Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, XIII: On Epistemic Closure and Liberalism

I’m thinking, now, that I may have to stay off Facebook until well after the election. All it does is inspire incandescent rage at how utterly impervious to reason certain people are. Before I go, though, there is one last individual I need to (rhetorically) destroy. Said individual is a “friend-of-a-friend” with whom I have tangled TWICE in the past two days, and he is a textbook example of a concept known as “epistemic closure.”

What’s “epistemic closure,” you may ask? Basically, it’s a fancy term describing a reliance on too few sources of information. Liberals love to declare that we conservatives are sufferers, but such claims are patently ridiculous. We get exposed to liberal thought all the bloody time. We can’t avoid liberals even if we tried because of the left’s stranglehold on the engines of our culture. Can liberals, meanwhile, say that they’ve sat down to peruse the National Review? Well, the aforementioned “friend-of-a-friend” certainly can’t.

(Cut for extreme length.)

I first ran into the individual in question – whom I will dub “Close-Minded Liberal,” or CML for short – in a discussion about Chick-Fil-A. As you might expect, CML was absolutely convinced that everyone who lined up for a chicken sandwich on the 1st was there to express their gay-hating bigotry. I jumped in to make the demonstrably true claim (see also: yours truly, Andrew Klavan, Glenn Reynolds, the posters at Gay Patriot, and the many people quoted in articles covering the Appreciation Day) that many people who are, at the very least, sympathetic when it comes to the gay rights movement have also come out in support of Chick-Fil-A. I then noted that the most likely animating impulse for the huge turn-out was the over-reach of certain liberal politicians. His response, which he has since repeated many times, can be paraphrased thusly:

The people who are framing this as a free speech issue are misguided. This is a free market issue. People were exercising their right to free speech in boycotting Chick-Fil-A, and if it hurt Dan Cathy’s pocketbook, tough titties. The liberal mayors only complicated things.

I didn’t respond to this because I was already out of patience regarding the whole Chick-Fil-A issue, but here’s what I would’ve said if I wasn’t tapped out:

Let’s leave aside your laughable belief that your precious boycott did anything significant to hurt the chain’s sales numbers. (Even before the Appreciation Day was called, the restaurant here in Woodbridge was doing brisk business regardless of the bad publicity.) Instead, let’s tackle the other claims. First of all, you strongly imply that social conservatives are simply objecting to the idea of a boycott because they don’t understand what free speech actually means. This is false. We don’t dispute the pro-gay left’s right to hold a boycott. We do, however, reserve our right to comment on what that boycott – and in particular, the deeply misleading liberal commentary promoting it – says about your potential for fascistic overreach (not to mention your apparent inability to understand and tolerate people who disagree with you). Over and over again, I’ve seen people like you advance the following line of reasoning:

People who hate gays are against gay marriage.
Dan Cathy is against gay marriage.
Therefore, Dan Cathy hates gay people.

This is what is known as a converse error (if you’re in geometry class) or the fallacy of the undistributed middle (if you’re a logician). The majority of people who have doubts about gay marriage are simply religious people who hate and fear no one. Perhaps they are misguided – I, for one, am not completely convinced that’s the case – but your attempts to involuntarily baptize them all into the Westboro Baptist Church will guaran-damn-tee that you will persuade no one to rethink his position. It has also convinced many that your true intention is to quash each American’s freedom of religious observance. Sure — you technically have a right to hold a boycott and call us all bigots for disagreeing. But we have a right to worry out loud about what you might do, given your hostile attitude, if you were to gain real political power. It’s not an utterly unbridgeable gap between declaring a viewpoint anathema and acting to legally suppress it.

And actually, in reality, the left’s totalitarian impulse can no longer be described as merely “potential.” The Obama administration has already realized that potential through their contraception mandate. So if we’re being a little hypersensitive, such apprehension is certainly not based on nothing. The president and his coterie are telling me that I while I can worship God in a Catholic Church every Sunday, I certainly can’t live my faith the other days of the week. How can I not fear for my constitutional rights?

Which brings me to your attempt to minimize the role of Mayors Menino and Emanuel. I’m sorry, but no — there is good reason to believe that their actions are what primarily drove the turn out the other day. As far as I can tell from looking at the dates, Huckabee did not call for a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day until after Menino announced his intention to block Chick-Fil-A’s expansion into Boston. There were complaints about the pro-gay left before, yes, but once the aforementioned politicians got into the act, that’s when the conservative response exploded exponentially — and rightfully so, because Menino and Emanuel were now proposing that municipal governments use their power to issue business licenses and zoning permits as a stick to beat people like Cathy for not toeing the liberal party line. Such actions would clearly violate the First Amendment, a fact already noted by several libertarian, conservative, and honest liberal commentators. The Chick-Fil-A flap is not over our right to free speech? Dishonest nonsense! You can’t arbitrarily put the mayors aside just because they inconveniently blow giant holes in your “Chick-Fil-A’s supporters are all gay bashers” narrative.

