I am furious over a discussion I had with a co-worker today, not because of the position she took is wrong, where mine was right. Rather it’s because the position she took is accurate. We were discussion politics, though no particular issue (and I took no sides on any). I stressed the importance of facts and logic, she stressed that actual power comes from manipulating public opinion.

In essence, we’re both right (I’m just a little more right). Because power comes from the people (at least in democracies and republics), in order to have power one must have the support, or control, of the people. There are two basic ways to do this: 1) convince the people their best interests lay with you and your agenda, 2) manipulate the people into following you whether or not your agenda is good for them.

Her argument seemed to say that not only do politicians take option 2 more often than not (something I agree whole heartedly with), but that it’s the “right” option to take. I rather believe that option 2 is destructive and option 1 is the best bet for the long term. Allow me to explain.

If you have a rational agenda and can explain the merits, flaws, and expectations of a particular policy or piece of legislation, then you gain lasting support. People who don’t like the merits or see the flaws as outweighing them will be against it, but those who can live with the flaws or consider the merits worth it anyway will be for it. Plain and simple. Of course, there will always be your base. If you’re on the left, a certain group of leftists will be for anything you do. Likewise, if you’re on the right a certain group of rightists will be for anything you do.

The thing is there’s those pesky independents and swing votes. They’re the ones who decide elections, therefore it’s they you need to be concerned about. If you choose option 2, and your policy turns out to be a disaster, you’ll lose their trust for a long time. However if you choose option 1, and things go badly, you’ll still have their trust because we all saw the outcome as a possibility worth the risk.

Still, I can’t watch a single day of politics without seeing option 2 put to full use, especially when politicians and pundits debate important issues. And I rarely see option 1.

As an example, let’s take a tiny piece of the Health Care Reform law recently passed. While the bill was being debated, those on the right of things claimed “unconstitutional mandate!” It became almost a battle cry. The argument even seemed sound. The left’s response to this? “There’s no mandate!”

So, who do we believe? Neither side provided any facts, references, or anything. Everything was an appeal to emotions, attacks on their opponents, and other more subtle formal fallacies in pithy little sound bites.

If the right had only said: “in section XYZ it states ABC. See? Right there – mandate” we could have known they were right. Likewise if the left had said “in section XYZ it states ABC. See how that’s not a mandate?” it would have settled it. Instead they fight and bicker for months over this issue (and others) without providing one solid fact to hang the argument on.

This is option 2. They don’t talk about the actual tangible expected benefits, the merits of the policy, admitting the flaws and explaining why they haven’t dealt with them. The other side doesn’t do it either. Instead they fill your head with promises of things they want you to believe the policy will do, without really showing how those things accomplish the goal or even how the policy does them. It’s all an attempt to manipulate the people into delegating our power to whomever is most masterful.

And that just makes me sick. If a policy is will do one thing for the country, no amount of hoping or manipulating will make it do another. Likewise, if a policy won’t do that thing, no amount of hoping or manipulating will make it do so. It’s not even a matter of opinion. Certain things WILL bankrupt the country. Others will make it more solvent. Certain things WILL erode freedom. Others reinforce it. Opinion only comes in on whether we WANT the outcome, whether the outcome is good or bad, not what the outcome will be. Only the facts and logic can tell us what the outcome of a policy will be.

Meanwhile, the country languishes while two parties compete to see which set of policies will destroy it while convincing the people one side is the good guys and the other bad. I say they’re both bad!

Until we see more truth in politics (ie. facts and logic), we will never make meaningful progress on any of the major social issues facing us today (and for the last few decades for that matter).

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A Few Words on Gravity

March 12th, 2010

One regularly used and specious counterargument to the objection that a scientific theory is “just a theory” is to point out that gravity is also “just a theory.”. The implication (sometimes explicitly stated) is that since no one would doubt that gravity exists, no one should doubt whatever other theory is being considered.

I say the counterargument is specious for good reason. Gravity is a fact. There is a phenomenon we call “gravity.” The “Theory of Gravity” however is science’s attempt to describe the phenomenon in a quantifiable manner, ie with a model. Over the course of history, science has developed many models for gravity. Each one has in time been proven to be either wrong, or incomplete. The current Theory of Gravity describes gravity accurately so far as we can tell, but one would be foolish to rule out a future advancement that might revolutionize our understanding of gravity.

For example, we observe strange and unexpected gravitation in the universe at large. We don’t have a good explanation for this behavior as of yet, but many have posited “dark matter” or “dark energy” is involved, to make the current gravity models fit.

Meanwhile, we have a good working model for gravity. A large body of experimental data has been shown to agree with predictions the current gravity model makes. In particular, ie. there was a bunch of data that the model had to describe/fit initially, and the model has since accurately predicted future data. For example, if you drop any weight of any shape in a vacuum, shoot a satellite into space, or anything else where gravity is concerned, the model predicts the outcome with a high degree of accuracy. Any lack of accuracy we might observe between the prediction of the model and the outcome of events is generally from other forces involved, such as air resistance.

So, we see that while “gravity is just a theory” it is a pretty good one. The model fits past data very well, one might say perfectly within margins of measurement errors. But more importantly, it accurately predicts future data, such as outcomes of experiments done by physics students do an equal degree of accuracy.

This is vastly different from most of the theories that gravity is compared to in argument. Climate change/global warming for example has no model that is able to make such accurate predictions. It does have a model that fits existing/old data to a degree of accuracy (not as good as the gravity model). But so do many competing climate models. In fact, other models are better able to predict future data. The model itself doesn’t prove or disprove the theory behind it, but the lack of a good, reliable model does place the theory on a completely different plane from that of gravity. One that is much lower and subject to skepticism.

So, please. Stop comparing things to gravity just because both are called “theories.” There is no relation between them beside the fact that the models for each of them might be wrong. It just turns thinking individuals off from your argument. Instead, if the “theory” has merits, discuss them.

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