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Sunday, October 23, 2016

It is tempting to believe that a political party will act in accordance with its self-interest, which is to win elections. Democrats may be wrong, and Republicans may be wrong, but in the end, neither party will act in self-destructive ways.

For this reason, many people argue that in the House and Senate, Republicans will ultimately support immigration-reform legislation, and that they will enter into some agreement to increase the debt limit and avoid a government shutdown.

The predictions might turn out to be right, but don’t be too sure. The central argument is rooted in a logical fallacy, explored by Aristotle, called “the fallacy of division.” The fallacy occurs when people believe that if the whole has some characteristic, its parts will have that characteristic as well. Because the fallacy of division is important, and because it has so many implications, let’s explore it in a little detail.

Here are three examples. 1. A motorboat can move on water. A motor is part of a motorboat. Therefore a motor can move on water. 2. Citizens of France are thin. Jacques is a citizen of France. Therefore Jacques is thin. 3. The Baltimore Orioles hit a lot of home runs. Nate McLouth is a Baltimore Oriole. Therefore McLouth hits a lot of home runs.

When people commit the fallacy of division, they fail to appreciate the fact that a whole may have characteristics or abilities that its parts lack. A boat can do things its parts cannot do. The fallacy may also rest on a failure to see that a group typically has characteristics that some group members lack. A sports team may have identifiable characteristics, but some or many of its players may lack those characteristics.

Now turn to politics. Let us stipulate that it is in the self-interest of the Republican Party to support immigration-reform legislation. Even if this is so, it may not be in the self-interest of particular Republicans to support such legislation. Indeed, it may not be in the self-interest of most Republicans to support immigration-reform legislation.

The difference between the group’s interest and the members’ interest may occur for disparate reasons. But imagine that to be re-elected, many of the party’s legislators will need the “cover” of a strong Republican vote in favor of the legislation. If individual members risk their political future if they vote for the measure, they will vote against it, unless most or many of the party’s members can make a binding commitment to vote in its favor. That commitment might be exceptionally hard to obtain.

For a party’s members, some cases are even more difficult. Suppose that many voters will be unhappy if the Republicans block immigration reform, thus weakening the appeal of the party “brand,” reducing the number of self-identified Republicans and endangering the party’s prospects for capturing the White House in 2016. From the party’s standpoint, these consequences would be pretty awful. But from the standpoint of some or many individual members of Congress, they might not come close to tipping the balance.

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  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    Instead of Aristotle, we may be better off studying Plutarch and Sallust and their studies of the “Boni” of the late Roman Republic. These individuals claimed to represent the Conservative interests of the Republic, all the while refusing to recognize that Rome was no longer this little city-state based around seven hills on the Tiber River. By that time, Rome directly ruled just about the entire northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as significant portions of North Africa and the Levantine Coast. Other areas were ruled by “client kings” who owed their continued existence to Roman Military presence.
    In a manner similar to what we are seeing today, the Boni opposed every piece of legislation proposed by Julius Caesar and his allies not on the merits of the legislation (much of which was concerned with veterans’ benefits and tax collections), but because Caesar, or one of his friends, had the audacity to propose it.
    The Boni claimed that they were entirely based on support of the “old” Roman families, and didn’t need any “provincials” in the Senate, but one of their leaders (Pompey the Great) was from a provincial family that was only in its second generation of Roman Citizenship. But they did not see a problem with this because Pompey supported their cause instead of Caesar’s. They also didn’t seem to notice that most of the “old” Roman families they claimed to be supported by actually supported Caesar and his proposals.
    How similar this is to the current crop of Republicans. They oppose everything President Obama proposes only because Obama has proposed it. They claim to represent the will of the people, but only 20% of the people identify with their stances (gotta love Gerrymandering). They willingly shoot themselves in the collective foot by taking stances that make themselves look like a bunch of bozos. They oppose their own party leadership whenever they offer anything that looks like compromise.
    Yep. Looking at these guys I see Cato, Lucullus, Milo, Bibulus, Brutus, Cassius and Pompey. But that’s what I get for remembering my Santayana.

    • Bill Thompson

      Very well written I learned a lot and had to look up a lot of these names thank you.

    • sigrid28

      Such a great piece. I loved the way you layed in, right at the top, that worrisome yet understated phrase–“of the late Roman Republic”–underscoring that your sources describe a civilization in decline. By contrast, Aristotle’s “fallacy of division,” which really is just about numbers, subjects our current state of affairs to the disinterested calculation of a scientist no less than a philosopher of life. To which I would add a famous passage from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.”

      • charleo1

        You know what? I do too. Pray for the President, and his family’s
        safety. I’ll bet there are millions of Americans, who do so as well.

