One of my Facebook friends thought the title of my last post better suited to a discussion of the H1N1 vaccine. That called for a bittersweet chuckle, as it reminded me of the analogy I frequently draw between the effect of leftist Republicans and what I learned during a WHO briefing years ago about the way the AIDS virus affects the body's immune system. As I recall, the virus takes control of cells that perform critical immune system functions. It recodes the infected cells so that the body reacts to them as if they were still healthy. Its as if the troops assigned to guard a city were replaced by a gang of shrewd impostors whose only interest was to get the free food, clothing and shelter the city provides for its soldiers. Their successfully masquerade leaves the city gates and walls unattended. First the enemy's agents, and then its troops can enter at will. In biological terms, the body falls prey to opportunistic infections.
In the political debates and discussions that took place during the founding period, people often drew parallels between the body politic and the individual organism. As I put it to my FB friend yesterday, "In those days people discussed remedies for the body politic with the fervor some now reserve for their individual bodily ills. That may be why they established this historically unique constitutional republic, and we are well on the way to losing it." Be that as it may, I think the GOP leaders who pretend to be conservative while giving preferential treatment to socialists in maschera could easily pass the audition for starring roles in an Advise and Consent style political drama about an elite secret society called AIDS (the Association for the Incognito Development of Socialism.)
This elite secret society would of course include many of the Judas goat talkers and media pundits now busily hawking the "80 percent/20 percent", put Party above all voting fallacy. This fallacy, the logical counterpart of a chemical solution, is eight parts sophistry and two parts pure deception. It reminds me of Sherlock Holmes's famous seven percent solution of cocaine, only instead of speeding up the body's metabolism to cure boredom it is employed during the delicate and lengthy procedures that remove a growth of political liberty from the body politic. The intended effect is to tranquillize those conservative members of the body apt to react most vigorously to the symptoms that accompany the return to historical normalcy, i.e., a state of speciously legitimized elitist tyranny.
The fallacy goes something like this. It makes sense to lend political support to leaders you agree with on eighty percent of the issues, rather than refuse them your support (on account of the twenty percent where you disagree) in situations where that means victory for someone you disagree with on eighty percent of the issues. When dealing with matters that are properly subject to quantitative analysis, this seems fair and logical. Who would refuse someone offering cash and stocks worth eighty percent of their asking price when their stubbornness leads to a leveraged buyout of their assets in which they end up with only twenty percent?
But what if the 'asset' involved was your children? Charles Manson style home invaders offer to leave your home and all your material possessions unharmed in exchange for letting them satisfy their blood lust by killing your two children. The money value of the children's bodies may be around $9.00, depending of course on economic conditions at any given time. Let's say the value of your house, car and other material possessions on hand is around $300,000. If you accept the home invaders offer, you lose only .03% of your possessions. If you reject it, they'll destroy your material goods, and probably kill you and the kids anyway. By refusing, therefore, you end up with less than nothing. Do you let them kill the kids?
Many decisions (more than 80%?) involve keeping, adding to, or giving up what's in your hands. A few (far less than 20%?) involve cutting out your heart. Are they all equal?
Machiavelli recounts the story of a city under siege ruled by a woman with several children. The besiegers manage to capture her son and heir. When they offer to release and spare her offspring in exchange for surrendering the city's liberty, she mounts the walls. Exposing herself with a lewd gesture she refuses their offer, declaring "See what is here. I can bear more sons." The complex moral of that story offers comfort to those readers inclined toward the view (hypothetically of course) that their children are disposable goods. Those incapable of such facile moral relativism (formerly regarded as hardness of heart) at least take away from the story a sense of the difficulties that arise when using quantitative analysis to make decisions about human affairs.
In mathematics, we have no problem accepting the idea that for each system of measurement the unit of measurement derives its meaning from the context and in that context no 'one' has a meaning all its own. That's not so easy to accept when dealing with human beings. We can't simply be indifferent to the qualitative difference between issues that deeply involve and affect our sense of worth and true identity, and those that deal mainly with the material conditions in which we live. It means above all that we can't pretend such indifference when dealing with matters that go to the heart of the emotional, intellectual and spiritual reasons whereby we recognize the moral difference between a human being and a stone, or a house, or a hammer.
It's no coincidence that the 'eighty percent' issues referred to by the Judas goats and other hawkers of the 80/20 fallacy always center on money; the procurement and distribution of material goods; or the pleasures derived from them. The 'twenty percent' issues, on the other hand, mainly involve matters that accept or deny the intrinsic worth of individual human life, and the principles of judgment and conduct that support laws and policies requiring respect for it. Encouraging people to be obsessed with material goods is one of the key components of the procedure required to eliminate their liberty. People who fall prey to this obsession take it for granted that better and worse are measured in material terms. Everything becomes a matter of more or less, focused on the quantity of 'goods', without any thought or regard for the standard that makes them so. Moneymaking is the perfect sacrament of this obsession, since it takes as the measuring standard of good an accumulation of merely abstract units.
But as we have seen, this standard fails when applied to human beings. Most people boldly testify to this failure the moment someone treats them like dirt, or a dog or even yesterday's news. The 80/20 fallacy achieves plausibility by mimicking quantitative analysis. But like the sophists of ancient times, it uses the outward form or appearance of logic in order to divert attention from a deceptive premise, in this case the assumption that it is humanly acceptable to use the same method to take account of human beings and material goods. Thus we are distracted into believing that we get part of what we want, while being gulled into accepting a method of reasoning that denies more than all of what we are.
In the current debate among conservatives, this is literally the effect the fallacy achieves. The conservative identity, and indeed that of Americans in general, involves respect for individual rights and responsibilities. Such respect makes no sense if human beings are not individuals but interchangeable units that have no meaning in and of themselves (no intrinsic value.) Considered en masse it's easy enough to accept the idea that people in society are no more than pebbles in a jar. But when individuals are treated in this way, they generally resent the lack of consideration for what they feel and know themselves to be on the inside, whatever their outward appearance or circumstances. Anger and indignation naturally result, fueling conflicts that eventually lead to war. That's why human justice has to take account of individual worth. Unless individuals are given their due, their society lacks humanity. That deficiency eventually dissolves both its integrity and its cohesion.
This is the moral basis for conservative opposition to socialism. Whatever material good socialism aims to achieve, it does so by sacrificing respect for the distinctively human understanding of good that allows us to recognize the difference between human individuals and the merely material objects that have a form of unity but lack the inward knowledge of its worth. This inward knowledge manifests the soul of all humanity; the subjective certainty that we matter. But what we appear to be in material terms matters precisely because it represents more than we can ever know from its appearance alone. This is why our understanding of justice appeals to the existence and will of the Creator God.
Human affairs require wisdom that goes beyond what can be known by any quantitative analysis or method. Such wisdom takes account of the fact that all human beings know directly from their own nature what cannot be known from observation: the intrinsic value of one. Such wisdom impelled America's founders to realize that laws and judgments that deny unalienable rights strike at the heart of what it means to be treated with just regard for humanity. So do proposals that treat human beings as ciphers to be discarded when some bureaucrats or their quantitative formulas claim they are too old or infirm or irrelevant to justify the expense of caring for their health.
There was a time when we could count on something like this wisdom from people who call themselves conservative. Whatever they call themselves now, the ones willing to accept the 80/20 fallacy are much like the argument they make: they adopt the name and outward appearance of conservatism, but betray its substance. In our present crisis, conservative voters who follow their advice will be doing the same to their liberty.