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The Seventh Meditation on The War On Applause Lights [Sep. 16th, 2012|09:50 pm]
Scott
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Suppose the President gets asked to veto a new hydroelectric dam. After thinking it over, he does so. He says the dam would destroy the environment and flood many homes. And the people ask him "Why do you hate Italians so much?"

What?

Well, if there's no hydroelectric plant, they have to make that energy some other way. A lot of it will be from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contribute to global warming. Global warming raises sea levels. Rising sea levels are destroying Venice. The destruction of Venice will end the livelihoods of thousands of Italians. So if the President vetoes the dam, the best explanation is that he hates Italian people.

This isn't just an example of not using the Principle of Charity. No one uses the Principle of Charity. I push the Principle of Charity endlessly and think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread and toy with tattooing "Principle of Charity, people!" in big letters on my chest so that whenever people go on one of their demonization trips I can just take off my shirt and they'll be like "Oh, sorry". And even I forget to use the Principle of Charity most of the time, because it's really hard. But this is something way more malignant. This is like an active Principle of Anti-Charity here.

The Principle of Anti-Charity can do anything. No matter what the President's next move is, we can make that part of the War On Italians as well. Does the President cut the military budget? The US is the core of NATO; any decrease in US forces will have to be compensated by the other NATO countries if the alliance is to stay strong. Therefore Italy has to invest more money in defense, dealing another blow to its already crumbling economy. Shame on the President and his Italian-hating ways.

Or maybe the President raises the military budget. This would probably mean an expansion of existing military bases. Some of those are in Italy, and every time they expand the Italians nearby protest what the New York Times describes as "traffic congestion, environmental damage, and the possibility of terrorist attacks." So the President clearly wants terrorists to attack Italy.

So maybe the President just refuses to even touch the military budget at all. Well, in that case he's weak and passive and a bad leader, and probably no one will ever build a monument to him. And most monuments are built out of marble. And the best marble comes from Cararra in Italy. He must trying to sabotage the Italian marble industry!

(I mean, when the President makes one anti-Italian decision, you can kind of put your head in the sand and believe it might be a coincidence. But when all of his decisions hurt Italy in some way? Hardly!)

So the Principle of Anti-Charity is pretty hard to disprove. The reason I get so exasperated when anyone talks about gender is that the Principle of Anti-Charity seems to be the Official Standard For Debate. Here I will be quoting from The Uncredible Hallq, which is actually a really awesome blog with great analysis of some issues in philosophy of religion; despite me having a problem with this one minor thing I absolutely recommend it:
When you look at stuff like the reaction to Todd Aikin saying rape victims don’t need abortions because they won’t get pregnant if it’s a “legitimate rape,” what you see is people waking up to the fact that the anti-abortion movement isn’t about their public rhetoric about “partial birth abortion.” It’s full of vile extremists who want to deny women their basic right to bodily autonomy.

I find this fascinating. Here is this one guy1 whom 99.999% of people on the anti-abortion side have condemned and tried to distance themselves from. Every single prominent Republican from Mitt Romney to Sean Hannity to John Ashcroft condemned him, which is almost unpredecented in terms of Republicans condemning fellow Republicans. The head of the RNC decided to ban him from the Republican Convention and called him "stupid". Republican Super PACs and the party itself stopped funding his race. Karl Rove publicly threatened to murder him - he sounded like he meant it figuratively, but since it's Karl Rove he should probably keep his doors bolted just in case.

A few people have said something like how they think he is a great guy personally and share his views about abortion even though that particular comment were idiotic, and a few people say they think the media reaction was disproportionate even though his comments were idiotic. One or two really fringe extremist pro-life groups have said they kind of agree with him although his way of putting it was idiotic. This is as close as anyone came to saying he wasn't an idiot.

And so of course we naturally conclude from this that he has spoken the secret heart of the anti-abortion movement and his opinions can be considered representative.

But more importantly, let's go to the last sentence of the quote: "It’s full of vile extremists who want to deny women their basic right to bodily autonomy."

They "want" to deny women their basic right to bodily autonomy in the same way that the President "wants" to destroy the livelihood of Italians. That is, they support a policy for completely different reasons and it will end out denying women their rights. If you would feel awkward saying the President is plotting to drown the Venetians, please feel exactly as awkward saying conservatives are plotting to deny women their right to bodily autonomy.

The same is true of the contraceptive mandate. Its Wikipedia article includes quotes like:
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said Republicans "want to take us back to the Dark Ages ... when women were property."

