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Whitlock on Trump & The US Election

Posted on 14 November, 2016 at 14:15 Comments comments (1)

Is democracy broken?

How at-risk are we for a deadly Trump tantrum?

Is Trump worse than you?

How correct are you, exactly?

Do you actually want freedom?

 

 Answers to these five questions, in 500 words or less, from someone who hasn’t and doesn’t support Trump:

 

 


Is democracy broken?

There are supposed to be things in place to prevent a Trump getting into office, right? This is basically what the winner-take-all system was created to do: make sure the fringe is always underrepresented. That’s what we keep being told. And the US clearly has a winner-take-all, FPTP system, as almost all states elect their electoral college members in a winner-take-all fashion. And this is indeed the mechanism that allows the less popular candidate to be president, which is what happened with Trump. So what’s going on? The thing that people don’t seem to be getting is that Trump is not the fringe. He is the mainstream.

 

So to the streets! Riots have broken out in cities across (and outside) the US, fueled by threats of death and destruction on social media and the encouragement of celebrities. “Not My President” say signs of the protesters. But they’re wrong. He is your president.

 

You don’t get to be a fair-weather democrat. If you like democracy, then Trump is your president, and you support him. That’s how democracy works. A riot about the result of this election is a riot against democracy. If you are prepared to accept that you would prefer to abolish democracy, then just come out and say it. You cannot protest this election, and support democracy. That is a logical impossibility.

 

I’m not going to tell you that democracy is the best choice, but if you do accept it, then you cannot protest this election due to the fact that your opponent won. Democracy is simply the statement that the most popular idea is the one we will go with. That is all. It’s simple. If you don’t like it, be honest with yourself and come out against democracy.

 

Those who have a problem with what happened should have been protesting democracy and/or the electoral process years before Trump ran. To protest now is only a slap in the face of democracy, and that’s ok. But let’s be honest about it.

 

All’s not lost yet for those passionate antitrumpists. The electoral college and/or congress could step in to block this election. That would be legal, as the US does not have its citizens directly elect the President, but do you really want that? Are you prepared to seize power from the people to give it to the political elite just to avoid four years of Trump? Is there any chance at all that you may be overestimating the apocalypse of this election?

 


How at-risk are we for a deadly Trump tantrum?

There is great and truly fascinating debate about just how powerful the president is. By direct law, he is not all that powerful, but by tradition and rhetoric, he has significant influence. Basically, the president is supposed to be the person that your representatives ask to get things done, specifically, the things that they decide. But the President always has his own agenda and finds sneaky ways to make his own changes. For example, the president can issue an executive order, which is binding legally, but only when he has the power to act in that area referred to him from congress. But no one needs to authorize the president to have a meeting with another leader or give a moving speech. But what kind of changes could President Trump make if he decided to get crazy?

 

For acting unilaterally, it appears that the president really has the authority to stop change, not to force it. It is a great deal easier to veto legislation than it is to write and pass it. Of course, even the president’s coveted veto can be overturned by congress.

 

So how could Trump royally eff the country? As Commander in Chief, Trump could make a military move. If he wanted to take action for more than 60 days or officially declare war, he would need congress to do it. But technically having the power in writing and actually getting it done are different. Say for example, that Trump issued an order to move the entire army into France because he wanted to occupy the Eiffel Tower. So he tells his joint chiefs this decision. What would they do? Probably have the vice president and the cabinet declare him unfit to the house and senate. Or maybe congress would step in on their own. Either way, there is always someone watching with the power to stop it.

 

So let’s say Trump only has time to make one crazy move, so he launches a nuclear attack. Here are all the things that have to happen in the 4 minutes between presidential order, and actually launching the bomb. 1) The Secretary of Defence has to sign off on it, or resign, leaving the new SoD to do it. 2) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have to relay the orders to the team launching the bomb. 3) The bomb launchers have to actually hit the button. All of those people have to be on board, or it doesn’t happen. Again, there are plenty of checks on power.

 

I realize that those who think Trump will actually make a crazy, world-ending decision are the minority, but hopefully knowing just how difficult it is for a president to do something can put everyone slightly more at ease.

