Like a lot of the nation, politics has occupied a larger than usual portion of my idle thought time. There’s not much I can say conclusively. But I have arrived at this: Political debate is pretty much useless. That probably can be said of debate in general, that is, that it is useless. But political debate….I’m pretty sure that it is always a waste of time. I can think of no single debate, I have engaged in – all of which, by the way, I won – in which my mind was changed, or one in which I persuaded my opponent to my point of view. Neither of these has ever happened. Debating another’s politics is a complete waste of time. Political debates are all the same, and they contain exactly the same components. Every. Single. Time. As far as I can tell, each of the component parts of political debate are, in the end, worthless and unpersuasive.
In Political debates the first phase is: The Debating of Useless Facts. This could also be called the “alternative facts phase.” Let’s pick a topic. It could be anything, but let’s start with something not too emotionally charged. How about, say, “lowering corporate taxes?” Some folks think, “No way. These rich jerks don’t pay enough. They should pay more, and my group gets to pick how much more.” Others think, “Ya know, it does make sense that if we lowered corporate taxes, businesses would make more money, hire more people, etc. who’d generate more tax revenue that we all then would benefit from.” Now, let’s look at the “facts,” the “data.” You trot out some. I trot out some. We both quote our “experts.” Mine of course, are better, for whatever reason. You may say, “but the economists of the CBO, who did study these things, say….” Then I respond, “Well, maybe. But Dr. I Neaumore, of the Harvard Institute of Something says….”Both arguments have their merit. The problem is you’re not smart enough to know which is right. I’m not smart enough to know. I went to Divinity School and Music School. You went to Whatever School, and most of the people passing these laws went to Law School. None of these – me, you, or them – are qualified or adequately educated to properly analyze anything like the long-term effect of lowering or raising corporate taxes. So, near the end of the “Useless Facts Phase” we are left with this: You and I, who know nothing about economics, have each picked experts, who disagree with one another, neither of who’s data we are capable of analyzing, to base our “factual” presentation upon. In the end, I think, we all just pick the “facts” we want to pick and rationalize our choice with….well….something. That’s why I always end up seeing your facts as being little more than an imagined hope. I expect you see my facts exactly as I see yours, so again, useless, pointless. But we shouldn’t stop here. There’s still a chance one of us could be persuaded (we delude ourselves) Even though we still disagree on the useless facts, our assumption – that we are smart – (me, just a little smarter than you, and you think you are a little smarter than me) allows us to move to the next phase of political debate, the Stupid Analogy Phase.
As a form of argument, I think almost all analogies are stupid. Why do we even try? I saw “analogy” defined as this: “a thing that is comparable to something else in significant respects.” This is a pretty good definition, I’d say. But so what? Because something is comparable in significant respects, doesn’t mean it isn’t wildly dissimilar in other respects. Political debate over gun control is loaded with meaningless analogies. For those advocating more gun laws, a favorite “go-to” analogy is often cars, and the laws in place governing the use of them. The gun control advocate says something like this: “Cars can kill people, so we have laws to regulate their usage so that this doesn’t happen? You wouldn’t allow just anyone to drive would you? You’d want them to pass a test wouldn’t you?” I have to admit that’s not a bad analogy, at least in the sense that it relates two things, guns and cars, that can kill people, and should be regulated…..I guess. But it’s kind of stupid for several reasons. First of all, while both cars and guns can kill people, the car was designed, and is always used to transport people from one place to another. A gun is designed first and foremost, to kill something, either an animal for food, or a person who wants to harm us. Those are very significant and dissimilar purposes. Therefore it’s a stupid analogy from the “get-go.” There are other reasons this is a stupid analogy, but I think this first one is enough.
Not to be outdone, though, are the analogies from the other side. Here’s one of my favorites, I’ve even used it. “Blaming guns for high murder and suicide rates is like blaming spoons for obesity.” I suppose there are some significant similarities between guns and spoons. Guns and spoons are usually metal. A gun can cause harm. A spoon used too much, can cause one to gain weight. That’s harmful too. But really, c’mon. This is stupid for pretty much the same reason as the car analogy. Guns are designed to kill something efficiently. Spoons are designed to eat efficiently. They are intended for very dissimilar purposes. Analogies are bad arguments and generally just as stupid as they are clever. Always. Never persuasive. Never. We can always come up with another if we try hard enough, and so can our opponent. They never work. They’re stupid.
So far we have discussed Useless Facts and Stupid Analogies. In my experience most political debates (and others) fizzle out at about this point; especially if we like our debate opponent. If we don’t really care about the other person, or are overly impassioned, we can always descend into that intellectual “pit of hell” which is the Enumerating and Naming of the Other’s Hypocrisy Phase. Now while this can be a lot of fun (judging other people critically, and pointing out there hypocrisy is one of my favorite past-times) it too, is always fruitless, never persuasive, and usually damaging to relationships. This Phase goes something like this:
You say, “How could you vote for him? He said, “Grab ‘em by the pu$$^.”
I say, “Well yeah, but that was a long time ago, but you didn’t seem to have any trouble with him (a completely different him) actually getting a ________ under the desk in the oval office.
You say, “Well at least that was with a woman. Your guy was messing with young male pages in the congress.”
I say, “Well at least he didn’t get ‘em pregnant, get drunk, drive off a bridge, and drown ‘em.”
You say, “You know what? You’re a poop-head.”
I respond, “Well, you’re a big doo doo face.”
“No I’m not.” “Yes, you are.” “Am not.” “Are too.” “You’re momma is ugly.” “Well…You’re ugly, and stupid too.” “Stupid, fat and ugly, stupid fat and ugly, stupid fat and ugly.” (this last should be done in a sing song fashion to the tune of “Ring a round the Rosies.”)
Hypocrisy abounds. There is always more and worse hypocrisy. You are limited in this phase, only by your willingness to prepare. So prepare well.
(The internet is a great place to prepare for this phase of debate. Facebook and Twitter are both excellent resources, but you will need to “un-hide” many people you’ve “hidden” should you wish to adequately prepare and anticipate what you’ll be confronted with.)
If the debate did not end after the Stupid Analogy Phase, it will likely end here at the Enumeration and Naming of the Other’s Hypocrisy Phase. If it doesn’t end here with both walking away in a huff (or worse), there is always the option of violence. I don’t like violence. Happily this rarely occurs.
I have heard it said, that we as a nation would likely do just as well, politically that is, if we were to select our leaders at random from a phone book. Part of me thinks this is a bad idea. (This is the part of me that thinks I’m smart.) Part of me thinks this is basically what we do anyway. So Dear Reader, my advice is this: Do the best you can. Vote how you will. Assume that others are doing the same as you, and are as smart as you (which is not really all that smart), that they love others as much as you (which is probably a lot), that they hope for the best for everyone (which is probably true), and enjoy what little time we have together. If you must discuss politics and feel compelled to share your opinion, save us all the trouble of trying to change our minds. Unless you find a different way to persuade, apart from these usual ways, you’re wasting everyone’s time, unless of course, you just enjoy that sort of thing.