Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Alternate Universe Fallacy

Glen Grunwald spent nearly half an article about Ron Paul’s vs Obama’s foreign policy defending himself against partisans who he was sure would attack him for acting on his belief that a political discussion could conceivably occur outside of the “Red v. Blue Cage Match.” I’ve had some small experience with this phenomena over the years. I don’t read Grunwald regularly, but I can see that he’s getting hit with a shitstorm for his accurate reporting on the crimes, heinous crimes, and numerous misdemeanors of the Obama administration. Let me stress the word “accurate.” And of course “heinous.”

The argument against accurate reporting is always that the alternative would be much, much worse. Sure, they say, Obama is not the ideal president, but he’s a helluva lot better than X (McCain, Palin, Gingrich, Romney, any other GOP ogre of the day) would be. So even though Obama works hard to achieve massive tax cuts for the wealthy, fights to keep home stealing bankers free from prosecution, puts massive cuts to social security and medicare on the table, uses drones to commit mass murder abroad, and signs laws that allow the military greater authority to detain and interrogate U.S. citizens and deny them legal rights protected by the Constitution — among numerous other attacks on important principles we’ve always believed in — we cannot speak of these very real actions taking place in the very real world.

Why is it so wrong to speak of Obama’s actions? Because honestly depicting Obama’s actions may conceivably cause someone somewhere not to vote for him, thus putting our hands in the fate of some Republican psychopath. Sure, the logic goes, Obama is bad, but McCain would have been a helluva lot worse. And Romney, Gingrich, Paul, whichever, would be infinitely worse still.

Is that true? Perhaps, but one can’t actually say for sure about things that did not happen in the past or have yet to happen in the future — things that could only possibly have happened in some alternative universe. And you can play that game pretty much anyway you want. There are alternative universes out there to support any conceivable point of view. But in real life, things on the presidential scale never, ever, turn out exactly as one would have predicted. Take Nixon and Reagan (please) for example. Many feared dire consequences if they were elected and not that there weren’t dire consequences but they turned out to be nowhere near as bad as our worst fears. Significant opposition kept them from achieving their most heinous goals. Obama, unfortunately, has no significant opposition and he is achieving horrors as bad as our worst (short of nuclear war) fears about Nixon and Reagan.

Still, I understand how hard it is to get away from the alternate universe fallacy. Gore v. Bush will no doubt live long as the club of choice for whacking the reality-based folk. and it’s hard not to argue that those Nader voters in Florida screwed us over royally. Nevertheless, we don’t actually know what would have happened in that Gore-centric alternative universe. There may well have been a military coup rather than the supreme court ordered coup that happened in real life. There are so, so many alternative universes. They are as infinite as they are infinitely irrelevant. To argue based on one is to indulge in a logical fallacy plain and simple.

But hey, we’re not computers. Let’s indulge in one anyway. Consider, if you dare, an alternative universe in which voters vote their principles. And this is far-fetched, I know, but in this principle-centric alternative universe those same voters are not afraid to speak up in favor of their principles. Thus, in this far-fetched alternative universe, a politician is judged on how well he or she represents the voters’ principles. And more importantly, the voters speak up and tell the politicians in no uncertain terms that if they don’t represent those principles, they’re not going to get a lot of votes.

Just a fantasy, you say? No doubt, but must it be that way? Must the majority remain silent as politicians we voted for implement policies antithetical to our principles?

Must we support heartless, ultra-violent oligarchies bent on ruining the lives of multitudes simply because the goings on in an imaginary alternative universe might be worse? Well, yes, you say? Okay, fine, but must we just shut the fuck up about it as well?

Well, maybe that’s for the best. “What can a thoughtful man hope for mankind on earth, given the experience of the past million years?” asks the Fourteenth Book of Bokonon. “Nothing,” is the reply.