Thursday, October 20, 2011

Geithner Is A Grown-Up; Rubio Is An Ass

Wow. Sullivan claims that righties think that Rubio "won" this exchange. And Sullivan is right about this: Geithner is approaching this like a grown up, an inquirer, a person seriously interested in making policy. Rubio is trying--and failing--to score niggling little debater's points. This is a common tale: all people like Rubio have to do is say something vaguely plausible, since the relevant group of people wants to believe him. As long as he says some words--anything other than "you've got a point there"--those who want to believe that he's "won" can do so.

It's an old pattern; the person trying to accomplish something positive has to deal with critics who are simply making skeptical points. Of course if such points were decisive, any positive program would fall to them. In the case at hand, every policy will have some down-side, and if you pretend that "policy P has a downside" is a reason for rejecting P, then you can pretend to have won the argument. But of course policy P' has its downsides too, as does policy P''. Serious people compare the upsides and downsides of P' and P''; unserious people make arguments like Rubio's.

This is the strategy of the creationist, for example. What???  Evolutionary theory can't explain everything? There are some unexplained phenomena? Some anomalies? Subduction zones? Puzzles about specific mechanisms? Well then, so much for that theory. That it is a good theory--and by far the best game in town-carries no weight against someone who's willing to reason like so:

Your theory is not perfect in every way; thus it is proven false.


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