Gedankenexperiment

Gedankenexperiment November 20, 2015

A reader writes:

I thought you might appreciate this fun little intellectual exercise I’m having with the cognitive dissonance of being pro-vaccine yet anti-refugee– _______

Anti: I’m concerned _____ will cause harm.

Pro: That’s not really a rational fear because the likelihood of anything bad happening is vanishingly small, we take far greater risks all the time and should use consistent risk analysis, and you risk far more to yourself and others by not _______.

Anti: How dare you dismiss my concerns?!

Pro: I’m not; I’m just arguing that they aren’t reasonable reasons not to ______.

Anti: You know, it’s really terrible that you think I’m a bad person for having concerns. I’m not stupid or irrational or callous for having them.

Pro: I don’t. But if you’ve set up impossible conditions before you would ____ or refuse to look at the evidence that would allay your concerns, people will be harmed.

Anti: Well, I’m not willing to accept _____ unless I have absolute certainty it’ll be safe. At the very least, it should be delayed or spread out.

Pro: Look at this evidence. Accepting a vanishingly small personal risk will save lives and is better for your safety in the long-run, too. There isn’t any reason to believe anyone will be safer if it’s delayed or spaced out. Not _____ carries risks, too.

Anti: Well, here’s a blog/opinion/cherry-picked quote to counter your evidence.

Pro: That blog/opinion/cherry-picked quote is deeply flawed and not relevant to the topic of ____.

Anti: See you’re being dismissive! I guess we’re all just irrational assholes who don’t think EXACTLY like you, right?! …

So, question time. Am I talking vaccines or refugees?

A fun thought experiment.  Of course, the main drawback is that the same people consumed with a completely irrational fear the Muslims all want to enslave and kill us all are often the same people with an irrational fear that the medical establisment want to enslave and kill us all too.  But for a sensible audience that sees the absurdity of vaccine panic, it may be possible they will recognize the notes of lunacy sounding again  in the Great Refugee Panic of 2015. So it’s worth a shot (as it were).

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  • Dave G.

    I love the bad arguments in this. I guess I can be all post-modern and figure that even if terrorists kill people, it won’t be anyone I know and love. But for my money, anyone who doesn’t have Syrian refugees living in their homes but insists others are racists for wanting to be careful has lost me.

    • wlinden

      Can you say “straw man”? I knew you could.

      • Dave G.

        Yeah, nothing worse than suggesting we actually do something, rather than accuse others of being racists for not agreeing with what we think should be done about issues that would likely never impact us. Thank goodness this is the 21st Century or I’d think there was something wrong with that.

        • Dan F.

          Dave, is anyone arguing “pro-refugee” as it were, actually not doing anything? I know my family is actively looking for ways to help or host and everyone (and I mean that literally) who has agreed with us and are known to me are actively looking for ways to actually do something. So your objection is by definition a straw man.

          • Dave G.

            Even after 10 years of being Catholic, I don’t think I’ll ever be to a point where I consider expecting people to put their money where their mouths are to be straw men. With that said, it’s awesome that you and those you know are opening your homes to refugees. That means you’ve earned the right to draw a thick line in the sand between your way and the evil ones who disagree. Now, you don’t have to of course. But at least you’ve earned the right to do so without it looking so darn bad.

            • Alma Peregrina

              This is very dangerous reasoning. If I do good on a certain field of activity, I’m allowed to be disrespectful, being excused of doing something bad.

              This just encourages a system of checks and balances: “How much good must I do until I may freely do that evil I want to do?”

              • LFM

                Very few people here seem to understand, either, that it’s possible to do great harm while intending to do good. That’s especially likely to be true if the good you’re doing on a small scale (helping one refugee family) is matched by attempting to do it on a large scale, via policy changes that do not respect the rights of others not to want to take part in one’s schemes for doing good.

                A couple of years ago (I think it was) I angered some readers of this blog by saying that allowing in so many Latino immigrants illegally might compromise American security and drive down wages, as well as threaten the US’s ability to take in and support refugees who might be in more immediate need of help. Everyone insisted that it was ridiculous to worry about security; that immigrants actually improved economies (which is not the same thing as saying that they lower wages, btw); and ignored the final point. Now you all insist that of course every refugee-immigrant will be screened with the utmost caution; you appear to have forgotten that your country is already overwhelmed by illegal immigrants needing every kind of service, not to mention your own poor (and the fact that many of your cities are bankrupt); and ignore the other economic issues. You can give immigrants shelter and food, for a time. Can you give them jobs?

                I do not not know what to think of such refusal to consider facts, facts other than the ones Dan F. believes to be true. If the head of a household managed her income and resources this way, let’s say by adopting several children with no regard for the fact that her pre-existing children were struggling in school, or had shoes with holes, or that her eldest daughter was a drug addict, I would think her well-intentioned but feckless. Well, God sometimes takes special care of such people (I know of one such family). On the other hand, sometimes He doesn’t. I would feel more reassured if you folks showed more awareness of just why working-class Americans, in particular, might legitimately be alarmed by all this.

