Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Philosophy and Fact

So... if you had to choose between doing something that kept with your principles and doing something that had a better chance of achieving the end you're looking for, which would you choose?

Classic example, sex ed as a way to reduce teen pregnancy, STDs, etc. If you're a conservative Christian, you're faced with a choice. Will you advocate for your values as they were given to you (meaning, teach only abstinence)? Or will you compromise your values to do what the facts indicate will actually achieve the end you desire (teaching about contraceptives and even abortion)?

To me this highlights a common conflict between liberals and conservatives. In keeping with the sex ed example, conservative Christians are ostensibly trying to protect families and children. Since they believe that premarital sex is wrong, they would rather discourage that than compromise on their hardline stand to achieve the result they claim they care about most.

And this means one thing: to conservative Christians, the means are more important than the ends... to the point that they completely disconnect from the reality of the situation. This is why showing statistics about teen pregnancy and STDs and high school dropout rates to conservative Christians will not convince them that children should learn anything but "abstinence good, sex bad." It won't convince them because the end isn't the point. The result isn't the point. They don't care nearly as much about the actual fates of children as they do about their moral high ground.

This is why you see liberals advocating for practical sex education, even if it means allowing for the possibility that young people will have premarital sex. Sure, it'd be nice if they weren't, but if our end is really to reduce teen pregnancy and STD rates... we've gotta do what we've gotta do.

That practicality is completely lost on many conservatives. Even if they support their arguments with facts and predictions of results, in the end the results are secondary. 

You've heard this before.

"Teaching teens about contraceptives may reduce the rates of teen pregnancy and accompanying dropout rates (which would result in economic and social benefits for those teens who would otherwise have dropped out), but it's wrong! Teaching them how to have responsible sex is... well, it's teaching them to have sex!" Link.

"Some wealth redistribution may reduce our deficit and reduce the tax burden on poor and middle-class families to fund our whole economy. Sure. But it's wrong! Did you know Hitler was a socialist?!" Link.

"Sure, entering peace talks with countries hostile to us might help us handle global challenges. But damn it, we're America! We'll handle global problems ourselves, our way, and you'd better either help us or get the heck out of our way." Link.

So at this point you have to ask yourself. How dedicated are you to the principles behind your goals? Are you dedicated enough to the principle to sacrifice the goal?

This is one of the sticking points for me when talking to my very conservative friends (and yes, I do have them). It seems most of the time like they'll uphold all these great and noble goals, but they have little interest in achieving them or actually working toward them. They feel teen pregnancy is a tragedy, but they reject any practical means of reducing it. They moan about the economy, but cling to Bush's "principled" stance that there's nothing more important than protecting the wealth of the wealthy. They sigh that America's always having to pick up other people's messes and finish other people's fights, but they don't want to admit that we don't have all the answers, that other nations may have something to bring to the table.

At this rate, there is nothing I can do to convince them. I can't offer facts or expert opinions, because those are merely result-based. My "reality-based thinking" has no impact because we're not really talking about the same thing. This is why every discussion with conservatives I've ever had has become a philosophical debate and not a practical one.

Most conservatives I've spoken with (particularly conservative Christians) truly are interested in philosophy first and results second. If I can't somehow argue that my solution doesn't just work but also fits into a philosophical model of America as God's Chosen Blessed Land of Opportunity, they don't care. The fact that a plan could work for the goal we agree upon doesn't matter if it requires a shift away from a comfortable philosophical model.

I don't know if this helps anyone reading this, but here's my summary.

To conservatives: If you're talking to a liberal, be honest when you're upholding principle most highly, and when you're upholding results. It will muddle the discussion much less if you make your priorities clear.

To liberals: Conservatives are listening, honest. Odds are you're just not talking about what's really on their minds. When they reply to studies or statistics by reasserting their philosophy, they're trying to reiterate what matters to them in the debate. They may not intentionally be shifting the goalpost onto philosophical terrain; odds are that to some conservatives that's where it's been the whole time.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks. I found your blog via a comment on a comment of mine to another blog. This "clears the air" in my head and hopefully it will be filled with productive words and ideas to impact lives for good. Thanks, again.

Cobalt said...

Wow. Thanks!