‘s Eric Cartman.

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Fiorina and Faith

The Republican strategy to win elections is apparently to alienate some Americans to win votes from other Americans who would have voted for them anyway.  I’m all for it.

Today’s (more accurately:  yesterday’s) example is from Carly Fiorina:

I think people of genuine faith, whatever their faith is–I’m a Christian–but people of genuine faith, I believe, make better leaders.  And I don’t say that with disrespect to anyone, but I’ll tell you specifically what faith gives a leader. 

I believe faith gives us empathy.  A person of faith knows that no one of us is any better than any other one of us.  Each of us are created by God.  And that empathy permits us to see, in someone’s circumstance, possibilities. 

Faith gives us humility.  Humility is really important in a leader because it is humility that causes a leader to say, “Sometimes I must be restrained.  Sometimes this is not something I should do.  Sometimes this is something I don’t know.  Sometimes I need to seek wisdom and counsel from others–perhaps, for example, the citizens of this great nation.”  Humility is important in leadership, in a leader. 

And finally, I think faith gives us optimism.  And you cannot lead effectively–which, in the end, leadership is about unlocking potential in others–you cannot lead unless you know that people will rise to the occasion, that there is a brighter future in front of us if we will do the right things.

Let’s dissect it!

1.) “people of genuine faith”

I am not sure what she means by genuine faith.  I suspect that she is pulling a No True Scotsman here to separate religious beliefs like hers from religious beliefs like those of Muslim extremists, otherwise she would have to concede that faith doesn’t give us the qualities that she lists.  Of course, there are conservative Christians who would dispute the authenticity of liberal Christian faith and liberal Christians who would dispute the authenticity of conservative Christian faith, so I’m not sure that the distinction is very useful.

2.) “I don’t say that with disrespect to anyone,”

Fiorina said, disrespectfully.  And it is disrespectful because there is a very easy way to make all of the points that she did without needlessly alienating atheists:  she could have just told us how her faith has given her the qualities that she lists.

3.) Faith gives us empathy, humility and optimism

Since she started out by distinguishing leaders with faith from leaders without it, the implication here is that people without faith lack empathy, humility, and optimism.  Apparently, all atheists (and inauthentic believers) are cynical, arrogant psychopaths and all of the “genuinely faithful” are empathetic, humble, and optimistic.  An insulting humblebrag!

4.) “A person of faith knows that no one of us is any better than any other one of us.”

This must come as a shock to a party that routinely belittles the poor, non-Christians, illegal immigrants, intellectuals, and so on, all while touting its piety and moral superiority.  Perhaps she means that her god loves us all equally, but that doesn’t seem to translate into any specific human behavior or public policy, which are what actually matter.

5.) Humility leads to restraint and acknowledgment that one needs help from others

I agree, but I’m curious to hear how a belief that one has a direct line to the One True God and knowledge of the One True Moral Code constitutes humility.  To be fair, she didn’t exactly say that she does; it’s her more evangelical rivals who are likely to say something like this.  Still, the implication is that those without faith do not have humility and thus do not restrain themselves, acknowledge their own ignorance, or ask for help.  Her claim seems to be a gentler way of conveying the common conservative Christian belief that atheists must believe themselves to be the ultimate authority in life since they do not submit to a “higher power.”  For this reason, atheists are worse than non-Christian theists, even though the non-Christian theists’ gods don’t exist according to Christians and therefore cannot actually constitute higher powers, which in turn means that any moral systems based on them are false.  It all makes sense as long as you don’t think about it.

6.) Empathy, humility, and optimism are good traits because…

A moral argument that appeals to a religious text is only convincing to people who already accept that text (and thus most likely accept the argument already).  A moral argument that appeals to practicality is (potentially) convincing to everyone.