    • rustacus21

      Ho ho… NOW we’re getting somewhere!!! The well is NOT dry by any stretch!!! American’s unable to pull themselves from the TV, once they turn over the implications here, may just discover some parallels between the ‘…late Roman empire…’ & the sabotage exacted on their OWN Democracy that seemed at once, to be moving forward, then, in a stark instant, running into a buzz saw of bloodshed, killing it’s own representatives, sending it’s finest minds off to war & ultimately, barbarous insanity, so that in the end, dominion under occupiers was inevitable. Only the Holy Roman Church was able to strike a deal (thanks Dave for the instant quick-reference on this point!!!) to save itself ultimately & rule the world… again, by the Cross… Consensus ‘self-destruction’ is still, in the end, self-destruction all the same & Liberal/Progressives better get it in their head – AND BELLY – that in order to save the Democracy that OUR ideology built, WE, the PEOPLE, must NOW take a FIGHTING STAND & resist everything Republican/conservative, or this age will be remembered as the long slide into oblivion, for the ‘…late U.S. empire…’ History, after all, is best remembered by how we act upon it – not simply in the ‘ability’ to try resurrecting it…

    • charleo1

      Agreeing with segrid. That was such a great piece!
      Although, it seems I’m going to need to get a better
      education to keep up with you two. But that’s alright!
      I read. I learn. I appreciate!

  • tax payer

    All those women ( illegals ) protesting at the White House and Osama won’t let them be Deported is a sign we are in Deep Trouble in this country. Right now they are illegals, so imagine how they will protest more once they are allowed to stay in this country. This is the reason Immigration Reform won’t pass because even the Democrats will wake up and realize they are being used by the illegals.

    • Erik Christy

      Your bridge misses you.

  • Erin Argast

    The fallacy is in the believing that people, parties, etc, will always do what is in their own best interest to do.

    The truth is that people, parties, etc, will always do what THEY PERCEiVE to be in their own best interest to do.

    Perceptions can be, and often are, wrong…so people, parties, etc, often do what is AGAINST their own best interest…while they mistakenly believe that what they are doing is IN their own best interest. A good example of this is anyone who is NOT mega-rich who nonetheless votes Republican.

  • Erin Argast

    It will take major tax increases to fund major deportation increases. Cough up, or shut up.

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      Oh, I am sure the tea timers will find the money for that. Probably take it from Medicare or one of those other programs that 90% of their supporters actually need to live.

  • Allan Richardson

    There is also the “prisoner’s dilemma” to consider. Imagine an interstate highway with two northbound lanes, and you are several miles from the next exit. A sign tells you that the right lane is closed 1000 feet ahead, giving you and all your companions plenty of warning. If the traffic is very light, those few cars will merge properly. But if the traffic is heavy, how far back will drivers try to merge?

    It is logical that EVERYONE’S best interest is served by merging AS SOON as everyone sees the sign, then proceed in the left lane, with the soon-to-end right lane empty. But what REALLY happens? Most drivers already in the left lane will stay there, while the ones in the right lane will look for a chance to merge in (which tailgating, of course, makes very difficult). Some people in the left lane, seeing less traffic in the right lane, move over and pass many others in the left lane, and pretend to have been “stuck” in the right lane. The actual merging comes when BOTH LANES COME TO A STOP at the point of the merge, and the cars at the front of the line fight over which one gets into the merged lane first.

    So, everyone does what WOULD be in their own interest if not for the fact that everyone ELSE is doing the same. If no one were selfish, everyone would slow down and find a place in the left lane, then stay there. If ONLY ONE is selfish, that person can get an advantage by passing the dozens of courteous cars to get to the merge point in the empty right lane, and merging in after letting maybe half the cars pass him, gaining a small time advantage. But the MORE drivers decide to be selfish to gain an advantage, the LESS advantage there is, and the result is EVERYONE having to wait longer than they would if they were all courteous.

    That is what is wrong with politics in America. Too many politicians (and too many voters) are crowding the right lane which will go away, and slowing down one another in the process. But, even though the left lane is a bit slower now, if more of us shifted lanes now, the country would move forward much faster, and all of us would be better off.

    Remember, politics is like driving: R takes you backward, but D takes you forward.

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      I see you have been northbound on I-91 approaching the Charter Oak Bridge at afternoon rush hour.

    • silence dogood

      What ? Are you with the highway department. What you wrote is gibberish.

  • tax payer

    I hope the Cowboys lose this coming from a fan in Texas.

    • tax payer

      Well, they lost, so they have no offense and will be lucky to win 5 games this season. The Texans will be playing in the Super Bowl this season. The Heat can beat the Cowboys.