The taint of pessimists

Tainted’ Victory (Armed Liberal 05Ma9)

“The notion that it is ‘tainted’ – that we have acted throughout our history less than perfectly, sometimes awfully and therefore our history is tainted – underscores much of the thinking that I criticize in looking at ‘Bad Philosophy.’ It suffers from two defects in particular: it fails to ask tainted as compared to what? and it searches for and emphasizes commonality between the bad and the good by abstracting to a high level.”

In this case, winning WWII was ‘tainted.’ What ‘Winds of Change’ notes, though, is the pessimism based on a lack of referrent and moral equivalancing.

I’m not blind to the errors made and acts that can’t today be justified in World War II. But I understand them differently. I see men and women who were fallible, afraid, exhausted, enraged, and who did the best they could and whose best was thankfully damn good. I look at their mistakes as opportunities, not to criticize them from the safety of my position of retrospection, but to try and learn how we can – as we fumble through our own fallible, contingent history – learn.

The problem with referents and standards is common and often implicit or hidden. If you don’t like something, you set the standards by which to measure it so that it measures poorly. Playing games with the actual setpoint by which to measure an argument is often accompanied by using different setpoints for the other side of the debate. For instance, the US is often held to a much higher standard in prisoner treatment or military behavior than its opponents.

Whenever you hear an argument, look for the implicit standard of reference by which success is measured. Is is appropriate for the time and circumstance of the example? Is it a reasonable standard? Is it applied in the same way to all sides of the comparison? Is the standard on the table for inspection and discussion?

Comments are closed.