YES! I have been searching for a thoughtful explanation like this such that I might wrap my head around this idea. For a very long time, I have believed that legislators act irrationally quite often in passing laws or executive decision based not on general rules that you and I might be able to figure out if we are reasonable people (which is what the law should be), but rather based on exceptional circumstances with foundations of anecdotal story, not grounded reason or usual occurrence. As you and I both know, the plural of anecdote is not data, and whenever one of these exceptions to the usual circumstances occurs and the government reacts, we lose much freedom. As heartless at first glance as it may sound, there are occasions in which accidents and evil acts should just be written off as the liabilities for which insurance exists. We cannot legislate all evils and harms away, though many are doing their damnedest to try. This column strikes at the heart of the matter, nailing something I think we all should pause and reflect about:
Remember the good old days when you’d only have one tyrant per country and they’d usually kill a few thousand people? Today anyone can be tyrannical and use their shrill screams to kill millions of conversations.
In The Tyranny of Clichés, Jonah Goldberg talks about how clichés such as “Violence never solves anything” trump logic and end debates despite the evidence saying the opposite. (He says violence liberated America from the English and also ended slavery.) The perpetually misunderstood Sam Francis has a similar take but calls it “anarcho-tyranny” and describes it as
a combination of anarchy (in which legitimate government functions—like spying on the bad guys or punishing real criminals—are not performed) and tyranny (in which government performs illegitimate functions—like spying on the good guys or criminalizing innocent conduct like gun ownership and political dissent).
There’s a third kind of tyranny with which the seemingly oppressed like to oppress us: anecdotal evidence. Where freak occurrences and exceptions used to be treated for the aberrations that they are, they now define policies and dominate discourse. Right now, Putin is using one dead orphan to justify a total adoption ban on American parents because his ego is hurt. To be against him is to want orphans to die.
“Today anyone can be tyrannical and use their shrill screams to kill millions of conversations.”
Safety culture uses this tactic often. Thirty-four children in Ohio died in car accidents! Are you OK with that? Are you OK with a classroom blowing up? To be against booster seats for 7-year-olds is to laugh at the atrocities in Sandy Hook. No wonder Ralph Nader has a career. If you don’t pay his extortion fees, you’re killing kids. When you have the emotions behind “common sense” on your side, counter-intuitive truth is doomed.
In a culture where a Liberal Arts degree is considered education and “Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent,” replacing data with propaganda is easy.
Here are 10 totally random occurrences that tyrants pretend aren’t random at all.
1. A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT HAD A MELTDOWN
When the tsunami hit Japan last year, it destroyed a nuclear power plant that killed probably dozens of employees and will lead to countless cancer deaths down the road; ergo, nuclear power is bad. Every time I try to defend nuclear energy this past year, the conversation jumps there and promptly commits hara-kiri. But the number of workers killed appears to hover around zero and the number of future cancer victims caused by the accident is expected to approach 100. That’s less than 1% of the deaths the tsunami caused.
2. SOMEONE LIT THEIR TAP WATER ON FIRE
The documentary Gasland exploded into the fracking debate by showing families near natural gas mines lighting their tap water on fire. This is a very compelling image for Americans who don’t live near areas with plenty of naturally occurring methane already in the water table. However, the ones that do are well aware their tap water has been flammable since indoor plumbing began, which was decades before fracking. The tap water you saw in Gasland was always flammable and it was always drinkable.
3. AN ABORTION DOCTOR WAS SHOT
I’m always surprised by how many of my Canadian brethren see America as an evangelical hellhole full of religious lunatics who regularly shoot abortion doctors. In this CBC interview the journalist is so flummoxed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s respect for America, he blurts out, “They shoot abortion doctors in the United States of America.” Despite the hatefact that Canada has more dead abortion doctors per capita, the half-dozen murdered in America since 1993 mean that if you love America, you hate abortion doctors.
4. AN ANTI-NAUSEA DRUG DEFORMED BABIES
One of the most catastrophic side effects in the history of pharmaceuticals was the deformed babies that resulted from thalidomide. The scandal begat a much stricter FDA, which seemed like a good idea at first but we’re now strapped with a ten-year wait to get anything on the market. We’ve all but cured deafness and could be in a similar place with blindness if the FDA didn’t make it virtually impossible to get a cure passed. Thalidomide isn’t pretty, but preventing millions of lives from being improved is downright twisted.