 


Is Trump worse than you?

This is simply a math problem, but not an easy one. How do we measure how good someone is? As a starting exercise, let’s look at Bill Gates, surely high on anyone’s “good list”. He has given around 28 billion dollars to charity so far, and has promised to give the rest of his money when he dies. This is a man that clearly cares more about making the world better than about stockpiling money and buying nice things.

 

What if we found out that Bill was murdering one helpless random child every year for the past 20 years, and intends on continuing for the next 20 years? Every year, he would kidnap a child, and murder them. And now we were faced with the choice of either putting him in prison or letting him continue to walk free. If he said that he would stop doing billions of dollars of charity if he were in jail, then the math would say to let him remain free. The math says that it is better to have all the good that Bill gives, even when it means that we have to have those pesky annual murders too.

 

We do this math all the time. We could eliminate tens of thousands of deaths every year just by banning cars or drastically lowering speed limits. But we have decided that the good of efficient and fast transportation outweighs the bad of a ton of deaths. But here is a math problem that people are having trouble with: If Trump is a less charitable than average billionaire, does that make him bad? Your gut might say he is bad, if it is indeed true that he is less charitable than most other billionaires. But is doing 10 units of good really a bad thing if you actually could have done 15 units of good? Of course not. Doing less good than you can is still good, and it must be measured against other people’s amount of good.

 

Trump has given more to charity in the last 5 years than everyone reading this combined will give to charity over the course of their lives (probably). Just because he could have given more (and he could have), doesn’t mean the giving that he has done is somehow bad. So Trump is better than us. He is better than you and than me.

 

It doesn’t matter if he does lots in the interest of self-promotion. That does not erase the actual good he does. Imagine if Bill Gates started media whoring like Trump does, just to stroke his own ego. Does that somehow erase his 28 billion dollar charity donation? Of course not. So let’s not be so quick to measure Trump’s good against someone else’s and start issuing yuge penalties because he’s an egotist. The raw math still adds up to the clear conclusion: Trump is better than us...much, much better. More vain? Yes! More altruistic impact on the world? Also yes. Sorry.

 

 


How correct are you, exactly?

Trump won because America is sexist. No, he won because of an unfortunate electoral system. No, he won because America is racist! No, he won because America wants economic growth again! No, he won because people are sick of having their system drained by illegal immigrants.

 

Here’s the one thing I’m sure about: I don’t know. The world has been filled, even more than usual, with absolutely ardent opinions. It is making it unbearable to talk to anyone of any political ideologies. Everyone seems to be the expert on America, people’s minds, and everything that Donald Trump has ever done. An interesting tactic that folks might like to try, is to say “I don’t know” a lot more often.

 

Did people voting for third parties give the election to Trump? You don’t know.

Is Trump a racist or sexist deep down in his mind? You don’t know.

Did the media cover the process fairly? You don’t know.

Which issues caused this surprise? You don’t know.

 

Practice with me. I don’t know. I don’t know.

 

Now that we have that out of our systems, we can start to have genuine arguments. We need to propose smaller things as facts and then back them up. No, we really don’t know if the fact that Trump was straightforward about Islamic terrorism won him a lot of voters. Once we admit we don’t know, we can start diving into the facts and actually exchanging information for once. Both trumpists and antitrumpists are guilty of this, and it is making it impossible to hear one’s self think. If you are a genuinely uninformed, confused person, like me, do yourself a favour and stay out of bold declarations. Every time you make an end-of-the-world tweet, a puppy dies, because the wave of overconfidence in your opinion is enough to crush the soul of small, cute things.

 

I have no problem with people giving opinions. It’s merely the certainty that disturbs me. If you are only 30% sure of something, you needn’t hide that fact. Research the topic more until you can bring it up a few percentage points, or be honest that it is just too difficult a topic for you to figure out right now. There are people that spend their entire lives studying the topic about which you just made a bold social media statement, and when you read their book, you’ll notice that they are only about 60% sure of anything. What are the odds that you know more about this than they do?

 

Is there any chance that you’re wrong? What are the chances? How do you know? Have you been wrong before on this topic? On what information is your prediction based?

