Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't Bring Feelings to a Fact Fight

I wrote in my last post about my intolerance for Trump supporters, concluding that valuing tolerance does not mean tolerating EVERYTHING and that some things remain intolerable.  I still have more to say and think through as I continue to process what I think and how I feel.  I’m going to do these in a series of posts and try to impose some logic and order to it.

Here, I want to pick up the thread that tolerance is not the same as moral relativism and my impatience with Trump supporters drawing this objectively absurd and false equivalence between Trump, Pence and Bannon on the one side and Obama and the Clintons on the other.  (For more on that, I highly recommend this: )  

The moral relativists want to say that all views no matter how extreme and destructive are the same, so the things Trump (“waterboarding and worse”), Pence (advocating for conversion “therapy” to be used on gay kids), Bannon (didn’t want his kids going to private school b/c there were “too many Jews”), Sessions (said white lawyers who defend black clients are “race traitors”), and Flynn (said Islam is a “cancer”) say and advocate is all somehow no worse than advocating for clean energy, a path to citizenship, and universal healthcare.  

The same false equivalency often extends to the kind of arguments these people make.  You get reasoned, fact-based arguments from one side and the other offers false info, goofy internet conspiracy theories, feelings, and religious beliefs.  You've seen it on TV: You have a trained historian, an expert on the Holocaust who has done years of research and written books on the subject... and he's sitting there on TV w/ a Holocaust denier who's practically wearing a tinfoil hat and he wants to be taken just as seriously.

I accept there is a realm for legitimate political differences – stemming from policy differences, questions about the best way to achieve goals, trying to find the correct analysis of facts… but also basic political philosophies about rights, the duties of citizens and the duties of government, etc.

However, taking all of that into account, I can still be a “moral realist,” which means there are actual, objectively right and wrong (or “better and worse”) answers to moral questions – testable and provable based on data-driven, real world evidence!

Let me use homosexuality as an example.  We can prove w/ actual, fact-based evidence that pedophilia is bad: it traumatizes and harms its victims.  But objections to homosexuality are always reducible to misinformation (“Gays are all pedophiles”), or non-provable opinions based in either personal taste (“That’s gross”) or religion (“That’s a sin”), neither of which counts as fact-based evidence.  This is why marriage equality won in the Supreme Court: because they couldn’t offer any evidence based in the real, shared, observable world as to any harm it would cause.

After Texas de-funded Planed Parenthood, the deaths of low-income women from complications in childbirth DOUBLED!  Those are actual, real deaths the Republican Party caused – not kooky hysteria over make-believe Obamacare “death panels.”  That is fact based evidence.

Sam Harris wrote: “Meaning, values, morality, and the good life must relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures – and, in our case, must lawfully depend upon events in the world and upon states of the human brain.” (The Moral Landscape, 2010)

Trans rights to access public bathrooms?  Fact:  There is no case anywhere in U.S. history of a trans person molesting anyone in a public restroom or someone posing as a trans person to molest someone in a public restroom even though some large cities and some whole states have had trans bathroom rights in the laws since the ‘90s.  Feeling: “But allowing trans-women to go into the ladies room makes me feel scared or uncomfortable.”  Those two things are not equivalent!  You morally can’t inhibit people’s rights and impose an undue burden upon them just because you might FEEL uncomfortable – not when those feelings aren’t based in any real world evidence… and are actually contradicted by the evidence.  (“I don’t want to share bathrooms and water fountains w/ black people because – ew, gross!”)

Sex education?  Every study has shown that districts with abstinence only sex “education” have higher rates of teen pregnancy than districts w/ comprehensive, science-based sex ed.  How you feel about that or your religious beliefs (or what the Pope says God says) doesn’t count the same as actual, objective evidence.  You’re bringing subjective feeling and opinion to a fact fight.

(Incidentally, as a moral realist, I don’t claim there is only one right answer to a particular moral problem; only that, based in objective evidence, some answers are provably better than others.  In some cases there may be many answers that are good… but almost always there will be some answers that can be clearly shown to be wrong.)

Why am I making a big deal of this?  Because just like the normalization of Donald Trump (trying to make him, Pence, and Bannan look like the conservative equivalents of Obama and Clinton) is a false equivalence, so too are many of the arguments conservatives bring to the table where they try to argue from opinion or feeling.  I am not anti-religion, but what your Bible says (for example) isn’t equivalent to actual real world data about health, happiness and well being.  All that view is, is an implicit moral relativism – b/c if your subjective beliefs and feelings count as much as actual facts… well, then so does everyone’s, and fuck all chance of finding an answer!

In my next post, I plan to address a third false equivalence I’m sick of: straight, white Christians men feeling victimized and oppressed by liberal "political correctness" – acting like us asking them not to be a bigot is the same as them stepping on the rights of women, LGBTQ people, blacks, Muslims and other minorities.

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