"The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says, "House Republicans have launched an all-out war on women since taking the Speaker's gavel over a year ago."

Right. It's obviously all about women. Because Republicans are usually so thrilled about government forcing them to do things against their religion. And they just love when Obama pushes through health care mandates.

The War On Women is exactly as real as the War On Christmas. People do not launch Wars On Applause Lights. People sometimes accuse their opponents of launching Wars on Applause Lights, because then instead of having to argue that a new hydroelectric dam is really necessary, they can just sit and watch while the President has to defends himself against hordes of angry Italian-American voters.

Speaking of Wars on Things, let's talk about the War on Terror. Everyone agrees terrorism is really bad. Some people want a Strong Response To Terror, which in practice consists of waterboarding some people and then bombing a randomly chosen Middle Eastern country. Other people want a More Measured Response To Terror, which in practice consists of trying to figure out what kind of things we do that make us a target for terrorism and then not doing them.

The former group of people call the latter group of people Soft On Terror. I think it's a terrible phrase, but it could be worse. They could accuse them of being part of "terrorism culture", an all-pervading belief system that terrorism is somewhere between excusable and admirable, and that every time they vote against a new drone bombing it is because they secretly think terrorists are great people. And every time they try to figure out the conditions that promote terrorism and decrease them, it's because of their deep-seated desire to blame the victims of terrorism for the attacks.

The point of this post is not for me to say either side is correct, or even that one side is not completely barking up the wrong tree and their so-called "solutions" are actually exactly the wrong way to go about it and will just make the terrorists stronger. Please do not try to infer my position in the actual debate just because I am talking about the meta-debate. If you have to know, I agree with the moderate liberal position on terrorism and I agree with the feminist position on the issue that this is an obvious metaphor for. But that doesn't matter.

What matters is that this is also a Principle of Anti-Charity issue. If you hear that some Democratic Senator voted not to invade Iraq, and your first thought is "I bet he secretly loves terrorists and thinks the victims of terrorism deserve what they get", then your head is not screwed on straight.

Suppose you hear Noam Chomsky say that maybe one way to decrease terrorist attacks would be to stop propping up the Saudi royal family. And maybe you know he's wrong and you have study after study showing that terrorists don't care about the Saudi royal family and that actually countries that support the Saudi royal family less are even more likely to be attacked by terrorists. But nevertheless if you decide that it's totally impossible that he's just a nice person who honestly wants to help - if you decide the only explanation for Chomsky's actions is that he's Osama bin Laden's best pal and secretly goes out to the cemetery every night to dance on the grave of 9-11 victims - if you use his advice as proof that our society is really a pro-al-Qaeda "terrorism culture" - then you have left the Way.

People do not launch Wars On Applause Lights. People do not Secretly Love Boo Lights. If you keep it up like this maybe I am seriously going to have to get that Principle of Charity tattoo.

FOOTNOTE: What the heck was Akin thinking, anyway? To anyone familiar with cognitive biases, the answer should be obvious. It's the just-world fallacy and the eternally springing hope that policy debates should be one-sided. Suppose you believed abortion was genuinely murder and just as bad as killing a grown adult. In that case, if women could get pregnant from rape, you would have to make an impossible moral choice between committing murder and forcing a woman to bear her rapist's child. It would be horrible and you would feel like a monster whichever you did. And the world is just and fair and never presents you with horrible impossible moral choices, therefore women cannot get pregnant from rape. So when he read a (terrible, unethical) doctor who claimed exactly that in a (terrible, unethical) article published in a real (terrible, unethical) book, he gave a big sigh of relief and didn't think twice about it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dudley_doright
2012-09-17 05:13 am (UTC)
> Other people want a More Measured Response To Terror, which in practice consists of trying to figure out what kind of things we do that make us a target for terrorism and then not doing them.

Some of them just want us to stop giving a crap about terror, because it kills us at a lower rate than lightning strikes. Bumper sticker version: "Refuse to be terrorized!"
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-17 05:23 am (UTC)
As long as we're perfectly clear that we have abandoned the obvious metaphor, and that we're way down here in the comment box where terrorism just means terrorism, I agree with you.

(except that a conservative friend of mine sometimes makes the strong counter-argument that if we leave the terrorists alone someday they'll get a nuke and then they can cause actual damage)

Edited at 2012-09-17 05:24 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-17 02:29 pm (UTC)
Ignoring children when they misbehave just gets them to escalate the behavior.
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[User Picture]From: DRMacIver
2012-09-17 07:01 am (UTC)
Hm. I find myself unconvinced.

