What refutes what?

Phyllis Schlafly is right about one thing: the Fourth of July is a good time to read the Declaration of Independence.  But she's wrong about pretty much everything else.  First, her timing is a little off — her posting is dated July 9, but she's giving advice about what to do on the 4th.  Maybe her plan was for us to remember what to do next year.   Second, she claims that the Declaration is a 'religious document.'  This seems a little thin, as her evidence is that:

The Declaration of Independence is the official and unequivocal recognition by the American people of our belief and faith in God. It affirms God's existence as a "self-evident" truth that requires no further discussion, debate or litigation.. . . The Declaration of Independence contains five references to God: God as Creator of all men, God as supreme Lawmaker, God as the Source of all rights, God as the world's supreme Judge, and God as our Patron and Protector. The Declaration declares that each of us was created; so if we were created, we must have had a Creator and, as the modern discovery of DNA confirms, each of God's creatures is different from every other person who has ever lived or ever will live on this earth.

Just for the record, I took a quick look at the Declaration, and I counted only four overt references to God.  One in the first paragraph, to Nature's God.  One in the second paragraph, that "we are endowed by our Creator….", and two in the final paragraph, one an oath to the Supreme judge of the world, and another about trusting 'divine providence.'  Now, with each of these, I don't (especially given the widespread deism of the day) see these as strongly theistic as Schlafly sees them.  Regardless, whatever these references mean, they aren't there as core commitments of the Declaration — the Declaration is about human rights and about the role of government (and also to list all the colonial grievances against the crown).  To put it on record that they all love God doesn't seem to be the point, but more a rhetorical element of the presentation of more (ahem) humanistic concerns.  If you use reference to God in making a point, that doesn't by necessity make your speech religious, because I often punctuate my angriest moments with "Goddammit!", but that hardly makes my speech religious.

Schlafly's third error is most troubling.  She claims:

The message of the Declaration of Independence is under attack from the ACLU and atheists because it refuted the lie about a constitutional mandate for "separation of church and state."

Wait.  That gets it backwards, doesn't it?  The whole point of the Constitution was to provide a framework for government that wasn't there in the Declaration. And in putting those things together, wasn't the objective to either supplement or correct the Declaration?  What about the First Amendment, the one that prohibits laws "respecting an establishment of religion"?  If the Declaration had a line that said anything about acknowledging and establishing a religion of the one true God (which seems to be Schlafly's reading), it's the Constitution that would refute that establishment, not the Declaration that would refute the Constitution. 

False consensus

With all of the normative stuff going on here (this is a bad argument, no one should be convinced by it!) it's easy to forget that some very critical empirical questions remain: e.g., what effect have the battery of crappy arguments (say, in favor of torture) had?  Thankfully, some effort has been made to gauge public opinion over time.

Many journalists and politicians believe that during the Bush administration, a majority of Americans supported torture if they were assured that it would prevent a terrorist attack. As Mark Danner wrote in the April 2009 New York Review of Books, “Polls tend to show that a majority of Americans are willing to support torture only when they are assured that it will ‘thwart a terrorist attack.’” This view was repeated frequently in both left- and right-leaning articles and blogs, as well as in European papers (Sharrock 2008; Judd 2008; Koppelman 2009; Liberation 2008). There was a consensus, in other words, that throughout the years of the Bush administration, public opinion surveys tended to show a pro-torture American majority.

But this view was a misperception. Using a new survey dataset on torture collected during the 2008 election, combined with a comprehensive archive of public opinion on torture, we show here that a majority of Americans were opposed to torture throughout the Bush presidency. This stance was true even when respondents were asked about an imminent terrorist attack, even when enhanced interrogation techniques were not called torture, and even when Americans were assured that torture would work to get crucial information. Opposition to torture remained stable and consistent during the entire Bush presidency. Even soldiers serving in Iraq opposed the use of torture in these conditions. As we show in the following, a public majority in favor of torture did not appear until, interestingly, six months into the Obama administration.

