In previous essays I have written about corporate personhood as well as corporate inversion. Corporate inversion, briefly put, is when a corporation buys a foreign corporation and then “inverts” ownership. For example, an American corporation like Burger King might buy a Canadian corporation and then move its corporate headquarters to Canada to take advantage of the lower tax rate. As might be imagined, some people have been rather critical of this practice. President Obama has even asserted that such corporations are unpatriotic.
While listening to NPR a while back, I heard an interesting argument advanced by one of the guests. He began by noting how Mitt Romney had taken some flak for asserting that corporations are people. He then mentioned how Obama called the corporations that engage in corporate inversion unpatriotic. He then raised the point that criticizing corporations for being unpatriotic is to accept them as people. This does raise a somewhat interesting question about whether this is right or not.
In the United States, corporations are legally persons—and the Supreme Court seems to be committed to granting them all the advantageous and convenient rights of actual persons (while not saying anything about the fact that it is illegal to own persons in the United States). I have argued at length that corporations are not people and should not have that legal status—so I will not repeat those arguments here. However, I will obviously address the issue of whether a corporation can be called unpatriotic without the accuser being committed to the personhood of corporations.
On the side of corporate personhood, it could be argued that being unpatriotic (or patriotic) requires the sort of intentional and emotional mental states that only a person could possess. As such, if a corporation is unpatriotic, then it is a person.
Interestingly enough, this sort of language argument has been used by various philosophers such as Socrates and John Locke. In arguing for universals, Socrates (or Plato) would proceed from how one talks to an ontological commitment. In discussing personal identity, Locke took the fact that people use expressions such as a person not being themselves as evidence that someone in a normal state of mind can be a different person from someone in an abnormal state: “human laws not punishing the mad man for the sober man’s actions, nor the sober man for what the mad man did, thereby making them two persons: which is somewhat explained by our way of speaking in English, when we say such an one is not himself, or is beside himself; in which phrases it is insinuated, as if those who now, or at least first used them, thought that self was changed, the selfsame person was no longer in that man….”
The easy and obvious counter is that when someone refers to a corporation as being unpatriotic (or patriotic), she need not commit to the corporation itself being a person. Rather, the person is just using a shorthand expression in place of asserting that the people who decide to implement the inversion and make it happen are acting in (what is seen as) an unpatriotic way. To use an obvious analogy, if someone claims that a sports team is enthusiastic, the she is not committed to the team being a person—an entity over and above the players, coaches, etc. Rather, she is just using conversational shorthand to refer to the members of the team. If such conversational shorthand expressed a commitment to personhood, then people would be routinely expressing commitments to a vast number of entities—thus dramatically swelling the ontology of persons. This seems both odd and unnecessary. Given the injunction of Occam’s razor, due care should be used when moving from how people speak to an ontological commitment. In the case of corporations and other groups, it would seem to suffice to attribute the mental states to the people that make them up rather than adding another entity to the matter. As such, the appeal to language argument for corporate personhood fails.
Thus, someone can claim that a corporation is unpatriotic (or patriotic) without being committed to corporate personhood. Just like a person can talk about team spirit without being committed to team personhood.
Interestingly, pundits generally make predictions that turn out to be wrong yet this seems to have no impact on their status as pundits. In this spirit, I call on you to make predictions about what Romney will do, should he win the election. The more specific the prediction, the better.
For example, Romney claims that he will create 12 million jobs, so one possible prediction is that he will do so. Another is that he will not.
If he gets elected, we can return to this post and see what predictions were accurate and which were not.
If possible, limit the comments to predictions. No mention should be made of Obama. Naturally, anyone who is physically incapable of resisting the commands of Fox and must type out talking points against Obama will be forgiven.
A while back I saw Chuck Norris’ video in which his wife predicted that re-electing Obama would be a first step towards 1,000 years of darkness. Interestingly, a similar prediction about the election of Johnson was made by Ronald Reagan in a speech supporting Barry Goldwater. Goldwater lost, of course, so if Reagan was right, then re-electing Obama would not be the first step towards 1,000 years of darkness. Rather, it would be at least the second step (there might be others). I am not sure how many steps it takes to reach 1,000 years of darkness. Perhaps it is like the tootsie pop-we will never know how many steps it takes to get there because someone will get sick of walking and drive us into the darkness in a Prius.
