Speaking of “Coming Apart”

If one has views that one will not change even in the face of the best case scenario for new data against those views, then one cannot claim to be an analyst.

Yesterday, James Joyner noted David Frum’s review of Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

Let me highlight a quote from the book that Frum noted in his review, but that I want to quote in full (from page 234):

The economic John Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind.  What to you do, sir?”  The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.”  Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded on premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

This is a stunning statement because, yes, you are by definition being “unreasonable” because you are saying that some categories of policy are beyond reason.  If one has views that one will not change even in the face of the best case scenario for new data against those views, then one cannot claim to be an analyst.  One might be an extremely conservative theologian** if one holds such views, but more specifically one is an ideologue (or a zealot) if one is unwilling to change views in the face of evidence.

I would also note that this is an odd collection of policies for Murray to choose.   Abortion and the death penalty are in the same moral category as the inheritance tax?  Legalization of marijuana is the type of issue that is so linked to Deep Truths that no data could be provided to change Murray’s mind on the subject?  This is just a list of policy preferences held by most conservatives and they are not all of the same category of morality nor are they similar in terms of their consequences.  To wit:  abortion and the death penalty are vested in issues of life and death, but same sex marriage, not so much.

Curiously, while the book is being touted as being by a “libertarian” (he is so described in his AEI bio) and he comes across (such as in his interview yesterday with All Things Considered and with the list of policy preferences listed above) like a standard issue social conservative.

From the aforementioned interview:

Murray calls for more interaction between the classes; specifically, he’d like upper-middle-class Americans to “drop their nonjudgmentalism and start preaching what they’re practicing.”

They “are getting married and staying married. They work like crazy. They do better going to church. [They should] just say that, ‘These are not choices we’ve made for ourselves. … These are rich, rewarding ways of living.’ “

Now, I have been married for going on 22 years, attend church regularly, and despite what some commenters may think, worked hard to get my Ph.D. and continue to work hard every day (and am endeavoring mightily to instill the value of hard work in my sons).  As such, I have no problem with the basic components of his formulation, I am just wholly unconvinced that they are sufficient to explain reality.  To simply say that the solution to our various difficulties is simply to stay married, go to church, and to work hard is to offer up platitudes, not real policy analysis.  Interestingly (to me, anyway) It sounds a lot like the typical social conservative admonitions that I have heard my entire life, but it does not sound especially libertarian (certainly not specifically or uniquely so save perhaps a simplistic Randian assertion about the value of individual hard work).  This focus on basic the socon line was striking to me, because it was clearly what Murray wanted to focus on in the interview.

The feeling that the books is oriented towards basic values is reinforced, by the way, when one looks at the table of contents and finds chapters entitled “Marriage,” “Industriousness,” Honesty,” and “Religiosity” in the section on “The Formation of the New Lower Classes.”

Now, I will readily grant that I have not read this book, but what I have read and heard to this point (including from the author himself) make me think that this is far less a book about serious policy analysis and more one about platitudes that will only make certain ideologues happy.

In even if we stipulate that marriage, church, and hard work are good things, how do these issues address the structural changes in the global economy since 1960? What does it have to do with any number of social, economic, and political changes within the US during that time? To ask a simple question: if people stay married, go to church, and work hard will that create the kind of life-long manufacturing jobs that were the hallmark of the post-WWII economy?  To get back to the intro of this post:  the data would suggest no, but I guess that that will not influence Murray’s arguments.  The rest of, however, might think about the data.

Side Note:  I also noticed in listening to Murray yesterday that a lot of what he is arguing in terms of social cohesion sounds a lot like Robert Putnam’s basic thesis in Bowling Alone.  I did a search of the book and Putnam’s work is cited in numerous places in the text.  Just an observation that I found passingly interesting (to me, at least–and what is a blog for but for the bloggers to make note of the passingly interesting?).

*Or, a least, the type of theologian who continues to accept the geocentric model of the universe because of various biblical passages.  In fairness, many theologians do change their minds on things, although clearly not on all things.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. “Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax.”

    I’m no fan of Murray, but I think it’s possible he was trying to span, rather than unite, political issues.

    (It would take “soul photography” to change my abortion views.)

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

    It is staggering Steven. A defense of unreason. The sun revolves around the earth. Typhoid isn’t carried in the water supply. But this obscurantist mindset is one that much of today’s Republican party shares I’m afraid in just about every area of economic, social and scientific policy.

  3. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    If one has views that one will not change even in the face of the best case scenario for new data against those views, then one cannot claim to be an analyst.

