En Tequila Es Verdad/progressive conservatism/post/2009/01/15/1654

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January 15, 2009 4:54 PM - Woozle

Woozle said...

Preface: I can't speak for liberals in general, because I don't necessarily agree with All That Is Liberal. So, if your viewpoint is Progressive Conservatism, let's call mine Rational Liberalism...


"...how can you argue that liberals prefer principles while conservatives prefer rules, the implication being that liberals are more flexible, and then say that conservatives more accurately prefer ‘arbitrary and general doctrines’..."

I should think that "arbitrary" would be the enemy of "flexible".

An arbitrary doctrine is one which was arrived at through a process that is not well understood. You may have a history of the choices that were made along the way, but no real understanding of why each choice was deemed wise. If you decide you're interested in changing the resulting doctrine, you really have no guidelines by which to proceed; you don't know which choices to override because you don't know (or can't reconstruct, in a way that makes sense) the reasoning that was used.

If you were to rethink each of the decisions that went into this arbitrary process (assuming you have enough documentation to even attempt this), you would (a) end up with a completely different doctrine, and (b) it would no longer be arbitrary but systematic.

I'm arguing that liberal doctrines are arrived at systematically, and conservative ones are generally arbitrary.

Also, I don't think I'd agree that "general" applies to conservative thinking, so perhaps Disraeli got that bit right. Conservatives prefer lots of arbitrary, unconnected, inflexible rules, not general principles. (Am I wrong?)

"I also don’t see how liberal doctrines can be based on what produces the best outcomes when you also admit that they are the ones that are most willing to try new, ideas rather than relying on precedent..."

Because you can't have data on the outcome of an idea if you don't ever try it.

If an idea has been tried, and worked well, then liberalism will embrace it -- with the understanding that in the long run, there will eventually be an idea which works even better, which we will then want to add to our toolkit.

Aside: I've been told that one of the essential tenets of conservatism is that the human condition can never be improved; would you agree with this? (That proposition seems obviously and demonstrably false to me, but it does seem consistent with much of conservative thinking.)

"Liberals base their policies on what they have reasoned will produce the best outcome while conservatives base their policies on what they believe precedent has already revealed to be the best solution."

I said this earlier, but maybe I need to be clearer...

Reasoning is based on data, i.e. past experience. You can't reason about real-world outcomes in a vacuum.

Conservative "precedent" is a kind of experience, but it's not documented well: you don't know why you prefer the style of marriage you do, except that it's part of (your) tradition and therefore must have worked reasonably well in the past -- completely ignoring the fact that there are a lot of ways in which it doesn't work, and that other forms of marriage have been known to work better in various circumstances.

The conservative push to limit marriage to what they think it should be is kind of like someone in 1970 demanding that all cars must have fins and AM radios, because cars have always had fins and AM radios, and anyone who makes a car without fins, or with FM radio, or (God forbid) a cassette player, is trying to "change the definition of automobile".

[pssst, Dana: cats and dogs sleeping together!!]

"The difference between the two is that for liberals they can never accept a good solution when a brilliant one might be just around the corner."

In other words, liberals suffer from "Better is the enemy of good enough" syndrome -- maybe. Can you give me an example?

"So you would contend that backwards movement is never good, nor is it ever ‘progressive’?"

Those are both slippery words, so I think I need to be a little more precise about what I mean.

Let's say you're on an expedition in the jungle. You're trying to get to a mountain, but you can't always go straight towards it because of various obstacles you often can't see until you meet them.

If you start down a path and then realize it's a dead end and you have to retrace your steps and try again, that's not progress. If (alternatively) the dead end puts you on a hill from which you can see where you do need to go, that's progress -- even as you're walking back the way you came.

The difference is this: In the former case, you have no new information except that the trail you were going down isn't going to work (which you half expected, anyway). In the latter case, the "false trail" gave you new information about which way to go -- you're no longer setting out half-blindly but with a clear direction.

To connect the metaphor back to the terminology I'm clarifying: walking back the way you came is always "backwards" movement, but in the latter case it's "progress" and in the former case it isn't.

To connect the terminology to a real-world example: in the case of gay marriage, we have no new information which indicates that we should back off; indeed, the conservative backlash has led to a more intensive investigation of the history of marriage, which reveals plenty of justification for allowing a much wider range of choices with no penalty to society. Backing off, in this case, is not progress.

Another example: the environmental movement. I'd say the extreme back-to-nature, reject technology and move to the country faction of that movement is anti-progress -- but the faction that wants to use technology (alternative-fuel vehicles, solar power, "green" building practices, etc.) to help preserve the environment without significantly de-modernizing everyone's lifestyle is progressive.


Schools: I'd need to know more about the actual practices of the school system in question, and some numbers relating to performance. For obvious reasons you might not want to divulge where your daughter goes to school, so it's ok if you want to abandon this thread for now; I think we can agree that some traditional schooling practices work better under some circumstances.

Indeed, this is almost inevitable, since some percentage of any set of experimental techniques is bound to turn out to be less effective than more established techniques. That's the price of progress.


