Showing posts with label Presidential power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Presidential power. Show all posts

Monday, August 25, 2014

On Debating and Bad Arguments

I've recently started listening to the NPR radio program, Intelligence Squared US.  I listen to various podcasts during my daily commute, and since I typically drive home for lunch I spend about forty minutes in my car daily.  The debates have been quite interesting.  So far I've listened to; Was Edward Snowden Justified?Should The President Be Able To Order Citizens Killed Abroad?It May Be Flexing Its Muscles, But Is Russia A Marginal Power?, and the last debate for this entry was Does Affirmative Action On Campus Do More Harm Than Good?.  I've also listened to More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall is Obsolete, but I'd like to save that one for its own full entry.  A word about the formatting and "scoring" of these debates; there are four debaters, two for the motion two against.  There are three rounds.  I assume the team that gets to go first is chosen at random because in the five debates I've listened to so far they seem to have alternated who goes first.  Each person gets seven minutes to state his or her case.  The second round is a Q&A session with both sides responding off-the-cuff to questions from the moderator, John Donvan, and audience members about the discussion.  Then the third round is another two minutes of uninterrupted time to state closing arguments (again, I'm not certain of the order I haven't really been keeping track if there's a pattern relating to the first round).  The scoring is fairly simple.  There's a poll taken at the beginning (before the debate) and another poll after the debate and the side whose percentage points change up the most wins the debate.

In, Was Edward Snowden Justified? the results were:
Before: 29% for, 29% against (wow even amounts!), 42% undecided
After: 54% for 35% against -- the side arguing that Snowden was justified won the debate.

What do you think?  I think (and as always my thoughts are my own and not the opinion of the US Gov. or the DoD or the US Air Force) that he was NOT justified.  I have a bit of an interesting point of view on this one, given my job.  But, I know there are multiple avenues through which one can lodge complaints, and I don't feel that Snowden did his due diligence to use them.  I understand that he was working within a system, and that he was dealing with appealing to those that perpetuated the situation itself. However, I feel that there are so many better ways he could have handled what he apparently thought were egregious violations of the constitution.  Also, if he were legitimately worried about the constitution he would have been more judicious in what and how he made the information available.  He released so much stuff (according to the debate and some news articles I read some time ago), that there's no way he could possibly know all the harm that he could be causing to the US and it's allies.  If he were really worried about specific injustices, he should have only dealt with and worked with those specific injustices.  The harm that he did, most certainly outweighs the good (if any), that came from his breaking his oath.

In, Should The President Be Able To Order Citizens Killed Abroad? the results were:
Before: 29% for, 44% against, 27% undecided
After: 54% for, 39% against -- the side arguing that the president should have the power to target and kill U.S. citizens abroad won the debate.

Honestly, I am still mostly undecided in this one.  I think that we shouldn't handcuff the executive office when it comes to targeting enemies of the state (regardless of their nationality).  Also, I don't think we should restrict such targeting to specific countries, "war zones," or "hot battlefields" etc.  If we say, we won't target US citizens then terrorist organizations will (more than ever) seek to recruit US citizens as a type of human shields.  Also, if we restrict our targeting to "hot battlefields" like Afghanistan, the terrorist organizations will (more than ever) seek the "safety" of Pakistan and other neighboring countries.  I'm undecided because I think the constitution restricts such power in certain circumstances, but I think that in certain circumstances the power is under the executive's authority to wage war.  The side that argued for the motion did a much better job arguing than the opposing side.  The opposition's numbers actually went down, which is the first and only time I've seen that so far.

In, It May Be Flexing Its Muscles, But Is Russia A Marginal Power? the results were:
Before: 25% for, 43% against, 32% undecided
After: 35% for, 58% against -- the side that argued that Russia is not a marginal power won the debate.

I am against the motion, but I feel that though Russia's once-world-superpower status still exists in a certain degree, it is quickly losing it's global meaningfulness and might even someday fade into obscurity.  I doubt that it will happen any time soon and it can be turned around with strong leadership, but it's current road is one towards weakness.

In, Does Affirmative Action (AfAc) On Campus Do More Harm Than Good? the results were:
Before: 22% for, 48% against, 30% undecided
After: 36% for, 55% against -- the side arguing for the motion changed their percentage of votes the most and though they had a lower percentage at the end, they are considered the winners of the debate.

This is a tough one, as it really doesn't apply to me and I don't really know many people to whom it would apply.  I feel like the side that won, those arguing for the motion that AfAc does more harm than good, made better arguments.  The side against, seemed to focus on emotional pleas and things like appeals to 50 years ago status quo.  They had an easier case to my mind, but they didn't make a very strong argument.  The side that argued for the motion cited multiple, peer-reviewed studies that showed that when weaker students were given AfAc bonuses to get into higher-level schools and programs they typically failed out and ended up being discouraged and dropping out altogether.  The much better option would be to place students appropriately according to their abilities and have them in a place that is better suited for their level and they complete their studies and go on to be better, more productive members of society.

What's the point of all this you may ask . . . Well, I've been thinking.  What makes a good argument?  Do passionate pleas of how the status quo is wrong and needs to be changed make good arguments?  I'm not willing to rule out all appeals to emotion, as after all, we're emotional beings.  We should, at least a little, think and act with our hearts rather than our minds.  But, what about issues like the AfAc question?  On the emotional side it seems wrong to criticize a system that has, or at least has as its core goal, helped so many that are unable help themselves; victims of a bad system of sorts.  But, should we let our hearts overrule our minds?  If there are legitimate studies that show the program doesn't work, should we maintain it, just because it's goal is to help these "victims"?

In the Snowden debate, one of the primary arguments against him being justified was the amount of irreparable damage his actions caused.  Is that a very powerful argument?  On its own, I'd say, no.  Just the amount one steals doesn't make it worse.  I know it's somewhat countercultural, but I believe that if one steals a $.05 pencil from one's place of work that person is just as guilty of stealing as the multimillion dollar embezzler.  I do NOT feel that the punishment of those crimes should necessarily be the same.  (I know what some of you might be thinking, "But wait, doesn't the God that you claim to believe in do that?" "Sentencing everyone to Hell regardless of the degree to which one sins!"  You'd be wrong, in fact, because the punishment for sin is death of which everyone is guilty and must submit to, but the punishment of Hell is for the ultimate in rejecting God's forgiveness.  People are not sent to Hell because of their sins, they are sent to Hell for the specific sin of rejecting God.)

I do have some difficulty listening to these arguments dispassionately sometimes.  I have certain arguments in mind when I hear the topic (sometimes, the debate about Russia's marginalism really didn't occur to me to be an issue), and when I am listening to the debate I try to divorce my preconceptions from the discussion and only weigh the arguments based on their individual merit(s).  There is no such thing as a complete tabula rasa, and we will always have some kind of bias.  Though to me, it's a hallmark of a truly thoughtful person to be able to examine one's own biases and understand them and keep them in mind when approaching new ideas.

I haven't been out to see the sunset in a while!  Need to make some time for it.