Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Reasoning Against Trump

Right now it's Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, but in the past it's been other struggles and in the future it will be other struggles. For the most part, people think of themselves as reasonable and level-headed and think of people who disagree with them as unreasonable or foolish. They try their best to explain their very good reasons for thinking what they think and become frustrated that people who disagree with them don't understand.

I'm going to take a bit of an unconventional position here. Actual reason, actual logic, actual rational discussion are all completely out of place in the political arena, and, in fact, in most arenas.

Maybe that doesn't sound so unconventional. There are tons of people who think that. Generally they say that people are too stupid, especially people with different views than themselves, and that reason doesn't get anywhere. Instead you have to use tricks to try to persuade people.

But that's just self-aggrandizing nonsense. If people are that stupid, then you too are that stupid.

When I wrote a post to talk about how stupid logic is, I called it "truth engineering." It's a system for taking facts, encoding them, and spitting out more true facts about them. It's a system for taking an argument, encoding it, and determining from within that model whether or not that argument supports its conclusion. I said that logic is stupid, by which I meant that propositional logic is not at all good at modelling real life problems. Logic does, however, form the basis of math and computer science and is a big part of science. I think those things work, so how can I think logic is so bad?

Mathematics, computer programming and science are all engineering of other sorts. In order to work they need to rest on a system that lets them declare some statements to be valid and others to be invalid. Propositional logic may be a very good system for fulfilling that role, but it isn't the only one that could have been used. The value of logic isn't that it tells us what is true. The value is that it gives us an audit trail.

Because no matter how complex and bizarre your system for determining whether facts A and B let you conclude fact C, it would work just fine for math. If you doubt that think about the incompleteness theorem: propositional logic doesn't even work and we use it just fine anyway.

The point is that I can write out my proof and you can come along and independently determine whether or not my proof is valid. I can write my code and you can come along and independently determine what it does or why it doesn't do what it was supposed to do. I can do my experiment and you can independently examine whether the data I collected supports or discredits my hypothesis. Logic doesn't show that I am right. It shows whether I am right. Playing chess against a stranger isn't a good way to win at chess, it is a good way to see who will win at chess.

In the words of Screwtape:
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Logic or reason or being rational or whatever you want to call it is useful in one circumstance: the overarching goal of the parties involved is to determine what is right, not who is right. And even then you aren't going to have much luck with it if you don't have a better system for interfacing with reality on top of it.

So don't make a rational argument against voting for Donald Trump unless you are ready to accept the conclusion that you should vote for Donald Trump. If you aren't, reason and logic aren't your thing.

I don't want Donald Trump to be the next president of the united states, and here is why:

Donald Trump has said some nasty things about Mexicans and Muslims. Whether or not he will actually implement any policy that affects those groups, racist people in the US will take his win as a sign that racism is acceptable. They will yell "go home" and people with darker skin than theirs, they will hold rallies to intimidate people our of neighborhoods, they will attack people in the street. I think of the people who will be affected by that and it doesn't seem like a country that allows that to happen is a just country.

Donald Trump picked as his Vice President Mike Pence who supported a law that required funeral services for miscarried and aborted pregnancies. My understanding is that most women have miscarriages in their lifetimes, but even if it's not most it's a lot. The pain that would-be parents go through when they are trying to start families and a pregnancy results in a miscarriage can be very severe. To take the very divisive issue of abortion and paint miscarriage with the same brush seems like a recipe to heap scorn on people who are going through the some of the toughest times of their lives. To take people in that position and put more burdens on them seems really inhuman to me.

Donald Trump has spoken gleefully about bombing other countries. I am against war in general, but specifically I felt that his attitude towards going to war showed a complete lack of empathy. Some people think war is sometimes necessary and some people disagree, but someone who thinks of going to war without thinking of the people who will die, who will be displaced, who will be maimed, when the war comes is someone I would never want in charge of the decision to go to war.

I think, I feel, I am upset. If you think Donald Trump is a better choice than Hilary Clinton for president, I'd be happy to hear what you think and what you feel.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Sovereignty

We have all kinds of different levels of organization in our lives. There are international agreements, nations, provinces and states, municipalities, communities, families and individuals. These can be a little fluid and we could argue about subdivisions of the individual - I didn't mean to make a comprehensive list - but the point is that there are many different levels at which decisions are made and those decisions are imposed upon other levels with varying amounts of authority.

In Ontario whether or not it is criminal to perform the work of the sort a particular professional engages in is a country-level question. What is required to qualify to perform a certain kind of work and laws regarding worker rights more generally are a province-level question. Where work of a given kind can be performed is a municipal-level question. Who actually does that kind of work - given compliance with other laws - is an individual decision. That's, apparently, what we think is a good balance of collective and individual decision making to determine who practices law, who teachers at a high school, who collects garbage, and who sells sexual intercourse.

A person might disagree with that. Maybe they think that provinces should have the power to pass criminal laws of their own, just like states do south of the border. A person might also disagree with whether boundaries are being respected. For example, they might try to argue that in making selling sex illegal is interfering with provincial powers to set employment standards.

I'm sure lots of arguments could be made about the best way to organize powers into a hierarchy. But one that I really can't accept is that the United Kingdom had to leave the European Union to get back its "sovereignty."

It would be pretty hard to organize the world in such a way that the UK did not have to answer to the EU in one form or another. Rather than being a member they might simply work out international agreements, but those would presumably have some kind of enforcement mechanism. One way or another, the UK isn't going to simply go it alone, and Europe's input will continue to matter to UK policy.

So if someone is concerned about EU management of fish stocks, or they would like a return of a visa system for visitors to the UK that would clearly be disallowed by the EU, then I can see why they might want out of the EU. But if it's just about sovereignty, then they are saying, without feeling it requires any further explanation, that a number of unspecified powers currently allotted to the EU would be better managed by the UK.

This strikes me as being like those people who say that sex education shouldn't be taught in school because it is properly taught in the home. It's an appeal to natural order or natural law.

Of course there is nothing natural about children being educated in anything by the parents as opposed to by other members of the community. There is nothing natural about national sovereignty or even about nations. I bet there are some good-enough reasons to think that certain powers of the EU would be better as powers of member states. But "sovereignty" is the outcome of separation, and not a reason for it's own being.