The problem with this argument is that this can be easily over-applied, because you've got no criteria for testing its relevance.

I'm fond of Taylor's corollary to Hanlon's Razor. Hanlon's Razor being "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity". Taylor's corollary being "This is only good advice when there is no malice afoot".

Similarly I think the corollary to the principle of charity is "This is only good advice when all parties are acting in good faith".

I think it is at the very least extremely plausible to believe that most anti-abortion people are not acting in good faith.

Additionally, if you don't believe that abortion is murder, fighting to make it illegal literally has only one direct effect: It makes the lives of women dramatically worse. I don't think it's reasonable to compare something quite so direct to the indirect chain of consequences that leads to the destruction of the marble industry.
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[User Picture]From: DRMacIver
2012-09-17 07:10 am (UTC)
By the way, just wanted to say, despite the fact that my first comment on it is to disagree with you, I've really appreciated this series and thanks for writing it.
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[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2012-09-17 07:18 am (UTC)
Your last point assumes that anti-abortion people _know_ that making abortion legal doesn't increase the number of abortions. I was pro-choice for a very long time before I knew that, so I wouldn't expect the average person who's never done any reading around the subject to know about it.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-17 07:26 am (UTC)
Well, I am not at all a fan of the "abortion is murder" argument, and I did about a month ago call it The Worst Argument In The World. But the reason it's The Worst Argument In The World is partly because if you don't know how to deconstruct it then it's really really convincing. There seems to be a big thought-processes difference between quasi-consequentialists and quasi-deontologists, and if you're the quasi-deontologist type the abortion-murder equivalency apparently makes perfect sense even though to quasi-consequentialists like me it seems pretty stupid.

And although I don't know how much it proves, women are usually found to be more likely to be pro-life and less likely to be pro-choice than men (see for example here). I know that it's a truism that just because many women support something doesn't mean it's not patriarchalist, but I do think if many women support something it means that they must at least think it does something other than keep down women.
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[User Picture]From: lastconformer
2012-09-17 12:19 pm (UTC)
So I'm one of those folk who think abortion should be illegal. But that's not the thing I want to argue for right now, so I hope I can make my actual point without derailing the thread into the usual Internet abortion mud-fight.

The point I want to make is that not only do I think most people on my side are acting in good faith, but actually my System 1 thinks it at the very least extremely plausible to believe that most pro-abortion people are not acting in good faith. Why, even in the comments to this posts I have seen arguments so obviously idiotic that I wonder if anyone can hold them in good faith. And that's on a post that isn't even really about abortion but just uses the fight over it as an example. For that reaction you folks must know deep down that there is something wrong with your position!

Angry yet? Of course I know on a System 2 level that it ain't so. But I genuinely do have the pre-rational reflex I explained in the last paragraph. And it's really easy to explain. Thing is, our instincts are tribal and that affects how we are biased. If the people in other tribes are simply evil that's awfully convenient. But in the real world very few people are genuine sadists acting from pure malice.

So now for the real attack: If you honestly can't see what's wrong with the assumption that seems so extremely plausible, well then I think the rational part of you is either defective or simply not in charge.

Which, b.t.w. supplies most of the missing heuristic. If malice is too conveniently located in some other tribe only, that is extremely suspicious. The suspicion may be rebuttable, but the default should be to assume that it's an illusion.
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-17 02:54 pm (UTC)
Assuming it does in fact make women's lives worse. Women die from legal abortions too. Women, indeed, continue to die in coat hanger abortions -- a tiny minority, but then, they were a tiny minority in illegal days, too. The overwhelming decline in abortion mortality predated legalization.

There's also the little matter of whether it increases abortions and so the risk. The only evidence I've heard toward that claim is that the legalization decreased the birth rate only fractionally. But -- and this has been tested in studies -- if you give some women Plan B to keep, and let some get it over the counter, and require others to get a prescription, why you will see major differences in the use of Plan B, but what you will not see is any differences in pregnancies or abortions. What it really gives is permission to be sloppy about your chances of conceiving.

