20 September 2013

Coming to Terms

In a prior post, I clarified one of my philosophical points of view regarding knowledge and certainty for the benefit of one of my favorite bloggers.  However, I think it important to make another clarification about terminology in argumentation.

One of the most common logical fallacies is that of the straw man, in which one defeats an argument that no one has made.  Sometimes this is intentional, as part of rhetoric designed to mislead people.  More often, though, at least in my experience, it’s the case that those who refute straw man arguments are completely unaware that they have done so.  What happens is that someone misunderstands or misinterprets someone else’s argument and proceeds to address the misconception.

This is an understandable occurrence, as a good number of people are vague or unclear when presenting ideas (and I’ve certainly been guilty of this).  A lot of people have a very specific meaning in mind when they use a specific word and forget that their specific definition may not naturally occur to others at all.  Instead of being up front and clarifying this, they simply go on about their business and assume that whoever is listening (or reading, etc.) will simply catch up.  Some of this is necessary, as clarifying and qualifying every nuance is extremely time-consuming, and may not always be necessary.  Trying to make a coherent argument doesn’t require an infinite amount of qualification, but that doesn’t mean none is ever necessary, either.

In keeping with this, one of the more amusing aspects of the open borders debate between The Crimson Reach and Ryan Long is that both sides are basically talking past each other because they refuse(?) to come to terms with each other.  I think it’s obvious that Ryan Long’s position on borders and immigration is perfectly logical within the constraints of his worldview (hell, I even agree with it, with caveats, of course).  But at the same time, Crimson Reach’s position is also perfectly logical within the constraints of his worldview (and I also agree with it, with certain constraints, of course).  Ryan is right that people should have an absolute right to freely associate and trade with whomever they want, insofar as doing so doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights.  And Crimson Reach is right to be worried that current US immigration policy will have deleterious effects on US citizens.

Now, I won’t be so insulting as to say that both views must be kept in balance of on another, but I will say that it is foolish to ignore the rights of those who live outside the US.  I will also say that it is foolish to argue that opening up the borders will lead to utopia.  There are other considerations to be made with border policy in lieu of the fact that the US federal government is spending trillions of dollars a year, and forces a ridiculous number of taxes and regulations on its citizens.  It’s not exactly the case that the only thing preventing the US from being perfectly libertarian is federal immigration policy.  Since economic effects don’t occur in a vacuum, it seems a little short-sighted to simply advocate for open borders without first pausing to consider the practical effects of this policy in light of the current statist quo.

More to the point, though, it’s always important to debate (and simply understand) people on their own terms.  This is where true wisdom lies.  Each person has their own concerns, and there is always some degree of validity to said concerns.  An employee at a store will have a different view of things than the manager, who in turn will view things differently from the owner.  This is inevitable, and quite human.

Personally, and at the risk of having my libertarian card revoked, I think that Marxist economic analysis has a fair degree of utility.  I think it is true that capitalists exploit workers, and sometimes mistreat them while also being unreasonably demanding. I think this state of affairs is deplorable, though I don’t think state intervention is a wise solution.  By the same token, though, I also think that a lot of employees are worthless pieces of shit who ought to be grateful that they even have a job at all.  While a good number of employees are d-bags, it is also true that most employees aren’t anything to write home about.  Thus, the leftist empathy of Marxism and cold-blooded rationalism of capitalism both have their place in everyone’s intellectual framework.

Ultimately, the point I’m getting at is that it is important to understand other people’s viewpoint.  You don’t have to treat it like gospel, but assuming that anyone who disagrees with you has absolutely no legitimate grounds to do so is simply foolish.  Their view may have some serious flaws, but it is likely that it is not completely devoid of legitimacy.