Why have so many politicians and journalists so badly misread the strong majorities opposed to torture? A recent survey we commissioned helps shine a light on this question. Psychologists describe a process of misperception—“false consensus”—whereby an individual mistakenly believes that his or her viewpoint represents the public majority. False consensus has a long legacy in social psychological research, but our survey is unique in that it examines, for the first time, how false consensus may have shaped the public debate over torture. Our survey shows that this false consensus pervades the opinions of those who support torture, leading them to significantly overestimate the proportion of the public that agrees with them. Those people opposed to torture, in contrast, have remarkably accurate perceptions of the rest of the public.

Indeed.  It's easy to forget, with all of the "American people are this or that," that one can measure such things. 

Via The Monkey Cage via Digby.

Give it away for free

I once read an entire book on giving, or givenness, or something, by Jacques Derrida.  The point was, so I seem to remember, that you can't ever really give anything, even anonymously, because it all gets rolled into an economy.  Now of course "giving" in that text means a lot more than just giving stuff.  But nonetheless, the point is clear.  It seems a local op-ed columnist has had a similar idea.  She writes of his encounter with some girls who have a lemonade stand:

The three young girls — under the watchful eye of a nanny, sitting on the grass with them — explained that they had regular lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and small chocolate candy bars.

Then my brother asked how much each item cost.

"Oh, no," they replied in unison, "they're all free!"

I sat in the back seat in shock. Free? My brother questioned them again: "But you have to charge something? What should I pay for a lemonade? I'm really thirsty!"

His fiancee smiled and commented, "Isn't that cute. They have the spirit of giving."

That really set me off, as my regular readers can imagine.

"No!" I exclaimed from the back seat. "That's not the spirit of giving. You can only really give when you give something you own. They're giving away their parents' things — the lemonade, cups, candy. It's not theirs to give."

I pushed the button to roll down the window and stuck my head out to set them straight.

"You must charge something for the lemonade," I explained. "That's the whole point of a lemonade stand. You figure out your costs — how much the lemonade costs, and the cups — and then you charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money. Then you can buy more stuff, and make more lemonade, and sell it and make more money."

I was confident I had explained it clearly. Until my brother, breaking the tension, ordered a raspberry lemonade. As they handed it to him, he again asked: "So how much is it?"

And the girls once again replied: "It's free!" And the nanny looked on contentedly.

No wonder America is getting it all wrong when it comes to government, and taxes, and policy. We all act as if the "lemonade" or benefits we're "giving away" is free.

And so the voters demand more — more subsidies for mortgages, more bailouts, more loan modification and longer periods of unemployment benefits.

Other than the obvious fact that this person is a massive tool for lecturing three girls in this way (she says it's a true story), the analogy makes no sense.  Presumably the parents have given the girls permission to give away free lemonade.  In a similar fashion, people who support public benefits, etc., give their permission to distribute their goods (tax money). 

And I don't remember voters clamoring for more bailouts and other versions of corporate welfare (which oddly don't seem to bother the author here).

**Update.  the "he" above is a she.  And I just saw her on MSNBC, which called her a "financial expert"–liberal media.  And speaking of liberal media.  No Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) on that channel!

Nothing’s Sacrosanct

Ann Coulter’s been paying attention to Elena Kagan’s SCOTUS nomination proceedings.  She even read a profile of Kagan from the New York Times.  Kagan’s aunt notes that the family was intellectually engaged:

“There was thinking, always thinking,” Joyce Kagan Charmatz, Robert Kagan’s sister-in-law, 71, said of the family’s dinner table. “Nothing was sacrosanct.”

That “nothing was sacrosanct” caught Coulter’s eye.  She’s skeptical about whether in a liberal family that there could be a nothing’s-off-limits discussion.  She first observes:

Really? Nothing was sacrosanct? Because in my experience, on a scale of 1-to-infinity, the range of acceptable opinion among New York liberals goes from 1-to-1.001.

And then she ponders:

How would the following remarks fare at a dinner table on the Upper West Side where "nothing was sacrosanct": Hey, maybe that Joe McCarthy was onto something. What would prayer in the schools really hurt? How do we know gays are born that way? Is it possible that union demands have gone too far? Does it make sense to have three recycling bins in these microscopic Manhattan apartments? Say, has anyone read Charles Murray's latest book? Those comments, considered "conversation starters" in most of the country, would get you banned from polite society in New York.

