A Philosopher's Blog

Sci-Fi Speeches

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 30, 2012
Inglourious Basterds (soundtrack)

Inglourious Basterds (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of science fiction and I especially like alternative reality sci-fi. In this genre, the fictional world is like our own, only with important differences. Philosophically, these writers are engaged in counterfactuals. That is, they are describing a world that is counter to fact.  For example, an author might explore what happened if the American Civil war ended with the country permanently divided. As another example, an author might set her story in a world in which the Axis won the Second World War.  One specific example of this is Inglourious Basterds, a nice piece of science fiction in which Hitler is assassinated by Jewish soldiers. There are, of course, also more extreme versions that slide towards fantasy, such as the X-Men First Class movie (although they are presented as mutants, their powers are more akin to magic than anything that could be based in science) or the tale in which Lincoln hunts vampires.

I also, like many Americans, like politics. Interestingly enough, I can satisfy my cravings for science-fiction and politics at the same time by watching some of the political speeches being given these days. While political speeches often distort reality by including straw men, lies and partial truths, some speeches actually present entire counter factual worlds. In some cases the extent to which the reality of the speech differs from the actual world would seem to qualify the speech as science fiction. After all, it is describing a world somewhat like our own that does not exist, except in the imagination of the creator and those that share the creator’s vision.

Paul Ryan’s speech is an excellent example of this sort of science fiction. The world he describes is somewhat like our own and a version of Obama is president of that America. However, the world of Ryan’s speech differs from the actual world in many important ways, as presented by Sally Kohn over at Fox. The influences of another fiction writer, Ayn Rand, certainly seem to have helped shape his fictional world. While I specifically mention Ryan, I am confident that the Democrats will present some of their own alternative realities at the upcoming DNC.

While I do enjoy speculative fiction and alternative histories, I would prefer that they not be presented as the truth. Honest writers have the decency to label their fictions as fictions, something that politicians do not do. This is, of course, dishonest and also has a negative consequences. After all, people who do not know better and who are not inclined to engage in even a modest amount of critical thinking (checking the facts, for example) can easily be deceived by such fiction and accept it as reality. These people will, in turn, attempt to convince others of the reality of these fictions and they will also make decisions, such as who to vote for, on the basis of these fictions. As might be imagined, such fiction based decision making is unlikely to result in wise choices.

While creative counter factual fiction does have its place, politics is not that place.

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17 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on September 4, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Mike, I thought that “the fine folks at Fox” were hopelessly biased?

    In any case, the points raised by Sally Kohn have been shown to be bogus. And deciding who to blame over the credit downgrade is a matter of opinion, not fact. I personally blame Obama, who lacked the nerve to reform entitlements. Presidents are supposed to lead, not duck and cover.

    Can you give an example of where Ryan indulged in science fiction?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Many of the fine folks at Fox are biased. However, as I have noted, a bias does not entail that a particular claim is not true. Bias lowers credibility but does not prove that a particular claim is false.

      The evidence seems to be that Ryan was not being honest on many points. Do you have a credible source to show that Kohn was wrong and that Ryan was speaking the truth on these points?

      Well, Ryan recently claimed a sub 3:00 marathon. Since he actually did not break 4 hours, perhaps he was speaking of an alternative world in which his counterpart ran that fast. This might or might not be the same world described in the Republican narrative which now might include the prediction that an Obama re-election will be step towards 1,000 years of darkness.

      My best marathon is 2:45. You can check the results for the Columbus marathon (1989-1993) to confirm this claim.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

        So he forgot how fast he ran a marathon 20+ years before. Is that really worse than Obama forgetting there are 50 states in the United States?

        But I want to know what you think Ryan lied about in his speech at the RNC?

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

          Here is a link to the transcript of Ryan’s speech: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/08/29/transcript-paul-ryan-speech-at-rnc/

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm

          If he had said “I forgot my time” then it would make sense to say he forgot. However, he claimed a specific PR, namely a sub 3:00 hour race. Naturally, people do forget things and memory can play tricks. So perhaps he just did not remember and honestly thought he had run a sub 3:00 hour race. That is, of course, possible.

