Mechanisms of justification are what we come up with to make our facts fit the frame. In other words, when we have a concept in mind we want to keep, we will don our scientist cap to seek out and manufacture evidence to support our favored concept. We all do it unconsciously so there’s no need to feel guilty about it, it’s a survival technique. We can, however, call people out on the mechanism when it drums up weak “facts” to fit that frame.
Two standbys in current political discourse are getting tired. They are used so much that it probably doesn’t even raise a red flag when they are used. I’m sure there is a fancy logical fallacy name I could apply to it if I wanted to be fussy, but I’m going to call them like I see them – the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule and “separate but equally bad behavior” theory.
Sometimes you are going along in life and doing pretty good, then you notice a fellow human struggling. The first instinct may be to look at the person and try to figure out what they are doing wrong, but perhaps you should be looking at what the support you’ve gotten is doing right. Many times the cause for a big difference in outcome can be found in the support that person had in the lead up to the struggle. No matter your political stripe, no one goes it alone. Everyone has support of some kind to get where they are, you can get it from a variety of sources – family, friends, church, school, other organizations, government assistance, the natural world. We all have basic needs in public and private life. If we can’t get them met with conventional means, we will resort to alternative means. Struggle can make us stronger, it can also make us weaker, make us compromise in ways we hate, or struggle could simply kill us.
If something seems to be going well, that is great and conditions should be noted, but the same conditions may not be suitable for someone else. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” cannot be evaluated or applied until you look at how a rule impacts a broad cross section of people. There is always an ethnic group, economic level, or position in life that is different than yours – a rule needs to be evaluated from many perspectives to measure its beneficial impact. Ultimately, we are supposed to be in a government that is for the people, created by the people, so even traditional pillars can be changed when they outlive their usefulness.
I was pretty shocked to hear of Pat Robertson advocating for the relaxation of marijuana laws, but it is a good illustration of this point. I’m going to venture a guess (pure speculation) that Pat Robertson and much of his following do not regularly smoke marijuana – the marijuana laws were fine for them because they were never in danger of getting arrested due to those laws. This is the same logic many folks have along the lines – “if you’re not guilty then you don’t need to worry about the law”. This is a dangerous way to operate legally because it sets a premise that any law not directly and immediately pertaining to you is not your business. What happened is that Pat Robertson moved to a more progressive position – he began to broaden his perception of a more comprehensive scenario in which the marijuana laws seemingly increase a net negative impact on our society.
This switch for Robertson is one that changes thinking from a simplistic conservative view of a single cause to a more complex progressive multi-cause for any given issue. Robertson even explained as much – and like other progressives explaining their positions, it takes a lot longer than “Just Say No”. Robertson begins to explain what a terrible impact imprisonment has on an individual and family, and the cost it has to our nation. He is backed up by a Gallup poll that says the majority of Americans are ready to end the prohibition, so even he, a conservative stalwart and leader, can see how this drug law has far reaching effects even if he has no personal behaviors that relate to the law.
The attitude of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to lots of laws, immigration, women’s health, social security, taxes – you name it. Anytime you find only a small group of beneficieries for any one law, someone has applied this logic of wearing blinders to legislation.
The other issue I mentioned, the “separate but equally bad behavior” theory is another fallacy that seems logical but is not. This premise is easily demonstrated by my children. Many times when I catch a child doing a bad behavior, his defense is to call attention to the bad -but completely unrelated – behavior of his brother. For example:
Mom’s Q: “Why were you squeezing the whole tube of toothpaste into the trash can?”
Kid’s answer: “Johnny (his brother) didn’t brush his teeth!”
Obviously it is an attempt to lob a red herring my way – a denial, deflection, and dodge all at once. Just like my children, I wish I could remind political players that they are responsible for their own behaviors. This last week of limelight for Rush meant that people were pulling liberal comments out of the woodwork to prove that progressive commentators were equally vile to Rush. This is a cop out and red herring. If someone else has behaved badly, let’s deal with that on a case by case basis. Most times it is dealt with through consumer/advertiser and or establishment pressures; most times an apology is forthcoming.
It is true that you can likely find objectionable personalities and comments no matter where in the political sphere you wander, however, it is false that for every one Republican type of person there exists a bizarro equivalent of themselves in Democrat-landia. Bad behavior cannot be cancelled out by showing a menu of other cretins that also behave badly. Bad behavior is only made up for when a sincere apology is made – preferably in person while making eye contact – and some effort at restitution is made to the aggreived party. In a conservative world view, the strongest authority figure gets the most credibility and respect, that makes apologizing almost taboo – it certainly weakens a position for them. This is why apologies are so few and far between for the Republicans and why the apologies Democrats make (like the one Obama recently made to religious factions in Afghanistan) drive them crazy in terms of the world stage.
Progressives see an ownership of responsibility as positive, apologies for bad behavior as growth, and restitution as peacemaking. The bottom line in this country is that we try to consider “the People” as much as possible in our laws. We have to operate without blinders and understand that while we will all defend our beliefs, we’ve got to make room for our neighbor’s beliefs too.