Saturday, July 20, 2013

Check Your Premises

We all know what happened a while back in that criminal case about that person who was killed by that other person. And we all know the verdict the jury came to was all about race, or politics, or both. And we're outraged about the actions of the judge, prosecution and/or defense counsel.

Then you meet someone who also has just as strong a sense of outrage over the case THE OPPOSITE WAY. (When this happens to me, I know why. It's because I'm a Whig, and everyone else is a Republican Democrat or a Democrat Republican). I'm a thoughtful, intelligent human being and that idiot is just plain evil.


Or maybe not. Maybe I just drank too much Whig kool-aid. The truth is more complicated and the innocent party wasn't innocent, and the guilty party wasn't guilty, or some combination of the two.

But we're too busy to do a thorough inquiry into the facts of the case, and all our friends have strong opinions, so we just repeat the most appealing snippets of the news that we've paid attention to. It doesn't matter whether it bears on the verdict the jury came to.

All I remember is that if the glove does not fit, you must acquit. Or something equally inane.

Because we just accept the cartoonish narrative of Our Partisan Side, we have no alternative but to think the other fella is a dangerous lunatic.

Like the KKK members in rural Michigan who didn't have any blacks or Jews nearby. They had to look to Catholics to hate. But they knew their Catholic neighbors were good people. So they created the bogus category of "good Catholics" and "bad Catholics" and the bad ones lived in the big cities and hid guns in their churches. Completely bogus consequences follow from uncritical acceptance of completely bogus premises.

Did O. J. kill Nicole? Or is he sincerely looking for the real killer? I wasn't on the jury. I don't know the facts of the case. Ergo, I have no opinion. Same goes for the guilt or innocence of any other newsworthy case I wasn't on the jury of.

I trust the judicial system just enough to believe that the relevant facts of the case will be presented to the jury. The rest of us will get whatever sells newspapers and whatever advances activists' careers. Did the jury make the right decision? I don't know.

When I don't know, the my reasonable response is skepticism.

My skepticism extends to whether Sarah Palin is an idiot or George Bush is a white-knuckle drunk.

I have no skepticism about Barack Obama, however. I'm sure he is a Keynesian.

And I'm sure that when I talk to someone who is on the other side of whatever strong opinion I hold, that person had just good a set of reasons for that position. Just as I do for mine.

I have a friend from India who is a devout a statist. When probing his opinions, I find that where I distrust the state, he trusts the state, and where I trust the individual, he distrusts the individual. Anything else we might argue about--guns, abortion, taxes, or welfare--are just theorems derived from these divergent axioms.

When I debug software, I see things that ought not be, and often the most blatant obvious problems are consequences of a much smaller error upstream. I liken the process to surveying a railroad train derailment and then setting aside all the obvious twisted metal to find the much more subtle point where the train went off the rails. Fix that and you don't have to worry about all that twisted metal next time.

And that's what I think I should do when I encounter some person who doesn't have the good sense to be a Whig like me. Set aside the distracting bits that everyone is wringing their hands about and focus on the person and the ultimate premises that give rise to their way of thinking. That's where the useful conversation takes place.

Let's not talk about ObamaCare, tell me what you think the obligations of the state should be.


  1. Leaving aside that I don't know what a whig is and my reading of Wikipedia made the concept far more complicated than I think you intended, I suspect what you're trying to say is that things aren't black or white and no amount of fact regurgitating will make things any blacker or whiter. Also, the media manipulate information to suit their own agenda.

    1. What we think we know (because that's what guys from Our Party tell us) premise our thinking. And on that basis, we any reasonable person would think the other guys are evil pond scum. If I were a Republican I'd think that Travon was a criminal thug perpetrating battery upon a wannabe cop. If I were a Democrat, I'd think that Travon was an innocent lad en route to the store for skittles when he's gunned down by the man. But since I'm a Whig, I believer neither set of premises.


Those more worthy than I: