Friday, October 12, 2012

More Romney/Ryan and talk about reality, opinions, and assumptions. Very long, but it has a summary!

Note: this was meant to be a reply to a comment. But it's about 3 times over the size limit for the comment section so I had to post it this way. Here's the comment, originally from the post immediately before this one.:

"have made a strategic choice to ignore one reality and substitute their own. That's frustrating because A) it's so obviously wrong, and B) so many people appear to think that's a good idea. It's baffling"

Obama has been doing this for years and is doing his best to down grade America to the same level as third world countries, but you're more concerned about Romeny messing up the percentage of money that PBS gets. That's what baffles me.

Well, I think you're wrong. I'll try to explain why and you can tell me what you think. Also, this went way longer than I intended, so there's a summary at the end. There are 2 basic methods for advocating political issues. 1 method is to disagree over something using a shared reality. So, for example, one could say: 

I think:
1. Obama's healthcare reform (PPACA) represents an inappropriate overreach of the federal government.
2. While the health insurance market currently (pre-PPACA) is bad, PPACA is not the best way to go about fixing it and in fact is an undesirable thing overall. 

And that's fine. I think the above statement is wrong but it's dealing with facts. It's a situation where there are real things we agree on and differing opinions based on those things everyone acknowledges are real. But there's a second way to say things, I'll use a similar example from the above argument, this one has the crucial differences that I'm trying to elucidate:

I think:
1. Obama's healthcare reform (PPACA) represents a government takeover of healthcare.
2. PPACA is a socialist program.
3. It creates a death panel: a board of bureaucrats who will be rationing health care (a situation which does not exist now).
4. The healthcare market is fine pre-PPACA. We have great healthcare! In fact, no one dies from lack of health insurance (note: I'll talk more about this one in a bit).

That argument deviates from reality. It's no longer opinions based on real things, it has become opinions based on falsehoods. The government is not taking over healthcare, it's not a socialist program, while literally everything is rationed (i.e., there is only so much "stuff" in the world and health care is no exception) the idea of a death panel is false (although that doesn't mean the opposite is true: there will be unlimited care), and the healthcare in the US pre-PPACA produced horrible results for much higher amounts of money than similar countries. 

When someone puts forward and argument of the second sort then the conversation is already over. There's no way to disagree and yet become better informed, or better understand their position, or even - gasp - examine the beliefs we hold going into the conversation (I'm talking more about this in the blog post I'm writing at the moment, specifically Romney/Ryan vs talking with extremely conservative Econ professors). In other words, when someone uses an argument of the 2nd sort then they're not showing interest in having an honest conversation whereby each side fairly examines the issues at hand. 

The assumptions behind some of the opinions are falsehoods, that's what I mean when I refer to not abiding in a shared reality. To go back to the last point in the second argument: Mitt Romney two days ago suggested that no one in the US dies from lack of health insurance as part of an argument against PPACA. The actual number is between 45,000 and 48,000 per year. In other words, Mitt Romney is claiming that 45,000 to 48,000 is 0. And he's hoping other people allow themselves to believe it! 

That's a perfect example of what's so soul-grating about Romney/Ryan. It's not that they have opinions different from mine, it goes beyond that. It's not that Romney is against PPACA, it's that one of the assumptions that's built into his opinion is that 45,000 to 48,000 is equal to 0. When someone expresses an opinion which is based on a clearly false assumption then it's frustrating to me. And when people are persuaded to hold opinions based on assumptions like 45,000 to 48,000 is 0 then it's even more perplexing

That's why, for example, I think your comment shows both types of opinions. You say that Obama has been doing what I'm accusing Romney of doing. Well, that's fine. I think you're wrong but that's an opinion based on actual performance. It's your opinion based on real assumptions (e.g., Obama is President, Obama has a performance record, you're aware of his record, etc). 

But the second part is clearly false. It's bizarre to claim the President has spent his time in office trying to turn the United States into a 3rd world country. I mean, for starters he could have just allowed the financial sector (and thus the world's financial sector) to implode and allowed us to enter into a depression. He wouldn't even have had to do anything! He could have simply allowed the consequence of what his Republican predecessor had done. I mean, it's just obviously totally wrong to claim that Obama has been actively trying to make the United States a 3rd world country. And what's frustrating isn't that I think that opinion is wrong, I think plenty of opinions in the world are wrong and that doesn't bother me, it's that the assumptions built into the opinion are clearly false. 

In other words, to break it down a bit:

1. Obama did XYZ
2. XYZ are actions one would take if one wanted to turn the United States into a 3rd would country
3. So, Obama is trying to turn the United States into a 3rd world country. 

The conclusion isn't the precise thing which frustrates me, it's the premises. It's believing that he's done things which he hasn't, and not believing he's done things which he has. We can break down the Romney healthcare argument as well: 

1. 0 people die from lack of health care in the United States
2. If 0 people die from lack of health care then it's not a major problem
3. If it's not a major problem then PPACA was bad
4. Therefore, PPACA was bad. 

Again, it's not the conclusion which is frustrating. It's the assumption that 0 people die when the number is 45,000 to 48,000 in the United States per year. It's clearly a false assumption and therefore shouldn't be held or espoused to be true. 