 

Are you ready to answer these questions? If not, what does that grand outcry on social media really mean? No. No. It’s the others who are wrong. You surely nailed it.

 

 


Do you actually want freedom?

Freedom isn’t freedom. And you don’t want it.

 

Here are some facts about freedom that a stereotypical Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian might not like to hear.

 

My message…

 

to the Democrat:

 

  • Freedom includes the right to defend yourself with a gun.
  • Freedom includes the right to speak your mind about any topic.
  • Freedom includes the right to spend your money as you see fit.

 

 

to the Republican:

 

  • Freedom includes the right for someone of any gender or sex to bump uglies with anyone.
  • -Freedom includes the right to not be religious in any way, even if you hold public office.
  • Freedom includes the right to abort a pregnancy.

 

 

to the Libertarian:

 

  • Freedom includes the right to not fear that an untrained driver will run you over.
  • Freedom includes the right to not need to worry about insane, armed people.
  • Freedom includes the right to enforce freedom, even outside your borders.

 

 

 

No matter which words you decide to use to describe yourself politically, you don’t really want freedom. You want freedom to get what you want and for others to deal with it. Have you thought about where Donald Trump is on the freedom spectrum?

 

Free trade people will be saddened to know that he is a rather extreme protectionist and anti-free trade. Business owners will be disappointed in his willingness to tell them how to run their companies. The religious will be saddened that he refuses to make religious issues (like the anti-gay marriage crusade), federal law. The regressive left will be shocked by his refusal to hide the fact that Islam is a major contributor to terrorism and his refusal to censor himself for fear of triggering others. The classic drug war supporters will be terrified at his refusal to keep marijuana federally illegal.

 

He just doesn’t fit in any predefined categories. I don’t have much good to say about Trump, but I will applaud his custom approach. He is doing what he thinks is right, not what some political party has written on their website. I think we should take that page (and maybe only that page) from his book.

 

Stop using one or two words to describe your ideology. To convey that message accurately, you need to dig deep to the bedrock of you priorities and moral foundation. How much freedom should we have? Are you a supporter of democracy…even if someone you don’t like is elected? How much of a right do you have to force someone at gunpoint to pay for other people’s expenses? Are you allowed to tell a business how to operate? Is the future progress of the world or the current suffering in the world a more important issue? When do your rights end and mine begin, if we want different things? Would you send troops to another country if there was a genocide? How willing are you to use violence as a means of political change? Etc.

 

No party has internal alignment on all these issues, and you probably agree with Trump on more than you think.

 

 

 

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Matt's Blog Post

Posted on 26 July, 2016 at 10:55 Comments comments (1)

We’re 100 shows in now, well technically more because of our “bonus shows” we’ve thrown into the mix, and I have yet to write one blog post. This has been the subject of many hate filled and angry emails from one of the co-hosts of this show. Now this is not because I don’t have ideas for blog posts but rather I don’t have good ideas for blog posts. Despite this astounding lack of good ideas I thought I would give it a try for the release of our 100th episode of The Why Show. So here it goes.

 

Throughout the last 2 years we’ve tackled countless issues and topics and attempted to discuss them from a different point of view. This point of view is shaped around the 3 pillars of the show, which I’m continuously proud of, and they include: open-mindedness, critical thinking, and intellectual honesty. All 3 of these pillars, when applied to just about any topic, yield reasonable, logical and thought provoking discussion points that lead to greater debate and discussion about that topic. It’s not one way is right and one way is wrong with zero room for movement but rather there’s always more to discuss.

 

There’s 1 pillar I’m more attracted to than the others and it’s open-mindedness. I understand that not everyone enjoys critical thinking or may be very good at it and that others may not be fluent in exploring intellectual honesty but everyone has the ability to be open-minded. What astounds me is that despite the ability to be open-minded so many people, even those I interact with on a day-to-day basis, are not. It’s not even difficult to be open-minded, in fact I would argue it’s a much easier mindset to take than that of remaining closed-minded. For that reason if there’s just one aspect of the Why Show people could take away, I hope it’s that of being open-minded.