Coulter’s hypothesis is that Kagan’s family was actually a group of insular liberals, people who pretended to be open-minded, willing to hear out all the sides, and so on, but never actually met anyone who had an opposing view.  Coulter knows all those New York liberals, and she knows just how dogmatic they can be: 

Even members of survivalist Christian cults in Idaho at least know people who hold opposing views. New York liberals don't. . . .  Even within the teeny-tiny range of approved liberal opinion in New York, disagreement will get you banned from the premises.

Seriously?  Now, for sure it’d be easy to switch out ‘New York liberals’ with ‘Texas conservatives’ and all the right-wing talking points with lefty talking points, and you’d see just what a bigoted and ridiculous tirade that’d be about conservatives.  Surely, we all know there are dogmatists on both sides. But they don’t define the sides, and they don’t define how parenting happens.  One of the things that Coulter fails to observe is that Joyce Kagan Charmatz is trying to get across that the Kagan family was not one of those dogmatic families you might see on the liberal side.

The larger problem is that Coulter has the worst of the ‘New York liberals’ define them all.  We’ve observed a number of times here at the NonSequitur that this is a form of straw-manning more precisely called weak manning. The basic trope is to find the worst and dumbest representative of a group you hold to be wrong, criticize this representative, and then act as though the group is wrong uberhaupt on the basis of this criticism.  For example, we all have shut-in uncles who surf the web in their bathrobes who are just right of Ron Paul libertarians.  When they say stupid things at family reunions, we don’t think this necessarily impugns libertarianism.  Every time you’re inclined to think that libertarians are stupid, you must remember Robert Nozick was very likely smarter than you. Same goes for Coulter – every time she thinks she can define the class ‘New York liberal,’ their views and their parenting on the basis of the worst of the class, she should exercise some measure of judgment.

Taking sides in a political dispute

Water boarding, which sounds like a kind of national sport, used to be called "water torture."  Well, according to a recent study, it did when other people did it and before we needed to excuse ourselves of it:

In the NY Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the U.S. using waterboarding against an individual called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture. Yet when the U.S. was the perpetrator, only 7.69% (16 of 208) articles said or implied that waterboarding was torture. Just 0.8% of the articles (1 of 133) dealing with the War on Terror where the U.S. was the perpetrator said or implied that waterboarding was torture.

The LA Times follows a similar pattern of avoiding the label of torture when the U.S. is responsible for using waterboarding. In articles that considered other countries using waterboarding, 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) called waterboarding torture or implied the practice was torture. When the U.S. was the violator, only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) used this classification.

Why the change?  Must be liberal media bias: 

But the New York Times doesn’t completely buy the study’s conclusions. A spokesman told Yahoo! News that the paper “has written so much about the waterboarding issue that we believe the Kennedy School study is misleading.”

However, the Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper's usage calls. “As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”

The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that's what we call it, which is appropriate for the opinion pages.”

There really was no actual political dispute that it was torture–that is, that it met the definition.  The question was whether it was morally permissible for Jack Bauer to do it.  

The ugly party

A brief follow up to yesterday's post on Michael Gerson.  He laments the harsh words used in private correspodence for (ugly) people.  If that wasn't dumb enough already (and hypocritical, as Aaron in comments points out–see here) what's funny is his vision of the alternative.  Here is how he describes it:

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute — presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks — on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

The grown up party isn't engaged in the same kind of discussion as the "ugly party."  For all its faults, the ugly party is at least doing what one ought to be doing in politics–i.e., arguing about stuff.  Some of them may be doing it badly, and I suppose that this is the point of our whole web empire here at TheNonSequitur, but at least they're doing it.  By contrast, by Gerson's description, the grown up party isn't really doing argument–they're doing analysis.  The electoral implications of the engery policy debate might be interesting, but they don't resolve what the policy ought to be.  As Gerson has it, that is a question for the Ugly party, and I say, therefore, I think I want to be a member of the Ugly party. 

