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The Seventh Meditation on The War On Applause Lights [Sep. 16th, 2012|09:50 pm]
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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?"


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.

[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)
Yeah, I know. :(
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[User Picture]From: oscredwin
2012-09-17 07:10 pm (UTC)
I'm going to be rude.

You made a claim and presented a cite for it. The claim was seemingly rebutted. You replied "Yeah, I know. :(". Do you agree with the rebuttal? Did you undersand and agree with it before it was posted? If yes, why did you post it?
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-17 07:21 pm (UTC)
My model of Douglas was trying to show me that article because it was a very useful counterpoint to some of things I was talking about, but does understand that people aren't always consistent. As far as I can tell I presented a possible way out from the blog's conclusion but did not entirely prove it to be false.

Douglas was saying that he understands the whole "people don't follow their principles when they're icky" argument and I am 100% happy with our conversation.
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[User Picture]From: mindstalk
2012-09-17 07:26 pm (UTC)
A partial way out, insofar as you can believe "they believe abortion is murder" *and* "they want to punish women for having sex".

Although I think chickening out of punishing mothers like murderers is a strong sign of their deep intellectual inconsistency. They wouldn't flinch so much for an actual infanticide. Ditto for the rape and incest exception. HPV seems telling too.
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[User Picture]From: Douglas Scheinberg
2012-09-17 08:30 pm (UTC)
Your model was accurate. The blog post isn't my own argument, and I currently neither endorse nor reject its conclusion; it's just something interesting that I found relevant.
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[User Picture]From: moshez
2013-01-11 07:02 pm (UTC)
"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."

I would disagree. The solution to an undesired baby is to take the baby away. That does no medical harm to the mother, and does not force any medical procedures. However, to take an unwanted unborn baby away is sometimes untenable (pre-6-months) and at all times highly medical interventiony (C-section or similar). Late-term abortions are also medical interventions, but usually we go with letting people choose what medical procedures they get to have.

tl:dr: It is consistent to prefer alive-baby to dead-baby while still preferring mother-not-undergoing-unwanted-medical-procedure to alive-baby.
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