Politics as Substance Abuse

Two things happened yesterday that suddenly came together in my head this morning on my drive in to work.

The first was a conversation my wife and I had about someone we know, who is a recovering alcoholic. She said, “whatever is most advantageous to him at any particular moment, that’s what he thinks is true.” And I looked over at her and said, “well, substance abuser…”

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It’s Axiomatic, Dear Boy

Axiom: a proposition that is not susceptible of proof or disproof; its truth is assumed to be self-evident.

I’ve found when arguing or debating an issue it’s very helpful to be able to identify a difference in axioms, and if one is found to disengage from the argument as politely as possible, declaring that you’ll just have to agree to disagree, because arguing further is just talking past each other.

There are two varieties of axiom clash:

If your axiom is “There is a God” and my axiom is “There is no God,” then we have competing axioms.

If we happen to agree on the axiom “There is a God,” but you hold the axiom “God demands world conversion to religion X by force” and I do not — that is, if one’s position is the absence of a competing axiom — then we have mismatched axioms.

When identifying an axiom clash, I look for the lowest-level axiom logically behind a stated proposition. For instance, “The Bible is the inerrant Word of God” assumes “There is a God,” and since my axiom is “There is no God” then that’s where the competing axiom clash occurs, rather than at the mismatched axiom level of “The Bible is the inerrant Word of God” versus “no, it isn’t.”

Since people hold a large number of propositions in their head as axiomatic, I’ve found it useful to try to find the highest-level competition or mismatch and end the debate there. Sometimes you can identify a principle that your counterpart thinks is axiomatic but isn’t in terms of other lower-level axioms they also hold; in such cases you can sometimes influence their thinking, especially if some or all of the lower-level axioms are ones you share.

Now, obviously it’s not possible to always agree to disagree if one or both parties to the clash decide that the clash is itself intolerable and must be decided by resort to force. Ultimately, we all have to decide whether our axioms are worth dying for if the other party believes their axioms are worth killing for. I believe that some axioms are worth dying for — although I pray it’ll never come to that — even though it means anything up to the level of total war.

I’ll try to identify those propositions I hold as axiomatic as I go forward on this blog, and I think being able to identify one’s own axioms is a necessary tool of philosophy and should be practiced by everyone. If you spot a contradiction among my axioms like I’ve just described, please point it out to me. But if your axioms clash with mine, then it’s probably best if you just say so up front and spare us the argument-at-loggerheads.

Musings on the Election: Followup

Clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks that the GOP needs to reorient toward the libertarian faction and away from the social con/religious right faction.

freecolorado.com: How the Republican Party Can Create a New Winning Coalition

1. Religious Freedom. The religious right has held the reins of the Republican Party for far too long — and has driven it straight over a cliff. A fertilized egg is not a person. A woman has a right to get an abortion. Homosexuals deserve equal rights. The government should not subsidize religious institutions, fund religious education, or censor Biblically-incorrect expression.

At the same time, people have the right to worship as they see fit — so long as they respect the rights of others — or not to worship at all. People have the right to teach their children their values, whether at home or at privately funded religious schools. Religion must stay out of politics, and the state must stay out of religion.

Religious voters can remain a part of a winning GOP coalition, so long as their goal is to keep politics out of religion, not inject religion into politics. Abortion bans and fear mongering about homosexuals can no longer be the litmus tests of primaries. Republican candidates must clearly endorse the separation of church and state, a separation necessary for the protection of both church and state.

As for those who insist on imposing God’s alleged will on the rest of us, let them join their compatriots on the left — as many are already doing. They can only corrupt and impede a new liberty coalition.

Volokh Conspiracy: Return of the Conservative-Libertarian Coalition?

transterrestrial.com: A New Libertarian-Conservative Coalition?

I’m sure that more than ten minutes’ surfing would turn up a lot more such articles.

Let’s hope that the Republicans can finally turn away from legislating morality. Not only does it not work, it often provokes the very behavior it tries to quash.

Musings on the Election

Programming Note

As I get into this, I just want to state for the record that when I write “Democrats” or “Republicans” I mean the official establishment of the party apparatus and their elected politicians. I’ll make it clear in context if I mean individual voters of whichever affiliation. So if I write “the Democrats are full of shit,” I don’t mean my wife or the guy next door, I mean Obama/Pelosi/Reid/Dean/the Democratic Congressional caucus/the Democratic Party.


First off, let me say that it’s a testament to how far we’ve come as a nation that an African-American can even be nominated for the Presidency, much less elected to it. My congratulations to President-Elect Obama and all his supporters — not only did you win, but you won big enough that the legitimacy of our election system can’t be seriously attacked this time.

Jonah Goldberg:

[D]uring the debate over the financial crisis, Obama said that a president should be able to do more than one thing at a time. Well, I think we members of the loyal opposition should be able to make distinctions simultaneously. It is a wonderful thing to have the first African-American president. It is a wonderful thing that in a country where feelings are so intense that power can be transferred so peacefully. Let us hope that the Obama his most dedicated — and most sensible! — fans see turns out to be the real Obama. Let us hope that Obama succeeds and becomes a great president, for all the right reasons.

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First Post! All About Me

My wife says I have lots of opinions, and I should share them…

Seriously, I have for some time thought about starting a blog, but I’ve always run up against the barriers of I have nothing in particular to say and I have no particular area of expertise and I should just post to my LiveJournal.

But y’know, screw that.

  • I have nothing in particular to say. Wrong. Ask anyone I know: I’ll go on for hours, raising my voice and gesturing wildly at the slightest provocation. I want to use this blog to think about what I think, refine how I think about it, and learn by doing how to communicate it in writing. I’ve got a whole series of “This I Believe” posts planned, to run the gamut from Life, The Universe, and Everything down to fairly trivial current issues.
  • I have no particular area of expertise. Well, so what? I’ve always thought of myself as a generalist. I have a B.A. in History, I’m a competent web programmer, I have a wide range of interests, and I have a vast store of trivial knowledge. This isn’t going to be a blog that laser-focuses on politics or international relations or the military or the media. It’s going to be a look inside my head: some parts are pretty sharp and some are pretty blurry.
  • I should just post to my LiveJournal. Well, no, not really. I consider my LJ to be the place I post stupid jokes, talk about my soon-to-be baby, or find out who’s going out to the club tonight. Most of my social circle is aware to some degree that I’m a Republican (gasp!) — I’m not, actually — or conservative (how could you!) — more libertarian, actually — or just not a knee-jerk liberal like most of them. But posting ranty political screeds just feels like poking them in the eye with it and I just don’t want the social hassle.

So, more about me:

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