Monday, August 31, 2015

False Equivalence

A Facebook friend recently shared this quote from G.K. Chesterton:

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
This makes me think of several things -- first, the recent insistence that people (including children) be allowed to make mistakes, since mistakes are the way we learn how to do better. Fearing and preventing mistakes is a symptom of stagnation.

Second, it made me think of a commentary from today's Star Tribune, called The Dangers of Groupthink. Though the writer makes some good points about group think, he misses the false equivalence that Chesterton described so pithily. To make his case, the commentary writer summarize the points made by an economist named Albert Hirschman, who described three recurrent rhetorical strategies used by reactionaries:
  • The Perversity Thesis — radical social change will result in outcomes that only worsen the condition that progressives seek to alleviate.
  • The Futility Thesis — pursuing social transformation is futile because the laws of social order are immutable.
  • The Jeopardy Thesis — as desirable as a reform is “in principle,” the practical cost or consequence will endanger previous accomplishments.
Hirschman then counterposed those three to the strategies that "afflict" progressives:
  • The Desperate Predicament Thesis — the old order is irreparable and a new order must replace it, regardless of possible unintended consequences.
  • The History Is on Our Side Thesis — inevitable historical forces, which are futile to oppose, justify progressive action.
  • The Imminent Danger Thesis — inaction will result in disastrous consequences.
Those first three points all sound familiar from the Right's argument against addressing climate change (once they acknowledge that it exists). And the last three do sound like aspects of the argument in favor of taking action to limit climate change -- but I think the fact that the last point is clearly true has a bit of weight beyond rhetoric.

1 comment:

Gina said...

A pithy post! Love the Chesterton quote.