Thursday, January 08, 2009
Some time back, I think it was through this Greg Perkins post at NoodleFood, I was introduced to the term "God of the Gaps":
The history of mankind has been one long account of religious explanation being crowded out by scientific discoveries and rational understanding. This pattern of poor thinking is so common that it even has its own name: the "God of the Gaps," where a supernatural agent is cited as the reason behind something we do not understand. Here's the clincher: just notice how it always goes one way -- natural, rational explanations are never displaced by supernatural "explanations."Today, news that huge, existing and projected federal budget deficits might threaten some of Barack Obama's massive spending programs alerted me to a type of argument we can expect to hear incessantly over the next four years. I propose to call this argument the "Goat of the Gaps":
Yet while Obama stressed that he'll inherit the $1.2 trillion deficit -- and on Tuesday called the Bush administration irresponsible for adding to the national debt -- he didn't identify any Bush-era policy that he'd reverse to reduce the deficits and mounting debt. [bold added]On the one hand, this is just another example of "more of the same" from the candidate for "change", and, too, blaming other politicians as cover or diversion is common. On the other hand Obama's slickness gives those of us who know better a valuable opportunity. He is using Bush to distract us from his own intellectual bankruptcy for a reason: Regarding the origins of the economic crisis, he does not want to go there at all. This is valuable information.
In a sense, Obama is hoping to do what Greg Perkins has never observed: replace actual knowledge with a convenient non-explanation. He hopes to use the gaps in many people's understanding of the financial crisis (or whatever else, like the "war" in Iraq) to scapegoat George Bush even as he prepares to follow essentially the same course of action. The bad situation is already Bush's fault, according to Obama, so who can blame him if he has a hard time resolving things?
Although the chance for most of us to challenge Obama directly on the national stage will be slim to none, we can still go where Obama doesn't want us to go -- in daily conversation and in any forum open to us. Obama expects his followers and admirers to accept what he said uncritically and repeat it often enough for it to become the conventional wisdom.
The solution to Obama's tactic lies in using whatever opportunities we get to challenge what he says. For that reason, it is worth taking note of what Obama said, why he said it, and what he wants to remain unclear.
But how? As Myrhaf once pointed out, we can't explain capitalism anew in every single conversation, or even convey how horrible Obama's policies would be when put into practice.
But we can raise the questions Obama is hoping nobody will ask. McClatchy indicates for us at the very end of the article where the line of questioning should go when it notes that Obama "didn't identify any Bush-era policy that he'd reverse to reduce the deficits and mounting debt."
This -- That Obama has never said how he will differ from Bush. -- is what one must bring up when hearing capitalism blamed through the convenient proxy of Bush (Who is far from being a capitalist.) Your mileage may vary, as I recently saw, but it is always worthwhile to indicate that, at the very least, not everyone simply takes Obama's word as received wisdom.
Obama wants us to act as if he differs in some significant way from Bush. We must question that at every possible time, and, when we can, note that neither man is a capitalist. Bush holds a large share of the blame for lots of what is wrong today, but he is not the only one to blame. And we cannot allow Obama to get away with making things worse through essentially the same policies, while making Bush the "Goat of the Gaps".
PS: Related to this, I recalled a favorite old Myrhaf post of mine.
Understanding capitalism requires an ability to think in higher abstractions and principles. With progressive education teaching people to think in the opposite manner, in isolated concretes that never integrate into principles, we're in big trouble. Stupidity and freedom do not mix.This is a huge problem, but should not deter one's efforts.