"abortion as birth control": Let's establish some ground rules (let me know if any of these seem wrong to you):
1. You can only claim someone is doing this if they voluntarily obtained an abortion (i.e. no parental or other pressure)
2. You can only claim someone is doing this if they used abortion instead of proper contraception, i.e. the pregnancy resulted from knowingly-unprotected sex
3. You can only claim someone is doing this if they were aware that unprotected sex leads to procreation.
4. Uses of abortion which we both agree are acceptable (yes?) include: rape, incest, threat to mother's health (but you don't agree that "threat to her livelihood" is adequate, right?), threat to child's health (might be born with incurable illness/defect)

Looking at the various reasons for getting abortions, the ones which seem acceptable under these rules are: #4 (12.2%), #7 (3.3%), #8 (2.8%), #10 (1%) -- a total of 19.3% for acceptable uses -- and the unacceptable ones are #1 (25.5%), #2 (21.3%), #3 (14.1%), #5 (10.8%), #6 (7.9%), #9 (2.1%) -- a total of 81.7% (hmm, a little rounding error there, I guess).

Taking your argument and data at face value, then, abortion is used as contraception -- or, rather, abortion is used in situations where contraception should have been used instead -- about 4/5 of the time, and used legitimately only 1/5 of the time.

BUT -- of the 81.7% who used abortion with apparent inappropriateness:

* How many thought they were using contraception properly -- were trying to be responsible? (I don't think "inconsistent" contraception usage qualifies as choosing abortion as one's preferred method of contraception.) These people made mistakes.
* How many improved their contraceptive habits afterwards? (If they made a mistake once and then used proper contraception thereafter, is it fair to deny the abortion for that one time?)
* How many were aware beforehand that sex would lead to pregnancy? (If they hadn't been properly educated about the known connection between sex and pregnancy, how can they be blamed for using the only option available when they unexpectedly became pregnant?)
* How many were given easy access to contraception? (Certain groups have made significant "progress" in preventing contraception from being handed out by family counselors, high schools, health clinics...)

Your data does not address these points, which would seem essential to proving your case. On what basis can it possibly be claimed that women are using abortion as contraception unless these questions have been answered?

Addressing your additional points:
* "54% of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant." So 54% were trying to be responsible, an acceptable circumstance for obtaining an abortion -- or at least contradicting the idea that they were using it "as a contraceptive" (and contradicting your implication that 90% are implicitly unacceptable). Of the remaining 46%, how many used abortion for acceptable reasons? (If the proportions of acceptable/unacceptable usage from the data you provided -- which does not track whether or not contraception was used -- are the same among these 46%, that would mean that a further ~9% (46% * 19.3%) used abortion appropriately, for a total of 63% appropriate usage. What will the actual numbers be, I wonder? Is it possible that, among the women who failed to use contraception, there is a higher percentage of extenuating circumstances such as rape? Like, maybe there was a good reason why they didn't use contraception?)
* "Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently." Which proves, what? They made a mistake, or perhaps were not properly educated. (The conservative position eliminates sex ed completely, but that's a separate argument.)
* "46% of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant." Um, yeah, 100-54 is 46... this is the same statistic as the first point.
* "Eight percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control." What portion of those 8% were using abortion for legitimate purposes? The fact that they never used birth control may be because they never agreed to have sex (were raped), or because they thought their spouse would be supportive (and he wasn't), or they were talked into it by a bf/spouse and then later realized it would be a terrible mistake. Would you deny abortion to all these cases?
* "Each year, about two percent of women aged 15-44 have an abortion; 47% of them have had at least one previous abortion." Again, what percentage of those were either (a) using abortion for a legit purpose, (b) not properly educated about contraception or how mommy and daddy make babies, (c) not given access to contraceptives, or (d) got pregnant in spite of proper contraceptive use? All 4 of those situations nullify the claim of "abortion as a contraceptive".

The statistics you reported have been carefully gerrymandered, it would seem (especially the follow-up numbers). Where are they from?

"how can you not say abortion is used as a means of birth control in this country?" I've no doubt that it is, somewhere by some women, "used as contraception" by some reasonable interpretation of that phrase -- but I don't think it's fair to say that that is mainly how it is used, which is what's implied. Just using the crude and incomplete numbers you've reported, it looks like abortion is used for legit reasons (and definitely not as s substitute for proper birth control) about 2/3 of the time, possibly more.

If a tool is misused under some circumstances, the solution is to study those circumstances and find ways to correct the problems, not ban the whole thing outright or restrict it unilaterally.

Postscript: we've been discussing the merit of the "abortion as contraception" claim, but many of the points which I've conceded regarding that claim work against the larger conservative position against abortion... and I can see I'm not going to have time to get into that properly right now, so I'll just say that conservative "framing" of the abortion issue has done nothing to clarify (and much to obfuscate) the whole situation. We end up arguing points which really don't matter (when does "life begin"? I say it begins at 40; your turn...), and energy which could be turned towards researching relevant facts and hammering out points of agreement gets side-tracked into debating against dogmatists who have no intention of shifting their views one iota, no matter how much the evidence or reasoning is against them.

For now, there's this, to which I will try to add the points we've discussed so far. Remind me.