    Could not agree more.
    I’m waiting for a debate moderator to take this approach: “Mr. Romney, you say that raising any tax anywhere by any amount would cause great harm; what would be a best-case scenario that would prompt you to believe raising taxes can work?” If he says nothing would change his mind, may as well shut off his mic because you’re dealing with either a fool or a liar.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    I’m no fan of Murray, but I think it’s possible he was trying to span, rather than unite, political issues.

    Another view might be he was cherry picking some issues to make a generalised defense of unreason which can then be cherry picked to suit one’s own prejudices. Thus my belief in trickle down economics and alien abduction are necessarily unreasonable.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Thus my belief in trickle down economics and alien abduction are not necessarily unreasonable.

  6. MBunge says:

    @Brummagem Joe: “this obscurantist mindset is one that much of today’s Republican party shares”

    Let’s not pretend that such a mindset is exclusive to the GOP. Do the marijuana legalization folks strike you as the sort who would change their views if presented with sufficient evidence? And as john personna admits, pro-choicers are not exactly more fact-sensitive on the issue than pro-lifers.

    Mike

  7. @Brummagem Joe:

    Thus my belief in trickle down economics and alien abduction are necessarily unreasonable.

    But I presume evidence could move either position 😉

    And as a total aside, I think Buckley’s Little Green Men was very funny.

  8. @MBunge:

    There is lots of medical and performance information on marijuana that is seldom at the center of discussion.

    And I actually said the opposite on abortion. The central religious claim against abortion is that a soul is created at conception, and lost(?) in abortion. If you can show people that you’ve moved from a point of religious faith to a direct fact.

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @MBunge:

    Well everyone has their prejudices and taking marijuana as an example the evidence is mixed. As it happens in this particular case I believe the preponderance of evidence favors legalisation but you could certainly convince me otherwise if you could produce a sufficiently large body of evidence.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    But I presume evidence could move either position 😉

    Naturally. All societies have their shibboleths and urban myths but having lived in a few countries the US takes some beating in this respect. The famous Jack D. Ripper bodily essenses captures us perfectly

  11. Rob in CT says:

    My views on pot legalization are absolutely subject to change. My argument has never been “there is no harm in it, therefore legalize.” It’s “legalization will be less harmful than the status quo – the “war” on drugs.” Data can be introduced to that and influence my conclusions.

    The MJ thing strikes me as the “one of these kids is doing his own thing” of the list. The others all strike me as having stronger “moral” components.

    If you decide something is simply wrong on principle, then data really isn’t likely to sway you is it? Unless the data convinces you that your original moral conclusion was wrong, and that’s hard to do right?

    Hence the “photography of a soul” thing. If you could produce data that proves to me that a zygote is deserving of sufficient rights to trump the woman’s right to be rid of it, I could change my mind. But how do you do that? What data would that be? It’s a *really* high bar.

    So… while I’m all for reason, data, and critical thinking, I think that this rather repellant fellow Murray had a point.

  12. Drew says:

    Data and facts are not the same as judgment.

  13. @Drew:

    Data and facts are not the same as judgment.

    lolz, it is when people think that the latter does not need the former that you get in trouble.

  14. @Rob in CT:

    The MJ thing strikes me as the “one of these kids is doing his own thing” of the list.

    The thing that strikes me, versus my youth, is we’ve got too many kids doing the crack and the meth.

    A little cheap pot might be a good thing.

  15. Hey Norm says:

    @ Mike…

    “…Let’s not pretend that such a mindset is exclusive to the GOP…”

    I guess if you can provide me examples of Liberals denying reality to the extent Conservatives do with respect to evolution and climate change…to the point of fabricating their own faux-facts and psuedo-science…I would be reasonable and change my mind and agree with your statement.

  16. sam says:

    “They “are getting married and staying married. They work like crazy. They do better going to church. [They should] just say that, ‘These are not choices we’ve made for ourselves. … These are rich, rewarding ways of living.’ ”

    The interesting thing there is, and this is totally consistent with Frum’s critique, he’s got his causality going in the wrong direction. Those things are not causative of the success of the white upper-middle class, they’re the result of the economic conditions giving rise to that class, the economic success of that class. A success denied to these days to the white blue-collar class.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    I agree with the first quote, most of the issues* listed are complex and multi-faceted; I’m not sure what data would change my mind on any of them. People who think there is some magical data point that would resolve these issues have first engaged in defininig the issue on their terms.