 

There are of course some more implicit actions to be taken when I suggest people be more open-minded. It’s the listening, contemplation and I suppose a basic understanding of the issue at hand. Yet it’s remarkable how many people I know or even know of that fail to be open-minded again and again. Whether it’s a political, societal, cultural or religious issue there’s just as many culprits. It’s not even a left or right issue, it’s everyone. You know it too. That friend that is so liberal yet is 100% convinced the wage gap exists and there’s no possible reason in the world how it couldn’t. Or maybe it’s that family member that absolutely hates Trudeau without ever being able to slightly articulate why. Or perhaps you know a person that dismisses the notion of a being Libertarian, despite not even understanding one libertarian principle.

 

It’s reached the point where I simply choose to avoid conversations with people who are not open-minded because the discussion goes nowhere. However, when I think about this I’m torn whether this is the right mindset to take. Shouldn’t I be discussing these issues even more with those who are so entrenched in their respective positions? If I fail to enter those conversations there’s even less of a chance they’ll nudge off their closed-minded position. Now I’m also aware that I’m not immune to personal biases that result in myself acting with a closed mind. Although I’m confident these instances are rare, in fact they probably never, ever, ever happen.

 

So as we continue to painfully drudge on spewing out show after show I hope we continue to impact and instigate discussions. All I ask is that if there’s one thing you do when rooted in a heated debate, it’s keep your mind open.

 

Now I hope this suffices as my first formal blog post for the show.

 

Trump's Muslim Ban

Posted on 21 July, 2016 at 13:15 Comments comments (1)

Trump's Muslim Ban


 

In December of 2015, after the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Donald Trump said he would like there to be a “temporary ban” (1) on foreign Muslims from entering the United States which should last until the US representatives could figure things out. Often the qualifiers “temporary” and “until” get dropped by the media, but he did in fact call for a ban. Trump has stood behind his claim as recently as this month, adding some exceptions (2). It’s not going away. This raises many questions. Who does he mean by “Muslims”? Are there any reasonable grounds for the ban? Why Muslims, specifically? Here we deal with some facts, from the best sources of knowledge that we humans have today, in an attempt to clarify the situation.


Who are the Muslims?

What do we mean when we say the word “Muslims”? Some people think that it is a race, but that is categorically untrue (3). Most reasonable definitions will somehow mention the Koran as a foundation. At its most basic, “Muslim” refers to someone who, to some extent, follows the religion of Islam. But people’s adherence to and interpretation of a religion is endlessly variable, so those definitions tend to have very little meaning. Basically, the only good definition of “Muslim” is “someone who calls themselves Muslim”. We don’t have an empirical test. So let’s take Trump’s words literally and assume he refers to everyone who calls themselves Muslim. This may not have been what he meant, as sometimes the word is used to mean “observing Muslims”, that is, people who demonstrably follow their Koran and popular hadith. That would probably be a bit less outrageous, so let’s make a conservative interpretation and stick with the broader definition so as not to do Trump any favours. We will leave him to qualify his own statements as he sees fit.

Islam is a belief system that people can either choose to follow or to not follow. It is a culture (as is any religion), an ideology, a system of thoughts and choices. One can decide to not be a part of Islam at the snap of a finger, though doing this publicly in some horrible places would be dangerous, as we will discuss. This note is important to include as it would be very different to discriminate on something people cannot change and do not choose, such as skin colour or ancestry.


Pragmatism

Join me for a thought experiment. Imagine you were a high ranking leader in a country, and had to deal with a request. One hundred thousand electricians wanted to come into your country. Some wanted to come to work, others to join family, etc. Your first instinct would probably be to let them come freely by following the standard rules that are already in place. No need to think too much about it. But now imagine you find out, from reliable sources, that 10% of the electricians openly support suicide bombing, honour killing of women who have premarital sex, and forcibly veiling all women. They are not just assumed to support these things; they openly admit it (well, perhaps not directly to immigration officials). Imagine further that 10% want these things to be enforced on everyone, not just other electricians, and that they feel it is their moral duty to train others to become electricians to strengthen these ideas in society. Those are the facts you have. Now let’s think about what you’d do. First, you would probably be at least a bit more hesitant after you learned this startling news. This is no longer quite as simple a case. But this is only 10% of the electricians, ten thousand in total. Ten thousand people who support those ideas is a scary thought, but it really is a fairly small proportion. Is it acceptable to punish the 90% who don’t think that way just to try to restrict entry of the 10%? Is having people who support honour killing and suicide bombing in your country really a bad thing? Is one in ten a large enough proportion to be concerned with letting them in? This is something you would have to decide as a leader. At the very least, it’s clear that careful consideration is necessary as this is not a simple decision.