Finally - I know... - that's the sort of thing I refer to when I say we don't share a common reality. I guess reality in this context could mean something like "reality is a set of shared assumptions upon which we all form differing opinions". From the extremely basic (e.g., the Earth is more or less round, the sky looks blue, gravity is real, etc) to the more complex (a study done by Harvard on the number of people who die in the United States each year from lack of health insurance is reflective of the correct number). With the really basic there are no problems aside from people taking Intro to Philosophy and thinking getting high and saying "dude, is the world, like, real?" is philosophy. But with the latter there have been a lot of problems. 

And, I'm sorry, but the problems have been overwhelmingly on the Republican side. They "don't let [their] campaign be run by fact-checkers". They claim 45,000 to 48,000 is 0. They claim their budget is "too complex to run through the numbers right now" and when basic addition and subtraction says it doesn't add up then they claim they'll hammer out the details later. They insinuate that going after something which is .00012% of the federal budget is an effective way to cut spending. They've left the arena of having differing opinions on real things and instead created their one reality, one where 45,000 to 48,000 is 0 because that helps their argument, one where addition and subtraction can be overcome by getting elected, one where .00012% is actually 1-5% or even over 50%. I just don't see that from the other side. 

Well, to be fair, I do see it in the various clips which inevitably get shared - but only by white conservatives, which is weird - of a black person saying he supports Obama because the President is giving him something. Those are always accompanied by comments along the lines of "see! this is why people support Obama! lazy black people looking for a handout from me" and probably an anecdote like "I was at the store and saw someone use SNAP and then get into an expensive care - SNAP is broken and a waste". And always a few self-congratulatory "all people would be conservative if only they were hardworking, hardnosed, realistic people - the proof is this video of a lazy [black] person saying that he's voting for Obama because he wants free things". I think it's safe to say that the people in the "Obama's giving me a car; I'm giving him my vote" have pretty effectively left reality (or, base their opinions on obviously untrue assumptions). 

But that's different from, for example, the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates centering their campaign around the same reality-eschewing methodology. And that's just not something I see happening when it comes to Democrats in general or Obama specifically. One could try to make the case that they do, but I'm pretty skeptical that one could make a decent case and I'm near certain that no one could make a good case that they do it with equal fervour.


I know I said finally already. It probably gave you false hope. But really, this is the appropriate place for finally! 

I believe I told you, but it may have been a long time ago, that I use StatCounter. I have a sensitive ego and I like to know people are reading what I write. Anyway, StatCounter shows me the city, state, computer OS, browser type, time, etc, of everyone who loads any page on my blog. It also usually shows any referral link, for example Facebook or Google or whatever which is pretty cool IMO. I say all this because I originally couldn't figure out how precisely to get my point across. For example, my first attempt at a reply was just over 500 words and this one is clocking in at near 2200. 

I say all that because I saw that you were frequently checking back to see if I had replied, so I felt an obligation to make my best attempt at clarifying why A) I think you're wrong and B) why the gist from what I was trying to say wasn't simply that Romney was saying something untrue. It goes a lot deeper and wider than that, but I think that's a good starting point or example. 



I define reality, in this context, as something like: "a set of shared assumptions about the nature of the world". The Earth is more or less round, the Sun gives off heat, gravity is pulling us down, etc. Then there are more complex assumptions: studies done by Harvard are generally accurate, the role of the government should be limited to property rights and national defense and contract enforcement, the Obama administration's handling of Mubarak leaving Egypt prevented unnecessary bloodshed in an inevitable revolution, etc. 

We of course base our opinions on all of these sorts of assumptions. And assumptions on assumptions on assumptions and so on. There are 2 ways of disagreeing: 1 is to have differing opinions on the same basic assumptions, the other is to have differing opinions based on wildly different basic assumptions (i.e., one opinion is necessarily based on a false assumption and is therefore the wrong opinion). 

The Romney/Ryan campaign is a great example of the second sort of opinions. They've based their campaign on obvious falsehoods. For example, saying that 0 people die per year from lack of health care in the United States and using that assumption as part of an argument against PPACA. The actual number - the assumption based in reality - is 45,000 - 48,000 per year. So that's an example of abandoning reality and making up their own reality (one in which 45,000 to 48,000 is sometimes 0). 

It's that abandoning of reality that's frustrating. It's not holding opinions different from mine, it's not the conclusion of the argument (PPPACA is bad). I disagree with the conclusions and opinions of Romney/Ryan, but hey I disagree with a lot of opinions. To paraphrase Rick Perry: "that's an opinion that's out there, and its got some gaps in it". But differing opinions don't frustrate me - loads of people abandoning reality and basing opinions on clearly false assumptions does. I fundamentally don't get why they don't see reality for what it is. And I also don't get why the care so little about what reality actually is. 

22 million people think .00012% is greater than 50%. Because they haven't bothered to find out the first number, they just sort of feel in their gut that it's bigger than 50%. That's an abhorrent opinion to hold! When I see Romney insinuating that the unknown number is significant then I see Romney furthering a clearly wrong opinion based on obviously false assumptions. Everyone should see that and I can't figure out why they don't. 

And Romney/Ryan do this all the time and millions of people are OK with it. Heck, they welcome it with open arms! They embrace a false reality and yet continue to abide in this one. They hold obviously wrong opinions (e.g., 45,000 to 48,000 is 0, .00012% is greater than 50%, basic rules of arithmetic can be overcome by electing Romney/Ryan, etc) and I can't figure out how or why.

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