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December 04, 2004

No Reasonable Person Is Suggesting Nothing Be Done About The Danger America Will Be Attacked By Giant Squirrels

I am a fan of the New York Times' tendency to designate what is and isn't "reasonable." For instance, in a recent editorial they explained that "no reasonable person is suggesting that nothing be done" about Social Security.

So, it turns out I'm not reasonable. Either that, or I'm not a person. Because I will stand before you today and "suggest" that nothing be done about Social Security.

You probably already agree. So we can all be unreasonable (or inhuman) together. But if you're a believer in the desperate need to do something about Social Security, just let me know, and I'm happy to explain it in all its gloriously boring detail. I took a wrong turn in life and unfortunately learned an enormous amount about this, Earth's dullest subject.

Or... you can just skip a step and take my word for it. Seriously, this would save everyone a bunch of time. If you're wavering, let me remind you how all the same people now furrowing their brows and agreeing something needs to be done about Social Security, were the same people agreeing we had to do something about the danger of Iraq's WMD. And let me tell you -- the threat we face with Social Security is every bit as terrifying as the one we faced with Iraq.

It really is quite a power, this ability to determine who's reasonable and who isn't. I suspect the New York Times could write "No reasonable person suggests we shouldn't eat at least some of our young," and 80% of America's Ivy League graduates would agree.

UPDATE: Here are some examples of the New York Times helping us understand what reasonable people believed about Iraq's WMD:

William Safire, "Irrefutable And Undeniable," February 6, 2003

Defenders of Saddam Hussein demanded absolute smoking-gun proof of illegal Iraqi possession of terror weaponry...

To their surprise, Colin Powell made the case, with a half-dozen smoking guns, of a huge Iraqi cover-up...

Reasonable people take as a clear indication of underlying crime such activity as lying about that crime, suborning perjury about it in others, and intimidating scientific witnesses.

But unreasonable or fearful or self-interested people... do not want to find the crime that would necessitate war.

Elizabeth Bumiller, "President Notes Dissent on Iraq, Vowing to Listen," August 17, 2002

[A senior administration] official also said that there was increasing evidence that Iraq possessed or had sought to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, although there was still much the administration did not know. "But this is just not something that reasonable people would disagree about," the official said.
Posted at December 4, 2004 11:21 PM | TrackBack

as a graduate of an ivy league school, i'd like to take issue with your assertion that 80% of ivy league graduates would agree with the nyt on the reasonableness of eating some of our young. the actual figure is 75%.

Posted by: willie at December 5, 2004 12:23 AM

The more things change.... I was just reading a Chomsky book called Pirates and Emperors and he was mentioning that the NY Times said something like this when it was defending Reagan bombing Libya in 1986. In fact, they said, "even the most scrupulous citizen can only approve and applaud the American attacks on Libya."

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 5, 2004 12:47 AM

To this day they look with longing on the days when Uncle Ronnie murdered Qaddafi's daughter and several dozen others.

Bush is proving Chomsky to be a moderate.

Posted by: SiegeState at December 5, 2004 07:40 AM

I don't know how Chomsky would define himself, but after years of reading his political stuff, the most I can see is that he does define himself as an anarchist, but has very little prescriptive political writing; mostly he just describes what happens, using open source material. He is very consistent and manages to offend just about all ideologues of every stripe. It would be hard for me to categorize him on the left/right spectrum though, because he has very little to say about the "should" aspect of politics.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 6, 2004 06:29 AM


Here's the way I see it:

The political spectrum isn't as much a line as a circle. Reactionaries and revolutionaries (the Moes) agree on the most important things -- violence, lying, etc. They just disagree on who should be in charge.

Diametrically opposed to them on the circle are those who want democracy. Most people on earth are here, if only because most people are in situations where real democracy would be a huge improvement in their control over their lives. This is where Chomsky is, too.

People at this point on the circle, including Chomsky, realize change can't all take place at once, and if you try to make it happen all at once you'll end up with a horrible result. You may have seen him sometimes refer to himself as a "conservative." The important thing is to always keep pushing in the right direction.

For Chomsky, and (I think) for most people on earth, this means ameliorating the worst aspects of the current system, while building for more fundamental change down the road. So in 500 years, perhaps, Chomsky wants to dissolve the nation-state, but right this second he thinks it's important to defend Social Security.

Do you interpret him in the same way?

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 6, 2004 07:18 AM

I've always assumed "fit to print" was just another word (well, set of three words) for "reasonable." I always love the way the Times holds its figurative nose whenever it deigns to fill inches by commenting on "internet rumors" like the transmitter-shaped bulge on Bush's back, or the discrepancies between projected and reported election results. They make sure YOU know THEY know that such things are not reasonable.

Posted by: inkywretch at December 6, 2004 12:17 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you Jon. At last I know how the American government is going to make good on their enormous debt.

"Reasonable" people will do something about social security. They will argue that they need to stop paying it. You watch.

Posted by: Alexis at December 6, 2004 01:44 PM

Yes, I think your interpretation of Chomsky pretty much tracks with mine. As I said, I mostly read him to learn about the world as it presently is. He is very, very good at that and writes very clearly with no subterfuge.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 7, 2004 12:18 AM


You may well be right. The US will have to go through a great deal of pain to deal with our foreign debt, and I'm sure right this moment US business is trying to figure out how to force poorer Americans to experience most of that pain. One excellent way to do this would be essentially to default on Social Security obligations.

A plus side for American business -- even beyond offloading the pain onto others -- is that while this kind of default would weaken America as a whole, it would strengthen business interests within America.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 7, 2004 05:43 AM

On the off chance you check old threads, I would like to point out that Paul Krugman explained in 500 words or less why social security does not need fixing. In terms even econo-idiots like ME can understand. I *was* taking your word for it because I implicitly trust your every word, but it is nice to now understand *why* it is not a problem.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 8, 2004 06:57 AM


You're a wise, wise person to trust everything I say. :>

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason the world is full of people who want evidence. If I have time (and America has time before SS is privatized) I hope to do something that will present this evidence in funny, clear ways.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 8, 2004 05:38 PM