It’s always frustrating to make a case that you are thinking clearly where others are not, but I do think it’s reasonable to suggest that most political arguments are NOT valid because they fail the test above. Good answers come from taking good data and applying reasonable thinking to that data. Bad answers come from faulty reasoning or, more often in my view, simply starting with bad information – most common is to use non-representative or narrowly focused data.
We see this bogus “logic” in practice in the presidential political arena daily as well as in most of the clever propagandistic “documentaries” which in turn are used to support more bad thinking. For example a right wing talk show whacko will point to Obama’s association with some socialist in his past and suggest this makes him a socialist, failing to note that Obama’s also been associated with people from center and right wings of politics. Left wingers will fret over imaginary conspiracy arrangements between the US Government and corporations as they note real corporate/government connections but fail to note the many legal checks on corporate power.
These aren’t the best examples but I think the point is more than sound – if you want good answers you need to stop narrowly focusing on the data that supports what you already believe, and look instead for the broadest representative data samples on which to apply some good reasonable thinking.
The exception to this, though it’s used as the rule for most people, is a *debate* format where one’s job is to support a point of view as strongly as possible. Debates almost guarantee that the data used by each side will be selective, focused on supporting a point of view rather than uncovering truth. Often, people get so wrapped up in the debating aspect of discussion that they actually start to believe they are seeking truth rather than supporting a point of view.
We cannot escape this challenge – people will keep fighting for their points of view in irrational ways, using bad data and bad reasoning. But I do think we should all work a lot harder to define the goal of discussion as finding a fuller, richer truth rather than simply scoring debate points or promoting our own political agenda.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that …