Writing on the health care policy debate, Megan McArdle observes [h/t Instapundit]:
Still, I think you have to establish a sort of minimal cutoff below which it’s better to wait for a better opportunity than do something NOW!!!
By coincidence, this morning some anonymous coward using a remailer sent me the following rant:
Your latest post is vacuous and says nothing. In fact you misconstrue, as do so many, what the health plan on the table in Congress is all about. In fairness, at least be objective in what it says…Innuendo is but an Italian suppository, and the nay saying continues, endlessly. Say something positive for a change. Offer a program, an idea, a proposal rather than simply sniping like a kid in an elementary school playground. [emp added]
Leftists very commonly assert that that non-leftists have to offer a fully fleshed-out alternative to the status quo before they can offer criticisms of the current faddish idea of the Left. When you try to explain to them that the validity of an idea has nothing to do with the validity of any competing ideas, they stare at you blankly. Therefore, to try and explain matters to leftists, I offer the following parable.
Three friends, Bob, Lefty and Righty are standing on the edge of a dam’s overflow channel watching the swirling, churning water flowing out of the dam in the concrete channel 30ft below.
Suddenly, Bob falls into the water and gets caught in a giant eddy that whips him around and around beneath the horrified gaze of his friends. He’s obviously going down.
Lefty and Righty immediately cast about for solutions for rescuing their friend. Jumping in themselves will buy them nothing. It’s too far to make a chain of their clothes. The area around them is devoid of branches they could use to make a reach pole. There’s no one around to help and Bob will have drowned before any emergency personnel they call can reach them.
Suddenly, Lefty makes a discovery.
Lefty: “I found a boat anchor! We can throw it to Bob!”
Righty: ”Don’t be stupid.”
Lefty: “You always do this, shooting down my ideas! At least I have an idea! Do you even have an idea?”
Righty: “No, but I know throwing a drowning man an anchor is a bad idea.”
Lefty: “If you can’t offer your own solution just shut up and let me try my solution.”
Righty: “Based on a long history of experience with boat anchors I don’t need to offer an alternative to observe that the idea is, in complete isolation from all other factors, a bad idea.”
Lefty: “You’re just afraid to try anything new! I’ve thought about this real hard and have come up with a complex set of arguments for how I can throw the boat anchor in such a way that it will function as a flotation device!”
Righty: “Are these arguments produced by the same methodology that convinced you that the people of Cambodia would be better off under the Khmer Rouge? Or the same methodology that led you to believe in 1971 that wage and price controls could control inflation?”
Lefty: “Well, yes but I have another set of arguments explaining why those were innocent mistakes and why none of the mistakes I have made in the past have any bearing on my new boat-anchor idea.”
Righty: “But I remember that several states have previously attempted anchors-as-flotation-devices ideas and they all failed.”
Lefty: “That’s because individual states don’t have enough money and power to buy big enough anchors! The bigger anchors are, the better they float!”
Righty: “You’re nuts.”
Lefty: “Look I have an idea and you don’t. I have been indoctrinated to believe that any new idea is superior to the status quo, and that therefore the burden of proof always lies on the person arguing against the new idea to prove it wrong before we try it.”
Righty: “Look, history is very clear that the vast majority of new ideas don’t work. We go through thousands of new ideas just to find one new one that works better than the status quo. You just believe that new ideas are always correct because you only read the history of the successful ideas while ignoring the greater context of their many contemporaneous failed ideas. You’re especially bad about forgetting the many failed ideas you’ve had in the past.”
Lefty: “What failed ideas? Every time we’ve argued in the past, I’ve always been proven correct. History is nothing but the story of me always being correct and you always being wrong. Now, do you have a plan for rescuing Bob?”
Lefty: “Since I have a plan and you don’t, that means that I’m absolutely correct and that you are absolutely wrong.”
Lefty throws the anchor. It sinks like, well, an anchor. Fortunately, while Righty delayed Lefty, Bob broke from the eddy and drifted downstream and has climbed out on the flat bank below the concrete channel. Righty takes Bob home to recuperate.
Ignoring Bob’s plight, Lefty uses a small rock to scratch into the concrete an elaborate flow chart explaining why anchors make good flotation devices. He eventually builds an academic career explaining his boat anchor theories to naive college students. The boat anchor industry secretly funnels grants to him.
When non-academics tell Lefty that in their experience anchors do not float, Lefty tells them they simply are not smart enough to understand anything counterintuitive, and besides they’re just a bunch of ignorant, anti-intellectual rednecks blinded by religion. Lefty claims that people who don’t believe that anchors float are simply cruel, selfish people who don’t care if others drown. When people point out that Lefty has never performed a water rescue or that he cannot even swim, Lefty claims this lack of practical experience gives him an unbiased platonic insight into the physics of buoyancy.
Most of his work centers around studying Righty’s presumed culture and psychology in an attempt to explain why Righty refuses to believe that anchors float despite the obvious correctness of Lefty’s abstract arguments. All failures of anchors to float are explained as caused by Righty’s selfish interference.
Righty spends most of the rest of his life giving swimming lessons and attempting to stop Lefty from throwing anchors at children in swimming pools.