r m p

THE EPISTLE

 

 

Gridlogic

Help me, somebody, because I'm going down, down into political cynicism, disgusted apathy. I know I'm not supposed to, that it's my job to exhort all of you to keep a stiff upper lip, to write your congressman about this or that, as if it would do any good. But I just can't play clergyman as Mr. Rogers (who actually is a Presbyterian minister, I think). I gotta call 'em like I see 'em. And I'm a believer in one of the corollaries of Murphy's Law, the Principle of Conservation of Entropy. In every system (society, government, etc.) there is a finite amount of evil that cannot be reduced, only hidden temporarily, or rerouted. If you lift up things here, they're going to sag there. Stop a leak here, one will sprout there. Squeeze the beanbag here and watch it bloat there. Or can it be worse? Cut off one hydra head and two more take it's place.

I don't want to criticize all those nice folks in Congress. It wasn't me, after all, who dubbed them "America's only native criminal class," not me who thought that guy was protesting too much when he insisted, "I am not a crook." I want to believe the best of them. They are surely, as Mark Antony called them, "honorable men." Maybe they're just muddled in their thinking. Indeed, I think I have begun to understand their thinking. I couldn't quite crack the code as long as I figured it must be logical. It all began to fall into place, though, once I started realizing the rules they were playing by. I call it "gridlogic," the reason nothing seems to happen. The way we carry on the noble tradition of the Continental Congress about whom John Addams sang (at least in 1776; I don't know if he could carry a tune otherwise): "Piddle, twiddle, and resolve/Not one damn thing do we solve." It works like this.

First you take all the logical fallacies, the invalid reasonings on which modern advertising, to say nothing of religion, depends. And you make them your cardinal rules. Let me provide a few examples.

First, the fallacy of "bifurcation," whereby you make the listener think there are only two choices open to him. Yours is bad, but the other is worse. So maybe they'll vote for a dictator if anarchy is the alternative. You carefully conceal the other possibilities, because you know they look better. When President Clinton excoriated Congress for stymieing his Crime Bill, he made it sound like Congress didn't care anything about rampant crime. Absurd. There are other possible crime bills. They just didn't like this one.

When they used to damn Reagan for being a male chauvinist because he opposed the ERA, it's equally illogical. Now Ronnie probably was a chauvinist (though he did name the first female Supreme Court justice. But go ahead, tell me you only qualify as a woman if you're a liberal feminist--I'm used to hearing that it's ideology, not pigment, that makes you black). But one might be a feminist and yet not subscribe to the "by any means necessary" philosophy. You might think constitutional amendments ought to be kept to a minimum and find some other way to work for change. Same with the Balanced Budget Amendment: if you oppose it, that doesn't mean you're against having a balanced budget!

Second, there's the "slippery slope" fallacy so beloved of the NRA. (Hey, how about that, folks? Some accuse me of leaning on liberals too much, so here I go, from the ERA to the NRA!) How can any sane person think there is a good reason for assault weapons to be freely available on the market? Of course no one does. This is not why the NRA opposes a ban on assault weapons. They are afraid, I think, that if these weapons can be banned, then the day will come sooner and more easily when the government will confiscate all weapons. Hunting will be outlawed. Huh?

Come on now! No one except Bob Barker would try to outlaw hunting (not that he's not something of a predator himself, when the price is right!). At least I hope not. And it would never happen. Why should it? The issues here are completely different. The same applies to those who think Dr. Kevorkian is opening the doors to Auschwitz. Not a chance. There's no natural progression from the one to the other.

If Uzzis are outlawed, only criminals will have them, is that it? Another fallacy. Listen Charleston, only criminals have them now! What use has anyone else for them? Surely not self-defense! Do you really want gun battles? Beirut, here we come! Only criminals have them, so let's make it a bit harder for them to get the damn things, shall we? This has nothing to do with someone like my friend and de facto uncle Gene Price, a hunter and woodsman, par excellance. May he go hunting for a century, and remember to bring me back some venison.

Third, how about the fallacy of "the big lie," total, bald-faced, massive denial of the obvious. The hope is that people will think you'd never dare say such an enormity if it weren't true--so maybe it isn't? Maybe the Soviets didn't invade Afghanistan? They said they didn't. Do you ever watch "Face the Nation" and its ilk? Or think of Presidential debates you've heard. One politician claims the other voted for something, and then the accused flatly denies it. The other insists, the other denies. Look, personally, I don't have time to look it up in the Congressional Record. I see no way to penetrate this iron curtain of propaganda. Do you?

And even if I did look it up in the waste-paper archives of the Congressional Record, what good would it do? These guys have the option--and they don't hesitate to use it--of retroactively doctoring their remarks. They admit it, too, right on TV. Well, that's it for me. It's like Winston Smith in the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, rewriting yesterday's newspapers to make them conform to today's party line.

You see, now we're not just dealing with logic. We're all the way into epistemology: how is true knowledge possible? In politics and government, I fear it is not. In the old Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, where the humanitarian rhetoric of the Party had long since degenerated into pathetic cant, the harried populace came to believe there was no such thing as truth, that every official pronouncement had to be parroted as true, but that none of them were. And, further, that none of them even could be true, that there was no such thing as truth, that all was mere slogan. I now understand that. It is the epistemological skepticism of gridlogic, as American as artificially flavored apple pie.

David Hume, the Great Skeptic, argued that we cannot be really certain, logically certain, that there is even a real relationship between apparent cause and effect. We associate event A and event B because we always see one happen after the other. But how can we be sure? Washington D.C. is a veritable Humean laboratory. There, cause hasn't a thing to do with effect. Bill Clinton tries every smoke screen in the book to cover up something in the Whitewater debacle, and we are of course to assume that this smoke proceeds from no fire at all. That one expends much effort in trying to cover up nothing when it would be so much easier to prove there is nothing precisely by exposing that nothing.

Or the Barney Franks, the Dennis DiConcinis, the Dan Rostenkowsis, for whom there is ample cause but no effect. They say justice is for the rich. No, that's not quite right: acquittal is for the rich, wrist-slaps are for the rich. While we're at it, why didn't we see Ivan Bossky and Michael Milken in the cell next to petty inner city thieves who in a thousand years couldn't steal as much as these two stole? White skin undoubtedly had a lot to do with it. But money, lots and lots of it, had more.

And there's O.J. Simpson, whom until recently I could not differentiate from Homer Simpson. He publicly offers to pay people to produce evidence that he didn't do it. This strikes me as pretty much like hiring people to write jokes for the Allen Brady show, which, come to think of it, is just what he's doing. He has beat Oliver Stone's movie Natural Born Killers to the punch. Even if he did kill Nicole, who among his fans is going to care? Their only reason for thinking he's innocent (even if he is) is that he's a football star. But Simpson's defense strategy is an exercise in philosophical skepticism. Shapiro isn't going for reasonable doubt. He's going for Cartesian hyperbolic doubt. If there's an atom's weight of doubt, he wants the whole thing thrown out. Again, justice and government have retreated behind an impenetrable screen of epistemological nihilism.

I am fast approaching the sound barrier of Baudrillard's [Bo-dree-yard's] apocalypse. Stop me if you can, before the next election if possible.

Robert M. Price

 

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