Monday, October 5, 2009

A Liability to your own side

Ahhhh, politics.  Things have been getting crazy ever since Obama got into office.  Collective political discourse is becoming more hysterical, irrational, and...whatever you would call Joe Wilson (surlier?).  Most of the blame, I place firmly on the shoulders of the Republicans.  Well, actually, it's not really blame.  All of the things described before are a clear sign of desperation; a clear and disturbing attempt to regain attention and credibility in the eyes of the credulous by any means necessary.  If it involves convincing a bunch of people that Obama is going to turn America into a totalitarian regime by next Tuesday, so be it.

Here's one of many problems however:  you need to address ridiculous claims only with ridicule or serious rebuttals that are actually pertinent to the claims.  Trying to divine something about the person's character that isn't obviously linked to the talking points being dealt with is only a practice in shooting yourself in the foot.

The following quote is from a comment left on the Media Matters website (which is excellent, by the way).  Sadly, I do not know the exact thread or the commenter so I cannot give it proper attribution.
Can't a person disagree with Obama without being called a racist
Sure people can freely disagree with Obama without being called a racist. But if you:
Don't believe Obama is a US citizen.
Believe Obama is the anti-Christ.
Belive Obama is a fascist/socialist/marxist/communist
Don't want your children to view a speech by the black man encouraging staying in school and setting goals.
Cry at a town hall that you want your country back or say that this isn't the country you remember due to the black man being in the White House.
Then, you're a racist.
For those of you who have read posts on this site in the past, you know that I am an atheist, and that I am a liberal.  But there is something else that I am that doesn't quite have a proper name:  I am a crusader on behalf of using simple, easily understood logic.  If you overstate your case for something, I will find myself either slightly uncomfortable (if the reason for the overstatement is understandable, or if it is not clearly in error) to outright outraged (if I am one of my moods).  What was written above has a slight problem:  none of the things described could logically lead you to conclude that the person who believes them is actually racist.

The people who believe that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. are incredibly ignorant and want to hold onto the idea because they don't want to accept the legitimacy of a President from the opposite party.

The belief that Obama is the anti-Christ is actually not that odd.  Almost any world leader has had their groups of people who didn't care for them speculating wildly about how they may be the anti-Christ.  Because, really, if you are going to speculate wildly, why not go the whole 9 yards?

The claim that Obama is a fascocommusocialist is more of a slur (against liberalism) and an attempt to basically call him a big fat meanie without getting laughed at (as much).  It's been noted that fascist/Nazi comparisons to Bush weren't uncommon.  Granted, I don't think they were nearly as, well, "mainstream"...nor present before his first year of office was even completed.  So I do not dare draw a false equivalence here.  But, as ridiculous, petty, and paranoid as it is, racist it is not, since they are supposed to basically describe their deluded perception of his politics.

Again, the opposition to Obama's speech to students was ridiculous, but it was rooted in fear of "fascism" and somehow indoctrinating school children. I realize how it seems difficult muster such an overblown reaction without Obama's blackness (blackitude?) being a point of relevance, or their having some sort of ulterior motive.  But we have already established in the previous administration that these aren't the most rational people in the world.  Is it really too much to simply take all of this as a reaction to their sudden loss of political influence (and thus their natural fear becoming panic since they feel like they've lost control)?  Isn't that probably more of an issue, rather than the race of the man in the Oval Office?

And the town hall craziness is related to other forms of craziness.

In other words, partisanship is the most parsimonious explanation and is the one that needs to be assumed unless given evidence to assume otherwise (mostly on an individual basis).  To do otherwise, to impose more complex, sinister motives onto people you disagree with is to make dialog devolve further.  And therein lies the problem.

At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant (moreso than usual?), people who make statements like the above, biting off more than they can chew in order to score political points, damage the cause for other people on their "side".  By impugning their character in an irrational manner, such people give fodder to the "other side", allowing them to play the victim card as well as supplying them with an argument to easily eviscerate and sneer about.  And, above all, it lends credibility to the idea that we are just as good or bad as that other side is.  Every misstep like this makes the idea that the major two political groupings are equivalent in terms of ability to reason, factual basis for their claims, and willingness to actually address the issues fairly.  Things like this, especially if they become too commonly repeated, damage our credibility very quickly, and it is something we cannot let happen.  Although the idea of simply relaxing and letting the Republicans desperately whine due to losing power sounds appealing, we ignore them at our peril.  If we let them continue to whip Americans into a frenzy of fear without rebuttal, they will be right back from their current weakened position.  And if we sink to their level, depending on how far the process goes...I am just not sure that their victory is a bad thing at that point.