Go do unto yourself*

If we had a category called "what substance has he or she been smoking or taking?" I would suggest that we put this column by Michael Gerson in it.  For in it he complains about the uglification of recent American political discourse–a worthy aim–but, where's he been at? one might wonder.  He writes:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, "I hope he fails." Matt Drudge is an "amoral shut-in" who should "set himself on fire." Opponents are referred to as "ratf — -ers" and "[expletive] moronic."

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Gerson says twice that Weigel's private sentiments should not have been made public.  Why were they?  Well, I blame ugly politics, a politics that tries to make everything about people's character and private life and not about what they do or say publicly.  Anyway, he then bafflingly suggests that these private words "display the defining characteristics of ugly politics."  Well, not really, I would say the defining characteristic of ugly politics is saying those things in a public forum to achieve a political effect.  Venting to your alleged friends does not count.

A more foundational characteristic of ugly politics, I think, is twisting facts or distorting words for poltiical advantage.  Here is what Weigel is alleged to have said (via the Daily Caller):

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

When Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones resigned after it was revealed he signed a 9/11 “truther” petition, alleging the government may have conspired to allow terrorists to kill 3,000 civilians, Weigel highlighted the alleged racism of Glenn Beck – Jones’s top critic.

Notice that Weigel is complaining primarily (and again privately) about the ugly crap that gets cast as serious political discourse.  This demonstrates again, however, that however ugly Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, etc., get, the rules of our discourse prohibit you from pointing that out.  For if you do, even in private, you're fired.

*The actual quote is "Go fuck yourself" and Dick Cheney said it (to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate). 

New study shows: liberals don’t have conservative economic views

Ron Ross, at The American Spectator, reports that a Zogby International survey "confirms what (he's) long suspected — when it comes to economics, liberals are clueless."  The survey asks respondents to identify themselves on a spectrum from very liberal to very conservative, and then eight questions come.  Ross notes: 

On the basis of eight economic questions, wrong answers correlated consistently with ideology.  Progressive/very liberal respondents got four times more wrong answers than libertarians.

Ross concludes that the survey results "demonstrate a strong connection between economic ignorance and interventionist enthusiasm.  Those who are most determined to interfere with the economy know the least about it."

Well, golly, if there really is a connection between not knowing economics and being a liberal, that'd be a bad thing.  Especially for liberals and their views about economics.  So let's look at all the economics that liberals are so ignorant about.  Here are two of the most telling questions:

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.  (Unenlightened Answer: Disagree)

6. Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. (Unenlightened Answer: Agree)

The rest of the questions are the usual libertarian talking points (minimum wage laws increase unemployment, licensing professional services causes the price for those services to be raised).  The crazy thing is that question 1 is so vaguely stated that anyone with any sense would ask for clarification: Are the restrictions with regard to where the houses will be built, what kind of houses, or whether they must meet safety codes, and so on? In some cases, those restrictions will drive prices up, and other times, down.  Of course, the survey has the right answer that they do.  Why? Because that's what libertarians believe.

With question 6, I don't see this as a matter of having knowledge of basic economics or any such thing, but more a question of having ethical judgment about what counts as exploitation.  Again, because the right answers are being determined by people who casually use the term "leftist," as a term for anyone who's not a member of the John Birch Society, the right answers will likely be different from, say, any morally developed adult.

None of this would be surprising or irritating if the survey and report did not use terms like "unenlightened" and "wrong" for the answers here.  Now, if the survey were about, say, basic economic knowledge, where there is no reasonable disagreement, then we'd have no problem.  But here we have the simple strategy of polling one's opponents in a disagreement, noting how they have views you reject, casting them as being wrong, and then reporting how often those with whom you disagree are wrong about things that matter.  But, even if liberals are in error, these are not the simple errors that Ross portrays them to be.  These are controversial matters in economics, ones about which intelligent people disagree.  To portray this as a matter of ignorance, as Ross does, is not just a distortion of the debate, it's simple lying.  But Ross is all too happy to run up the score when the deck is stacked:

What we're seeing all too often is "the arrogance of ignorance." Both arrogance and ignorance do enormous damage in the world, but together they are a toxic brew.