    *I’m not sure “estate tax” is a complex issue in and of itself, but it should be considered in light of the entire tax structure, which is quite complex and involves a number of trade-offs.

  18. @PD Shaw:

    People who think there is some magical data point that would resolve these issues have first engaged in defininig the issue on their terms.

    If they are rational, they have done a little introspection on what data-points they are now using, and how their analysis relates to them. If you’ve thought about how marijuana relates to public health, and as a “gateway” or not, you’ve done that. If, on the other hand, you’ve just thought “it’s a drug!” you have not.

  19. Drew says:

    @john personna:

    Thank you for stating the obvious, and failing to under stand the distinction. Anyone surprised in our Wikapedia world?

  20. MBunge says:

    @Hey Norm: “I guess if you can provide me examples of Liberals denying reality to the extent Conservatives do with respect to evolution and climate change…to the point of fabricating their own faux-facts and psuedo-science…I would be reasonable and change my mind and agree with your statement.”

    Today. Not so much? But are you so utterly ignorant of history that you need to be schooled on the long list of “progressive” faux-facts and pseudo-science? Here’s a sample. It wasn’t conservatives who thought the theories of Karl Marx could be the basis of a new utopia.

    Mike

  21. @Drew:

    Well, you certainly reinforce that you believe judgment without data or fact is valid.

  22. @MBunge:

    Wow. You said “not today” and “let’s look back 100 years.”

    That says something.

  23. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Drew:

    “Thank you for stating the obvious, and failing to under stand the distinction.”

    Most intelligent people form their material judgements on the basis of empirical data and facts. There are of course plenty of people who don’t. Which are you?

  24. Brummagem Joe says:

    @MBunge:

    It wasn’t conservatives who thought the theories of Karl Marx could be the basis of a new utopia.

    Actually some of them were. On the other hand some notable conservatives like Bismarck were in the forefront of progressive ideas like social welfare programs. Trading these kind of archaic examples is entirely irrelevant to a consideration of where we are now.

  25. MBunge says:

    @john personna: “Wow. You said “not today” and “let’s look back 100 years.” That says something.”

    Yes. It says the libs chortling over how stupid and irrational right-wingers are today might want to remember that such thinking is endemic to human beings in general. You want more contemporary examples? How about the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s? How about the “October Surprise” conspiracy theories around the 1980 Presidential election? How about Russ Feingold TODAY criticizing President Obama for encouraging people to donate to a pro-Obama SuperPac? Feingold wants Obama to unilaterally disarm himself in the face of possibly half a billion dollars in negative TV ads. It’s hard to get dumber or more indifferent to reality than that.

    Mike

  26. @Brummagem Joe:

    Most intelligent people form their material judgements on the basis of empirical data and facts. There are of course plenty of people who don’t. Which are you?

    I think “Wikipedia snarks” are getting to be one of the most reliable indicators.

  27. @MBunge:

    Dude, if in 100 years someone else needs chortling, I’ll supply it (if I’m able).

    In the meantime I will focus on today’s centers of anti-intellectualism.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but:
    –Abortion is at heart a theological question, so there’s precious little chance of any “new data” turning up.
    –If anyone could show that the death penalty is an effective deterrent I might well change my mind.
    –Were someone to show that homosexuality is primarily a learned behavior, I might well change my mind.
    –Were someone to show ill effects of marijuana that outweighed the known evils of continuing the war of drugs, I might well change my mind.
    –Were someone to show that repealing inheritance taxes in any way makes the country stronger, more stable, or more prosperous I might well change my mind.

  29. Drew says:

    @john personna: That’s pathetic, Jp.

  30. MBunge says:

    @john personna: “In the meantime I will focus on today’s centers of anti-intellectualism.”

    And if you think stupid, foolish beliefs and mindsets are somehow ONLY to be found in those other people over there, you’re pretty much guaranteeing the eventual Tea Partification of your own side. Those folks who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 because they didn’t think there was a difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush haven’t gone anywhere. They’ve just turned into the people talking up Ron Paul over Obama.

    Mike

  31. Drew says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Heh. And most intelligent people understand that the world is not so simple that, although data and facts inform judgment, life cannot be simplistically distilled, like a fifth grade exercise, into rote considerations.

    I don’t know about you, but my world became more complex than simple data and number crunching after I left college. Perhaps you continue to reside in a more simple minded world.

  32. Septimius says:

    @sam:

    Those things are not causative of the success of the white upper-middle class, they’re the result of the economic conditions giving rise to that class, the economic success of that class. A success denied to these days to the white blue-collar class.

