A Republican debate is no place for an atheist.

During the October 18th debate, the Republican presidential candidates were asked about the role religion should play when assessing a candidate.[i]

Newt Gingrich, who is certainly no paragon of Christian virtue, had this to say:

How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to god is between you and god. But the notion that you are endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by American.

 

For a man presenting himself as the Party’s thought leader, this is utterly stupid. Let’s look at a few of the absurdities that follow from this:

  • You have to have faith in order to have judgment: The only thing this can mean is that people by themselves have no ability to judge. They must hand this judgment over to a god or goddess. This ironically means that he does not have judgment even though he does have faith, which contradicts the original idea.
  • You have to pray in order to have power, but who you pray to doesn’t matter: Gingrich, as a Christian, believes he has the one true god, which means everyone else is just talking to a wall. So, he thinks, if this quote is to be believed, that you can be trusted with power if you talk to a wall for advice. On the other hand, if you use reason and evidence to make decisions, you’re less equipped because you don’t talk to a wall.
  • Any religion is better than no religion: Again, this is ridiculous when compared against Gingrich being a Christian. Does he seriously want to say that believing the Ganges River flowed out of the penis of a god makes you a better leader than being an atheist? Or how about believing that Mohammed rode to heaven on a winged horse? Would a Gingrich prefer a Muslim to an atheist? I wonder…
  • To be an American, you must believe in a creator: I think Gingrich is seriously confused here. Being an American is some status conferred upon you by the United States of America. If he would like to say otherwise, I might suggest that Gingrich isn’t as loyal to the Constitution as he claims.

 

So, there you have it. Gingrich admits to not having any judgment. He admits that he does not respect the Constitutional requirements for citizenship or the spirit of Article VI. He believes that talking to a wall is more important than talking to advisors. And he thinks that following any ridiculous belief system is a pre-requisite for power.

Clearly, he does not think much of me or my fellow non-believers.

 


[i] This topic surfaced because a pastor associated with Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult and warned voters not to think of Mitt Romney as a true Christian. The great irony of this was that the candidates probably agreed with the Pastor, but were all too ashamed to admit it to Romney’s face!

The Imaginary Middle Class

One of the constant refrains of politicians is that “We have to help the middle class.” They intend for this to refer to the average voter, but this concept is actually illusory.

The majority of people will incorrectly say they belong to the middle class.

What does ‘middle’ mean? It is generally used to describe something that is equally distant from two extremes or limits. In many cases, asking where the middle is will be roughly equivalent to asking for an average. Take height, for example. A person of average height will be roughly in the middle of the very tall and very short fully grown people in the world. But imagine if a select number of people were 25 feet tall. Would the person of average height now be correctly described as “in the middle?” No, they would clearly belong more to the group of people in a decidedly lower range of heights.

Now, what does the picture of wealth in this country look like? Is it more similar to the first or second height example? If you know anything about wealth distribution (and many Americans do not), you’ll recognize the landscape looks more like the second. This means that people who think of themselves as having an average income are actually not anywhere near the middle. There are a few people around there, sure, but this idea that most Americans are middle class simply ignores the disparity that exists. The overwhelming majority of us share more in common with the so-called lower class than with the true upper class. I would even guess that the Vice Presidents of most major companies are closer by far to people on welfare than the true upper class.

Why do people think they belong to a middle class?

Studies have shown a remarkably poor estimation of how wealth is distributed in this country, as shown in the following figure from this article:

Actual wealth distribution plotted against the estimated and ideal distributions.[i]

In short, your thoughts about where you actually stand in the world are probably wrong. And the more discrete your measurements, the more stark this picture becomes. The grey bar represents the wealth controlled by the top 20% of the country. But even if we took the top 1%, that bar would be around 40%. I’m not sure if people realize just how astounding that is, so I’ll repeat it. Nearly half of the total wealth in this country belongs to 1% of its citizens.

So, let me ask you. Are you in the middle? No, you’re probably over there on the far left. Hell, your bar might be so small that it doesn’t even show. You are not in the middle of anything where wealth is concerned, and conservative plans that claim to help the middle class ironically do just the opposite—they ensure almost no one appropriately meets that description.

Maybe you don’t believe me and you think that your measly bar on the left will grow to control more wealth if the truly wealthy stimulate the economy. You might be interested to know that in the 1970s, the top 1% controlled a smaller portion of the total wealth (around 20%). So what happened? Among other things, here’s what happened after that, according to the study:

Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).

Concentrating wealth into the hands of the already wealthy did nothing to “grow the middle class.” It did exactly what you would expect it to do; it made them even wealthier and all the people who thought of themselves as middle class moved further away from the true middle.

Conclusion

You are not in the middle class. Your neighbor is not in the middle class. Your teachers and friends are not in the middle class. Multi-millionaires are middle class. You are an insignificant blip on the radar of the wealthy, and proposals to concentrate wealth even further will only ensure you stay that way.


[i] Note: In the “Actual” line, the bottom two quintiles are not visible because the lowest quintile owns just 0.1% of all wealth, and the second-lowest quintile owns 0.2%. Source: Norton & Ariely, 2010.

What is a person?

During the Iowa Straw Poll, Mitt Romney made an interesting claim that corporations are people. His reasoning was that a corporation being a person follows from it benefiting people. He has also made this claim on the basis that a corporation consists of people. Let’s explore these two claims and see that they are poorly reasoned.

Argument from Benefit

1. Something that benefits persons is itself a person.

2. A corporation benefits persons.

3. Therefore, a corporation is a person.

Premise (1) is actually quite ridiculous. I can think of several counterexamples. Is good weather a person? Perhaps you will object and say that he was actually making the argument based on the money from corporations going to people. Very well then. Is the lottery a person? It should be quite clear that several things benefit people, monetarily or otherwise, and are not themselves a person.

Argument from Composition

4. A whole is the same as its components.

5. A corporation consists of persons.

6. Therefore, a corporation is a person.

The astute reader may notice that (4) is actually the fallacy of composition, rendering the conclusion false. Consider, for example, that this argument would lead you to conclude that you are a cell since you are made entirely of cells.

Conclusion

Obviously neither argument is particularly persuasive for conceding that a corporation should be considered a person. This goes to show the elementary mistakes in reasoning made in our political discourse, even at the highest level.

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