Tag Archives: philosophy

Patrick Henry on Experience and How it Informs the 2012 Race

Patrick Henry—you know, patriot, founding father, revolutionary, etc.—once said: “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” He was looking at the lot of the common man under European monarchies and he knew, like his fellow enlightenment thinkers Donne, Locke, and others, that it was time for a change. Of course, this was when the idea of representative democracy was coming into its own, and its great experiment, the United States of America, was about to erupt as a great beacon of hope in the West. Henry’s words were a call for change, in his case revolutionary change. In last night’s debate, we that same message, though not quite as simply nor as eloquently put.

As he has in his previous debates, Mitt Romney stuck to a simple, straightforward message: The foreign and economic policies of the past four years have left us weakened and unable to properly meet the challenges we face around the world. He backed up that assertion in a way that would make Patrick Henry proud; he cited the experiences of the last four years.

Obama had a slightly more difficult job: He had to defend his policies in the face of Iran’s constantly developing nuclear technology; our obscene levels of national debt, unemployment, and general economic ruin; the resolute resurgence of Russia and China; our inability to properly deal with Al Quida…in other words, the experiences of the last four years that were the direct result of his policies. As a result, he did his best to go on the offensive, citing apparent flip-flops on the Romney side and doing his best to criticize his proposals for the navy, at one point reminding Romney that we no longer use bayonets as much (he’s wrong about that), and describing the aircraft carrier in terms that made me wonder whether or not he’d actually seen one. I have to wonder whether or not that kind of snarky absurdity helped or hurt him.

We’ll learn that as the dust settles and we look for changes in the polls. However, partisanship aside, this debate was instructive in one respect. Experience counts. We have all experienced the last four years, we have all seen what has happened both here and overseas, and we have all felt the direct consequences of Obama’s economic policies in our wallets. For true believers on either side, the actual results don’t matter, they will argue that their guy has won. Happily, neither group is enough of a voting block to elect a president. For the rest of us, this debate was a reminder to look at the experiences of the last four years and ask a question: Do we want more of the same?

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.–Patrick Henry

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Whenever we write to persuade, we usually like to cite evidence. In fact, anyone who has gone through an English Comp class will recall that their professor insisted upon it. In our deeply polarized society, there are many strident voices making arguments from both sides of the political divide, and most people rely on their preconceived notions and “guts” to determine which side is right. That means that both sides are essentially preaching to their respective choirs and to people too lazy to think about what they are hearing.

Take a good, long, hard look at this nation, the problems we face, the leadership we have, and tell me that this thoughtless attitude by the public, an attitude fostered by our media and the political class, has done us any good whatsoever. So take that look, I’ll wait…

Still waiting…

Stepped out to have a Coke…

Now I am back…

Nothing? Didn’t think so. Let’s face it, we cannot afford to be this lazy or ignorant any longer, we cannot take things at face value any longer. We have to begin to think for ourselves again. For example, let us take a look at the hot-button issue of gun control.

If you were confronted with a statistic that told you that in a given year, almost 100,000 people are shot or killed with a gun (www.bradycampaign.org), your visceral reaction as a typical human being would be something like “That is terrible! Something must be done!” No argument there, it is terrible, something must be done. That is the reaction that the Brady Campaign would like you to have. Then they would like you to give them money to support their anti-gun efforts. If we were talking about 100,000 innocent people, then Brady would have a good argument. The problem is that we are not talking about 100,000 innocents.

According to the FBI, which does like to break down the big numbers into demographic components, we learn that the vast (and by vast, I mean overwhelming) majority of these shootings are related to drug crimes and gang activity among young males. In other words, it is bad guys shooting other bad guys, or cops shooting bad guys. Are there tragic shootings that fall outside any youthful drug or gang activity? Absolutely. There are accidents, suicides, there are other crimes, but if the gang and drug crime are eliminated from the statistics, the remaining shootings barely amount to anything (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs).

The problem is that both sides of this debate use the same statistics from the same sources and, depending on the emphasis they place on certain data, or fail to put onto other data, they can make the statistic demonstrate anything they want, whatever happens to coincide with their own position.

Mark Twain was right. When it comes to deceit, there indeed lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you rely on those—any of those—then you are lost. There is, however, a solution.

Do the unthinkable: Open your own eyes and look for yourself.

If you want to know which candidate has a better plan for your life, forget what they are saying to explain your current situation and use your own common sense. You pay too much for gasoline, so ask yourself what would most easily and simply lower those costs? Here is a hint, oil is a commodity, so the more there is, the less it costs. You want to know whether or not private gun ownership is a good idea or not, then look at places (stick to Western cultures where the issues are similar to your own unless you enjoy comparing apples to oranges) where guns are banned and see what happened. Great Britain and Australia come to mind at once, and both saw violent crime—rape, armed robbery, home invasion, etc.—rise dramatically.

Sure, it is all anecdotal, but it does get you thinking, it does make you question, and this day and age, those are two very good things to do!

Let me know what you think.

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Romney and the Joy of the Simple Message

There has been a lot of chatter today about last night’s debate. From the left the reactions range of excuses and good reasons for Obama’s performance to outrage over it. From the right, grins and gloating. The one thing that all and sundry agree on is that Romney won the debate. Why?

Consider Ockham’s Razor, the maxim that teaches us that when faced with differing and conflicting hypotheses, the truth will come from the one with the fewest assumptions. Last night, Romney’s performance was predicated on one—yes, one—assumption: The American people need jobs and it is the role of the government to foster an environment where jobs can be created. That was it. That was Romney’s message. Obama’s, on the other hand, was based on a variety of assumptions ranging from the old chestnut, “It’s Bush’s fault” to “taxes promote economic growth” to “Obamacare is identical to what Romney installed in Massachusetts” to “coal is evil and green energy is the way to go regardless of cost” to “the rich need to pay more in the name of fairness.” These are merely the ones that come to mind, but you get the idea. One assumption informs Romney’s economic views; many assumptions inform Obama’s.

I will leave it to you to choose which one is right, but the reactions this morning tell me that hitting that single, basic idea of job growth, and making that idea the centerpiece of his economic plan gave Romney an edge that Obama could not beat.

Trust in Ockham and his razor, it hasn’t let us down in over 660 years.

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