While not as extreme as 1,000 years of darkness, some folks have predicted that a re-elected Obama will suddenly act upon a secret anti-gun agenda and impose strict gun control laws. Obama has presumably been brilliantly masking this agenda by actually extending gun rights. He also presumably is so confident of his re-election that he decided to not act on his secret agenda despite having had all those years as president.
I invite people to make predictions about what will happen if Obama is re-elected. Remember, the predictions regarding 1,000 years of darkness and gun control have been taken. Also, no re-using current accusations unless there is some new twist worth mentioning. For example, saying he will “destroy jobs and hate America” is out. Saying “Obama will channel his hatred of America into creating a monster of the id that will rampage across America destroying jobs” would be fine. Also, include a time frame if possible. For example, “the id monster will be rolling hard across the country in August 2013.”
If he gets re-elected, we can come back and check the predictions. I’m thinking about offering copies of my ebooks as prizes for getting predictions right.
As I have noted in other posts, both the Democrats and the Republicans seem to be somewhat truth averse. Or, at the very least, willing to take a flexible approach to matters of fact. A quick look at Politifacts shows this to be the case.
While some non-truths can be attributed to honest errors or ignorance (especially ones that occur in spontaneous or otherwise unprepared remarks), this surely cannot be the explanation for all cases. Unless, of course, politicians are to be attributed sweeping incompetence and broad ignorance.
In some cases, politicians no doubt fall victims to their own narratives and cognitive biases and they no doubt feel that what they are saying is true, even when it is not. While this is still a problem, it can be somewhat forgiven on the grounds that these biases are difficult to counter, we are all subject to them and they are typically not intentional deceits (unless the person is also intentionally deceiving himself/herself).
In other cases, the politicians are no doubt aware that they are saying things that are not true and they are doing so with an intent to mislead. That is, they are lying. As noted in an earlier post, Paul Ryan’s speech contained numerous untruths and distortions. Not surprisingly, some of his fellow Republicans came to his defense and said that what mattered were his broader points and larger message.
On the one hand, they do make a reasonable general point: when considering a matter it is rather critical to sort out what is important and what is a minor point. After all, pointing out errors or defects in some of the minor points need not show that the whole is defective in significant ways. For example, if Ryan had said that Obama had cut $771 million from a program and he had actually cut $717 million, then pointing out this error would hardly show that Ryan’s overall narrative was flawed.
On the other hand, Ryan’s overall narrative seemed to be supported by critical claims that were untrue or distortions. That is, his evidence for his main claim turned out to be mostly defective. While this does not prove that his main claim is not true, it does show that his defective evidence should not be accepted as evidence for his claims. Obviously enough, if Obama is as bad as Ryan claims, then he should have been able to present true and un-distorted evidence for his view. After all, why lie and bend the truth if the facts would suffice?
One possibility is that the facts would not suffice-that is, in reality Obama is not as bad as Ryan claims. In short, Ryan needed to support his straw man and alternative reality with fictional “evidence.” This, obviously, is rather unethical.
Another possibility is that Ryan and other politicians are f@cking with us. That is, they think that they have no real need to tell the truth, that they can spin a narrative with impunity and that there is nothing the critics can do about it. This might well be the case. After all, I infer that Ryan knows that he was making false and misleading claims (the alternative is that he is willfully ignorant or detached from reality) yet he does not seem to think it matters. He might be right. After all, many folks in the Republican party defended him, essentially saying that the facts do not matter, just the narrative (which they, oddly enough, claim is true). Other folks just accept what he says and if questioned attribute the criticism to the biased media. As such, he can just lie to these people and not worry about any consequences. The Democrats who reject the narrative are note going to vote for Ryan and Romney so he probably does not care what they think. In fact, it might be sort of funny to lie blatantly and get away with it just because he can. As far as the independents go, perhaps he figures that they will not bother to check the facts, they will just forget about the deceit when the election arrives or that they will not care.
As might be imagined, this sort of lying and distortion bothers me. First, there are the ethical concerns about lying. Second, there is the damage it does to the democratic process. Third, there is the practical concern: if Paul Ryan will lie about matters that can easily be checked, how can he be trusted as vice president?
