Back before we divided off into people who think it was founded on the Bible and people who think it was a tax evasion scheme, I was taught that the United States of America was founded on rational debate. Citizens in a democracy disagree about stuff, and the only way to figure out who’s right is to put our ideas in a metaphorical marketplace and start convincing one another. Of course, the democratic process doesn’t actually determine who’s right; it just identifies the most appealing argument. This wrinkle could potentially give an unfair advantage to those unscrupulous arguers willing to employ sophistry and fallacies, but fortunately our populace is too well-educated for that to work. I’m fucking with you—our populace is home watching Man Versus Food and coming up with race-based theories of identity. The dirtiest argumentative tactics you can imagine are on proud display in contemporary discourse, so that any particular argument is now subsumed in the larger argument between Deductive Reasoning and Whatever. It’s us against them, deductive reasoners, and they’re winning. This week’s link roundup is about winning the argument, even at the expense of obvious considerations of true and false. That’s the beauty of a democracy: if you can put some destructive idea into other people’s heads—optimally one that puts the very people who believe it at a disadvantage—you become more powerful yourself. It’s like the way Renfield keeps eating spiders in Dracula. Won’t you choke down a couple of tarantulas with me?
Don’t watch this video if you are still able to empathize with Richard Dawkins:
Note that the Fox producers identify Dawkins as simply “atheist” and not “evolutionary biologist” or “guy who wrote multiple bestsellers.” That really clears up the value of his argument, as does O’Reilly’s introduction of him as “on a crusade to convince believers they’re idiots.” Per usual on the Factor, the substance of the argument is not does science explain stuff better than religion? or even does god exist? but rather which one of us is wrong? That’s an argument O’Reilly is not willing to lose. His two main tactics—pointing out homicidal political leaders who were atheists and lambasting science for not yet explaining the origins of all aspects of the universe—should be familiar to anyone who’s seen his show. O’Reilly’s theory explains everything: God did it. It’s an idea that appeals solely on its simplicity, and it’s a good indicator that we’re actually watching an argument between Reason and Something Else. Don’t deduce stuff, O’Reilly seems to be saying. Just believe stuff. You don’t need to remember nearly as many rules.
As I write this, my monthly health insurance premium is poised to increase by 50%. The good people at Assurant wrote me a letter explaining that my policy—which does not cover annual checkups and applies a $38,000 deductible to my only known medical condition—is now a lot more expensive because of the Affordable Care Act. It hasn’t gone into effect yet, but whatever—the cost of insurance across the industry has doubled since 2001 anyway. The good news is that, even though my own personal insurance offers less coverage than the minimum now stipulated by law, I can grandfather it in. If I opt for a plan that meets the minimum standards for what you can legally sell to people in America, my premiums will triple. The letter they sent explaining this was exactly one page long, so I assume they didn’t have room for “that’ll teach you to vote on us, fuckers.”
There are two ways to win an argument: you can convince the other person, or you can just make it so what they think doesn’t matter. In response to the crowds of protestors that now turn out for such events, the City of Tampa has requested a number of additional security measures for the 2012 Republican Convention, including unmanned aerial drones. Props to Pete Jones for the link. If there’s one thing that’s going to convince people that the Republican Party represents the interests of ordinary Americans, it’s flying surveillance drones over their houses. In all, Tampa wants 238 new cameras—pole-mounted, vehicle-mounted, helmet-mounted, you name it. The money will come from a Congressional appropriation. Now that we’re not paying for NPR, we’ve got plenty of taxpayer money leftover to provide security for one political party’s national convention.
I don’t mean to give you the impression that oligopoly power and surveillance cameras have deductive reasoning completely routed, though. The specter of rational debate still scares the living shit out of some people, particularly Michele Bachmann. The congresswoman from Minnesota and putative candidate for President abandoned a public fundraiser for the Iowa Family Leader when several students from Grinnell college showed up. After the pumpkin farm where the event was held filled with students, Bachmann arrived an hour late with a police escort. She then spoke to a private audience in the farmhouse. “This was never intended to be a big public event,” she told the invited representatives of various media outlets whom she had asked to publicize the event.
So in the game of paper-scissors-rock that is American political discourse, aerial drones beat college students, college students beat Michele Bachmann, and Bachmann beats John Huntsman. Just as soon as we can get Huntsman into an auditorium with several rocks and a drone, I’ll let you know whether the circle completes. In the meantime, we should probably retreat into nonsense. I’ll get you started.
I’m not going to just let this go.