Ross's gerrymandered study really only shows that opinions about economics track political self-identification.  That's not news, and certainly not something to make the hay Ross does of it.  There's another toxic brew, in addition to Ross's arrogance and ignorance: it's willful deception and self-righteous indignation.

**Hello Everyone–Welcome Scott Aikin, our newest contributor

–Editors.


That’s icky, your argument is invalid

Deep Christian thinker Mike Huckabee on teh gay (from a New Yorker Interview via Crooks and Liars):

One afternoon in Jerusalem, while Huckabee was eating a chocolate croissant in the lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I asked him to explain his rationale for opposing gay rights. “I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” he said. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”

I asked him if he had any arguments that didn’t have to do with God or ickiness. “There are some pretty startling studies that show if you want to end poverty it’s not education and race, it’s monogamous marriage,” he said. “Many studies show that children who grow up in a healthy environment where they have both a mother and a father figure have both a healthier outlook and a different perspective from kids who don’t have the presence of both.”

In fact, a twenty-five-year study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that children brought up by lesbians were better adjusted than their peers. And, of course, nobody has been able to study how kids fare with married gay parents. “You know why?” Huckabee said. “Because no culture in the history of mankind has ever tried to redefine marriage.”

But in the Old Testament polygamy was commonplace. The early Christians considered marriage an arrangement for those without the self-discipline to live in chastity, as Christ did. Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century. And, before 1967, marriage was defined in much of the United States as a relationship between a man and a woman of the same race.

Regardless of the past, wouldn’t Huckabee be curious to know whether allowing gay people to marry had a positive or negative effect on children and society?

“No, not really. Why would I be?” he said, and laughed.

Because saying that something ought to be a certain way simply because that’s the way it supposedly has always been is an awful lot like saying “because we said so.” And Huckabee is supposed to be the guy who questions everything.

I think it's reasonably fair to say that Huckabee is full of crap.  The "ick facktor" is not an argument–unless you're talking about putting parmesan cheese on seafood, in which case it is, and your argument is invalid. 

But really seriously. 

Here is an allegedly intelligent guy who claims evidence for his view that isn't evidence for his view.  The idea that monogamy decreases poverty doesn't exclude gay monogamy.  But worse than that, everyone ought to know from anthro 101 that marriage has been "defined" (I really wish we could stop using this sneaky Platonism) in myriad ways in different cultures (and even in the very Bible Huckabee allegedly believes in).  Finally, Huckabee ought at least to be open to the idea that the evidence does not support his prejudices–but no.  That would be asking too much. 

Now in case you think Huckabee has been misquoted or treated unfairly here by the New Yorker (a claim I expect to be forthcoming), consider the following:

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee successfully championed laws that prevented gay people from becoming foster parents and banned gay adoptions. “Children are not puppies—this is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out how does this work,” Huckabee told a student journalist at the College of New Jersey in April. “You don’t go ahead and accommodate every behavioral pattern that is against the ideal. That would be like saying, ‘Well, there are a lot of people who like to use drugs, so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them.’ ” These comments proved unpopular. On his Web site, Huckabee accused his interviewer of trying to “grossly distort” and “sensationalize my well known and hardly unusual views” about homosexuality. The student publication then posted the audiotape of the interview online. Huckabee had not been misquoted.

Now one thing I'm certain the Bible says is "thou shall not bear false witness."

Send in the epistemologists

Chris Mooney has a worthwhile op-ed about the public's perception of science.  The problem, he argues, is not (only) ignorance of scientific stuff, but selective skepticism about particular scientific claims.  Ironically, information only exacerbates the scientific pseudo-skeptic's  ignorance.  He writes:

In other words, it appears that politics comes first on such a contested subject, and better information is no cure-all — people are likely to simply strain it through an ideological sieve. In fact, more education probably makes a global warming skeptic more persuasive, and more adept at collecting information and generating arguments sympathetic to his or her point of view.

In addition to global warming denialism, he mentions the alleged link between vaccines and autism and concern of nuclear waste in Nevada.  Mooney goes on to conclude that scientists must do a better job of understanding the motivations behind views such as these.  Fair enough.

But I think this is really a job for epistemologists. 

Your argument is invalid

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