04 November 2008

Election Questions

Disclaimer: The tone of this post is not of joy, or even one of the more common complaint tone I normally use on my blog. I have been compelled to write this tirade as a result of the ever-increasing heap of ignorance that surrounds the 2008 U.S. Elections. You have been warned.
Also, this post was written in the span of 2 days - 11/3/2008 to 11/4/2008. Be aware that there may be some point of view shifts as I managed to calm down a little throughout that time.
Okay, at this point I am officially annoyed. This election, like the ones in the past, have finally irked me to the point that I must, yet again, make the eye's of my readers bleed from boredom. But, alas, because people either do not understand or are too ignorant to acknowledge the truths in any of my arguments, I will outline why I make the judgments I make - why I may vote one way and not another depending on the issue.
If you've been reading my Twitter stream, you've probably already come to the incorrect conclusion that I am a liberal Democrat to the core. As I mentioned in the previous sentence (and you've no doubt skipped right over it and didn't let it sink in), this is an incorrect assumption. Many may now sit back and go "What?! You don't make any sense, Sean." Before I explain, let me set up the scene for you so that you understand what prompted me to write this:
Ashley, my fiancee, still lives with her father and her younger siblings in their home in the rural area beyond Temecula's Wine Country. Her father, a man who has been dealt an enormous set of bad hands throughout his life, struggles to raise his family on Social Security Disability, however ardently fights to protect his family despite his painful handicap - a character trait that I admire. However, like most opinionated people, he is very vocal on his opinions and beliefs, which is not a problem and is admirable as he shows to have strong concern with the direction of the country. Unfortunately, and again, like most opinionated people, he relies on only one or two sources of news as his basis for his opinions and arguments, and extends the "facts" far beyond their intended purpose, often skewing everything to a point of apocalyptic nightmare.
Now, for those of us who have taken English 103 or its equivalent in college, or who have also taken Cultural Anthropology, or any other class in which healthy debate is a cornerstone of learning, you will see the problems immediately. For those of you who haven't taken any debate classes or do not see the flaws, I will address them here: firstly, a line of argument can not be pursued unless a both sides of the argument are acknowledged, understood, and presented fairly. Thus, one can not rely solely on the information presented through only one or two sources. Now, I've had an argument on this with several individuals, always amounting to the argument about "Well, how much evidence is needed before you can consider it 'sufficient'?" The answer to this question is quite simple: whatever amount and quality of unskewed evidence is necessary to end the argument. "Some arguments can never be argued by throwing solid evidence at either side, though." Hence the reason arguments like abortion never go away - because the evidence has not yet been reached that is so perfect that neither side could deny it. The point of an argument is not to interject ideals and pass them off as fact, but rather to weigh the verifiable and repeatable evidence by quantity and quality, then decide which side of an argument holds true even through the progressive addition of counter-evidence. "That seems impossible though - how can one argument hold true against what could be an infinite supply of counter-evidence?" Because there are some pieces of evidence that hold true not only for one specific piece of a problem, but for an entire category, and thus the counter-evidence are actually permutations that can be grouped within the one category and the condition of truth holds. "Well, this can not possibly be true in real life. This is an argument requirement that is purely academic and holds no bearing in politics." This is false, as the argumental fallacies actually were generated not only through academia, but mostly founded in the politics of the Greek and Roman eras where fallacies and logical argumentation were popularly formalized, and have become the criteria for classifying a good debator in and out of academia.
Now, the second issue is a direct result of the first: due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of the opposing side, misrepresentation of the opposition is rampant, thereby causing a focus shift from the debated issue to having to re-legitimatize the opposition and losing sight of the overall goal. To academics and logicians, these are known as the straw-man and burden of proof logical fallacies, and are the most annoying problems in all arguments, oftentimes causing more frustration than is really necessary. When conversing with Ashley's father, and sometimes even with Ashley herself, I oftentimes encounter this problem as they are not fully informed on the opposition's purpose, and this, annoyingly, leads to sidetracked conversations having to explain minute details, which inevitably become arguments themselves as they continue to interject into my explanation and argue against those positions that make up the originally questioned position.
Alongside this second problem sometimes exists a third, which is the oversimplification of the overall problem context. When arguing, I frequently find that my opposition attempts to simplify the argument, stating that one thing or another is caused by something else, oftentimes creating a direct one-to-one cause-and-effect relationship that in reality does not exist. For example, a popular subject of current debate is the economy. Many believe that the cause of economic problems is one thing or another, but never fully understand that the actual problem is not one problem but a very complicated and convoluted mess with many associated causes. This is one of the most annoying problems as it lends itself to the last common problem I encounter when arguing where people fail to understand my reasoning and thought processes.
[4nd - slippery slope fallacy]