Despite her opening statement about the best leaders having faith, Fiorina explains the value of these qualities by appealing to practicality, as she should.  The irony is that this shows that there are reasons for everyone, including atheists, to have these qualities.  Faith doesn’t need to enter the discussion at all unless it is the only way to promote or instill these qualities in people–and it clearly isn’t.

In short:  Fiorina undermined her own position by making a sensible argument.

Stay tuned for more religious nonsense from the weedy field of GOP candidates for President.  Huckabee, Cruz, and Carson are sure to have plenty more nuggets of foolishness to share.


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Rubio, Walker, Carson, and Abortion Exceptions

There has been some outrage among liberals over responses from Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Scott Walker to questions about when abortion is acceptable.

First, consider Rubio’s question and response:

KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?

RUBIO: I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection.

This is a consistent position.  If Rubio believes that human life equivalent in value to even adults begins at conception, then it would not make sense for him to support abortion even when that life is a product of rape or incest.  For people like him, the harm that abortion does outweighs whatever psychological pain the mother might endure by carrying a rapist’s child to term or whatever problems a child might face as a product of incest.

If we liberals must be angry with Rubio, then we should be angry that he opposes abortion in general.  Whether we support abortion because we believe that (1) women should have control over their own bodies even when another life is involved or (2) the fetus is not really a person for much of its development, Rubio would disagree with us even if he did support exceptions for rape and incest.  Attacking him simply for holding a consistent version of an anti-abortion position makes little sense and makes it seem like we haven’t thoroughly considered the issue ourselves.

Now, Walker’s question and response:

KELLY: Governor Walker, you’ve consistently said that you want to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. You recently signed an abortion law in Wisconsin that does have an exception for the mother’s life, but you’re on the record as having objected to it. Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?

WALKER:  I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there, and I’ve said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That’s been consistently proven.

In short:  Walker denies that abortion is ever necessary to save a mother’s life.  One could try to interpret his statement as an attempt to appeal to the Republican base during the primary debates, but if it’s true that 83% of Americans favor a life exception, it’s difficult to see how this would help him.  More importantly, as a governor, Walker openly opposed life exceptions and probably only signed a bill that allowed them because it was the best option available to him for limiting abortions in other, more common cases.

Whether Walker genuinely believes that abortion is never necessary to save a mother’s life, cares more about the child than the mother, or believes that his god should decide who dies, his position is dangerous and liberal outrage here is well-deserved.  Fortunately, his position is also politically foolish.  Neither children inside the womb nor children outside it can vote; only women who see that he would let them die and men who see that he would let their wives (or just fellow human beings) die can.  And I suspect that many of the 17% of Americans who supposedly do not favor a life exception would change their minds quickly if they actually faced such a situation themselves.

Finally, another candidate, Ben Carson, had this to say in response to a question about life exceptions:

That’s largely a spurious argument because we have advanced so much in medicine these days that that situation rarely occurs.

I see similar sentiments among many conservatives.  I also notice it come up when people call for religious organizations to provide insurance that covers birth control pills because they can be used for purposes other than birth control.

While I do hold that such unusual situations have a place in the debate and thus ought to be addressed, I think that they are frequently weak points in liberal arguments.  First, pointing out that the mother’s life might be endangered pretty much cedes the rest of the argument to conservatives.  It comes across as desperate, like:  “B-but sometimes the mother’s life is in danger!  What then?”  Second, even if we find agreement on such a case, we make no progress on agreement for other, much more common cases.  Finally, it can even be dishonest:  if we promote abortion primarily for reason X (e.g. women’s rights or the fetus’ non-sentience), yet actually present reason Y (e.g. the mother’s life is sometimes in danger), we not only fail to argue what we believe for the reasons we believe it, but convey a lack of confidence in our primary reasons.

But regardless of the frequency of cases in which abortion is necessary to save a mother’s life, Republican candidates ought to state in clear terms that they support a life exception to abortion.  Their failure to do so indicates either that they do not support it or that they believe that they will lose support if they do–or both.  And this is unacceptable.


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