Taking sides

I don’t believe that anything — especially a political argument — can be self-evidently true: people get together in groups and construct their realities, whatever those may be. In my reality, however, there are some arguments that just don’t go well together, and I have a lot of trouble respecting any commentator, politician, or even dinner-table pundit who supports both statements in any of the following pairs.


  1. A 16-year-old is too young to vote.
  2. A 16-year-old is old enough to be tried for a crime as an adult.

This is a variation of the “no taxation without representation” idea that helped drive the American Revolution. Any person who is considered legally capable of making an informed decision as an adult should have a share in choosing his/her government. If a 16-year-old is capable of forming a plan to steal/murder etc. as an adult, then a 16-year-old is capable of voting as an adult. There is no excuse for the voting age to be different from the age of full criminal responsibility.

There are lots of variations: for example, an 18-year-old is too young to drink in most of the U.S., but plenty old enough to have his finger on the trigger of major ordnance in a war. The age of sexual consent also comes into play here. This is one that right-ish political parties, like the Canadian Conservatives or the U.S. Republicans, usually flunk.


  1. The government should do something to lower gas prices.
  2. The government should do something to lower carbon emissions.

So far, high energy prices are the only thing that seems to cut carbon emissions. If you don’t believe that carbon emissions are accelerating global warming or that global warming is a serious threat, then go ahead and push for lower gas prices; if you do believe that global warming is a serious threat, then you should be cheering for $20/gallon gas. Most North American politicians — especially those in left-ish parties (like the Canadian NDP) — flunk this test cold.

Military intervention

  1. Rich countries should never send in their armies to invade poor ones.
  2. Rich countries have an obligation to ensure that there’s never another Rwandan massacre.

This is a tough one for me, because I believe that the rich world has botched nearly every military intervention it’s made in the poor and developing worlds over the last 200 years (Bosnia stands as one of the partial exceptions). Isolationism is a perfectly consistent political view, but for the rest of us, if we do ask our governments to protect people in poorer countries from their own governments, we are implicitly asking them to go in shooting if economic sanctions and strong words on the floor of the U.N. Assembly don’t do the trick. The rich world could probably could have stopped the Rwandan massacre, for example, but there’s a good chance rich-world troops would still be stuck as unwelcome guests in central Africa today, as they are in Iraq and (to a large extent) Afghanistan.

This is another one that politicians from left-ish parties usually flunk.


  1. Freedom is what makes Democracies [sic] better than other forms of government.
  2. When Democracy is under threat, security is more important than people’s rights.

No explanation required. This is another one that politicians from right-ish parties usually flunk.

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2 Responses to Taking sides

  1. Doug says:

    Nice post. I’ll add one that seems equally obvious to me:

    1. It’s cruel and barbaric to put to death even convicted murderers.
    2. It’s enlightened and sensitive to allow putting to death innocent unborn.

    (Obviously this hinges on the belief that the unborn are not yet persons – at best, an unprovable assertion. Yet strangely this belief is dogmatically held by the very folks whom I would expect to err on the side of caution with respect to life and human rights.)

    3 of the 4 combinations seem logically defensible here, but the most popular one seems to be the least defensible.

  2. Jason Yip says:

    You may want to look at this technique to resolve the conflicts: http://www.dbrmfg.co.nz/Thinking%20Process%20Cloud.htm

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