ARRRRRRRRGH! Rahm Emanuel does not represent the “free market,” you tool.

Okay — now let’s move on to the next dispute. My Facebook friend, who is a moderate liberal and a genuinely nice guy, posted one of those dumb Facebook memes that advances Obama’s Roanoke argument regarding our responsibility to the government, remarking in passing that he thinks both sides – liberal and conservative – have advanced points regarding said speech that are correct. CML immediately responded (and again, this is a paraphrase), “That’s impossible. The Republican viewpoint depends on being willfully ignorant regarding Obama’s larger point.”

Well, I leaped into the fray at once, because I can’t stand this new liberal meme that claims we all misunderstood what Obama said in my home state. Oh please, liberals. Let me call the WAAAAAAAAAAAmbulance. We conservatives understood him perfectly. Obama made the wholly banal observation that the government does a number of things that keep us safe and allow the economy to function in order to advance his perennial argument that the rich have a patriotic duty to accept higher tax rates. But as we logic freaks might say, “Non sequitur!” I already took apart much of this rhetoric a few posts ago, but since then, I’ve come up with a few more rejoinders. For example:

1. Many of the government services that liberals like to cite because they’re popular – like fire and police – are handled at the local level, not the federal level. How does it make sense for Obama to ask certain people to pay more federal taxes for things the federal government doesn’t even do?

2. In other cases, liberals commit another logical error: They automatically assume that because the government was involved in the moon shot (or some other genuine accomplishment, like the interstate highway system), we should support current and future government funding of any other “innovation” Obama and his buddies personally favor (like “green energy” or high speed bullet trains) or else be branded as “unpatriotic” and “selfish.” It is true that, in the 20th century, politicians tended to default to big government solutions. That was the high water mark for centralized, top-down “blue state model” thinking. And it’s also true that the government didn’t completely fail at everything it touched. (See also: the moon shot.) But you cannot therefore conclude that we would not have nice things like electricity and telecommunications were it not for the intervention of a 20th century-style federal bureaucracy — or that we won’t have nice things in the years to come if we slim that bureaucracy down to a more sustainable size.

3. Even if we stipulate that certain things must be handled by the federal government – and most conservatives do, by the way – that absolutely does not mean that our present government is discharging its obligatory tasks in a way that is efficient or financially smart. Duplication, waste and inertia are endemic in DC. Take something simple — like the weather. The NWS and the NOAA seem like obviously beneficial organizations. We all want to know when a hurricane is coming, right? But as SABR Matt has discussed here, here and here, even the NWS and the NOAA are weighed down with silly redundancies and out-dated technology. Why should we be satisfied with this? And why should we fork over more money to the alphabet soup when it’s clear it won’t be used wisely? I’m not saying that there aren’t excellent federal employees who honestly wish to serve the public good. I am saying, however, that the inherent characteristics of the federal bureaucracy often make it difficult for the sincere public servant to do his job. The federal government desperately needs to be audited and streamlined — and until that happens, Obama has no justification for holding his hands out.

4. Finally, while the government does perform critical functions that keep the economy moving, it also performs many non-critical duties whose consequence is to block economic growth. I was working as a secretary at a fairly large insulation company the year Sarbanes-Oxley went into effect, and holy crap was that a nightmare of epic proportions! Currently, businesses are forced to spend a great deal of time and many millions of dollars annually on crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s to avoid being hounded by government regulators — and it’s all because leftist consumer advocates and environmentalists want us to chase the utopian fantasy that is zero percent risk. In the same vein, if you’re currently unemployed and you decide you want to sell cookies out of your kitchen, hot dogs in the park, or lemonade on your driveway, forget it. The government will eventually come crashing down on you because you don’t have a “license.” Yet the arrogant left wants us to bow down and thank the government for making our prosperity possible? Bull. At best, the government harms as often as it helps. (By the way, Sarah Hoyt has written a very good post on this very subject entitled “Of Fists and Noses.” You should read it.)

Now, in dealing with CML, I didn’t say all of the above. After all, Facebook is hardly an ideal platform for lengthy explications of my political thought. What I did, do, however, was defend the idea that individual initiative matters. I noted that while thirty other students took AP Stats with Mr. W., my all time favorite teacher, only two students got 5’s on the AP exam. The students in my class all grew up in similarly situated families and had access to the same award-winning instructor, but only one other student and I got top marks. That seems to contradict this idea that we owe our success to others. In reply, CML insisted that Obama didn’t deny the importance of a successful business-person’s hard work and whined once again that I was missing the point. To that, I say, “Whatever, dude.” Granted, there was a throw-away line in there that mentioned individual initiative. But you have to take into account the overall tone of the speech — especially the passage at issue. When Obama says, “There are a lot of hard-working people out there!” he is outright mocking the ordinary (and justified) pride people take in what they’ve accomplished. When he says, “There are a lot of smart people out there!” you can hear the resentment and derision dripping from his voice. No — when I listen to that speech, I don’t hear a president who respects the business community. Even if I put the most charitable spin on this and accept that Obama didn’t completely abandon the traditional American understanding of prosperity and its roots, he certainly severely devalued said understanding.

