Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, November 15, 2010

Faith-Based Reasoning

It's real if I say it's real, goddammit.

Even when you win, you lose. Megan McArdle laments the execution of a man who was convicted on one piece of evidence--a strand of hair that was eventually found to belong to the victim, not the accused.

But DNA tests completed this week at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all. The day before his death in December 2000, Jones asked for a stay of execution so the strand of hair could be submitted for DNA testing. He was denied by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Then-Governor Bush denied every request for stay of execution except for one, for notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, following all of the Board of Pardon and Parole's recommendations.

McArdle says:

I confess, I am opposed to the death penalty for other reasons, but I think that even if you think it's morally acceptable to execute the guilty, the long string of exonerations suggest an error rate in the justice system incompatible with executions. Remember, most cases don't even have DNA evidence, so we're certainly not discovering all the innocent people we've sent to jail.

Forensics is an inexact science, and eyewitnesses are unreliable. We shouldn't hand out penalties that can't be at least partially reversed if we discover that we made a mistake.

Sadly, McArdle's commenters disagree, and are most disappointed with her foolishness. A true conservative/libertarian believes that markets always reach equilibrium, even the market for death. Let's see what they have to say to their gracious hostess, as they refer to her on other, happier occasions.

Megan is always quick to assume the worst about conservatives and Texas death penalty cases, and this seems to be another of her quick assumptions. Calm, down a little on this subject, Megan. These cases take years and decades to play out in the courts, and it's OK to take a few more hours to research them before posting.

Silly poster. Why start now?

Another poster asks the same question that's been taunting us for years:

Yeah, we've seen this picture before with Megan - I remember her post about the arson case where there was some after-the-fact learning about arson. If this is anything like her prior posts on the death penalty, she will not be at all interested in learning additional facts about the case. In that case, she was willing to take a completely one-sided account that perfectly fit with her preexisting attitudes about the death penalty, and ignored contrary evidence. From the bit I have just read about this case, she is so far following a similar pattern here.

I have to admit, her posts about the death penalty undermine my confidence in her posts on subjects like economics and pharmaceuticals (where I agree with her). After all, if she is unduly dismissive of legitimate contrary evidence when discussing death penalty cases, I have a suspicion that she is similarly dismissive of legitimate contrary evidence when discussing other topics.

Yeah! Lying about the facts and deliberately misinterpreting data are just fine when they're in the service of supporting the enrichment of the elite, but McArdle should know better than to use them to support the poor! Not that she is, but these are conservatives, and anyone who doesn't want to see someone else suffer must be a lying liberal. McArdle rarely has this problem but her devoted followers always ensure that they put her in her place when they deem it necessary.

Zosima, whom we have met before, mentions just this point.

Megan does this on most of her posts, y'all just don't seem to mind when she is agreeing with you.

Another commenter tries again to point out the utter lack of intellectual rigor demonstrated by McArdle's commentariat:

FuriousGiorge 2 days ago
It's interesting that, in a reversal of the usual setup, it's Megan's conservative posters that are blasting her for sloppy writing. And they are right - while Cameron Todd Willingham was almost certainly an actually innocent man, there is no evidence to suggest that Claude Jones was innocent, there is simply evidence that the certainty of his guilt was exaggerated.

(Perhaps those of you on the right will think twice in the future before posting your knee-jerk reaction towards those of us on the left who point out the sloppiness of some of Megan's writing.)

Was_Holdfast 2 days ago in reply to FuriousGiorge
I'll try, but it is natural that one will invest the effort into picking apart those arguments that one most disagrees with. For what it is worth, I think precision in arguments and writing is always important - who wants to have their own case undermined by the sloppiness of one of their co-advocates (cough, Al Gore, cough)?
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aMouseforallSeasons 2 days ago in reply to FuriousGiorge
Possibly the key difference here is that she wrote sloppily on issues of fact that can be easily cross-referenced and verified. The most obnoxious of her left-wing opponents tend to pipe up in order to blast her for having wrong opinions, which has the unfortunate side effect of drowning out the occasional legitimate criticism on factual matters.

You would never do such a thing, of course.

And that is why we will never be able to pull the right out of its self-soothing stupor. Like McArdle herself, the commenter simply says a fact is really an opinion when he or she dislikes the fact, and an opinion is really a fact when he or she agrees with the opinion. We can't even agree on what is or is not a fact, we'll never be able to agree on interpretation or implementation of policy. The faith-based reasoning of the authoritarian right has utterly killed any of this nation's ability to face its problems and come up with a working solution.

For now there is little we can do but watch our fellow countrymen, with great deliberation and not a little glee, destroy the country to prove that their Tribe is superior to any other. America believes success is based on merit and merit is based on moral superiority. Since they also believe in American Exceptionalism--the innate superiority of Americans' morality and competence--they will never face facts and work to solve our national problems, and they will never stop insisting and demanding that liberals are not real Americans and that they--or anyone else who is not conservative--has the legitimate right to even exist.


Mr. Wonderful said...

If, as you say, the "conservative" project (scare quotes, because it's scary) is a matter of faith, as opposed to the reason it so prides itself on, that's depressing, yes. But might it also present an opportunity? If you know you're dealing with irrational wishful thinking, couldn't that lead to more effective counter-measures?

If showing-them-the-facts is futile, it would be a good thing to stop trying to show them the facts, and to argue--or oppose, or whatever it is we think is still worth doing--using different strategies. What might those be?

Of course, this may be the equivalent of asking, "How can I persuade someone that their religious belief is wrong?" In which case, never mind.

Anonymous said...