One also notes that all demographers will agree it causes the feminization of poverty. Once you have legalized abortion, men can, with perfect logic, regard giving birth out of wedlock as entirely on the woman's head and no responsibility of theirs, and that is the main driver of the poverty problem. This is probably why Playboy is and always has been a major funder of pro-abortion groups.
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[User Picture]From: Douglas Scheinberg
2012-09-17 07:24 am (UTC)
Regarding anti-abortion rhetoric: the actual policy proposals of the anti-abortion movement sometimes seem to be more in line with an uncharitable interpretation of their motivations than a charitable one. (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/06/27/do-they-really-believe-abortion-is-murder/)

Edited at 2012-09-17 07:25 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-17 07:33 am (UTC)
That blog claims it's trying to be charitable, but almost all of their supposed "contradictions" could be resolved if you grant that the same people who are anti-abortion are usually conservative Christians whose religion tells them extramarital sex and contraception are evil. It's like saying "Believing abortion is murder doesn't mean you should be anti-gay, but most pro-lifers are! What's up with that?"

The others seem like pro-life positions that have been toned down to make them politically (and morally?) palatable. It's like how pro-choicers who believe in partial birth abortion are mostly anti-infanticide, even though a consistent application of their principles would say infanticide is okay. They're not failing to consistently apply their principles because they secretly don't care about women and just want to sacrifice the unborn to Satan (or whatever the conspiracy theory on the other side is), they're failing to consistently apply their principles because no one ever consistently applies their principles especially when doing so would be icky.
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[User Picture]From: Douglas Scheinberg
2012-09-17 07:39 am (UTC)
Loving this series. Just caught up to the latest post tonight.
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[User Picture]From: st_rev
2012-09-17 07:48 am (UTC)
I like your argument that my enemies shouldn't assume I am stupid, evil and insane. Of course, they only keep doing that because they really are stupid, evil and insane.*


*: This is a completely crazy misreading of your argument, but one I've seen many times in the past.

Edited at 2012-09-17 07:53 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-17 08:14 am (UTC)
I'm not convinced it's a misreading. Like I said, I'm horrible at this charity thing.

But I do think the Fundamental Attribution Error and Just World Hypothesis and Enemies Are Innately Evil bias make it pretty easy to be Anti-Charitable even if you're a nice and intelligent person.
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[User Picture]From: 17catherines
2012-09-17 09:06 am (UTC)
You know, I try to operate by the Principal of Charity myself, if by that you mean operating from the presumption that people are basically well-intentioned and trying to make the world a better place, even if I may disagree with them on what that better place would look like.

But watching - admittedly through the medium of feminist blogs - the way many of these anti-choice policies have been playing out (for example, the difficulty of trying to find somewhere that will perform a Pap smear in Texas, now that Planned Parenthood has been largely de-funded) makes it very hard to believe that the Republican party gives a damn about any woman once she has emerged from the womb.

Admittedly, the Republican Party doesn't seem to give a damn about most men, either, but they really seem to be going out of their way to try to make life more difficult for women at present. And it does feel very personal, because there always seems to be this underlying feeling that of course a *good* woman would never need these sorts of services (family planning, domestic violence services, help with childcare) anyway, or would be able to pay for it if she did.

Also, while I think you're right that most pro-life types aren't as extreme as Akin, the ones with the loudest voices and the most money seem to be, and I've noticed that friends of mine who are pro-life tend to take the view that yes, it's awful to go that far, but if it saves the babies...

All of this makes me very glad that I don't live in America. Australia has its share of misogyny, but it doesn't seem to be such a large part of the public discourse, possibly because we aren't as into fundamentalism.

Catherine
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-17 09:12 am (UTC)
If you believe abortion is murder, you want to minimise the number of abortions that happen, yes?

So you should be encouraging women not to get pregnant unless they want to, in other words contraception (because, as a rational being, you have noted that "abstinence-only" sex education is completely ineffective - people screw just as much whether or not you tell them they shouldn't - and anyway what about women who are married?). You should be making sure that women who have got pregnant - and perhaps have been deserted by the father - have enough money to raise a child rather than having to kill it.

And yet the anti-abortionists are against all those things too. One might even think they didn't really care all that much about abortion per se, and were just using it as a talking point (because it is, after all, icky) in service of some other goal.

Not that that goal is necessarily the subjugation of women. Maybe they just want cheap meat.

-- passing Firedrake
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-17 03:08 pm (UTC)
Actually we see the most abortions in the groups that use contraception the most.
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[User Picture]From: cartesiandaemon
2012-09-17 09:31 am (UTC)

I also love the post title

Principle of anti-charity is a great description. You're right it seems almost universal.