    What economic conditions prevent people from getting married and staying married, working like crazy, and going to church? And, why do you differentiate by race?

  33. Hey Norm says:

    @ Mike…
    Well wait a minute…Marxism, like any manifesto, is based on an analysis of conditions and a prescription…in this case socialism.
    Capitalism, according to Marxist theory, cannot sustain the living standards of the general population because of the need to maximize profits by driving down wages, cutting social benefits, and pursuing military aggression. Sound familiar? This part…the data…is not far off today. This is exactly why we have many “socialist programs” propping up our faux-capitalism…SS, Medicare, public schools, etc. And why Republicans wish to eliminate them in order to maximize profits for their overlords…think Koch Brothers.
    The prescrition portion of Marxism is extreme…but then any embrace of it by U.S. progressives was also short-lived. In other words they changed their position based on new information.

  34. @MBunge:

    Remember, I’m a disenfranchised Republican and independent. I’m arguing now (in other threads) with lefties who support a social wage.

    This is one of those weird moments. I say “today’s centers of anti-intellectualism” and the correct answer is “sure, but that’s not me.”

    Instead .. down vote me because I don’t go along with the anti-intellectualism? lolz

  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    @MBunge:

    How about the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s? How about the “October Surprise” conspiracy theories around the 1980 Presidential election? How about Russ Feingold TODAY criticizing President Obama for encouraging people to donate to a pro-Obama SuperPac?

    Boy you’re dredging the bottom the bottom of the barrel here. The 1980 election October surprise, what the heck was that. It was obviously up there in the great issues of the age. And old Russ there sticking up for a principle he believes in even if it’s not very practical in the current climate. Appalling.

  36. @Drew:

    The correct answer to

    “it is when people think that the latter [judgement] does not need the former [data and fact] that you get in trouble”

    was

    “sure, but that’s not me.”

    instead you go with

    “I don’t know about you, but my world became more complex than simple data and number crunching after I left college. Perhaps you continue to reside in a more simple minded world.”

    I’ll boil that down to “it’s too hard!”

  37. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Drew:

    Heh. And most intelligent people understand that the world is not so simple that, although data and facts inform judgment, life cannot be simplistically distilled, like a fifth grade exercise, into rote considerations.

    Naturally you use rather childish fifth grade pejoratives but as a general rule data and facts usually inform most materially important judgements we make like which house to buy, which job to take, which university to go to, which stocks to invest in, where to send our children to school, should one have a major operation etc etc. This is not to entirely preclude the spirtual but even there material considerations like the bust measurement or income of one’s future bride sometimes creep into the reckoning.

  38. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax.

    I can easily think of such data, because my views on all these issues have changed over the years.

  39. Peterh says:

    I’m reminded of a preacher that preached a Cadillac in every garage…..I’ve got mine and if you follow me, you’ll have yours also……

    It’s the pied piper leading the lemmings…..

  40. The Formation of the New Lower Classes.

    The funny thing about Conservatives is for all their paranoia about Marxism, you find them advocating Marxist ideas then the mainstream left these days. For example, the idea that human nature is completely mutable, and that an entire group can somehow be remade by a sufficient act of will by the central authority. This whole book is essentially complaining about the false conciousness of the proletariat, simply with different symbology.

  41. MBunge says:

    @Brummagem Joe: “The 1980 election October surprise, what the heck was that.”

    Something that liberals were so invested in that they demanded and got Congressional investigations into it in the early 1990s. Yes, for well over a decade, lefties and Democrats entertained a conspiracy theory that involved George H. W. Bush jumping in an SR-71 Blackbird in the midst of the 1980 Presidential campaign and flying black to the U.S. from a secret meeting in Paris with representatives agents of the Iranian government.

    Mike

  42. Doubter4444 says:

    @MBunge:
    Yes. It says the libs chortling over how stupid and irrational right-wingers are today might want to remember that such thinking is endemic to human beings in general. You want more contemporary examples? How about the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s? How about the “October Surprise” conspiracy theories around the 1980 Presidential election?

    I don’t think conspiracy theories rise to the level of the values we are talking about here.
    Those were fad bandwagons, and not necessarily fundamental positions for most people.
    And guess what?
    Most people got off the bandwagon after thinking about the issues or deciding they weren’t relevant or correct, or important enough to stay on.
    I just think that the point is that there are issues that people will never change their mind on – ever.
    And yes, I do think the left is more open to changing their minds on things – that’s not a value judgment – hell, there’s a charge against people who do think their minds can be changed on “Important” matters – they are “Moral Relativists” – and that there is no real truth to these people.
    People of faith and Zelots scorn them.

