Seattle bag fee: case-study in bad logic, bad reasoning

Isn’t it about time I give it up? The fee has been passed, and it’s a doozy of an apple-pie-and-motherhood topic. No, I’m afraid I’m fascinated by the *cough* discussions going on at the WSB over the Seattle Bag Tax Fee.

I’m not as passionate about the fee so much as what the fee represents (bad law, IMO) and how the discussions have gone. The subject has brought out some classic examples of tremendously bad reasoning (on both sides). Links to a few discussion threads are here and here.

The bad logic and poor reasoning is important. More so, I  would argue, than working so hard to eliminate some plastic bags from the landfill.  Why? Because without the ability to think critically we won’t be able to put our resources to effective use. Here is a link to an economic analysis of the fee.

So, I want to write more about logic and reason and talk about real examples. Other people do it elsewhere, and better, but I doubt we’re threatened by too much discussion of logic.

The bag fee exchanges comes at the same time I’m reading (listening to) A Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln, and his rivals for the presidency, the men who Lincoln would ultimately have on his Cabinet.

The contrast couldn’t be sharper between the mid-19th c and now.  The US had a much smaller population, had limited access to media, and less public education. It faced a most serious issue that had been simmering since before the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were written, that influenced those documents–slavery, and, specifically, whether or not new territories would be free or slave.

The most striking note of the past few days of reading? A friend asked if I Twittered, and said that since I don’t, that is why I don’t know he’s written article about why Twitter is the NBT. I guess it’s my tough luck since he didn’t offer a link (WH, I’m talkin’ to you, d00d).

That night I read TofR that nearly everyone, well, except for Negroes, read newspapers compulsively. People who couldn’t read heard the news from others in taverns, inns, and so on because everyone talked about the news constantly. European visitors were struck by it, so it must not have been as common in Europe.

Even out West (Illinois at the time!) without Internet, radio, TV, people knew what was being said on the Senate floor. It was C-Span w/o the “C”.

The other striking point? The men (yes, all men, all White, too) took weeks to prepare their speeches. They prepared by reading statute books, philosophy, and history to develop their reasoning. Speakers were judged by not only how interesting they were, but by the power of their logic. Even when people disagreed with one another, they were able to see logic in another person’s argument, because they valued it and because they demanded it in themselves. And, those guys would go on for three, five hours at a stretch. Opinions were reasoned, not tossed off-cuff, or off-the-keyboard without much thought. One can’t help but feel it resulted in sounder decisions, but perhaps not.

I don’t believe people were better then, nor that we’re better than they were, either. So, I imagine there were people who didn’t give a damn, who were boring, who were illogical or just plain stupid. But the Nation was young enough, the stakes high enough, that people thought hard about their ideas and about the ideas of others.

We don’t seem to value the exchange of opinion. It’s difficult for us to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with us. We put our backs up, dig in our heels like stubborn 2-year-olds, and hold fast, no matter what the facts turn out to be. Even about silly, minor issues like the Seattle Bag Fee.

If we can’t learn to have a reasonable, lively, and challenging discussion over something as unimportant as a Bag Fee [1], then what hope is there for the future? It is certain there is no hope of coming to terms with religious or economic differences.

Are we doomed?

[1] I mean by unimportant that it does not immediately threaten our lives or the lives of our family. Not today. As in, compared to the issues facing a Palestininan, and Israeli, an Iraqi, a Georgian.

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1 Comment »

  1. mike00000000001 said

    always remember that some people ARE willing to learn. We can’t let the nonthinkers discourage us.

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