The stats: what Muslims say they believe 

First, to make sure we are firmly centered in reality, let’s acknowledge a benchmark value. There are approximately 1.6 billion people who identify as Muslim in the world. So when we throw around percentages, you can roughly equate 10% to 160 million (about half the US population, or five Canadas). Further, Islam is by a wide margin the fastest growing religion, far ahead of the runner up, Christianity. These data come from the largest research project ever conducted on this topic. Between 2008 and 2012, Pew Research Center conducted 38,000 in-person interviews in every country that had more than 10 million Muslims (39 countries and territories in total) (4). This research is not perfect as polls are only an approximation at best of a population, but it is the best data we have (5). 


Pew Research 2013

 

  •  Three quarters of Muslims say they agree that suicide bombing and other violence that targets civilians is rarely or never acceptable. So roughly one in four of the world’s Muslims fall into the category who say that suicide bombings and other violence against civilians are acceptable more often than “rarely”.

  • Honour killings of women who shame their family by having premarital sex is reported as acceptable at least sometimes by 40% of Muslims around the world.


  • Globally, 85% of Muslims say that wives should always obey their husbands. Half of Muslims say they think women wearing a veil must be mandatory

  • Most Muslims of the world say they favour making sharia the official law. The percentage of acceptance of this notion varies widely among geographic location, from 8% in Azerbijan to 99% in Afghanistan. The global average is somewhere around 50-60%.

  • Of the above who say they favour sharia law: around 40% say they favour making sharia applicable to everyone; around 48% say they favour corporal punishment for theft; most say stoning should be the punishment for adultery; and over a quarter say that the penalty for apostasy should be death.

  • Of all of the world’s Muslims, over two thirds say that converting people to Islam is their religious duty.

 



A future of discussion

However you use this information, it should help shape the discussion. The language used to soften these statistics in most media outlets can cloud the issue. These stats speak for themselves quite loudly. Sometimes merely stating them is perceived as an attack. This is an unfortunate state of confusion, but it is a risk worth taking in the name of logical discourse. For example, consider the following two true statements: 1) Most Muslims do not support honour killing. 2) 40% of Muslims support honour killing. These are two ways to deliver the same statistics. Can you guess which the media usually choose? At least next time the topic comes up, you will know the background information.






B. D. Whitlock ([email protected])







Notes

1) http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2015/dec/08/donald-trump-calls-for-complete-ban-on-muslims-entering-the-us-video

2) http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2016/05/09/donald-trump-says-new-london-mayor-could-be-exception-to-his-ban-on-muslims/

3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(biology)

4) http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/04/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

5) The poll used to obtain the data discussed here is not perfect. There are many factors to consider, from subject selection bias, to people’s ability to speak freely without fear of punishment. An attack of the poll can be found here: http://www.salon.com/2014/10/13/bill_maher_and_sam_harris_proof_is_wrong_their_argument_is_based_on_an_untrustworthy_poll/. Apologies for linking to Salon. I know their reputation as journalists and as analysts is terrible, but it is a decent article to read, if for no other reason than to be as intellectually honest as possible about the strength of our data. I encourage you to look at the research methods for yourself and decide how much weight you give to the data. Maybe you will generally accept it, or you will make some conservative adjustments to the data, or you will disregard it completely. This choice is yours, but this is the best knowledge we have.


Freedom of Speech for Terrorists

Posted on 25 November, 2015 at 16:55 Comments comments (0)

In response to the November 13th Paris attacks, Anonymous recently worked their magic to uncover and take down thousands of Twitter accounts that they claim are supporting ISIS and terrorist efforts. On the surface this seems like it does more good than harm. I know I'm not a fan of terrorism, so what could be wrong with this, right?

