Stephen Harper’s Irrationality

Posted by Rob’s Random Thoughts
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 1:45 PM

Aaron Wherry reminded me today about one of the most irrational lines of reasoning that I have ever heard a Canadian politician employ.

In this speech, Stephen Harper said the following:

It’s one thing that they, the criminals do not get it, but if you don’t mind me saying, another part of the problem for the past generation has been those, also a small part of our society, who are not criminals themselves, but who are always making excuses for them, and when they aren’t making excuses, they are denying that crime is even a problem: the ivory tower experts, the tut-tutting commentators, the out-of-touch politicians. “Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong,” they say. “Crime is not really a problem.” I don’t know how you say that. I don’t know how you tell that to the families of the victims we saw on the screen today. These men, women and children are not statistics.

In another stump-style speech that delved into the same topic, Harper said:

Some try to pacify Canadians with statistics, to assure that no matter what they experience, crime can’t really be happening.

These apologists remind me of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when the wizard says, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

But Canadians can see behind the curtain. They know there’s a problem.

The message in these quotes is clear: forget objective rational inquiry; go with your subjective perception.

Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen reflected on this line of reasoning by Harper, and statedthe following:

This is a truly amazing statement. Mr. Harper implicitly acknowledges that his claims about crime are not supported by data. But that doesn’t matter, he says. What matters is subjective perception. Rational inquiry isn’t the best way to discover the truth. Feeling is.

This is much bigger than the debate about crime policies. It is an epistemological claim of staggering primitiveness.

Ignore statistics. Forget rational inquiry and science. Damn the Enlightenment. Our feelings reveal what is true.

Coming from an 18th-century king, this would be an appalling defence of ignorance. From a 21st-century prime minister, it is much worse.

You’ll note in the first link that Wherry also links to a Statistics Canada study that states:

Police-reported crime in Canada continued to decline in 2008. Both the traditional crime rate and the new Crime Severity Index fell 5%, meaning that both the volume of police-reported crime and its severity decreased. Violent crime also dropped, but to a lesser extent.

This was the fifth consecutive annual decline in police-reported crime. There were about 77,000 fewer reported crimes in 2008, including 28,000 fewer thefts of $5,000 and under, 22,000 fewer break-ins and 20,000 fewer motor vehicle thefts.

I suppose that these are the stats that we are supposed to ignore in favour of our general feeling that crime is actually getting worse.

I should mention that I don’t bring this up to make a point about the Conservatives’ crime policies. I’m just in favour of rational debate.

original source: Stephen Harper’s Irrationality


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