My brother and I exchanged a couple of emails about the Toyota problem. Joking with him, I offered the observation that it would only be a matter of time before someone facing a murder charge would offer the Toyota spontaneous acceleration defense.
He immediately sent me this. Tragic in so many ways.
Something I read this morning got me thinking (again) about how casually the words lie and liar are tossed around in the political blogosphere. The writer was commenting on a post by another writer. The first writer identified some clearly false statements made by the second writer, but I questioned his use of the word lie to characterize those statements.
Branding an opponent a liar might be more satisfying than arguing that an opponent is misinformed or mistaken, but I wonder if we can easily distinguish a lie from a commonplace failure in judgment attributable to bias (e.g.). The former is a deliberate misrepresentation of what someone believes to be true; the latter can be a false assertion offered in good faith.
The distinction makes a world of difference in how I would judge a person. The issue for me comes down to culpability and good faith. I would like to know whether I’m dealing with someone who is: (a) lying; (b) an otherwise intelligent person whose reasoning processes have failed; (c) merely misinformed; or (d) in over their head. I must hasten to add that I try to remember to ask the same questions about my own claims.
I do believe that we can draw these distinctions sometimes (or at least I think I can), but how do we do it? It can be particularly daunting to do so with the written word because vocal tone and smirks don't show up in the text.
And what about that most common form of political dishonesty, propaganda? Propaganda is intended to influence our views, typically by offering a one-sided presentation, aka lies of omission. But that can look exactly like confirmation bias. So when we hear politicians presenting one-sided arguments, is it because they are fooling themselves or are they deliberately trying to fool us?
To know the difference we must, in every case, infer the internal process behind the outward presentation. In so doing, we shouldn't forget about fundamental attribution bias, which is the tendency to overvalue dispositional explanations for the behavior of others, while undervaluing situational factors.
That said, I have no doubt that there is plenty of lying and propagandizing in the political realm. We've seen the memos. But are political bloggers using the word too casually?
Here's another question: when we read a blog that consistently uses the word lie to characterize opposing claims, or when a blog consistently presents one-sided arguments, how can we distinguish the biased blogger (c'mon, the world isn't that black and white), from the lying blogger? And is there something in between--some partial moral culpability attributable to something like self-serving intellectual laziness?
Floating Sheep looked at the regional distribution of America's liquor establishments. The areas in red have more bars than grocery stores. You can see that the Upper Midwest is America's beer belly.
Something immediately occurred to me when I saw at this map. Historically, the tavern business was popular with German immigrants. Take a look at the map (below) of German-American population distribution. The areas in red have the greatest numbers of residents claiming German ancestry.