 

During a war, and this undoubtedly is one, it is understandable to attack lines of communication to cripple the enemy. I understand that tactic, and I would support its use against anyone who wants to be aggressive. But that's not what this is.

 

The terrorist network does not rely on Twitter to coordinate attacks. This is not a tactic of war. This is an attack on free speech. We’ve all heard the Evelyn Hall quote famously misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But somehow we forget about the first bit before the comma. Speech is not free if it’s only free when we agree. We don’t get to decide which ideas get to be discussed. I hope that is self-evident.

 

This issue is similar to that behind my public criticism of C-51, a largely efficient and acceptable piece of legislation with some entirely unacceptable parts, for example, destroying freedom of speech. Even if all of us reasonable people hate the thought of terrorism, we still need freedom for terrorists to speak about their ideas. I know it is not intuitive, but it’s true. What more harm could they do than to destroy our freedom?

 

Terrorists should be able to talk endlessly and publicly about what horrible things they want to do. That is a free society. And it has more immediate benefits. People who openly support terrorism could be identified and labelled as fools, and we could keep our eye on them. I’d rather know who is interested in doing horrible things than to have it made a secret by force. As long they are using speech, discussion, and ideas, rather than actual acts of aggression, then there should be no restriction. Ideas must be free to flow, uncensored and unfiltered, in a respectable society. And we are all free to choose whom we listen to.

 

Even if we were sure that limiting freedom of speech would decrease the frequency of terrorist attacks, it would not be worth it. Our society’s freedom is worth more than those lives lost in Paris. Take that not as a minimization of those victims’ worth, but instead as a maximization of the importance of maintaining our freedom.

 

 

Anonymous committed a moral error in stifling free speech, and everyone who supported it and asked why Twitter wasn’t already doing this has done the same. Let’s set our target carefully and fight terrorist actions, not freedom of speech. We need to fix the problem instead of just hoping that terrorist ideas don’t happen to infect people. We should strive for a world where when terrorist ideas do reach an audience, people are thoughtful enough to realize that the ideas are disgusting

 

The Niqab: Privacy, Accountability and Freedom

Posted on 14 October, 2015 at 0:40 Comments comments (1)

The Niqab: Privacy, Accountability and Freedom

 

In Canada, there was a recent scandal as a woman insisted on wearing a Niqab (face-cover) during a citizenship ceremony as she felt it was her “religious duty”. It got everyone talking, which is good. The case itself is not even worth our time, but the ideas behind it certainly are. Should someone be able to cover their face in public?


 

If you know me, read what I write, listen to my show, or have ever asked for my opinion, you will probably know that I am not a fan of making rules. I describe myself as libertarian, as it is the closest single-word answer to the questions of “where are you on the political spectrum”. So you might expect me to say that government interference in a person’s headwear is unacceptable. I only condone intervention in someone’s life if they are being aggressive or dangerously negligent. Does merely covering one’s face fall into either of these categories?


 

First, let’s dispose of something easy. No one should care what you do in the privacy of your own home. Wear whatever you want there. We are only talking about covering your face in public. If you want to take part in society, you need to be identifiable. People have the right to feel safe, and therefore we permit interventionist laws that keep aggressors or dangerous people from being aggressive or dangerous. This is right and good. But every law we make rests on a foundation of accountability. People must be accountable for their actions, otherwise all the laws in the world will be of no effect. If we don’t know who did something, we cannot even activate the legal system. To provide a barrier to your own identification, you are placing yourself above the right of others to feel safe in their current legal framework. The safety of others supersedes your right to follow cultural practices, always.


 

No, people should not be allowed to hide their face in public.


 

Are we really asking for a huge concession here? All I am proposing is that we ask people to trade one tiny part of their culture for the right of society to feel safe. It seems to be a very minor request. Perhaps there is a way around it if necessary, involving technology that makes a veiled person otherwise identifiable to everyone, and I am willing to explore that option. But I would ask, to what extent are we willing to change the world around us and consume resources to accommodate a cultural practice that eliminates the possibility of accountability and hinders security? I don’t know, but I suspect not very far.

 


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