Sunday, November 12, 2017

Partial Reasoning

One seldom encounters an argument that is completely wrong.  If it didn't have something going for it, it wouldn't fool anyone. Even the claim that the sun goes around the earth is not immediately ridiculous:  it sure looks that way.

I am not good at live dispute. I either go to flat contradiction too quickly or I let people off the hook because they may not have thought about it that much...and they are only echoing the popular they don't see that what they've said is pretty insulting... If anyone pushes back I put an edge in my voice right quickly.

Thus I seldom bring my best argument when caught off guard in a dispute.  Only later do I think "I should have been softer, or sharper, or found a humorous take."

It pays to remember that the other person may not have brought his best argument either, and would like you back for a second try.

I was speaking with a church friend about management and success books and speakers, which claim if you follow their rules you will have the results they do.  We have discussed the problem of invisible evidence before.  There are plenty of other people who have followed those rules but not succeeded.  We don't account for them in the narrative. Sometimes there are other, unnoticed factors, even luck that went into success.  We are willing to think that about others, but we tend not to think that about ourselves. We like to think it was our intelligence or hard work.

The friend said "Obama got in trouble for saying something like that." I'm sure I looked perplexed. "When he said 'You didn't build that' people got upset." I wish I had gone with a brisk four-part return, including that it wasn't quite the same thing; my memory that Obama's full context was quite extreme that people shouldn't be taking much credit at all, it was mostly good fortune; that the examples of help that he gave were mostly examples of how government had helped; that even the deserved credit of some government actions (electrification...enforced contracts...minimal danger...infrastructure...) did not prove that all government actions are valuable, only that some are. I had them almost to hand, having thought about this before. But I only said the third piece, and that not very well.

Part of the difficulty is that Obama's comment was not completely wrong. We have had the help of others - but I would have mentioned the founding fathers and a lot of Americans since then, the free-market, perhaps a good upbringing, good health. Certainly we come back to gratitude to God, for we have nothing that we have not received from others, or directly from Him. Yet those weren't the things Obama mentioned. Had he included those in his list it would have all been less controversial.  His opponents would have agreed with at least part of it.  It is good to be grateful. He should try it sometime.

I don't think it was a mistake, however.  I think he very much meant that all those successful people should get off their high horse and realise that government in its various forms had given them most of what they had.  He didn't say "You didn't build all of that," and he easily could have - had he only been able to think it first.

That's how discussions go in the real world, though.  Very incomplete, with our best wit left dangling.


Boxty said...

Obama wasn't trying to persuade YOU. His audience was someone else. If I recall, both Obama and Warren got cheers for saying it from their intended audience. I recommend Scott Adams Win Bigly on audiobook at least since I didn't read the dead tree version.

Christopher B said...

I don't think you could have successfully argued the point. As you noted and Boxty implies, Obama wasn't trying to persuade anybody with this or his phrasing would have been different. Democrat electoral performance over his eight years in office should be plenty of evidence that he could rarely persuade anybody. This was intended to fire up the base, to reinforce the idea that people had unfairly benefited from prior community action, and justify expropriation. None of the 'You's that didn't build that were in the audience.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The person I was speaking with is not typical for an Obama supporter, however, and might have been persuadable. I'm not sure he even is an Obama supporter, though I know he is more liberal than I am.

Texan99 said...

The even more specific context was, "No matter how hard you think you worked to accumulate any materials security, hand it over for us to re-distribute, because it really was simply a gift you received and have no right to seek to keep."

Clearly he was right to think that we all got where we were in part via the help of others. That's a bit different from thinking he and his friends have a right to dispose of everything we have as they see fit, and we won't be able to call it theft. The thing he ignores is that he and his redistributing buddies didn't build it, either, and they were even less involved in building it than we were.