Friday, August 14, 2009

That Man Killed Your Pony

An article on MSNBC this morning argues that the lies that are being propagated about the health care package currently being debated came from standard main-stream sources.

Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton's health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).

(See: MSNBC, False 'death panel' story has familiar roots)

The article goes on to trace a history of the use of this particular criticism.

As vile as it is to have a group of people who are willing to spread lies such as this – to play political games on matters of life and death and to have so little regard for the well-being of others - the fact is that these people would be impotent without a cadre of gullible people listening to and repeating their lies.

In one video clip I saw, a woman was in tears as she said that she wanted her America back – that others had destroyed her America.

These tears were like those of a young child, where a parent or other trusted adult pointed to somebody that the adult did not like and told the child, "He killed your pony. I had a pony for you, and he killed it, so now you can’t have a pony."

We can well trust that the child's tears and even her hatred of the man who 'killed her pony' are genuine. We do not have to imagine that the child is a knowing part of some conspiracy to promote unjustified hatred of the alleged pony-killer. We only need to assume that the child has too much trust and too little intellectual capability to consider the possibility that her father is lying to her.

Perhaps that is the case with respect to these Town-Hall Vandals. Perhaps they are simply a segment of the population that never grew up and so they are too eager to believe whatever their father-figure whispers in their ear. Like children, they simply lack the capacity for morally responsible, competent adult decision-making.

However, this should never be assumed. We have an obligation to assume that these people are competent adults and to treat them as such unless sufficient evidence has been provided to the contrary. Unfortunately, one of the conclusions that follow from the fact that these are competent adults is that they are morally responsible for their own choices. If they choose to act like young children who have been told, "The man over there shot your pony," then they deserve to be held morally blameworthy for making such a choice.

The accusation of being childish, in this sense, is a statement of condemnation. It is an accusation that an agent has carried into adulthood those qualities that a morally responsible person would have shed as she matured.

The response, "Oh, grow up. Quit acting like a five-year-old," is a perfectly legitimate response to behavior that is like that of a five year old, unless the person really is five years old.

In fact, the behavior of these Town Hall Vandals is childish in another sense. They do not get what (they think) they want, so they stamp their feet and swing their fists and scream as loud as they can, throwing child-like tantrums in town-hall meetings and disturbing the adults in the room with their childish displays and demands for attention.

There is a temptation to call for simply taking the disruptive children out of the room while the adults get on with grown-up matters. Though here, too, if the children are over the age of 18, this is not an option. Here, too, the legitimate response is still to say, "Grow up and quit acting like a two year old."

One thing that grownups do that can be demanded of these childish Town-Hall Vandals is they accept the responsibility of checking their facts. The gullible child will accept an email making a claim as true on that fact alone, in the same way the gullible child will accept her father’s claim, "That man over there killed your pony." A grownup would be embarrassed to bring this type of nonsense to a town meeting and to utter them in public as if they were true. Others, who might even be on the same side of the issue as the speaker, would be embarrassed for him, because they would recognize and respond to the fact that no competent adult would behave that way in public.

We simply need more grown-ups deciding policy in this country, and fewer children.


PersonalFailure said...

I'd give them what they want, but they don't even know what it is.

That same woman was asked how much money she makes- she didn't know. She was asked if her parents should use Medicare or not- she didn't know. She was asked how Medicare is different from socialism- she didn't know.

All she knew is that the bad black man killed her America- not that's she's entirely certain what that is.

Hume's Ghost said...

What's crazy is how disconnected this hysteria is from reality. We've got middle class people ready to revolt so that corporations and the megawealthy can have lower taxes and own more of the government and dump more pollution into the environment. We've got people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin saying their physically disabled children will be put to death under proposed health care reforms, like the handicapped were in Nazi Germany; this despite the reality that universal coverage would be beneficial to children like Trig Palin since health insurance companies aren't so keen on insuring Down Syndrome children.

It's like Thomas Franks said in What's the Matter with Kansas?:

Like a French Revolution in reverse - one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy - the backlash pushes the spectrum of the acceptable to the right, to the right, father to the right. It may never bring prayer back to the public schools, but it has rescued all manner of right-wing nostrums from history's dustbin. Having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the sixties (the war on poverty) and those of the thirties (labor law, aggricultural price supports, banking regulation), its leaders now turn their guns on the accomplishments of the earliest years of progressivism (Woodrow Wilson's estate tax; Theodore Roosevelt's antitrust measures). With a little more effort, the backlash might repeal the entire twentieth century.

balthazar said...

I really love the blog.

Keep up the good work!

anton said...

"Oh, grow up. Quit acting like a five-year-old!" Tried this already this morning and it shut up a religious dissident immediately. I was making the mistake of trying to talk to that person as an adult all these years. Like Amy Alcott said, ridicule is often the only resort when dealing with ignorance.

Fantastic post!

Anonymous said...

Brother Fyfe,

I am sorry to find yet another blog that contains plenty of facts and ego, but very little wisdom -- and most unsettling, no sense of humor.

Too often you don't even follow your own argument, let alone those you criticize. Your blog, while having good, but grossly inflated intentions, is a flurry of mixed-analogies that is underpinned, not by logic, but by an a-priori position that bespeaks insecurity with the mask of intellect. It doesn't appear that you realize that your writing and thoughts are meta-hypnotized.

A bit if flexibility and some mirth would do your writing a world of good. Lighten-up, my friend.


David Eric

Eneasz said...

David Eric -

You are rich in vague generalizations, but poor in specific criticism. What you wrote could be applied to anything than anyone has ever written (expect, perhaps, comedians).

Please be more constructive in your criticism.

Doug S. said...

There is a temptation to call for simply taking the disruptive children out of the room while the adults get on with grown-up matters. Though here, too, if the children are over the age of 18, this is not an option. Here, too, the legitimate response is still to say, "Grow up and quit acting like a two year old."

And if they don't, then what?

Sue said...

great job...
I like your blog

Pedro Timóteo said...


brilliant post. The comparison with the child crying for the "killed pony" and screaming at the alleged killer, while not even thinking of asking for evidence of the pony's death or even existence is spot on.

That's what those people are. Children.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really paying attention to the debate in the states, because I'm Canadian, and universal healthcare is a given here (as well as in the rest of the developed world) so the whole discussion seems pretty silly.

If you had a system like ours, you'd still be complaining, and the furniture in the doctor's office might not be as swank, but everybody would get taken care of.

Honestly, why is that so bad? Canadians pay a bit more in taxes, and we do it. Is this going to be like the metric system, where it's just a matter of "our tradition is the greatest, and you can't tell an American what to do"?

H. Lichtenberg said...

great post, i like it.