Morgan, you raise an interesting question with your last post, and that is this: how much are we willing to let non-quantitative factors influence our political and moral judgements? To me, Greenpeace's position on Chernobyl makes a lot of sense. They have an interest in painting nuclear power to be much more threatening than it actually is. So merely describing the death toll in dry, numerical terms isn't enough. They need to rely on emotive argument.

   I'd like to draw a parallel with the current debate over gay marriage. Opponents of gay marriage have an interest in framing gay couples as "deviant" and otherwise undeserving of an erstwhile heterosexual privilege. So you obviously will not hear them spouting any statistics such as the increase in gay couples adopting, the number of gay and lesbian people who attend religious services, and so on. They, too, need to rely on emotive argument to make their case.

   OK, so emotion and politics? What's so bad about mixing the two? Many postmodern political theorists argue that the two are inseperable and that reason and objectivity are "myths." I'm not convinced, however. And here's why:

1. Emotional politics can easily be abused. Any organization– from a humble non-profit to a large corporation– can exploit the worst tragedy to meet its own institutional needs. These arguments typically take familiar forms such as "for your own good…" and "what about the children?!?"   

2. Emotional politics silences meaningful discourse. At some level, emotive arguments become articles of faith and as such very difficult to approach with a contrary argument. We can argue about the scientific effects of Chernobyl, for example, but we can't argue definitively one way "how bad it was." (Unless, of course, we are speaking in terms of death counts.)

3. Emotional politics is intellectually insulting. It doesn't take much to be offended, upset, excited, or dismayed. But it does require much more work to think through every side of an issue and lay out a reasoned case for what you feel to be true.

   In the 1920s, Herbert Feigl and other European philosophers and scientists formed the "Vienna Circle" whose fundamental goal was to make philosophy more scientific. In the early Twentieth Century, this was a controversial position to hold, as many philosphers wanted to cling to universal truths within the realm of metaphysics. Now, of couse, it's much different. The position of the Vienna Circle– that a good argument is one that its verifiable– is seen to be out of vogue in our postmodern world. But I rather like it. And I think we can solve a lot of problems in our political and ethical debates if we simply "look to the facts."

–Daniel Corbett

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