Naturally some folks will accuse me of bashing Republicans and giving Democrats a pass. While I do contend that the Republicans lie and distort more (check out Politifacts), the Democrats also lie and distort. This is not to say the Democrats are as bad-they are not. However, they are still bad and that is still a problem.
When the DNC rolls around, I will be critical of their lies and distortions as well.
As the 2012 election approaches, the two opposing camps have been stepping up their attack ads and deploying their minions, spinions, surrogates and proxies to do their dirty work.
One of the stock attack tactics in politics is to lie. Naturally, there are various types of lies. For example, one way to lie is to engage in intentional distortion of a person’s position, as was done with Obama’s remarks about building businesses. There is also the option of just saying something that is an outright falsehood, as Obama did regarding Romney’s position on abortion.
This sort of deceit (or error, if one wants to be excessively kind) would make some sort of sense if the candidates did not have plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize or attack each other, thus leading me to wonder (once again) why people lie in such matters when the truth should suffice.
Romney could have restricted himself to legitimately and truthfully go after Obama about the weak economy, morally dubious drone strikes and so on. Likewise, Obama had plenty of legitimate points to bring up about Romney (mining the Republican attacks on Romney would have provided him with plenty of material).
I suspect that one reason why such lies are told (as opposed to mere errors) is that they are essentially attempts to use the straw man fallacy that slide from being mere distortions to actual lies. The appeal is, of course, that the straw man works quite well as a rhetorical device and a lie that is a distortion would inherit this persuasive power.
Another reason such lies are told is that they are easy. After all, while politicians will make gaffes, getting a good one is often a matter of luck. As such, making one by distortion or just making one up is far more reliable. Since people are rather inclined to consume appealing lies hook, line and sinker and ignore unappealing truths, such deceit can generally be conducted safely. Weirdly, while politicians seem to have a ticket to lie, if a company is misleading about the health value of a chocolate spread, then they can be forced to pay a settlement. This suggests that, just perhaps, politicians lie because they can.
I also suspect that some of the lies are told because the person actually believes what they are saying. As such, they are saying something untrue, yet think it is accurate because of their political bias. That is, it feels true to them so they assume that it is. As I have discussed in other posts, people tend to suspend their rational faculties when it comes to politics-they feel their way rather than thinking their way.
Another possibility is what could be called the story-teller effect. When people get talking and telling stories, they have, (as Aristotle noted in the Poetics) a natural tendency to embellish the story to make it more pleasing to the audience. Also, (as Hobbes noted) people like to speak well of themselves and poorly of their competition and this leads to a natural tendency towards exaggeration of one’s virtues and the other person’s vices. These tendencies seem to be so natural that people probably do not even realize that they moving away from the truth, especially when they get caught up in the emotions they are trying to inspire in the audience.
Being rather interested in politics, I spend a fair amount of time following the news of the day. Not surprisingly, I get to see numerous spinning minions (spinions) working their talking points. In the context of politics, a spinion is a person who takes on the role of presenting the talking points of the ideology being represented. In general, the spinion has two main tasks. The first is to make his/her side look good and the second is to make the other side look bad. Truth is, of course, not really a point of concern. Naturally, there can be spinions in other areas as well, such as business, religion and academics.
One somewhat interesting thing about spinions is that it is often rather easy to tell when a person is in spinion mode. In many cases, there seems to be a certain change in the facial expression, eyes and voice of the person as s/he begins to spin. This reminds me of the fact that in the Pathfinder role playing game characters can use their perception skill to notice whether another creature’s will is not its own. That is, whether it is charmed, dominated or otherwise being controlled. Being a gaming nerd, I imagine the spinion look is what a person would look like in such cases. More scientifically, research has shown that the brain actually undergoes internal changes when a person is thinking about ideological matters: “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.” Given this, it is not surprising that a person’s external behavior would be altered in discernible ways when engaged in spinning behavior. After all, emotional changes are often manifested visibly in changes in behavior and voice. However, my main concern is not with spotting spinions (although there is probably some interesting research to be done here) but with the ethics of spinions.
When I observe spinions in action, what I mainly notice is that they relentlessly present their side in a favorable manner while being equally relentless in casting the other side(s) in a negative manner. In the context of United States’ politics, this spinning has reached the point that any concession to or positive view of the other side is regarded as traitorous. For example, when Bill Clinton spoke of Mitt Romney having a sterling business record, this created a bit of a political storm. I would present other examples, but they are rather rare-in these times it is almost unheard of for one side to say anything positive about the other.
