Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Discourse of Significant Disagreement

A general idea in the public discourse of the presidential debates seems to be that the debates are about the most fundamental issues in which the candidates disagree at least slightly. This at any rate is clearly propounded by the punditry and evident in my conversations and the testimony of others. Even some persons who think that there is no significant difference between the candidates seem to believe the candidates disagree about fundamental issues vocally (though not, according to these persons in action). Glenn Greenwald has written a nifty piece arguing against this proposition. If Greenwald and I am right so much for the discourse of significant disagreement.  From the opening paragraph of Greenwald's piece we read his thesis:

"Wednesday night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney underscored a core truth about America's presidential election season: the vast majority of the most consequential policy questions are completely excluded from the process. This fact is squarely at odds with a primary claim made about the two parties – that they represent radically different political philosophies – and illustrates how narrow the range of acceptable mainstream political debate is in the country."
He goes on to list the issues which candidates generally agree on in his piece. Such as:
  • The perpetuation of a prison state
  • Belief that we ought to continue the war on drugs
  • Substantial agreement on our foreign policy in the Middle East (Drone warfare, support for Israel, "belligerence towards Iran")
  • The growth of the surveillance state
  • Upholding international free-trade agreements
  • Refusal to prosecute suspected war criminals and wall street bankers in the states
  • Support for the executive power to assassinate US citizens
It does certainly seem as though these issues, if not fundamental, are quite important indeed! I think there are two more issues that the presidents unfortunately agree on that receive even less coverage than those issues on Glenn's list.

(1) The issue of nonhuman animal rights. The fact is that the US is engaged in an act of extreme barbarism by brutally raising, exploiting, and slaughtering billions of animals yearly. We do so in a way that accentuates unnecessary suffering. (There are really two issues here: whether it's permissible to exploit animals by killing them and whether the way in which we actually exploit animals is permissible. Here I am only concerned with the latter--as it's less controversial, though the former is clearly important as well)

(2) The issue of global poverty. This ought to be a central issue of international relations and policy. The deaths due to wars like Iraq pales before the number of yearly deaths due to poverty. UNICEF has estimated that
Roughly 1/3 of all human deaths, some 18 million annually, are due to poverty related causes, easily preventable through better nutrition, safe drinking water, mosquito nets, re-hydration packs, vaccines and other medicines
This is a problem would appear to have easy and affordable solutions for affluent countries like the US. Yet our foreign aid practices continue to be insufficient and pathetically ill-supported.

Hence although there is disagreement, the idea that this disagreement ranges across the spectrum of significant issues is an entirely untrue. So much the worse for our political discourse.

In a similar vein here is a piece by Noam Chomsky Issues that Obama and Romney Avoid

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why You Can Carry a Gun and be Pro-Gun Control

There is a confusion in the current gun-control debates. Many persons of the pro-gun persuasion will respond to a tragedy by claiming "if the victims had guns, then this tragedy would have been prevented, hence we should allow guns to be obtained easier and so on." Against this those tempted to a gun-control view say "na, uh, they wouldn't have been safer." But there is no need for those pro-control persons to say this! What they should say is "yes, you're right, but what I am concerned about is the whole of society being better off with gun-control." What the anti-control advocate has claimed doesn't follow. The proposition "individual x would have been better off had she been armed" is consistent with the proposition "society x would be better off if guns were illegal."

This shows that contrary to popular opinion one can carry guns while being pro-gun control. Such a person may think I would be better off with a gun, but society in general is worse off with the existing gun laws.

By no means am I claiming that persons should do this, only that it is a coherent position. Perhaps even reasonable in some situations.