Over at Vox they are covering a story about a tenured mediocrity at Berkeley named M. Steven Fish. File this one under “some things are just so stupid, it takes a lot of education to believe them.” Fish’s thesis is that contrary to conventional wisdom, Muslim’s are less violent than other religious adherents. *Sigh*
At The Federalist David Harsanyi demolishes Fish’s thesis with a smattering of common sense. The last paragraph caught my eye especially:
But if you truly believe all the world’s great religions are equally violent (“intrinsically” speaking) there is social experiment one could undertake to find out. A Vox reporter could walk around Washington DC or Dallas or Atlanta holding a sign that says “Jesus is a myth” and see what happens. And then that reporter could head to Medina or Karachi or Gaza City and do the same thing with a corresponding sign about Islam. Afterwards, let’s compare results.
I am old enough to remember the idiotic “moral equivalency” argument liberals used to make during the cold war. The gist of the argument was that the United States was in no way a superior place to live than the Soviet Union. All sorts of statistics were bandied about in support of the assertion, but the argument never survived an encounter with what I call the “wall argument,” which went something like this: There is a wall along parts of the southern border of the United States. There is also a wall along the border of the Soviet empire. One keeps people in; the other keeps people out. Here endeth the argument.
We’ve all heard the old saw about lies, damn lies and statistics. When an argument strikes one as an ideologically-driven assault on common sense, it usually is, and very often there is a wall argument that will bring it down with one swing of the axe.
UPDATE: No sooner had I written this, than I discovered this over at FT:
During the Cold War, especially its early stages, the books written in defense of the Soviet model fairly bristled with statistics. Wisely, the West’s more effective defenders did not attempt to refute tractor-production figures from the Ukraine with tractor-production figures from Moline, Illinois. They made more fundamental points, like the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics in a police state, or the conclusiveness with which even accurate statistics are trumped by the brute fact of mass starvation.
At a more Kirkian level of abstraction, there were such simple observations as: Our people are free, yours are not; we produce poetry, you produce propaganda; our cities are beautiful, yours are hideous. The equivalent arguments in the modern context might be (1) no amount of creative accounting will convince a sane person that you have made a money-saver out of a vast new entitlement like Obamacare; (2) no study could ever refute the fact that character is both a cause and a casualty of government-subsidized poverty; and (3) I will listen to econometricians as soon as you show me one that can write with more fluency than a high school sophomore.