When it comes to politeness, that's more arbitrary.  Politeness can go fuck itself for all I care.  It is important in politicians, but everyone is aware that political discourse can be heated.  Being factually correct is more important than being nice about it. Fairness and honesty cannot be manhandled or discarded as essentially unnecessary in such a fashion.  And, above, we simply cannot afford to make leaps in logic and paint the "other side" as evil, when it is much easier, and much more easy to support, to simply call them stupid instead.  And, hopefully, to show them why.

In so many words:  please keep Hanlon's Razor in mind.  Never impugn another person's moral character when the only thing that you can actual argue for is that they are obviously and egregiously wrong. *


*Except for me.  If I make a mistake, you can feel free to assume that it's because I am absolutely evil and it was a deliberate attempt to mislead and bring about the end of Western civilization.

[A note:  I realize that I have used a lot of "us-them" terminology in this post.  I don't apologize for this because that's the nature of the "culture wars".  In the realm of political debate, you put on your Red, Blue, or, God forbid, your Green hat and then grab a battleax before charging into the arena.  At the end of the day, when the hats come off, and you're back in church, at work, at a restaurant, or loitering at a playground for undisclosed reasons, then no-one really gives a fuck anymore about the color of that hat (well, hopefully).  Redhat#03694 who rants about the evils of welfare is now Jim, the always-smiling guy who lets everyone in the office use his stapler.  Bluehat#41251 who lectures about why we should allow gay marriage is now Tabitha, the bookish girl who volunteers at that soup kitchen.   Greenhat#016 is Ralph Nader.  Anyway, the point is that even though I do very much think it is an "us vs. them" situation, the "us" and "them" apply exclusively to the political beliefs, and not as much to the actual people holding them.  But, the distinction is hard to make, I admit.]

14 comments:

oneblood said...

So racism can be a legitimate label, but it's being used as a pathetic ad hominem attack.

I think America has been here before.

Your other point about the sides..."At the end of the day, when the hats come off, and you're back in church, at work, at a..."

I guess like I said on Brian's blog, ultimately there are no sides. But perhaps I require more from liberals on this matter. I expect Republicans to consistently talk about sides and label 'truth' to be Republican.

I am of course, from a human and philosophical standpoint, glad that you at least made some qualification. But it is true that a lot of times the hats don't come off. Your quote above Asylum is an American dream, albeit a beautiful one.

(Warning: overly general statement ahead) As soon as someone says that truth has a quality which one can't find out from mechanical induction and only Humian association I think one needs to bow out and say, "I'm done with your side thank you very much. I may vote with you 99% of the time, but it's not because your side has or is truth."

Once again, like I wrote on Brian's blog, it's the 'truth' of flags and sides. It's understandable, but our discourse has to reach a higher level.

And please, to whomever feels so inclined to direct it at me, enough with the tu quoque, it's childish, fallacious, and doesn't apply here.

Asylum Seeker said...

"So racism can be a legitimate label, but it's being used as a pathetic ad hominem attack."

Fuck you! (That summed up the post way too well!)

"'I'm done with your side thank you very much. I may vote with you 99% of the time, but it's not because your side has or is truth.'"

Yeah, that's actually one of the reasons I registered myself as an independent. The Democratic party seems right for me in this point in time, but it might become less liberal, liberalism might itself become corrupted, or I may just find that, given a new set of issues, the liberal stance may just be clearly wrong in that given circumstance. You can't expect a broad set of beliefs to be accurate about everything, right?

"enough with the tu quoque, it's childish, fallacious, and doesn't apply here."

Well shucks. It really is hard to pull off, so I guess it goes back to the point I made in that post about hypocrisy: if you really just making an announcement about what would be ideal, it does very little to tarnish that argument if you happen to fall short of that ideal yourself. It's to be expected by the very nature of what an ideal situation actually is.

JefFlyingV said...

Madman, you may find the link an interesting read if you haven't found it yet: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2009/10/rant-about-stupidity-and-coming-civil.html

oneblood said...

Asylum,

You're a genius. I'm glad you're liberal...with reservations but glad nonetheless.

The tu quoque had naught to do with you.

That was quite a response though. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Asylum Seeker said...

It didn't assume it was oneblood. The "well shucks" being there just because I put it there.

And, if you can't understand something I type, it may be partially because I omitted a goddamn word. [should be: an "are" between "really" and "just". Also too many "may"'s in second paragraph.]

As for that article, JefFlyingV: it looks promising and I would not have come across on it on my own. For the convenience of anyone else interested, here's a link to it.

To just present a few choice tidbits:
" Isn't it good to have someone in the room demanding: 'Prove that something really is broken, before using the the blunt instrument of the state to fix it'?"