              • Dave G.

                No, you shouldn’t’ be disrespectful at all, to be honest. But since there are apparently some who have already concluded that holding certain positions by default make you worthy of disrespect, I’m trying to at least meet them half way and suggest those launching the accusations should at least be putting a few coins where their mouths are, if nothing else.

    • Adolfo

      If I had any room in which to put them, I certainly would love to host a family. What my family is doing, though, since we refuse to do nothing is to listen to Catholic Charities in New Orleans when they put a call out for supplies for the families that they have placed in the area. We’ve gathered toiletries, home supplies, and are working on getting some furniture, too. If you would like to do the same, contact Catholic Charities and see what they need.

      • Dave G.

        Helping is wonderful. We also have avenues and offerings to help. We’re having one this Sunday. But I’m not in the front lines. And the odds of me or mine doing the dying if something goes wrong is nearly nothing. Hence my hesitancy to declare wicked and evil all who don’t’ see it exactly as I demand they see it. Now, I’m not saying ‘therefore shut up!’ I’m saying let’s not play the talk radio/ cable news/Comedy Central shtick of ‘We’re awesome, you’re evil’ approach. Heck, even Chris Cuomo on CNN this morning admitted that those following Obama’s ‘we’re not budging and you’re a racist’ approach has helped nothing. And that after several interviews in which a growing number of people were basically saying we obviously should look closer at our current policies, but we don’t want to turn people away blindly. And people on both sides. Are their baddies on both sides? Sure. Are their racists on both sides? Of course. But before I just grab one team or another team approach of ‘we’re awesome, you’re evil’, I’m going to ask if I’m really on the front lines of it all. And if not, I’ll defer to the ‘let’s reason with one another on this’ approach.

        • Dan F.

          All of the principled objections to letting in refugees have been objections to something that wasn’t proposed. All of them. No one is proposing to let in refugees with out them going through the refugee screening process. Anyone getting in right now has been in the system for years.

          Let’s reason with one another has been my focus (and admittedly, Mark’s been burning up on this one; then again, as a public person he has had to engage with much more of the hatred and vitriol and, yes, racism than I have). But all of the objections I’ve received (from reasonable people) have been to policies that haven’t been proposed. Most of the unreasonable objections I’ve received (which have been the majority in my anecdotal experience) have been from people who just won’t listen to facts and continue to insist that because of their geography they must be Muslim and because of their religion they’re a threat. Nevermind that neither of those premises are true.

          Everyone is entitled to their own position but not their own facts.

          And the fact that Trump’s poll numbers keep climbing as he doubles down on the idiotic idea of registering Muslims is damning to the right wing of our politics. I’ve publicly stated this elsewhere but I’ll do it again here. Should Trump or some future US government require the registration of Muslims I will register myself.

          • Dave G.

            And that’s a fair approach to looking at the objections. The main objection I have heard is that Obama and his administration continue to talk a talk that in no reflects the facts of what is going on, so we should look at what they are saying is working so well. The problem, and that’s what Cuomo admitted, is that Obama stepped forward and basically stated ‘I’m Obama, all is fine, Conservatives are Racists!’ Which then brought about predictable (yet politically juicy) results; don’t work with us then we’ll just go it alone. Sure, it’s great politics for Obama, he can now rest on ‘anyone who isn’t with me just hates darkies.’ And yet is playing with human lives for political points any better than throwing them back in the ocean?

            Even across Europe the call is clear: the usual stuff isn’t working, let’s double check and prepare to make some changes if need be. That’s what most were saying here. Unfortunately when confronted with ‘I said all is fine, Isis is contained, you’re a racist!’, that more measured approach lost out to ‘watch out! They’re coming! Slam the door! (though not really, since the actual measures proposed only ask for more screening, whether needed or not)’

            Which is why I say avoid the ‘as a matter of fact I am the mouthpiece of the Thrice-Holy God, and you’re evil’ rhetoric that has turned this into yet another two ring circus. If we really care about the refugee and the fellow American, we should want nothing to do with the rhetoric of either side.

          • LFM

            Dan F., I’ve seen enough of the way you interpret other people’s comments to be somewhat suspicious of anything you might say.

            I do think that that the mass immigration of Muslims is a threat, especially if they live in large groups together, because the nature of their religion is foreign to the West. When I have explained, quite logically and without ranting about the horrors of Islam, why I believed this, I’ve been given vacuous tu quoque answers or else been ignored.