          I’m reasonable sure that Obama knows there are 50 states.

          I provided a link to an assessment of his claims. You counter claimed that the source had been debunked, but did not provide evidence of this. So, I refer you to the original post and link.

          • T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2012 at 11:16 pm

            There is overwhelming evidence if you look for it. For example:

            Seems like fact checkers need to do some fact checking of their own assumptions. Paul Ryan’s speech last night included a reference to a GM plant in Janesville that closed, which Ryan used to criticize Barack Obama for failing to meet his campaign promises. A number of “fact” checkers jumped all over Ryan’s anecdote to claim that he lied about the circumstances of the plant’s closure. We’ll just take one example, from the AP’s “fact’ check:

            RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: `I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

            THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants – though not the Janesville facility – to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

            Actually, those “facts” aren’t quite accurate, either. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in September of last year — long before Ryan got added to the ticket — the Janesville plant got shut down in 2009, after being notified of their pending closure in December 2008:

            General Motors Co. has committed to reopen its idled plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and keep its shuttered assembly plant in Janesville on standby status.

            The commitment to the former Saturn plant in Tennessee was part of a contract settlement reached late last week between GM and the United Auto Workers union.

            Since they were shut down in 2009, both the Janesville and Tennessee plants have been on standby status, meaning they were not producing vehicles, but they were not completely shut down. …

            The Janesville plant stopped production of SUVs in 2008 and was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks.

            Remaining on standby means not much has changed in Janesville. Community leaders say they would be ready if the GM plant reopened, but no one seems to be counting on that.

            Production continued into 2009 on trucks — and into April, as this local TV report from April 2009 shows, courtesy of our good friend Morgen Richmond:

            Clearly, the job of “fact checker” in the mainstream media must not involve research skills. Nor does it take much in comprehension, because these supposed fact checks started with a misrepresentation of what Ryan actually said. Here are his actual words, emphasis mine:

            President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

            A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

            Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

            Ryan acknowledged that the plant had already been slated for shutdown in 2008. That was his point. People voted for him because they thought Obama represented hope to get the plant back in operation. In fact, that had been known since at least February 2008, when Obama came to Janesville to speak, and specifically addressed the plant closure in his remarks, delivered at the plant itself — and promised to keep it and other plants like it open “for the next hundred years” (emphasis mine):

            It was nearly a century ago that the first tractor rolled off the assembly line at this plant. The achievement didn’t just create a product to sell or profits for General Motors. It led to a shared prosperity enjoyed by all of Janesville. Homes and businesses began to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets. Jobs were plentiful, with wages that could raise a family and benefits you could count on.

            Prosperity hasn’t always come easily. The plant shut down for a period during the height of the Depression, and major shifts in production have been required to meet the changing times. Tractors became automobiles. Automobiles became artillery shells. SUVs are becoming hybrids as we speak, and the cost of transition has always been greatest for the workers and their families.

            But through hard times and good, great challenge and great change, the promise of Janesville has been the promise of America – that our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible. And when it’s not – when opportunity is uneven or unequal – it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation. That is the responsibility we face right now, and that is the responsibility I intend to meet as President of the United States. …

            Those are the steps we can take to ease the cost crisis facing working families. But we still need to make sure that families are working. We need to maintain our competitive edge in a global by ensuring that plants like this one stay open for another hundred years, and shuttered factories re-open as new industries that promise new jobs. And we need to put more Americans to work doing jobs that need to be done right here in America.

            That’s the promise that Barack Obama failed to deliver — even when the government took ownership of GM. Ryan had it exactly right, and the fact checkers have made a mockery of their own profession by stepping all over their own biases to refute Ryan.

            http://hotair.com/archives/2012/08/30/fact-checking-the-factcheckers-on-ryans-speech/

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm

              But why accept his claims over all the other fact checkers? Does he have more expertise and credibility than all the other folks who went through his claims? Is he less biased? In short, using the standards of an argument from authority, why should Captain Ed be taken as the definitive expert in this matter over those who fact checked Ryan and found his facts wanting?

