Does Irrationality Doom America?

Paul Rosenberg explains pervasive illogic in US pundit conversation. Since Gingrich we've substituted cognitive tricks for problem solving. Using the fallacy of equivocation, a form of fallacious reasoning, we use one word, such as "serious" with two different meanings, switching inappropriately. By insisting that a political solution to a problem isn't serious unless it could pass, where an irrational majority controls a legislature, we rule out all proposals with an actual chance of solving the problem. This is a form of suicide.

Does Irrationality Doom America?

How rational problem-solving has ceased to be "serious" among US elites.

The United States is on the verge of committing suicide. Slow suicide, perhaps, which may take decades to fully play out, but suicide nonetheless. The proximate event is the sequester...

Republicans are obstinantly demanding deep budget cuts that will inevitably slow, if not cripple the already weak economy - as well as debilitating or destroying vital government functions in the long run.

This comes at a time when there's actually a staggering need to vastly expand the scope of government action to deal with multiple looming threats of environmental catastrophe ...

Slates's Matthew Yglesias has recently captured the essenial cognitive trick...

[S]eriousness can refer both to the merits of an initiative or to its political viability.

Once you embrace the Principle of Seriousness,... If the parties fail to agree because one party is being unreasonable and the other party is failing to cater to their unreasonable demands, then the apparently reasonable party is in fact failing to be serious. After all, a serious proposal is one that stands a chance of passing. Reasonable proposals will not pass a Congress in which one party is being unreasonable, ...

... he's described is a form of fallacious reasoning, specifically, the fallacy of equivocation, in which one word is used with two different meanings. In its most basic form, one meaning is replaced by another: "Feathers are light; black is dark; therefore no feathers are black". Or "Nothing is better than eternal salvation. A ham sandwich is better than nothing. Therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal salvation".

But what Yglesias is describing is a less patently ridiculous form, in which the two different meanings are essentially welded together - without, of course, acknowledging what has been done.

The realm of conceivable alternatives is heavily skewed to the unreasonable side, for at least two main reasons identifiable as distinct forms of bias. First off, there's an enormous gap between what sounds reasonable initially and what can actually work - as any inventor, engineer, or even songsmith knows. If there's no workability test, then the fantasy-based side can crank out alternatives far faster and more easily than the reality-based side can ever dream of. Secondly, because of the bias against "politically unviable" ideas, there is a prohibitive bias against reasonable alternatives ...thus exert[ing] pressure on them to respond, change, or even yield.

So why is the discussion dominated by a non-solution while a real solution can't even be discussed? It's because the "politically viable" sense of serious totally dominates over the "pragmatically effective" sense of the word, and because what is politically viable is circularly defined: extremist Republican non-solutions are politically viable because Republicans adamantly insist that they are, no matter how laughable they may be... [emphasis mine]

 

Tags: US political discourse, circular reasoning, fallacy of eqyuivocation

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Replies to This Discussion

Duh!  Religion is at least partly to blame for this cognitive disaster.  It teaches people it is all right to be irrational.  If people exercised the power of reason, fully, they would see that The Priesthood has been lying to them since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of the species.  Right there the problem is illustrated, as many of the religious believe man is only 7 to 8,000 years old at most and that our species was created by an imaginary friend in six days and that, like him, we should rest on the seventh, when they can't even get that straight, many worshiping on Saturday, others on Sunday, and even the Order of Martians only on Tuesday.  Can you believe that one version of the GOP platform this last time actually called for abolition of "critical thinking" in our schools.  My goodness, but for that very process, there would not be chemo to keep a leukemia survivor like me alive.  And even if it be argued that my atheism can at least in part be attributed to my diagnosis in 2000, it was only critical thinking that fully convinced me that belief in God is the biggest con of all, and that Christianity, as Nietzsche put it, is the worst calamity to befall mankind in its history.  Thanks for bringing this important article to our attention, Ruth.

"The Priesthood has been lying to them since the dawn of time".

The people looked in wonder and awe at natural phenomena and charismatic characters, known as priests, who explained to them what happened, why, and how one should respond. That was in the Stone Age. Writing down these explanations occurred in The Bronze Age. We are now entering the Antropocene Age, in which superstitions, delusions, fairy tales no longer suffice as credible sources of knowledge. Yet, charismatic men and women speak with utter confidence that their story is equal to or better than the stories told by astrophysicists, cosmologists and natural scientists.  

I can remember the lectures of my uncle, the superior court judge, who declared to me with utter conviction that the problems of today are caused by "lesbians and niggers getting the vote." I asked what he meant when he said "lesbians"; he defined them as any woman who had control over her own body. I knew what he meant by the "n" word. He was so sure of himself; his voice sounded like what I imagined god or Moses would have sounded like. I trusted him, believed him, until life brought its stinger down on my beliefs. 