            Your entire comment is self-righteous b.s. You CANNOT possibly know that the premiss that Muslims could be a threat because of their religion is false, as you say. You might fairly argue that it isn’t likely to be true, or it might not be true, or that circumstances warrant our taking a chance on its not being true. But to argue categorically that it isn’t true is ridiculous. It is not even particularly unlikely, alas. Muslim immigrants are radicalizing everywhere, by Saudi money and by their disaffection with the tired, worn-out societies they encounter in the West. Most are not radical enough to blow up a train station, but a good many are radical enough to force their daughters to marry or to taunt Western women for not being veiled.

            You are a manipulative and dishonest debater.

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        Out of curiosity, do they actually house refugees in people’s homes or do they try to house them in their own separate homes? I always pictured the latter, I guess, and thought the whole, “Well, would you put one of THOSE people in your home?” was a gotcha question.

        • Anna

          They used to when Afghani refugees were arriving in the 80s. Now they’re in their own apartments. Our parish recently had someone from a resettlement agency come talk, and we’ve ended up being involved as mentors for an Afghani family. It’s eye-opening, how the process is both thorough and, at times, incredibly stupid, as well as how little assistance the refugees are actually given (though they get more help when the agency finds sponsors/mentors). Their plane tickets here are just loans; they have to start making payments within six months, which means a steep learning curve, especially for people who have been living in refugee camps for 20 years and have never operated a car or microwave, had a bank account, shopped at a grocery store, etc.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            The fact that anyone has had to spend 20 years (or more) in a refugee camp makes me sick to my stomach. It should not happen.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “anyone who doesn’t have Syrian refugees living in their homes but insists others are racists for wanting to be careful has lost me.”

      Hum… isn’t this a variation of the ol’ argument “anyone who doesn’t adopt an orphan but insists others are killers for wanting legal, safe abortion, has lost me”?

      • Dave G

        Nope

        • Alma Peregrina
          • Dave G.

            It’s saying that if you want to wade into the debate with ‘there’s only one option or you’re a racist’, while having to real skin in the game otherwise, there’s a problem. If you want to say ‘hey, let’s talk reasonably here’, you don’t have to be housing refugees or sending your family to the front lines. Most of us probably won’t be impacted directly by this one way or another. It’s when we build our righteous stances, especially by accusing those who simply disagree, without any real physical threat otherwise that you get that slippery slope to fundamentalist tactics.

            • Alma Peregrina

              Agreed. Let’s just refrain from using arguments that may backfire on other debates. Especially since you seem to be implying that someone may accuse you of being racist, as long as he/she takes in refugees on his/her house.

              BTW: I’m pro-refugees.

              • Dave G.

                It won’t. I wouldn’t expect anyone to wade into a pro-life/pro-abortion debate with ‘you only want to keep abortion legal because you enjoy slaughtering babies so you can keep jumping on every Tom and Harry’s dick!!’ In fact, even among the most ardent pro-life advocates, that approach would be looked down upon as counterproductive at best. Especially if uttered bysomeone who seemed to have no other stake in the game but pointing fingers at others. Same here. The equivalent rhetorical approach is about the same, and probably about as effective.

                Oh, and I’m pro-refugee, and most I’m hearing and seeing are, too. They’re just pro-everyone, including folks in the homeland.

                • Alma Peregrina

                  Just to clarify… the pro-refugee label was just to let you know where I stand on this issue, not to imply anything about your position.

                  And the (bad) argument I was refering to was the argument: “Either you do something heroic with your life or you don’t have a saying on the matter”.

                  • Dave G/

                    FWIW, I’ve seen many on this very blog blast so-called pro-lifers on the charge that they simply stand against abortion, but when it comes down to it, aren’t willing to actually help unwed mothers or poor mothers or what have you. A valid point by the way. We are called to do, not tell others what they should do that we conveniently don’t feel inclined to do ourselves.

  • kenofken

    We can’t let those Syrians in, because one of them might stage a mass shooting, and that would bump us up from 336 mass shootings last year to 337. We can’t risk our kid’s safety like that…

  • Doyle

    Here’s another thought experiment:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_To-cV94Bo&feature=youtu.be

    and here’s some factoids for the thought experiments:
    2015.11.20 (Baghdad, Iraq) – Ten worshippers at a Shiite mosque are sent straight to Allah by a Sunni suicide bomber.
    2015.11.19 (Gush Etzion, Israel) – An American teenager is among three people cut down by an Arab drive-by shooter.
    2015.11.18 (Sarajevo, Bosnia) – An ‘ultra-conservative’ Salafi fires an automatic weapon into a gambling shop, killing two guards.
    2015.11.18 (Kano, Nigeria) – Fifteen patrons at a mobile phone market are sent to the afterlife by two child suicide bombers, including an 11-year-old girl.
    2015.11.17 (Jolo, Philippines) – A businessman is beheaded by Abu Sayyaf.
    2015.11.17 (Yola, Nigeria) – Islamists bomb a fruit and vegetable market, obliterating thirty-two patrons.

  • Tom G