5. A FATHER RAPED HIS DAUGHTER AND SHE GOT PREGNANT
With the advent of the morning-after pill as well as affordable contraception and a culture that proudly promotes it, the abortion debate should be more alive than ever. Are third-trimester abortions OK? Who are these imbeciles ejaculating into women without checking the condom first? Why didn’t she take emergency contraception the next morning? What’s wrong with adoption? Before you can ask such important questions, the abortion advocate points an angry finger in your face and asks, “So, if a girl is raped by her father and gets pregnant, she’s supposed to keep the baby?” How many times has this happened in modern America—once? Unfortunately, to question this scenario is to advocate it, so in the name of feminism we are supposed to support something most women are against.
6. BIRDS FELL FROM THE SKY
An anecdote can be just as damaging when it’s not true. In 1962’s Silent Spring, Rachel Carson described a world where pesticides killed all the birds and their calls are never heard from again. Despite virtually all of her assertions being false, they set the tone for the Green movement and more than half a century later, we’re still being told that chemicals are evil, Frankenfood will kill us, and pesticides are genocide. In Ontario, all pesticides are illegal and only farmers with special permits can use them. Right now, as millions of Africans are dying of malaria, we still take Carson’s advice and say no to the DDT that would end the mosquito problem and go with nets instead. Like Gasland and An Inconvenient Truth, all the tyrants need is one colorful example and the debate is over.
7. A FAG WAS BASHED
It wasn’t easy being gay in the 1950s but as far as modern America goes, it’s pretty sweet. Unlike Africa and the Middle East, we don’t make homosexuality illegal. We make homophobia illegal. As the spouse of a fag hag, my social life is lousy with gays and as far as I can tell, their biggest problem these days is getting dumped. In other words, a homosexual’s worst enemy is other homosexuals. But the Matthew Shepard Foundation would have us believe gays live in constant fear of getting murdered by straights. But Shepard was not beaten to death for being gay. He was a meth head who was beaten to death by other meth heads (one of them gay) because they wanted his money. The only lesson there is to learn from Shepard’s death is not to do meth.
8. A NURSE WAS MEAN TO A LESBIAN
Dan Savage will not shut up about the time a hospital refused Janice Langbehn the right to be at her dying partner’s bedside because she wasn’t her spouse. Like the father who got his daughter pregnant, this really happened, but the Langbehn case is discussed approximately 8,997 times more than gays are prevented from visiting their significant other. I’m for gay marriage, but the way these people bitch about such freak occurrences and the time they were prevented from waving a rainbow flag at the Irish parade makes me want to be against it simply out of spite.
9. A BLACK GUY WAS SHOT BY A WHITE GUY
Remember when that white guy targeted and shot an innocent black boy out to buy some Skittles? It was the last straw for many Americans sick of racist rednecks hunting Negros for sport. For about a week it seemed as if the whole country was either wearing a hoodie or an “I Am Trayvon Martin” T-shirt. Few said, “But 94% of blacks are killed by other blacks” or “The guy who shot him was Peruvian” or “He was acting in self-defense,” and when the evidence kept saying exactly that, everyone promptly shut their mouths.
10. TWENTY CHILDREN WERE SHOT DEAD IN SANDY HOOK
Piers Morgan is finally getting some ratings because he looks at the camera with crocodile tears in his eyes and says, “How many more kids have to die before we can talk about gun control?” There’s no need to infer that being against stricter gun laws means you want children to die, but Piers is literally saying it. Gun owners aren’t even allowed to point out that the shooting happened in one of the strictest gun-law states in the country. We realize it’s counterintuitive to say more guns equal less crime, but that’s what the data say. But in a tyranny of anecdotes, it’s the gut reaction that wins. In their world, maniacs are running around with Uzis killing children. In reality, automatic weapons account for only 4% of guns used in crime and they don’t shoot six bullets a second. Criminals use illegal handguns to kill people and yes, that should be illegal. It is. To say you’re against illegal guns is about as redundant as starting an organization called “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”
Most people are against illegal guns. Most people want children to be safe. Few want to see black teenagers shot or gays executed. We don’t want cute animals with big eyes to be tortured, but that doesn’t mean waving a picture of one in my face gives you the right to torture me. When confronted with their own hysteria, the left points to gun nuts such as Alex Jones who say we’ll go back to 1776 if stricter gun laws are enacted. But regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, the sky isn’t falling. That’s precisely my point. Stop trying to scare me.
I know I’m not going to die if you try to base policies on anecdotal evidence. I’m going to say, “That unfortunate incident is not indicative of a pattern” and calmly walk away. If you base a law on that incident, I’m going to break it.
I believe there is a good theory in there that none have yet developed. Anecdotalism? Anecdotyranny? The Out-of-the-Ordinary Effect? This could supplement Higgs’ Ratchet Effect very nicely…