Posted by: bkivey | 14 August 2012

Non-Euclidean Thinking

From the evergreen field of the local paper’s Letters to the Editor, we have this missive by Kevin Frazier, published in the 12 August edition, and reprinted in full:

Start acting rationally

Irrationality currently maintains a firm grasp on American politics and society in general. Partisanship now resides full time in the halls where our Founding Fathers once set out to create a nation built on compromise and deliberation.

In recent weeks, many of our fellow Americans have provided us with numerous examples of nonsensical behavior: Some have eaten fast food in a stand for intolerance; many elected officials have vowed to consume more meat to please their corporate donors after the USDA tried to promote Meatless Monday; and some states legalized stringent voter ID laws to limit citizens’ access to the ballot box.

Promoting inequality, pandering for votes and donations, and decreasing the average person’s ability to participate in our democracy all represent irrational actions.

We must wake up. As a public, we need to challenge ourselves, our neighbors and our officials to act rationally.

KEVIN FRAZIER
Beaverton

Wow. I realize that the paper may edit submissions for clarity, but there is a 150-word limit, so it takes some ability to pack that many misconceptions into such a brief  space. Mr. Frazier demonstrates the ability to create a coherent and logical work and lucidly get his point across.

Unfortunately, his conclusions are based on false premises, and one underlying worldview that is demonstrably wrong. I’m sure that to Mr. Frazier, his worldview and construction of reality is quite valid. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. To take an example I’m familiar with, there are several non-Euclidean geometries that are derived from simple postulates, are internally consistent, and tell the student nothing about the  actual physical world. On the other hand, Euclidean geometry is derived from five simple postulates, and over thousands of years has demonstrated the ability to accurately describe the low-velocity, low-gravity world we inhabit.

Let’s have a look at Mr. Frazier’s premises:

Partisanship now resides full time in the halls where our Founding Fathers once set out to create a nation built on compromise and deliberation.

I’m going to suppose that Mr. Frazier has never read The Federalist Papers. If he has, he failed to appreciate that the Constitution wasn’t the starting point of the Constitutional Convention, but the result. All of the colonies had their own ideas on how the nascent nation should function, some of them quite different than others. What the delegates did have was a common interest in a nation of self-governing free people. Granted, there is a good argument to be made that the early US was more akin to an oligarchy than a republic, as the only people who could hold power were land-owning white men, but the original idea was the motivating factor. Over time, the US has probably come as close to the motivating ideal as is possible for a human society. Compromise is much easier among like-minded people, but compromise wasn’t the motivator for the Founders. Compromise is much more difficult today because some people in power find the founding ideals of the US inconvenient to their goals, or anathema to their ideology.

Some have eaten fast food in a stand for intolerance;

This is absolutely true, just not in the way Mr. Frazier thinks. It’s likely that some folks who patronized Chik-fil-A didn’t support the CEO’s views on gay marriage. When people gave the fast food chain its largest single-day sales ever, they were protesting the arrogance and intolerance of public officials in major US cities who declared the chicken chain persona non grata because of the personal views of it’s founder. Americans don’t like to be pushed around. They like hubristic politicians a whole lot less.

many elected officials have vowed to consume more meat to please their corporate donors after the USDA tried to promote Meatless Monday;

As Americans dislike arrogant elected officials, the disdain for arrogant unelected officials is exponentially deeper. There’s a growing sense in the country, even among Progressives, that government is too much with us. USDA has no business whatsoever telling people what they can and cannot eat. USDA’s mission is to ensure the wholesomeness of the food supply. Period. Regulation, or even suggestion, about what the individual can ‘officially’ eat is gross overreach.

. . . and some states legalized stringent voter ID laws to limit citizens’ access to the ballot box.

I’ve talked about this. The primary argument against voter ID laws appears to be that it limits the abilities of people on the fringes of society (and the dead) to participate in the democratic process. Mr. Frazier, though, reaches for the absurd when he claims that voter ID laws are instrumental in:

. . . decreasing the average person’s ability to participate in our democracy

I would love for Mr. Frazier to show me an ‘average person’ who doesn’t possess a state-issued photo ID.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Kevin Frazier is a decent human being. He may well be nice to children and senior citizens, and doesn’t kick dogs. But the basic flaw in his construction of reality is this: he believes that the collective is sovereign to the individual, and the US was founded on the idea that the individual is sovereign to the collective.

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