Thursday, March 18, 2010

Falling for Distractors

In testing parlance, a distractor is a possible answer that is intended to distract the testee's attention away from the central idea of the question or the central goal of the task. It is intended to give information on the ability of the subject to identify the main idea or goal, and as well, to maintain focus to completion.

In a focused debate, distractors are frowned upon, and those trained well in both logic and argumentation, become skillful at identifying them in order to avoid using them, and in order to parry them in a debate. However, those of us with "different minds" (as Temple Grandin so charmingly calls Aspies, etc.), no matter how well trained in logic, usually fumble the on-your-feet thinking part of such discussion, and can be distracted in to latching onto the distractor. This is why training and practice are mandatory for us.

And it gets worse when dealing with what passes for political debate currently, which is usually driven by partisan loyalties rather than full understanding of issues, and is focused on "talking points." Here, the object of the discussion is not to get to the bottom of an idea--in fact, ideas are assiduously ignored--rather, the goal is to score fictitious points for your team.
And since many Aspies do not get that, and we continue believing that the discussion is really to get to the bottom of an idea, and some of us like to argue, we often fall for the distractors in a political argument.

A perfect example happened in a series of exchanges between three libertarians and a partisan progressive on my Facebook Wall. I had posted a link to yesterday's blog entry--The Janus Face of Tyranny--there yesterday. The first comment was by Mark--who on the blog itself used to comment as 'Anonymous'--whose comment was a distractor intended to shift the discussion toward the administration and Democratic Party's talking points about the healthcare bill. In fact, it was such a distractor from the actual ideas outlined in the blog entry that I believe that Mark never got the point of the blog, or else he didn't bother to read it, so this morning I helpfully pointed it out for him. But not before I, too, succumbed to the almost irresistable urge to distraction.

Instead of addressing the historical comparison being made in the blog entry, Mark's first comment was a demand that since I don't like the so-called "healthcare bill", what would I do to "fix the system."

There were fourteen or fifteen comments already answering his question, which took the whole discussion into the simplified and somewhat unreal realm of talking points. "Fixing the system" was not what the blog entry was even about. Rather the point of the blog was that Pelosi's gambit to pretend not to vote on the bill by "deeming" it passed would awaken the anger of even more Americans at the incipient tyranny of such an action. The tyranny is not only in the legislation--which is about far more than healthcare; it is in how the Congress Critters intend to avoid responsibility for it, and at the same time consolidate their power.

You can read the whole blog to explore the other point I introduced: That the anger of the people at this kind of corruption is not partisan, and that the division between the political elite and the ordinary people who are expected to pay for their blindness, is rapidly assuming powder-keg proportions. There is indeed tyranny afoot here, and this is not the first time in the history of the world a government has become so blind to reality with severe and lasting consequences.

In any case I foolishly courteously but briefly answered Mark's question well into the comment thread, stating mostly that I thought that the answers provided by the two other bloggers were reasonably close to what I would have said with a few exceptions that I proceeded to outline. as far as I was concerned, the discussion was over.

But then I got another demand from Mark that I should come up with a solution to "fix the system", and the assertion that "we need to" stop a race to the bottom among insurance companies. These are talking points straight off of's playlist. And I finally cottoned on to the fact that this was no discussion to get to the bottom of a problem or an idea, at least not from Mark's perspective. In fact, strictly from reading his comments it's hard for me to tell whether or not he knows much about health insurance or healthcare at all.

In any case, these demands that I should come up with a solution to "fix the system" are in fact distractors. For I have never expressed a desire to have one centralized "system" for health care, nor am I unhappy with my insurance plan, which is the proximal target of this bill.

The distal target is for the federal government to take control of healthcare in this country, and to destroy any private insurance, as well as for it to gain control over the medical and financial records of the citizenry of the United States. The structure for this is in the bill, as well as much more having to do with education, the regulation of our diets, and other such that we do not even know about. And there will be more to come, because Obama, Pelosi and Reid have also stated that by "deeming the bill passed", they will then be able to change things in the bill afterwards. (!)

So I answered the second demand that I provide a solution this way:

1) I am not sure who this WE is that you keep talking about. Please define your terms. In a free country, WE don't have to do anything. Each individual determines who she will associate with (free association) and what she will do with her life. The obligation of the individual extend only to respecting the natural rights of others. Otherwise, it is a matter of choice.

2) Are you getting yourself and your family prepared for those economic hard times? 'Cause the "government" is really the people who pay taxes, and at a certain point they won't have any more wealth for the bureaucracy to take from them and it won't be worth it for them to work hard. Then a real race to the bottom will begin.

3) I think you misunderstand my courtesy in discussing your demand to be a concession to your premise that there ought to be one healthcare system controlled by the government. So let me clarify: I do not have to present any ideas for how to "fix the system" because:

a) I do not agree that there ought to BE one system controlled politically; and

b) I believe that the bill before Congress now is a monstrosity that is being "shoved through" for other purposes--(and that is, since you missed it, the main point of my blog post).This bill will not fix anything; and

c) It is you who want to create a system. You are free to do so. Just count me and any others who have other plans for our lives out of it. This is not a democracy. There should be no mob rule. If you want to make a system, go ahead and do it, and recruit others who want to participate. And determine how you will pay for it without forcing those who do not like it to do so.

I concluded by making a demand of my own--that on my Facebook page and my blog page, Mark should respond to the ideas in my blog post or to the three statements I made above.

I find talking points to be extremely boring. As a libertarian, my preference is that everything I do is for fun or profit. Or both. Talking points are neither.

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