Hold on, I have some nitpicks too.
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[User Picture]From: celandine13
2012-09-17 11:18 am (UTC)
The *practical* point of charity in argument is not because it makes you a nice person. After all, if I insult Congressmen to my friends, it doesn't hurt the Congressmen and it lifts my friends' spirits, so I'm not actually being mean to anyone directly.

The reason to be *accurate* in argument is because every distortion of the truth corrupts your thinking. If on your off hours you think about politics through a really Blue/Green, epistemically sloppy point of view, you're going to build that habit into your thinking. And if you want to influence politics, you need to have an accurate picture of people's motivations so that you can predict how they'll respond to your actions.

The reason to be *charitable*, to always assume the best of your opponents, is mostly so that you spend your time thinking up arguments against *good* arguments, which is good for your brain, instead of squashing idiots, which is bad for your brain.

But charitableness doesn't have much value in the actual practice of politics. Assuming your opponents are nobler than they are gets you squashed. If I'm sitting at home discussing ideas, then yeah, I want to steel-man all the opposing ideas. If I actually want to influence people -- and while I'll never be in politics myself, I might someday want to persuade a prominent person -- then sometimes the rational thing to do is to say, "Well, actually this guy turns out to be a mean-spirited moron. Now, what does he want, and how can we bargain with him?"
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[User Picture]From: cartesiandaemon
2012-09-17 12:09 pm (UTC)
Awesome description, yes.
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[User Picture]From: selenite
2012-09-17 04:37 pm (UTC)
The Principle of Anti-Charity seems to be a very effective way of winning status contests within your own in-group. Nothing makes you look like the most determined Champion of X like denouncing Anti-Xers as the spawn of Satan/haters of women/Neville Chamberlain wanna-bees/etc. So there's a reward for worsening communications between the different sides of the blue/green divide.

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[User Picture]From: mindstalk
2012-09-17 06:45 pm (UTC)
I haven't read this article yet, but someone summarized it as

This one is interesting, because just today I read another article which pointed out that the number one criticism from the Left that rankles the Grassroots Right isn't the stuff about Medicare, or Tax Returns, or Unemployment, or Corporatism, but the accusation that the Right is waging a War on Women. It drives them crazy, because it exposes a very real and objectively verifiable break between their deeply held belief (they are the true defenders of femininity) and the reality on the ground (Obama up 10-15 pts among women).

They (most of them) don't hate women. They think their policies are actually good for women. And they can't possibly come around to understanding why women don't seem to want "what's good for them".
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[User Picture]From: selfishgene
2012-09-18 10:44 am (UTC)
I am pro-choice so the following is not intended as an anti-abortion point (although some might use it for that). Pregnant rats under stress can reabsorb a litter while it is still in the womb. The Bruce effect, refers to the tendency for female rodents to terminate their pregnancies following exposure to the scent of an unfamiliar male. As far as I know nobody has ever seen such a effect in humans but we know there are many unexplained miscarriages in the normal domain of human fertility. Is there some law of biology that makes it impossible for a woman's body to be more likely to miscarry after a rape? I am not saying there is solid evidence for this, or that it is relevant to the abortion debate, but it seems at least possible.
From an evolutionary POV it seems plausible that woman have some (probabilistic and unconscious) biological mechanism to abort an unwanted fetus. Obviously this mechanism isn't perfect otherwise woman would never need induced abortions. It could be an arms race thing.
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[User Picture]From: mindstalk
2012-09-18 01:10 pm (UTC)
Terminating a pregnancy in rodents due to lack of resources or the presence of a new, infanticidal, and dominant male, is rather different (especially in evolutionary logic) from terminating in pregnancy in a social primate. And there's lots of possible reasons for miscarriage. So no, it's not impossible to be more likely to miscarry after rape, but there's absolutely no reason to postulate it without evidence. And as you say, "more likely" would clearly not mean "never", so Akin's claim would be bullshit even if it had some evidence, which it doesn't.

And in brutal evolutionary logic, which doesn't care about your happiness, a male who could rape you is more likely to sire sons who can also pass on their genes through rape.
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[User Picture]From: naath
2012-09-20 01:18 pm (UTC)
The Principle Of Charity appears to explicitly conflict with the principle of stopping other people from building up their rhetorical super-weapons by chipping away at your defenses bit-by-bit. If I always assume the best, and never point out that your actions are hurting me a bit then maybe you will keep on taking actions that hurt me (perhaps without even knowing I hurt).
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