Another disturbing aspect of the ways of spin is that truth and principle seem to be of little importance. Each spinion attempts to construct a narrative favoring his side and damning the other, warping and ignoring facts as needed. For example, the Republicans bashed Obama because the worth of the middle class fell on his watch but they conveniently ignored the fact that this worth had been falling since before Obama was in office. Similarly, the Democrats bashed Romney regarding Massachusetts’ economic woes while Romney was governor, conveniently ignoring facts that went against this narrative.
Needless to say, spinions seem to also have no qualms about making use of fallacies and rhetorical devices in the place of reason. To see this is the case, simply turn to the 24 hour news station of your choice and watch. You might want to have a book on fallacies on hand to catalog all the examples you will see. This is, of course, prudent of them: while it makes me sad, fallacies and rhetoric are far more effective than good reasoning when it comes to getting people to believe.
Grounding this behavior seems to be the idea that what matters is beating the other side. The view seems to be, as Hobbes would put it, that “profit is the measure of right.” This is perhaps most clearly put by Mitch McConnel, namely that the Republicans top priority should be making Obama a one term president. Rather than, for example, working hard to get us out of the depression. While Democrats are not as overt about this as their Republican associates, it is obviously still a factor.
As might be suspected, I regard the behavior of the spinions as morally dubious at best. After all, they engage in willful manipulation of the facts, they employ rhetoric and fallacies to sway people, they cannot acknowledge anything right or good about the other side, and seem to be solely concerned with achieving victory for their side (or the side that pays them). This spinning has contributed to the high levels of polarity in politics and had made it rather difficult for issues to be discussed rationally and fairly. I would even go so far as to say that this has harmed the general good through its impact on politics. As such, the spinions are a source of considerable moral concern.
One rather obvious counter is that the job of the spinion is to do exactly what they do and this is a legitimate activity. While philosophers and scientists are supposed to seek facts and engage in good reasoning so as to determine what is most likely to be true, this is not the role of the spinion. Their role is rather like that of any spokesperson or advertiser, namely to sell their product and see to it that the competition does not succeed. This is not a matter of right or wrong and truth or falsehood. Rather it is a matter of selling product, be that product soap or a political party. This sort of selling is how the consumer market works and thus the spinions are acting in an acceptable way.
I do agree that parties do have a legitimate right to have people who speak in their favor and against their opposition. However, the spinions appear to present a danger to society similar to that of the sophists. That is, they seem to be focused solely on the success of their side rather than on what is true and good. Since the top spinions are routinely given time on national and worldwide television, they have a rather substantial platform from which to spread their influence. Spinions are often presented as commentators or panelists (and sometimes they are actually presenting the news) which, as I see, creates a problem comparable to allowing corporate spokespeople to advertise their products under the guise of being panelists or commentators. That is, the spinions often seem to simply be presenting political commercials for their side while not having these ads labeled as such. This can mislead people who might think that they are getting an objective report when they are, in fact, essentially just getting a political advertisement in disguise.
A counter to this is that the spinions are presenting the views and talking points of their respective sides and this is not advertising. After all, there will sometimes be opposing spinions spinning in opposite directions on the same panel or in the same segment. Further, the spinions are often presented as being spokespeople for specific parties or candidates.
One reply is that this is still like advertising. After all, networks are happy to sell time to competitors so that a viewer might see an advertisement for Coke followed by one for Pepsi. Also, while some spinions are identified as such, this is not always the case. As such, people do often get misled into thinking that what they are hearing is a matter of fact when it is, in fact, merely spin.
The obvious counter to this is that the spinions are protected by the right to free speech and hence are free to spin away even when doing so is detrimental to the public good and what they say is contrary to fact.
This, I will agree, is true-spinions do not lose their right to express their views (or the views they are paid to express) just because they are spinning. However, the news networks who enable them to spin (or even hire them to spin) are not obligated to provide the spinners with a platform or to let them operate largely free from critical assessment. Obviously enough, having opposite spinners spinning away is not the same thing as having critical assessment of the spin. In fact, spinning is the opposite of what the news is supposed to do, namely present the facts objectively. As such, there should be greater effort to contain spin and to ensure that spinners are clearly identified as such. Finally, what the spinions do is wrong-they should stop doing what they do.
