Top Three Things Upon Which I’m Willing To “Put My Foot Down”
The obvious frivolous answer first, “the surface of the Earth”.
There are really only two things that get my dander up enough that I put my foot down. The first is uncritical thinking (this makes it difficult for me to surf the Internet). I willingly accept that people have various different assumptions about high level concepts like “worth” and “right” and “wrong” and “honor”. I’m perfectly willing to let someone rest an argument on a basic assumption with which I disagree (the right of the individual vs. the right of the collective, for example). What I’m not willing to accept is people who *claim* that they believe two things that cannot be held in reconciliation. “I believe all life is sacred” and “I believe in the death penalty” is an obvious example of this sort of absurdity. If you believe in the second, you by necessity cannot believe in the first… unless you have a very tortured definition of the word “sacred”. In this case, you’re likely just engaging in hiding a serious moral quandary from yourself, under a semantic blanket. Don’t start arguing with me unless you’re willing to pull that blanket back and talk about what’s underneath it.
The second is unreasonable fear. Unreasoning fear I can understand. Some people are afraid of dogs, or the number 13, or being outside, or being inside, or any one of a number of other things that are not based upon reasonable evaluation of danger. It’s part of human nature. I might think it’s silly, but I’m not going to begrudge anyone their own personal horrors. This crosses the border into unreasonable fear when you start trying to change or effect government policy because of your fear. When you think that undocumented workers are going to steal your job because you work in a field dominated by undocumented immigrants, that’s a reasonable fear. When you think that “They are going to try to return California to Mexico”, that’s an unreasoning fear. When you say you need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on building a fence that won’t actually solve your problem, that’s an unreasonable fear. The most common symptom of these sorts of fear are expressed in phrases that being with the following:
“If it prevents just one… [snip]… then it’s worth it!”
No, it’s usually not worth it, in any sort of evaluation other than the one you’re playing out inside the magic space in your head. If I spend $1,000,000 to save a child’s life… is that worth it? Hm, you say, maybe it is. If it’s my child, by God I’m going to try and come up with that $1,000,000… that’s for certain. On the other hand, if in order to spend that $1,000,000 to save that child’s life I need to first take that $1,000,000 away from a program that is going to save 10 childrens’ lives, what I’m doing is probably reprehensible. People are really bad at doing cost/benefit analysis when it comes to public policy decisions, and this is strengthened by our political representatives. They usually don’t tell you what the cost is going to be. Even when they give you a dollar figure, you probably don’t really understand what the cost is going to be. If it’s my million dollars, and I’m spending it to save Jack’s life rather than send it to save 1,000 children in Africa, that’s my decision and my moral quandary. If it’s government funds, on the other hand, it’s really bad juju to mask the actual issue by trumpeting my program under the flagship rhetoric of, “If it prevents one… … then it’s worth it!”
It’s almost a rock-solid guarantee that once those words come out of your representative’s mouth, he or she is selling you a pile of B.S. It’s the political equivalent of Godwin’s Law.