Thursday, February 05, 2015

Typhoid Mary's revenge

By Capt. Fogg

Reductio ad absurdum. Its a common tool used in informal debate both properly or improperly, but although I won't say it's more common with the arguments we hear from the self styled Right, arguments such as this one seem to need no assistance from any opposition to reduce themselves to the ridiculous. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told us this week that the government has no business demanding that the people who handle our food should wash their hands after using the toilet. If you don't see this as ridiculous, you probably shouldn't read further because I'm going to insult you. In fact I mean to insult everyone who considers himself rational but, like all of us, is not.

Putting principle above survival and practical necessity seems to be a widespread form of communicable idiocy, for when I mentioned this bit of crepuscular wisdom in jest to some friends last night I got no laughs but rather some grim recitations of the formula "we have too much regulation." It's the same reaction, although from different people, that I got when mentioning that the disastrous BP oil spill would not have resulted if regulations had been followed. "We have too much regulation." If you've been listening to the yapping from the Republican kennel for as long as I have, you'll see it as new bullshit in old crocks -- or from old crocks if you prefer. We want law and order but without the law. That absurdum enough for you?

If we assume that in fact we do suffer under excessive regulatory burden, I should think it would be obvious that the gap between that debatable observation and a valid attack on any specific regulation isn't easily leaped with anything but blind faith or the kind of stupidity that removes all obstacles. "All laws reduce freedom -- this is a law -- this reduces my freedom." Do we really need to ask Aristotle to explain such sophistical refutations? Can you honestly proceed from a false statement to a valid one? Do laws facilitate freedom? Without law, how do we protect life and liberty? Who decides what is excessive without laws providing us with the power to do so? Principle! it's the defense against having to answer such impertinences. 

Sometimes freedom needs to be reduced, else I could show Mr. Tillis, inter alia, just how much the laws restricting my freedom might be useful to his health. Getting from the proposition in question to eliminating any particular regulation requires dismissal of the specific need, benefit and effectiveness thereof. Since I'm sure that regulations against poisoning him wouldn't be on his list of excessive regulation, we can assume that he does give regard to his own safety if not to yours and mine. Is that dishonest? Does that reveal some unmentioned contradiction in his logic? Does it matter when people, all of us, steadfastly believe what suits us to believe irrespective of any native intelligence?

I won't waste much time waiting for Tillis to explain his temerity however. His audience isn't asking for one, a false syllogism being satisfying enough and as is so common and in line with our ancestry and ancient habit, we put principle above survival, follow it up with brandy and a cigar and call it an evening. Things will turn out in the end, the invisible hand of the market spreading pestilence more effectively than it spreads wealth and opportunity and justice. "Restaurants that kill customers will eventually go out of business," is the fallacious foundation of the Tea Party argument -- unless they remain unaccountable in the absence of all regulatory agencies. I wonder too, how much he worries about FAA regulations when he gets on an airplane, or whether his doctor or his cook washes his hands but sure -- consistency and hobgoblins and little minds and besides when it's his ass on the line it's different.

48 million Americans get sick from food born illnesses and 3000 die every year, yet the government has a very hard time doing anything to stop it: principle, you see and the inviolate rights of corporations. But Tillis at least is standing up for the little guy, the right of individual free and sovereign citizens to wipe their asses with your lunch. Principles matter, you know and it's good we have him standing up for freedom.

(Cross posted at Human Voices)

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