CML also tried to lecture me about how we owe our forebears for this wonderful system they created and all the infrastructure they established. My instinctive reaction? “Kiss my ass.” (Well — that’s a printable interpretation, anyway.) I am thankful for what previous generations have done for me; if I had a time machine, I would go back and thank them right now. But that’s not what Obama is asking us to do. Instead, he is using this “legacy of previous generations” horse dung to guilt the gullible into paying for his pet boondoggles. You see, he is just so eager to play venture capitalist — even though, as the whole Solyndra disaster reveals, he has no effing clue how to recognize a viable business model. And, oh yes — while he’s at it, he also wants us to pay for an overhaul of our health care system that is almost certain to do more harm than good. This doesn’t have jack to do with preserving “American values.” It has everything to do with enriching the president’s cronies at the taxpayers’ expense.

Along the way, I also stated, accurately, that we conservatives don’t object to paying taxes for those things that are necessary. CML then tried to claim that celebrating tax evasion is the new meme sweeping the conservative movement. This was news to me. Since Obama’s inauguration, I have been reading Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, and the National Review. I’ve also frequently visited Instapundit (the indefatigable conservative/libertarian aggregator), Hot Air, PJTV (& PJ Media), Townhall, The Daily Caller and the Breitbart Feed. What’s more, I’ve read conservative books – a lot of conservative books – and have gone to conservative political conferences. In all of those places, I have never read (or heard) even so much as a sentence praising tax avoidance. So I bluntly told CML he was imagining things and challenged him to present his evidence. What did he give me? Remarks by Senator Lindsey Graham as interpreted by Think Progress and one blog post. I’ll get to the blog post in a minute, but first I want to talk about Graham, because – unlike Obama – he is misunderstood. Here’s what he actually said a few weeks ago (and I should say here that the Huffington Post deserves credit for including enough context to contradict Think Progress’ screaming headline):

“As long as it was legal, I’m OK with it,” Graham said. “I don’t blame anybody for using the tax code to their advantage. I blame us for having it so complicated and confused. Pick a rate and make people pay it.”

In the meantime, anything within the rules goes, he argued.

“It’s a game we play,” Graham said. “Every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game.”

The senator’s solution to such gamesmanship is a major overhaul of the tax system, similar to the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan that calls for lowering rates while closing loopholes.

“I want to end the game,” Graham said. “I want to make it so simple that you know what you owe, and if you don’t pay, we’re going to whack the heck out of you…”

So what Graham is really advocating here is that we remove those cozy little tax shelters and make the tax code flatter and more predictable — yet Think Progress interprets this as “Lindsey Graham says it’s American to avoid paying taxes,” and CML interprets Think Progress’ interpretation as, “Lindsey Graham says tax evasion is awesome. Wheeee!” Good God, there are so many comprehension failures at play here that I’m pretty sure no additional comment is required.

And as for the blog post? This is when I concluded once and for all that CML deserves to be called a CML — and an imbecilic one at that. First, let me give you a chance to actually read it:

Why It Is Patriotic to Not Pay Taxes

Done? Did you laugh as hard as I did and immediately demote CML’s intelligence to moron status? The above blog post is an obviously sarcastic criticism of companies – like GM (a friend of Obama) – that engage in crony capitalism. And by the way, if you go to the homepage for that site, here’s are some of the other blog posts you might find:

Chick-Fil-A: Real Chicken, Real Hate
The Bigoted Boy Scouts of America
Republican Pattern of Lying

Hmm. Doesn’t seem like a conservative blog to me. But, to be fair, I heeded CML’s plea that I Google some appropriate strings to find more. Predictably, while I tried several variations of “It’s American/patriotic to avoid paying taxes,” I found diddly-squat beyond a bunch of liberal sites maliciously distorting the conservative argument.

Now here’s what I have seen within the conservative movement over the last few years:

This is a quite different complaint. The people who carry signs like this are not upset that they have to pay taxes; they are upset that they are being asked to pay more even though Obama and his appointees and friends have amply demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with their money. This is not a push for anarchy; it is a request, tartly phrased, that the federal government be called to account for all the tax payer dollars it’s put through the shredder. But, of course, for people like CML – people who live in the hermetically sealed Think Progress bubble – it is just so much more convenient to portray us all as selfish Randian individualists and raging homophobic bigots. It’s so tidy, you know, not to have to consider your opponents’ concerns as anything other than the ravings of lunatic idiots.

With all due lack of respect, CML: Screw off.

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