"This is not about classic left-vs-right anymore. (As if that metaphor ever held cogent meaning.) Not when every measure of national health that conservatives ought to care about -- from budget balancing to small business startups, to military readiness, to States' Rights, to the economy, to individual liberty, to control over immigration at our borders -- does vastly and demonstrably better under democrats. With nearly 100% perfection."

[Not sure I agree with the last sentence there...]

"But all right, Rush and Rupert and Sean and Glenn and Tafik. Go ahead. Push hard enough to finally wake up the real United States -- the "Blue America" that seems all mushy because it always tries reason first. The citified sophisticates who have, for generations, sent vast net-flows of their taxes toward the red counties that then bit that generous hand with rants about the "decadent cities..." even though those cities have proved to be more moral, by far. (Compare rates of divorce, domestic violence, teen sex, STDs and yes, even abortion!)

Even though those cities are the front lines in the modern war on terror. Even though it was city folk who proved their courage and resilience, standing up for their country on 9/11."

Pretty good overall and I don't feel he goes too over the top in making his points (unless I really am more tired than I think I am right now).

Richelle said...

ah yes... beautiful, hideous, wonderful, terrible politics.

it really is a love/hate relationship.

and humans will never get it right, because we really are a bunch of fuckers.

we place so much ownership on our ideas that once you try to get a bunch of us together with different points of view we revert to behaving like toddlers.

so stupid.

Michael Lockridge said...

Simple, easily understood logic? That would be nice. I suppose you would promote laws written in everyday language? Whoa, like that would work!

Maybe you are on to something, though. Proponents of measure A must come to the arena wearing their blue uniform. Opponents to measure A must come in their red uniforms. They may select from an array of non-lethal weapons.

Whistle blows. The color of the last person standing determines the outcome.

Perhaps that is not where you were going, after all. Not a particularly logical way of doing things, but it could be quite entertaining!

Universal health care will probably not be established by a pillow fight. That is unfortunate. The jobs created by an expanded pillow industry might just turn the economy around.

Mike

Asylum Seeker said...

Richelle: "we place so much ownership on our ideas that once you try to get a bunch of us together with different points of view we revert to behaving like toddlers."

Granted, I wish that people would understand that there is a possibility that they are wrong, and to have it so that the strength with which they hold an opinion is only proportional to the level of evidence for that opinion, rather than their general unwillingness to be wrong about anything. But, you see, a confident person usually doesn't doubt themselves to the degree that they reflect upon their own fallibility, and will actually see the fact that they hold a certain belief as evidence, in and of itself, that that belief is true. Ownership of the idea factors in, but it's only when they have an overinflated sense of self that the fact that an idea is "their's" becomes a problem.

Michael: "Simple, easily understood logic? That would be nice."

Always reaching for that ideal. IN all honesty, when I wrote that phrase, I realized that it absolutely reeked of an appeal to common sense. And, as they say, "common sense" is neither.

"Perhaps that is not where you were going, after all. Not a particularly logical way of doing things, but it could be quite entertaining!"

I've been saying it for years now: we need to bring back gladiatorial combat. It's going to happen eventually. And if we could resolve political issues through it, it would be actually more efficient than our current system, so that would be just peachy.

GearHedEd said...

Six weeks of nothing, then three in a row! No wonder I never get caught up in here...

I'd like to add something witty, but I don't have the time...

Asylum Seeker said...

"I'd like to add something witty, but I don't have the time..."

The six weeks of nothing should be a testament to the fact that, most of the time, the same is true of myself!

Stacy S. said...

Nitpick - I think you missed one seeker (unless I missed it).

How is ... this isn't the country you remember due to the black man being in the White House. "

not a racist comment??

I loved all of the "It's called the WHITE house for a reason!" comments on many blogs before the election. /snark

Asylum Seeker said...

Yeah, I guess I didn't address that one. It's an explicit strawman. "This isn't the country you remember due to the black man being in the White House," if it were a direct quote, would be racist. But the person is merely referring to "this isn't the country [I] remember" as a sentiment being expressed by some Republicans (which may actually be a direct quote from a town hall meeting...not sure) and asserting that the reason they are saying that is "due to the black man being in the White House."

There are some clearly racist comments, like the one that you brought up about the WHITE(!!!) House, but most of those are only brought up in already racist-wankchambers like Stormfront and... Youtube.

Stacy S. said...

"... but most of those are only brought up in already racist-wankchambers like Stormfront and... Youtube."

And on my neighborhood blog. *sigh*

Nishant said...

guess like I said on Brian's blog, ultimately there are no sides. But perhaps I require more from liberals on this matter. I expect Republicans to consistently talk about sides and label 'truth' to be Republican.
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