More Black and White

How science becomes “fact” in conservative circles – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money.

Another example of black and white thinking. SEK from Lawyers, Guns & Money talks about Rich Lowry from the National Review and his misunderstanding of science and logic. You should read the whole link (it isn’t that long!) but the point is contained in this paragraph:

Which is only to repeat myself: he’s writing about a science he doesn’t understand; moreover, he’s doing so from a position of ignorance so profound he doesn’t even realize his arguments might be entirely compatible. In the same way that I can be both an athlete and a writer, so too can carbon emissions be pushing temperatures up while aerosols drive them down. Arguing that X doesn’t do Y because A does B isn’t much of an argument.

It’s more all or nothing thinking. Since Lowry found some evidence published by climate scientists (who are apparently giving away the scam!) that there are mitigating factors in carbon emissions that help to dampen the effects of warming, he wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of science and applying an all or nothing logic to a shades of gray topic. Like usual.

You see this in spades in the fight over evolution, which I would bet Lowry doesn’t “believe” in either, like it is the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny rather than scientific fact. Not only is it just ignorance of the actual science behind these topics, it is a fundamental ignorance of how science and logic work, all in the name of fitting the evidence to your own preconceived “truth”. It is unfortunate that this sort of thinking is so influential.

It is also an example of trying to apply a political agenda to a decidedly non-political topic. An extension of the black/white error is that everything needs to be talked about in a left/right frame. Which will be the subject of the next thing I write.

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Black and White

“i can never understand why u libs hated bush, he spend tax money like a liberal……I;ll never understand it.”

I recently read this quote (misspellings and all) in a Facebook discussion and it became the catalyst for writing in my head an essay I have long been thinking of writing. I am in no way picking on the person who wrote this quote since it could have been anyone who wrote it as it is one of the most common examples of the kind of  thinking that I think is the main problem with political discourse today.

A caveat first: We could discuss all day long the shortcomings of a lot of liberal arguments, something I would love to do with anyone at another time. This is not that time.

“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” George W. Bush

This sort of good/evil, black/white, all/nothing thinking is some sort of unholy melding of religious philosophy and Ayn Rand (Yes, I have read Atlas Shrugged and a couple of her philosophy books.) The origin of the good/evil part is obvious. But you also see this type of thinking in the very popular, co-opted ideas of Rand, where absolute truth is logically worked out (A=A, applied to everything.)and those who are not able to come to those logical conclusions are evading the truth. While context is everything with Rand, a lot of the same kind of thinking is completely forgetting context. So you get arguments like lowering taxes leads to higher revenue (and that is true, in very specific contexts) so raising taxes always and forever lowers revenue. Not true, but another example of this erroneous black and white.

As an aside, if this by some miracle gets read by more than a handful of people who also comment, and the comments turn to a critique of my reading of Rand, I am going to kill a puppy. You have been warned.

In that first example above you have the total misconception that liberals like to tax and spend, with apparently no regard for who is taxed or what it is spent on. But aside from that point, this whole idea that since liberals support some taxing and some spending they must support all taxing and all spending, regardless of context, is black and white thinking and totally wrong.

You see this sort of thinking everywhere. I’ve heard a discouraging number of times on Facebook and elsewhere that people on welfare or other benefits are just lazy or not working hard enough. And it logically follows from this black and white thinking, that if I am successful, and I certainly work hard!, those who aren’t must not work hard. That it is just easier to live off benefits so why wouldn’t they? The first questions I always ask here is that if the benefits are so great, and it is so easy, then why doesn’t everyone do it? Why is a work ethic and the sense of self worth that working gives you exclusive to the people making these arguments? Why is it hard to fathom that the poor, like almost all people (like you, yeah you, who are making this argument), want to work and support themselves? Aside from that, and the fact that this bears no resemblance to actual poor people in the US and elsewhere in the West, the logic is faulty.

I’ve been told recently that I, in supporting a universal healthcare system (I currently live under one), want a cradle to grave system of support, where the government does everything for me. Either full on Laissez-faire capitalism or total socialist/communist, with nothing in between. Black/white.

In response to comment thread on Facebook, here is me summing up all I had been told about myself:

So, let’s see if I have this straight:

As a liberal I have no spine and no beliefs. Or possibly I am just dumb. I, like most liberals, base everything on emotion. I have no experience of anything so I cannot form an educated viewpoint. I only know what I have read or been told. In addition, since I have no convictions I am jelly or even nothing. My only firm beliefs are giving free drugs to kill babies and giving contraception out to everyone. Finally, I don’t have a clue. Is that about right?

Using this black and white thinking, all of this makes weird logical sense. Since the people saying these things are true Americans, who believe in God and Country, and have the righteous truth on their side (as they see it!) it just stands to reason that those who think otherwise are just plain stupid. Or evil! Or have no firm beliefs at all and can’t possibly be educated or knowledgeable about anything or they would see things just like they do. This is of course arrogant as well, but the reasoning is the same as everywhere else.

Most recently I was told that liberals like me never really had an opinion of my own. That I just went along with the majority so I wouldn’t feel left out. That I (we) are too emotionally challenge to really find the truth and in the end too weak and afraid to have a real opinion of my own. Not like the guy who said that, I am sure. He is apparently a rugged intellectual maverick, that always bucked the system and has the emotional maturity and balls to have his own opinion, so it just follows that those who disagree with him are everything he is sure he is not.

It was not my intention to pick on a single person here. These quotes or descriptions are based on several people and are used as examples to illustrate a general point about this type of thinking. And that is my whole point, as I have no problem at all with rational arguments from the right. I have many friends from the right side of the aisle who have my utmost respect (even though they are wrong! haha). There are perfectly rational arguments to be made from the right, but this sort of all or nothing, black and white thinking is not one of them.

And that is the whole point. This sort of thing has seemingly taken over discourse, at least from my vantage point, and it is maddening. We should be getting together to exchange ideas and challenge each other. I love to be challenged! But not when faced with this sort of argument, which is really just an argument of assumption. I think this way, you disagree, so you must be….Nothing should follow that. At least, nothing based on reality.

The quicker we all realize that the world is not either/or, all/nothing, black/white the quicker we can discuss things rationally and maybe even learn from each other. But if we insist on seeing our political opponents as evil and stupid because they dare to disagree with our absolute certainty we are all going to be the worse for it.