Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday talk radio update

Dave Rye was at it again today, saying that liberals think they are smarter than everybody else. Funny thing was, I had just been thinking about how stupid conservatives are. Well, not conservatives in general, or conservatism as a political philosophy, but one particular conservative.

That person is Billy Cunningham, who has a nationally syndicated talk show on Sunday nights. Last weekend, he was using the cold spell as an argument that global warming is a hoax. With every call he took from around this great country, he was asking, So how's global warming in Wisconsin (or Tampa, or Chicago or Idaho). At one point, he said that the cold weather was the final refutation of the global warming theory.

Now, it doesn't matter what your position is on global warming; you have to know that this is utter nonsense. Global warming does not repeal weather. Even Billy Cunningham probably would agree that if we reached a point where we no longer had snow or freezing weather in North America, then it probably would be time to start worrying. In reality, of course, it would be far too late to start worrying.

Cunningham claims to have a law degree and to have been a successful businessman. Surely he must have enough brain cells to know that he was spouting bilge. If I were to call him next summer, when Montana is sweltering in the 90s, and tell him the heat proves that global warming is a problem, he would immediately shoot down that dumb argument. Yet he never once gave an indication that he was kidding or exaggerating about cold weather, and not one of his listeners called him on it.

So if this is what conservatives think, then they are indeed stupid. Which is close to the point that Susan Jacoby makes in The Age of American Unreason. I have a number of problems with the arguments she makes about fundamentalism and junk science, and may write something about all of that when I have finished the book.

But arguments such as the one Cunningham was making remind me of an argument I have had with myself. To me, for example, it seems obvious that when I am home alone, the telephone is far more likely to ring when I am in the bathroom than otherwise. I have piles of anecdotal evidence for this, and every instinct tells me it is true.

Yet there is a scientific skeptic within me who points out that I never notice when the phone doesn't ring but become irritated when it does, so my perceptions may be skewed. And that my theory fails to include a mechanism that might explain why my phone is more likely to ring when I am in the bathroom.

If I really want to establish that the phone is more likely to ring when I am in the bathroom, I should keep records of when I am in the bathroom and when the phone rings and see if there is any statistical correlation. And if I want to be sure, I should probably bring in an outside investigator with no interest in the outcome -- and perhaps not even any knowledge of the purpose of the study -- to do an independent investigation.

But you know what? I don't really want to know if it's true. I'm happy believing that it is true, and if that makes me a bit irrational, fine. I just have to remember to carry the phone along when I go to the bathroom.

And Billy Cunningham doesn't really want to know if global warming is true. He's happy with whatever evidence points his way and blithely dismisses evidence of any other kind.

The difference is that I know I am being irrational about a matter of no consequence. He is being irrational about a matter that could have extraordinarily grave consequences. So yes, I am smarter than that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe he's been listening to all those liberals who claim that every example of an extreme weather event -- hurricanes, floods, drougts etc. -- are evidence of global warming, as though they never happened before before they came up with their theories.

David said...

Reacting to irrationality by being irrational isn't rational.

Chuck Rightmire said...

From what I've seen and heard, irrationality seems to be the trademark of the Internet. The blogs may be sane; the responses get weird. And it seems to me that it's the deniers who are quick to jump on every weather phenom and ask: where"s Al Gore now? They seem to think he's the only one who believes.

David said...

Good point, Chuck. Another part of Cunningham's repertoire was that he repeatedly asked, "Where's Al Gore?" Mindless stupidity.

Mark T said...

Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative. John Stuart Mill

That's a mean swipe - Mill must have been frustrated by the tenor of the debates of his day. Things don't change much.

Anyway, I remember Natelson responding on his old radio program one day about Mill's statement that the conservatives of his day were really liberals, and vice versa, and that history flipped them

Whatever.