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Monday, January 10, 2011

You and Your "Therefore"

Back in early 2005 when I first started this blog, I went out of my way to engage people who didn't share my political views at all. I figured that everyone needed to keep talking, regardless of how we spoke to each other. I never shied away from calling them bigots, they never tired of reminding me that I was was going to Hell. And that's dialogue: to my mind it's better than silence.
It wasn't always name-calling, either. I went out of my way to let them know I agreed with them on the few occasions we agreed. I tried damn hard to show the places where our interests overlapped. I often spoke of how we had lots more in common that we were being told by the media. They rarely did me any of the same favors in return.

So why'd I stop? Well, aside from getting sick of batting away the same shitty arguments over and over again, I noticed early on that all those people on the Other Side were always damn quick to go to the "We Should Just Kill All Of Them" variety of joke. And it was never long before it went past jokes, and into the real thing.

Naturally, reminding them that they were being kept in a constant state of irrational, barely coherent anger by a well-funded media apparatus that sought to do so entirely for the short-term political gain of one particular political party never came off well. Turns out people hate to hear that sort of thing about themselves.

But in any case, I always went out of my way to remind anyone who would listen that this isn't a sustainable state of affairs. You can't have this many people this angry at each other for this long, and still have a country that works at all. What you have in that case is something more like Rwanda, actually.

After a while, I noticed the random appearance of the word "therefore" in lots of their arguments. Always in some sort of syllogism that didn't exactly work, like -"if (thing that isn't true) is true, then therefore (other thing that isn't true) must also be true." Like watching a class on logical fallacies, like first day in Philosophy 101.
I knew what this was, too. They had been made to feel bad by your science-y types enough times that they just wanted to throw a few "therefores" and "hences" of their own because that's what you get to say when you're right, or at least sound that way. It's a way of speeding past that whole having-to-prove-something part and just go, "I win!"

That's why I'm not terribly surprised that Jared Loughner had that as his favorite method of argument. And why those arguments were all loaded down with not just poor comparisons but things that didn't seem to connect to any thing at all. (Matter o' fact, here's a great interview with the guy's philosophy professor from community college. It's almost funny.) As if he only attended half of the class on logical fallacies, and was now actively trying to prove that bread really is stones.

So lots has been made of how he's basically too crazy to have a coherent political position. That may be, but he himself described what he was going to do as an "assassination." I'm pretty sure that didn't refer to the little girl who died, either.
Lots has also been made about how we musn't interpret this as some sort of failure of Arizona's gun laws. No problem AZ; you didn't fuck up colossally and see to it that crazy there was comfortably armed and actively concealing. Feel better now? Didn't realize you states were so damn sensitive.

I think I should get to have a gun myself. And I think that other people should get to have guns. But I think that even the staunchest gun-rights activist doesn't like crazy, stupid people having guns.
And if all these lone nuts throughout our history were never doing it for politics but simply because they were crazy (or "evil," whatever), then why is it pretty much always a liberal that gets it? Why aren't people shooting the Michele Bachmanns of this world? Why the hell hasn't anyone put three well-placed peach-sized holes in Glenn Beck?

Lots of reasons, I suppose: maybe those same people who want us to all be mad at each other all the time also want us to be scared all the time, and it scares us more when people who at least try to talk about us all being nice to each other end up gettin' got. Maybe it's something I've never even gotten close to considering.
(Also: I kinda forgot about George Wallace and Ronald Reagan. Yeah, they sort of got shot too, I guess...)

This is that thing I keep going on and on about: we have so completely let the stupid take over the argument at this point that we all have to speak their baby talk. It's our fault: wouldn't want to be seen as An Elitist, would you?
Well, as I often said to those nice people who told me I was going to Hell for thinking as I thought: you're the one who claims to speak for God, and you're calling me the elitist?

But there's nothing wrong with telling people who have nothing good to add to shut the fuck up. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise; they're probably doing it for a very bad reason. We pride ourselves on our inclusiveness and rightfully so: but, if stupid there just keeps on barking the same stupid ideas over and over again, it's your duty as a thinking person to tell them to fuck off and be quiet.

So these days if I want to go make fun of stupid people with terrible arguments, I go over to Yahoo! Answers and stalk the "Religion and Spirituality" boards. (Actually, I don't even do that anymore, but my year of experimentation with that lowest level of public debate is going to get a blog of its own, whose inaugural post is here. Yes, I know: because I'm doing such a fantastic job keeping up my other five blogs. )
Pretty much it's all bad arguments, skewing toward the pseudo-scientific, often just childish (because I suspect a lot of the questioners are actually children). It has given me way too many opportunities to begin my reply with, "You and your 'therefore'..."

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1 Comments:

Blogger George Popham said...

Nice post. A friend was debating on facebook whether or not his mental illness was to blame for the incident and I made the following remark: Schizophrenia is a serious organic brain disease and 99.999 percent of sufferers never harm anyone. Having worked with these people I've seen the damage the "psycho killer" stereotype does to the mentally ill community. Fact is, per capita, supposedly sane people are way more likely to commit murder than schizophrenic people are. Whereas schizophrenic people' on the other hand are seriously vulnerable: about 10% commit suicide, and a fairly large but unquantified percentage are homeless. Now none of this means schizophrenia wasn't a serious causal factor in this *particular* case, it likely was, but I think it is much the least important reason. A lot of things play in here, negligent parenting, excessively violent media culture, a decimated social safety net (especially in conservative fuck-wad states like AZ which seem to feel that the less fortunate have been ordained by god to lead a life of suffering) silly ass irresponsible gun laws and yes, violent eliminationist rhetoric from right wing ego maniac pundits, who, despite being socially functional, are even more out of touch with reality/bat shit insane than the schizophrenic guy.

10:30 AM  

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