When I discuss things with people, I usually run into dealing with the problem where a particular assertion degrades into the assumption that it will have a cascading effect on other arguments. This has of late become a major problem when attempting to discuss the measures and propositions on the ballots, even the candidates themselves. The assumption that one decision made now will cause an uncontrolled cascading effect to future propositions is quite annoying, as it supposes that no other votes will ever take place. For example, the recent angered discussions between Ashley and myself and her father have been centered around California's Proposition 8 - basically a measure that, if adopted, would modify California's Constitution to prevent the ability to recognize gay and lesbian civil unions as full-blown marriages. The arguments made in favor of Prop 8 is that without it, it will destroy families and teach kids that being homosexual is allowed - basically implying that it is bad. The arguments against have been that by voting Yes, you would be preventing the rights of people everywhere in California from having the right to choose their partners, as well as where they are allowed to be married, thus being an explicit limitation of rights. Moreover, the argument against Prop 8 is that children in schools are not necessarily subject to being taught anything about homosexuality if the parent does not feel they want their children subject to it, thus voting No still gives the parent control over the exposure of certain things to their kids. Even if this measure was passed, it does not prevent, say, televisions shows portraying homosexual relationships (television sticks in children's minds more so than school does - just ask a child what happened in an early morning cartoon versus what they learned during the first hour of school and they will be able to answer the cartoon question easier than the school one, if at all). However, during our arguments, Ashley and I agree that denying rights is not only morally wrong, but in the spirit of logical debate, purely against American ideals of freedom, among factors of the separation of Church and State and other economic factors. Her father's opinion, however, inevitably leads to two different conclusions, both based purely on his moral outlook on the issue: if Prop 8 is shot down (meaning the majority vote No), it will lead to 1) our kids being affected, and 2) it will open the door to things like "What would prevent somebody from then coming up and saying that restriction of marriage between a 40-year-old and a 5-year-old is a right?" Firstly, although both are definite concerns of parents and other citizens, it is incorrect to assume that voting No will necessarily lead to problems with our kids. Like the passage of suffrage of all races and women, the outcome of granting freedoms is not always necessarily a bad thing. Likewise, when the Amendments for suffrage were passed, people assumed the same apocolyptic scenarios, but there still haven't been problems stemming as a result, direct or indirect, from them. Therefore, assuming "this will lead to that" is erroneous without definitely knowing the outcomes in the future with absolute certainty, which is impossible to do. Moreover, the assumption that other problems will be "pre-solved" as a result of the outcome of a problem now is incorrect, as every problem can be handled differently and individually (similar to the reason why murder and manslaughter are different convictions). This extension, commonly known as the slippery-slope fallacy, is very difficult to deal with as it is usually an appeal to emotion, but illogically leads to conclusions of the aforementioned cascading effect and is irritating as it supposes that every future problem is dependent on a previous problem (this leads to something called "Presupposition," where a condition must exist prior to the current situation), but also implies that there is no end to the number of effects that result from the problem. Again, since the future can never be known with absolute certainty, and that the future has an infinite number of possibilities, it is impossible for one to assume a cause-and-effect relationship that continues into infinity, or at least some remote conclusion.
Now, it often occurs that when the opposition feels it is nearing defeat, they begin to attack the mere idea that the argument can not be logical in the first place as the argument may be dealing with politics, emotional, or moral issues. Therefore, they assert that not all arguments can be addressed logically. This is an incorrect assertion, but it requires a little bit of abstraction to understand. If you take a step back out of an argument and look at the structure and process involved with arguments, it will be noticed that all arguments at some point or another require a decision to be made, of which all can be boiled down to sets of simple yes or no, true or false questions. Since logical arguments result in these same sets of questions and the mere construction of a decision and a result is "computed" based on a human algorithm to evaluate all assertions and use a "weight" type system to choose the selected answers, of which a simple evaluation of the number of true/false/yes/no that result from the set questions is used to determine the "winning" side of an argument. Therefore, because logical systems are used to create decisions, arguments themselves are logical in nature as one can not solidly make a conclusion based on illogical evidence an expect it to hold true for all permutations.
Now, I've been told by many people that I love to argue, and I have to admit, this is true, but not out of hobby but mostly out of necessity and compulsion. As a computer science major, logic is of the utmost importance, and all assertions must be proved by showing some sort of logical conclusion. And since all decisions, arguments, and debates boil down to some sort of logic, argumentation is "right down my alley." Unfortunately, I do abhor formal proofs as formal structures are too restrictive, and I like to present evidence in whatever manner may be best for the argument so that other people understand the conclusion more readily.
So needless to say, election time is a time where I feel the most frustrated with people, as there some who make decisions based on flipping a coin, who looks better, the name they last heard, religious conviction, or some other basis that has no logical bearing. I make my decisions based on hypothetical situations within the realm of a proposition, or base my candidate selection on the agendas of their respective parties as well as the need represented by the people - thus the agenda of the candidate must, for the most part, coincide with a logical need of the people. Fortunately for me, regardless of what I say, or the position I have, we all have the right to vote, and imposing my ideals on other people is illogical, although I do have the right to make the person aware that they founding their decisions on illogical bases so that they don't make a mistake. Does this mean I'm trying to sway them? Absolutely not, I just want them to be definitely sure that they are not making a fickle decision - one based on emotion. Call it "looking out for my fellow man" if you will.
Since this is being published prior to the closing of the polls, in order to keep to this desire to ensure everyone has the freedom to come to their own logical conclusion, I will not post the results of my vote here until the polls have closed (although my position on Prop 8 has already been discussed, I hope it can be viewed as how I came to the conclusion rather than an attempt to sway the reader's opinions). After which I will post what propositions I've voted on and why, as well as the candidates I've selected for local and national offices and their reasoning. In the meantime, I encourage reading Wikipedia's list of fallacies to help understand the many logical fallacies that exist and the effects they have on arguments of any sort.

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