    But the point of this post is to to discuss that minds can be changed, either way, with evidence. Or not.

    Now it maybe that that bar is impossibly high – so one can be safe in their assumptions (Abortion is one, as JP above mentioned, the “proof” necessary for people to change their mind is probably never going to be enough), but the point is could you – would ever change your mind on an issue?

    So you can’t have it both ways – one is either open to information that could change their opinion on ANYTHING, or not.

    Now this: How about Russ Feingold TODAY criticizing President Obama for encouraging people to donate to a pro-Obama SuperPac? Feingold wants Obama to unilaterally disarm himself in the face of possibly half a billion dollars in negative TV ads. It’s hard to get dumber or more indifferent to reality than that.
    I really don’t know what that has to do this the point.

  43. Brummagem Joe says:

    @MBunge:

    Yes, for well over a decade, lefties and Democrats entertained a conspiracy theory that involved George H. W. Bush jumping in an SR-71 Blackbird in the midst of the 1980 Presidential campaign and flying black to the U.S. from a secret meeting in Paris with representatives agents of the Iranian government.

    Obviously an issue of massive import of which dominated the American consciousness for years. Somehow it must have missed my attention. I’ll try and be more alert in future.

  44. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It is no accident that many of the leading idealogues of the right like Kristol and the Podhoretz’s either were or are descended from Trotskyists and communists of various type.

  45. Neil Hudelson says:

    but more specifically one is an ideologue (or a zealot) (or an idiot)if one is unwilling to change views in the face of evidence.

    FTFY

  46. sam says:

    @Septimius:

    What economic conditions prevent people from getting married and staying married, working like crazy, and going to church? And, why do you differentiate by race?

    Uh, the title of the book under discussion is, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. And I was following Frum’s criticism, which I find largely correct. See JJ’s, David Frum Eviscerates Charles Murray’s Latest Book if you don’t want to read Frum’s post.

  47. Rob in CT says:

    The argument appears to be: this group of people changed their moral code for the worse and, as a result, suffered economically. If they shape up, success will follow.

    Given that economic success seems to lead and social changes follow (more money -> more education -> fewer kids/women’s lib ??), I don’t think that follows.

    Did people in the US get super moral and then get rich? Did they get rich and then develop the morality? Or perhaps neither?

    Aren’t there stats that show economic stress results in more marital trouble? Granted, I’ve not researched this. I’m on the level of “saw some headlines” here. But it makes sense to me. My marriage doesn’t involve a ton of stress. We work, we parent, etc. and sure you have days, but ultimately it’s pretty low-stress. I don’t think the fact that we have lots of money is irrelevant to that…

  48. gVOR08 says:

    Been reading Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit. Mentions the same rhetoric about the Dickensian poor. They’re poor because of their low morals and laziness, so there’s nothing we can do. Then they slowly became more prosperous and adopted middle class morality. (Saw Stanley Holloway in My Fair Lady on TCM a couple days ago, complaining about having to adopt middle class morality.)

  49. stratplayer says:

    @Brummagem Joe: Precisely. There is no principled way for the intransigent ideologue to distinguish positions that he or she would regard as forever impervious to empiricism from those that remain subject to revision at any time. Fact and reason either apply across the board or they don’t apply at all. There is no middle ground.

  50. John D'Geek says:

    It’s a rather strange day when I can agree with @john personna: and @Rob in CT: .

    I suspect the author of the book was heading in the right direction, but didn’t leap far enough to make it over the chasm. A well-considered view must include not only facts and data but also values and priorities. Values and Priorities may change with reflection and contemplation, however their nature ensures that they are not really subject to “facts and data”.

    @Rob in CT:

    Hence the “photography of a soul” thing. If you could produce data that proves to me that a zygote is deserving of sufficient rights to trump the woman’s right to be rid of it, I could change my mind. But how do you do that? What data would that be? It’s a *really* high bar.

    So… while I’m all for reason, data, and critical thinking, I think that this rather repellant fellow Murray had a point.

    This is actually a great example.