              After all, to say “well, these experts checked his facts and found them lacking, but this one conservative blogger says they are wrong, so they are” seems like weak reasoning.

              Based on his site, he seems to be a rather dedicated conservative and hence potentially biased in his assessment. This does not entail that he is wrong, just that his leanings should be taken into account-just as the leanings of anyone should be taking into account.

              Naturally, I am willing to consider additional evidence against the fact checkers and in favor of Ryan. While I am a Democrat so I can vote in primaries, my commitment is to what is true and not to making one party look bad or the other look good.

              I regard Politifact as a credible source-you can see their assessment of Ryan here: http://www.politifact.com/personalities/paul-ryan/

              As I have noted before, PolitiFact also lists most other politicians as mostly saying things that are not true. This is a point of national shame.

          • T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm

            Judge for yourself. Is is possible you are applying a double standard?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm

              Are you saying that Obama fudged on the number of states to make himself look better? :)

              Seriously, I do recognize that people can have memory errors even regarding things that they should easily remember (such as the one marathon a person has run or the number of states). In the case of the states, I’d say that was an error rather than an intentional deception. After all, that makes no sense. Lying about athletic performance (or academic) makes more sense and we know that people do that (as you showed with Biden). So, I’d be inclined to say that Biden and Ryan might have spoken from the ego. But, I’ll always consider the possibility of memory failures-and more so, as I get…what was I saying? Something about winning the Nobel prize?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm

              Are you saying that Obama fudged on the number of states to make himself look better? :)

              Seriously, I do recognize that people can have memory errors even regarding things that they should easily remember (such as the one marathon a person has run or the number of states). In the case of the states, I’d say that was an error rather than an intentional deception. After all, that makes no sense. Lying about athletic performance (or academic) makes more sense and we know that people do that (as you showed with Biden). So, I’d be inclined to say that Biden and Ryan might have spoken from the ego. But, I’ll always consider the possibility of memory failures-and more so, as I get…what was I saying? Something about winning the Nobel prize?

  2. T. J. Babson said, on September 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Obama blinked, according to Bob Woodward.

    The failure of Obama to connect with Boehner was vaguely reminiscent of another phone call late in the evening of Election Day 2010, after it became clear that the Republicans would take control of the House, making Boehner Speaker of the House.

    Nobody in the Obama orbit could even find the soon-to-be-speaker’s phone number, Woodward reports. A Democratic Party aide finally secured it through a friend so the president could offer congratulations.

    While questions persist about whether any grand bargain reached by the principals could have actually passed in the Tea Party-dominated Congress, Woodward issues a harsh judgment on White House and congressional leaders for failing to act boldly at a moment of crisis. Particular blame falls on the president.

    “It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama,” Woodward writes.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/bob-woodward-book-debt-deal-collapse-led-pure/story?id=17104635

    • T. J. Babson said, on September 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Note the “particular blame falls on the president” part.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      I’d reply to Bob, but I don’t have his number.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2012 at 11:19 pm

        You will, of course, note that Woodward is not known to be a Republican lackey, so when he says “particular blame falls on the president” you can be pretty sure it is true.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm

          A reasonable argument from authority, but that is a relatively weak argument-even in terms of induction.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2012 at 7:28 am

    There was some evidence of alien worlds at the DNC:

    (Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s insistence that there had been no controversy brought CNN’s Anderson Cooper to declare she was operating in an “alternate universe.”)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/horror-show-wednesday-night-at-the-dnc/2012/09/05/8aa0d70e-f7c8-11e1-8398-0327ab83ab91_blog.html

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks for the additional example to support my claim. Good to see that Anderson is on board with the alternative universe hypothesis.


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