That gore thing blows my mind. Its precisely what you are pointing out. Facts are facts, unless they are delivered by someone you don't like or they piss you off. Then they are opinions. Does it really matter that Al Gore is fat, or has a large house? What does that have to do with global warming? And yet they think they are making some kind of serious argument. Plus I love "well, sure, Texas killed that guy when he was totally innocent of burning his own children to death but this new case is a little more ambiguous so--no harm no foul!!!"


Susan of Texas said...

I try to do that by making moral arguments, since the right prides itself on its supposed morality. But all this talk about Bush's humility and Obama's arrogance show that that tactic probably won't work either. They are good and everyone else is bad. That is all they know and all they need to know.

Maybe personal suffering as the economy gets worse will teach them compassion and empathy, but I'm not going to bet on it. When Hurricane Rita almost hit us the poor scrambled for food and gas while the middle class just waited it out. I think a lot of Texans won't be bothered by excesive suffering as long as they can pretend to ignore it.

Katrina could be the model for the nation--the poor just die or are chased out, the rich come in and buy up their land, the middle class pays for protection to keep what they still have.

Downpuppy said...

When facts & morality don't apply, you can gently work on making them feel foolish. One way is to get them huffing & puffing & just giggle, the other is to plant a hint that following bogus precepts (eg, there's plenty of cheap energy) they're costing themselves money.

Mouse is definitely a close relative of Megan.

Susan of Texas said...

She does have a sister but I prefer a funnier explanation--Megan is Edward to mouse's Bella.

Anonymous said...

We can't even agree on what is or is not a fact, we'll never be able to agree on interpretation or implementation of policy.

Facts are always in dispute. I appreciate the anti-authoritarianism of this blog, but as a political matter (quite apart from any intellectual matter), I do wish liberals had the ability to assert a fact, tell people what the fuck they think about it, and dare them to say otherwise. The inability or unwillingness of liberals to do this--possibly as much as right-wing brainwashing and conservatives' desire to be led--may account to some degree for everyone's inability to agree on facts.

call centers in the philippines said...

I couldn't really understand at first, how it became "faith-based reasoning" but I eventually did when you said about "opinions" - which is not always correct nor wrong at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous--That's a total piece of false equivalency on your part to argue that liberals state facts too softly while conservatives refuse to listen so its both sides fault. Hell, in Mark Twain's time he coined the phrase "a lie gets halfway around the world while truth is still putting its boots on." This isn't a liberal/conservative thing--its a money thing. Right wing disinformation has more money than liberal facts. Facts don't just get repeated and defended in some vaccuum. Social, political, and scientific facts have to be repeated (or are silenced) within a capitalist monetary sphere where he who pays the piper calls the tune. Science in this country, and Education have become de facto liberal enterprises which are rejected by the right wing and underfunded by the corporations who pay, or don't pay, for the dissemination of information. Every individual liberal in the country can argue until he or she is blue in the face about the "facts" but when the conservative movement has the time and the money to discredit every source, speaker, and fact in advance on Fox--and after the fact by attacking, for example, Snopes--there is relatively little we can do.


tsj said...

While facts may be difficult to find and organize, they are definitely not left or right handed. Critical thinking flaws plague us all.

At my Skeptical Juror blog I have been reviewing Texas executions for a while, using a somewhat disciplined process for estimating an Actual Innocence Score for each case reviewed.

For those of you in search of the wrongfully executed man (or woman), consider Frances Elaine Newton or Johnny Frank Garrett. You might also consider my book The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Cameron Todd Willingham.

For those of you hoping only to confirm your belief that no innocent person is ever executed, take some comfort in the fact that I screened out almost 90% of the 460+ executions in Texas without a thorough review, so obvious was the prisoner's guilt even to a skeptic such as myself.

Also, you might consider some cases others claim as likely innocent but that I score low. Those include Ruben Cantu and Leonel Herrera.

tsj said...

With regard to The Despicable Claude Jones, I scored him at 52 before the DNA results came in. That's slightly more likely to be factually innocent than factually guilty.

After the DNA results came in, I scored him at 48. His score dropped due to some timeline information published at The Innocence Project of which I had previously been unwared.

Anonymous said...

false equivalency

I didn't assert that there's an equivalency. I just said that the discourse of liberals is inquiring and skeptical. Intellectually, that's fine. Politically it's impotent.

I grant that the right has money and its machine, but liberals have a limited number of outlets too, and most often, they choose not to (as I crassly put it) assert facts and tell their audience what the fuck to think about them. The Stewart rally had a huge national platform, and the lesson we were supposed to take, to the extent there was one, was that our discourse is plagued by hyperbole even though we're all Americans.

That rally could just as easily have been a Fuck Fox News party, or Colbert solo making fun of conservatives. But instead it was an apolitical show for a politically engaged audience. Wonderful as it was, it was the wishy-washiest possible version of what was possible. Tell me I'm wrong.

Kathy said...

Steward & Colbert are not Liberal Leaders, and no one here has claimed that they are, or that what they do is important to the Democratic-Liberal-Progressive cause.

At the moment we don't have a leader. We thought we did with Obama (or some people thought it), but that turned out to be an illusion.

Susan of Texas said...

Stewart and Colbert can't be authorities (they don't have political power and can't enforce or demand anything), all they can do is present an alternative worldview, which is extremely valuable in combating mindless conservative assumptions that develop in the bubble they try to create around their lives. They do what they do because they can't do more. Stewart is mild because he doesn't have enough power to increase the power of the left, he can only express opposition to the right. We will have to find someone else to support the left.