    I value the right to life (stay with me here). So, while some will take the “prove to me that the fetus is alive” POV, I take the “can you prove that the fetus is not alive” POV. We know that the fetus develops into a living child at some point (self-evident), but at what point? The only two places with an “obvious dividing line” in the development of a child (besides birth) are Conception and Implantation (I’m not actually sure about implantation from a data POV, but it’s a convenient line to draw). While this POV is subject to data (e.g. I’m willing to look at newly claimed “dividing lines”), I can’t see any “data based” approach to changing which POV I take. That’s based on a Value, not on Data.

    In other words: I may change my conclusion if another clear dividing line is found, but I won’t ever assume that it’s not alive and require another to prove that it is. I suspect that Rob is similarly tenacious in clinging to his POV.

  51. @John D’Geek:

    The only two places with an “obvious dividing line” in the development of a child (besides birth) are Conception and Implantation (I’m not actually sure about implantation from a data POV, but it’s a convenient line to draw). While this POV is subject to data (e.g. I’m willing to look at newly claimed “dividing lines”), I can’t see any “data based” approach to changing which POV I take.

    This is a semantic slippery slope fallacy: the argument that if the boundary between two classes cannot be explicitly defined, that there is no distinction between them. Classic example is arguing that baldness don’t exist, because you can’t define a specific number of hairs that marks the boundary between having hair and being bald.

  52. Rob in CT says:

    John,

    It’s not “prove it’s alive” for me. Of course it’s alive. Lots of things are alive, but do not have teh full rights of a person.

    So for me the question is “does this developing bit of life have sufficient rights to trump the rights of the woman carrying it?” Pregnancy is a process. Abortion is a question of conflicting rights. A conflict between something that starts out as a clump of cells and ends up (barring miscarriage and other possible problems) a baby versus an already fully human woman. For me, I start from the presumption that the woman has a powerful right to decide about what goes on inside her, and thus convincing me that you ought to be able to restrict that via legislation is really really hard. Not necessarily impossible, but really hard.

    Crap, I don’t want to turn this into an abortion thread. I’ll leave off here. I have to run anyway.

  53. john personna says:

    @John D’Geek:

    If you are looking for secular, rather than religious, dividing lines you could go with onset of brain activity. We use it at the other end of life, as one of the criteria to determine death.

    The Caroline Donor Services, in what I hope is not a self-interested claim, says that there is no way back.

  54. Abortion is, for obvious reasons, the hardest issue in the list.

    However, my point is not that people cannot or should not have deeply held positions. It is whether or not people should be so settled on their position that the mere thought of having to change one’s mind based on new evidence is utterly impossible to conceive of (no pun intended).

    To treat policy positions as matters of immutable faith is be (to use Murray’s word) eschew reason.

    I think, by the way, that this is the problem with this book: he is so convinced of the rightness of his positions that he is making the argument fit his preferences.

  55. John D'Geek says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Crap, I don’t want to turn this into an abortion thread. I’ll leave off here. I have to run anyway.

    Thank you! 😀 That was intended to be an example, not a call for debate. 😀

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think, by the way, that this is the problem with this book: he is so convinced of the rightness of his positions that he is making the argument fit his preferences.

    Which is why I sometimes think, somewhat facetiously:

    My cause is causes — I’m against them.

  56. Tillman says:

    I change my mind when it is convenient to do so. Facts and data are conveniences. Principles are also conveniences. One has to be more convenient than the other for me to be stubborn on something if the two conflict.

    Frankly, reading all of the above comments was not very convenient.

  57. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08:

    –Abortion is at heart a theological question, so there’s precious little chance of any “new data” turning up.

    I fear I responded hastily on abortion. Were A) the anti-choice people to support sex ed and readily available contraception so as to reduce the number of candidates for abortion, and B) the ‘adoption not abortion’ holy rollers were to guarantee they’d provide a competent, loving home for all of the remainder; then I might well change my mind on abortion too.

  58. In response to Charles Murray:

    I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error. Steele, a Protestant, in a dedication, tells the pope that the only difference between our two churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrine is, the Romish Church is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But, tho many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally an a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said: “But I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.”

    — Benjamin Franklin, from a speech in Philadelphia before the Constitutional Convention of 1787

  59. WR says:

    @MBunge: Yes, it is remarkable that those idiot lefites thought that Reagan and co were so corrupt they would form a criminal conspiracy with Iran, one of America’s greatest enemies, in order to achieve their corrupt political goals.

    I mean, it is remarkable that those idiot lefties thought such a think in 1980. It was months before the Reagan administration sold advanced weaponry to Iran in order to raise money to illegally fund a guerilla force in Central America to overthrow a democratically elected government.

    Those silly, wacky, kooky lefties with their crazy imaginings.