Homophobes: From Common Sense to Sophistry

One of the advantages of being a reactionary is being able to resort to “common sense” to defend your positions. A radical proposal, even if it is a good idea – like a Land Value Tax – or supported by tons of empirical evidence – like tackling climate change – can be stymied by appeals to “common sense.”

What you rarely hear are sophisticated arguments attempting to philosophically undermine either position. You don’t hear people claiming often that value is so intrinsically effemerable that no taxation of it is possible, they just moan about old ladies being forced out of their homes because they are asset rich but cash poor. [1] If anything resorting to sophistry is a sign that the reactionary bigots know they’re losing an argument.

And so we turn to Cardinal O’Brien who has recently said that 1) gay marriage is on a par with slavery 2) marriage is an immutable platonic ideal and so timeless and pure it cannot and must not be reformed by governments and that finally 3) defining gay marriage as real marriage would violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No. Really. All of this nonsense was said by a real person.

Controlling what counts as common sense gives you an enormous amount of power to not only silence critics but to determine the overton window within which debate occurs. For a long time homophobes helped define what common sense was, but demographics and logic has shifted common sense and majority opinion in a more liberal or accepting direction. Losing control of common sense is thus a major blow and can only really be dealt with through attempts to recapture it, capitulation, or reaching for resentiment.

O’Brien’s sort of sophistry is introduced as a sort of resentiment, focusing internal fears of losing control onto the misbehaviour of governments, or gays, or society in general. There is no choice here for O’Brien, because the reactionary can no longer appeal to “common sense” because about half of Brits think gay marriage should be fine.

So he cannot recapture it, and neither can he capitulate to it because that would be more or less impossible to reconcile with Catholicism and he knows it. So look out for shifts from “common sense” and empirics to sophistry, because it is a sure sign you’re winning whatever argument you’re having and the other person knows it.


[1] Look, you fuck-wits, liquidity transformation is what finance is for. If we implement a Land Value Tax, a bank, building society or whatever will help people turn their illiquid assets into liquid cash, that is one of the core purposes of finance. At the moment releasing equity in a property is quite expensive, but were a million extra customers to appear then the extent of the market would quickly increase entrants and push down costs. I could write the contract myself:

“We will pay your tax for you, but on exit from the property or your death we shall demand payment of amount paid plus seven percent for each year we paid your tax. This can be met out of sale of your property or if possible and if as your last will and testament specifies from the remainder of your estate.”

Anyway, I got sidetracked…back to the top you go.


Stop blinding people with maths you bastard!

I’m not a big fan of Niall Ferguson, he did a lecture series at my uni that consisted of a preview of a television series he just made on a book he’d already written. He added a Q & A session, sure, but he was more evasive than illuminating.

Cost £1 million a year, value added… well hundred odd students didn’t have to buy his book at £12.62, so about £12,000? So, on top of his odious politics and his occasionally arguing in bad faith, he has annoyed me personally by sucking at the teat of the incompetent bureaucracy I employ. Hence, bastard. (UPDATE: £1,200, actually, plus, he didn’t even teach me rudimentary maths! And in a post discussing maths that really is embarrassing.)

John Holbo points me to Niall‘s (we’ve met, I’m allowed to call him that) latest screed is on how the Occupy Wall Street people have got it all wrong. Wall Street are just lovely, it is old, poor people who are the enemy, or something.

He concludes that they’re all smelly hippies (hippy punching? Check!) and that they should really join forces with the Tea Party to gut the welfare state (contrarianism? Check!) if only they realised that their futures are screwed and very impartial people think so too (appeal to mythical centre? Check! Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner!).

I’ll let Niall take it from here…

Let’s just remind ourselves of the report of the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds back in 2007, which projected a rise in the cost of these two programs from 7.3 percent of gross domestic product to 17.5 percent by 2030. The trustees warned that to achieve actuarial balance—in other words, solvency—for these two programs would require (for Social Security) an increase of 16 percent in payroll tax revenues or an immediate reduction in benefits of 13 percent. For Medicare we are talking a 122 percent increase in payroll taxes or a 51 percent cut in spending.

This really gets on my nerves. In an advanced economy can a reasonably large productive economy support a significant, but not huge, inactive population? Yes, it is called taxing things and then giving the money to the poor and old people. What about an economy with a history of immigration and rapid productivity growth which is likely to see more immigration and rapid productivity growth in the future? Guess what, double yes.

These things aren’t too hard. Appealing to strange panels of experts to discuss exactly how much one particular service or charge must be altered sounds weird. That is because it is weird. Can we tax people then spend the money on other people? Yes. It really can be that simple.