NO! He was wrong! So were the laws that did not protect women and non-northern Europeans. So are the people who believed as he. 

What is the truth? Doubt is our friend. It opens the doors and windows of life and lets in the natural order of things. The information is all there, all we have to do is explore, experiment, examine what there is to see. 

Fracking is a good example. What happens to ground water when fracking occurs? Is that a healthy consequence or unhealthy? The answer resides in effect. Yes, if one's goal is profit, one can make a profit by fracking. The questions then becomes, should one fracture rocks to get oil?

 

Political naivety accounts for some of the problem.

Along with the above-named explanations we have to take into account that the ability to reason is distributed normally, so many people aren't able to reason well.

Religious indoctrination of children damages attempts to build self-esteem, and many people see themselves as deserving only what America's rulers are willing to share. This becomes low expectations.

Political indoctrination of children produces a population who do not challenge political authority.

For otherwise normal adults, burdened by economic stressors and additionally burdened caring for children, all of the above AND the frequent repetition of slogans that say America is the greatest contributes to the naivety so common in America.

And never forget this: the laws that protect domestic animals from abuse date from the late 1800s. The laws that protect human children from abuse date from the late 1900s -- a century later.

The goal of families, cultures, politics, religion is to obtain obedience. That cannot meet the challenges of today's complex world. Obedience becomes the enemy. What we need are critical thinkers. Those who question authority, who try different ways of thinking, of paying attention to cause and effect. 

In my experience, "normal" defines a sick individual and family, and culture. What we need are healthy people and institutions.

Yes, Tom, you are quire correct in your statement:

"the laws that protect domestic animals from abuse date from the late 1800s. The laws that protect human children from abuse date from the late 1900s -- a century later."

The child abuse syndrome was coined in 1962. 

Paediatric Implications of the Battered Baby Syndrome*

The battered-wife syndrome was coined in 1970s. 

An Essay on Battered Woman Syndrome

I can't even find the original piece that I read in 1977 in which Lenore Walker coined the term "battered wife syndrome". The term is now "battered person syndrome". Is it possible that even our history is obliterated? 

Joan, during the 1980s in San Francisco, I heard much conversation about battered wife syndrome in heterosexual families and much denial of its existence in the lesbian community.

When I left SF in 1996, lesbians were admitting the existence of violence in their homes.

I have long suspected that power/control in relationships and violence -- physical and/or verbal -- are positively correlated. Have you seen any research on this?

Where religious fundamentalism isn't ruining American government, political ideology is.  Too many people are clinging to these supposedly inviolable concepts which are SUPPOSED to cure all ills when all they do is make matters worse and/or increase the wealth disparity between the 1% and everyone else.  Shaking those who want to advance either of these agendas out of their infatuation with them is possible, but exceedingly difficult.

I wonder if Peter Boghossian would consider a political equivalent to A Manual for Creating Atheists, tailored and aimed at the political right.  We need something and we need it soon, before practical governance in the US grinds completely to a halt.

Loren, you are quite correct in stating political ideology is ruining our government.

What underlies political ideology? 

In some cases, Joan, there is a religious basis, but I don't think that's the answer in all cases.  Question: do you remember this guy?



Plain and simple GREED, whether it stems from insecurity or some other neurotic or psychotic cause, is as problematic as religion is.  Indeed, greed might as well be a religion to fictional people such as Gordon Gekko and real people like Michael Milken, who worship the almighty dollar and can never get enough, even as the faithful seek after their god.  The only difference is that the money-grabbers at least have something real to pursue.

You are right, my looking at religion as the cause of greed is not realistic even as they both play a role in the loss of any sense of democracy.  People such as Milken and those who want a theocracy cause the same harm. 

I also agree that the world would be better if "Boghossian would consider a political equivalent to A Manual for Creating Atheists, tailored and aimed at the political right." Fundamentalism of any sort, religious or political ideology moves us away from the kind of government in which I want to live. 

Where religious fundamentalism isn't ruining American government, political ideology is. 

Loren, please consider editing that to Where religious fundamentalism isn't ruining American government, political fundamentalism is. 

I've been doing politics since the 1970s and have heard ideologues in both major parties. I've heard them also in minor parties, such as the Socialist Workers Party and Pat Buchanan's short-lived Reform Party.

I concluded that ideology functions to protect belief from reality.

Could we say that ideology is to politics as dogma / doctrine is to religion?

Yeah.

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