It was recently revealed that President Obama has a kill list. Those who make this list can expect a fatal visit from an armed drone. Apparently Obama is rather hands on in regards to his list-he has been described as going through terrorist “baseball” cards to decide who will make the list.
After learning about this, many people were outraged. This dismay crossed party lines and both Democrats and Republicans were quick to condemn this terrible thing. Interestingly enough, the condemnation was not aimed at what seems to be an assassination policy. Rather, it was addressed that the leaking of information.
The main line of criticism from the Republicans has been that the Obama administration intentionally leaked the information. As they see it, this information makes Obama look strong in terms of foreign policy and shows that he is tough on terror. This information, obviously enough, contradicts the Republican narrative that Obama is weak and unwilling to do hard things to keep America safe. Crudely put, the Republicans are angry because they think that Obama has intentionally robbed them of some of their talking points. Presumably he was supposed to keep this secret so the Republicans would be free to attack him on foreign policy and defense.
To be fair to the Republicans, they (and some Democrats) are concerned that the leaks will harm national security. That is, their alleged worry is that Obama is putting secret operations at risk by allegedly allowing these leaks. These leaks might be damaging. Or they might not-after all, the terrorists know that we are killing them with drone strikes and the folks in the countries where our drones operate have a pretty good idea what we are doing. The leak seems to mainly leak information to the American public.
Given that the drone strikes are popular and that Obama’s actions contradict the image Republicans wish to present regarding his resolve and toughness, it is tempting to agree with the Republicans that the leaks are intentional and are aimed at helping Obama get re-elected. After all, this information does rob the Republicans of some talking points.
However, it is also worth considering that the leak occurred without Obama’s approval. While it might still be the case that the leak was intended to aid Obama in the election, it is also worth considering that the leak was intended to reveal information about policies and actions that seem to be worthy of moral criticism if not condemnation. After all, President running what seems to be a remote controlled assassination operation seems to be something that the public should know about and something that should be challenged on legal and moral grounds. As such, it might be that the leak was made by someone who has moral (or legal) issues with these policies and actions. If so, it would be ironic that the leak has generated condemnation for the leak and not so much for the policies and actions.
Ken Bennet, Arizona’s secretary of state, seems to have gone through a minor bout of birtherism recently. Fortunately, he seems to have recovered somewhat. Sadly this shows that the birther thing is a zombie of sorts-while it should be dead and buried, it just keeps lurching about and infecting people.
While folks who support Obama are obviously not fans of the birthers, the sensible folks on the right (of which there are many-they just don’t get much attention these days) are also not fans of this movement. Not surprisingly, I think it is far past the point at which the birther movement should have ended. I also contend that folks who oppose Obama should also be against the movement-if only for purely pragmatic reasons.
One rather important reason to be against the birther thing is that the core claim, that Obama was not born in the US, seems to have been disproven beyond all reasonable doubt via the appropriate legal documentation as well as by claims from reputable sources. As such, to believe in this claim is irrational and to push it seems to be morally suspect.
One pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against this birther thing is that it associates those who oppose Obama with a movement that taints the opposition with what seems to be craziness and absurdity. While guilt by association is a fallacy, it is generally best to avoid association with these sorts of movements. On the left, for example, it is generally best to steer clear of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
Another pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against the birther thing is that it is actually a distraction and a time waster. There is a wealth of issues on which the Republicans can legitimately criticize Obama (such as using drones to kill Americans apparently without due process and his ties to Wall Street). It makes far more sense to spend time on these issues without having to deal with the distraction of the birther thing.
Romney and other top tier Republicans should make it clear (in a polite way) that the birther thing needs to stop. This is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing for them.
I’ve heard “shovel ready” thrown around for a few years and finally decided to determine the best meaning for the phrase. Here are my contenders:
1. “Ready to be hit by a shovel.” For example, “that guy is such an ass that he is totally shovel ready.”
2. “Ready to be buried by a shovel, perhaps after being hit by a shovel.” For example, “that guy I hit with the shovel is now shovel ready.”
Feel free to add your own definitions. Winner might get a shovel. Or not. It depends on how ready the shovel is.