Always Get More Than One Estimate

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Doug Wilson has paid me a double kindness. First, he’s taken the time to interact substantively with this post where I posit a vote for Clinton appears to me to be the only way I can incrementally restrain the progress of evil in this election. Second, he’s taken the time to state fairly that I am not in any way “endorsing” or “supporting” Clinton in that post, as some have consistently and erroneously repeated. I’m grateful, Doug, on both counts.

But I must confess I’m not persuaded by your post, as thoughtful as it was. I think I was most helpfully challenged when you contended that having not voted for several elections it would have been wiser for me to continue that course. That’s something I’ve gone back and forth on and it was good to have someone push me in that direction once again. Thank you.

But as I said earlier, I wasn’t persuaded by Doug’s post. Here’s why:

In My Estimation . . . 

Central to Doug’s critique of my post is the notion that making estimates about probable outcomes is a faulty way to engage the political process.

Huh . . .

But estimating outcomes is what we all do all the time in voting behavior. Take a candidate who shares our deepest values and acts on them. We effectively estimate their future actions. We think past behavior indicates future performance, all those mutual fund warnings to the contrary be damned.

This stubborn, intractable habit of making estimates takes place even when we abstain from voting for candidates with undeniably bad character and deeds to match. In those cases, too, our abstention relies on estimating the likelihood that they will keep up their bad behavior and continue in bad character. So even when we abstain, we’re not solely considering character. We cast an eye toward an imagined future. We conclude, “I cannot comply with this evil person or position because,” well, “…‘estimated future evil.’”

So everyone makes estimates. But wait . . . there’s more.

When Doug injects slavery into the discussion with an odd paragraph or two—and to borrow from Mrs. Clinton, “they were odd”—guess what he does? He argues that gradual manumission of slaves would have been better than a violent Civil War claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. (I presume he means white lives matter because apparently black lives could continue being slaughtered in the evil of slavery until white folks decided slaves were obsolete farm equipment.) But on what basis does Mr. Wilson think this? Surprise, surprise: His estimate that the grand ol’ South was gonna get ‘round to freeing the slaves anyway . . . good Christian slaveholders they were and all. Mr. Wilson’s reasoning rests on fantastically shoddy estimates more rosy about slavery than I am about Mrs. Clinton!

So you see, there’s a whole lot of lumber and sawdust clouding eyes in this entire line of reasoning.

Since Doug has his estimates, I’ll go on rejecting gradual anti-slavery proposals bizarrely offered 150 years after the War. And I’ll reject those proposals in part because I estimate that such curious ideas put us back on the path of saying “slavery was okay” when every Christian ought to be praising God for providentially ending this nation’s original birth defect. The Lord not only ended the institution, He also banished a host of social ills and fallen thoughts that undergirded it. Christians should shout aloud with gladness that these things have ceased, not trot them out for reconsideration. If I can’t beg off of debates about the election, Doug surely can’t silence dissent to his ideas about slavery’s end by pointing to my estimations while ignoring his own.

Now Back to the Election at Hand

We live—and always have—in a house with a busted roof and rotten flooring. We are taking on water from daily torrential rains and trying to keep our favorite fuzzy slippers dry while walking on mud floors. Doug wants us to pretend we can live in this condemned building unstained and inactive while the mold grows up on everything sitting still. He suggests we ready ourselves for bigger battles—which he’s correct, surely will come—and sit this current skirmish out, enjoying the rain reflected in the moonlight through that gaping roof and the mud squishing between our earthen toes. Well, in the south Doug loves so much, we commend folks “with sense enough to come in out of the rain.” To all others we offer our rather southern, “God bless your heart.”

 

Collapsing Old House

You see, in the south, we know something about common sense, horse trading and all. And we know that if you live in a house with a busted roof, you can’t sit out enough pots and buckets to catch all the rain while you wait it out for a few years. You gotta hire a contractor and fix the roof, honey. Now, we also know that it’s better not to hire the fast talking, fancy dressed, over-promising, never licensed or bonded, pay me with cash before you see my work “contractor.” That fella is from New York City and it doesn’t matter if he claims, “Only I can fix it.” We know to keep our hands and our money in our pockets while we spit a rather sticky brown glob of tobacco juice on those pretty Gucci wing tips. We will fix our decaying house with a pinch of homespun wisdom and grit, thank you.

Now to be sure, this rotten electoral house of ours includes the stench of death. It’s a wonder we can live in this odor. Buried in our cellars and locked in our attics are the slaughtered-while-still-developing bodies of our babies. They were killed in the womb, before light could ever warm their wondrous faces. Their blood cries out against our house and our land—and the Lord God Almighty hears them!

But if we genuinely care about all of that, and I take it that every genuine Christian and person of awakened conscience does, then there are some hard questions us pro-lifers and those single-issue voters must face. There are some estimates to make in addition to the estimated number of children likely to be aborted.

First, we must ask, “Is there a meaningful difference between the candidates on abortion?” From where I sit, there’s none. Trump, who financially supported the murderous Clinton in her earlier campaigns, is no pro-life champion. Ending abortion is not even a meaningful part of his campaign, and, consequently, as head of the party, it’s no longer a meaningful part of the GOP platform.

So we move on to ask ourselves a second question: “But what about SCOTUS appointments? Won’t that help?” I get why some people hold a flicker of hope that he just might appoint some judges that just might do something to reverse Roe. And I’m not in the habit of blowing out a man’s candle when it’s his desperate cling to light in a dark world. But, shoot. I just don’t see it. You’d have to estimate that Trump would keep his word and stay the course. Okay. That’s not really an estimate, is it? That’s more like blind wishful thinking when the man changes his mind more times than Beyonce changes concert outfits. And like Beyonce, this emperor isn’t wearing any clothes! But let’s say you did estimate some constancy from the man on SCOTUS appointments. Then you’d have to assume Trump would appoint judges who respect the Constitution. But why would we assume that when he doesn’t appear to even have read the dang on document or to respect it himself, when he doesn’t respect competent sitting judges if they have Mexican heritage, and doesn’t respect former POWs like John McCain or fallen soldiers like Mr. Khan who risk and give their lives protecting the U.S. and the Constitution? Friends, don’t buy your picante sauce from New York City!

Then there’s a third question: “So what is a pro-lifer or single-issue voter to do when they have no candidate and they take the present evil seriously?” Mr. Wilson thinks I should have remained in the quiet, detached position of abstaining as I did in previous elections. But I can’t help making estimates, otherwise known as calculated judgments, or to use a biblical phrase, “counting the costs.” Now it seems to me a great many of those who say #NeverTrumpNeverHillary are, in a sense, making worried estimates about preserving their own “innocence” in all of this. And it seems to me that they’re not only estimating the evil consequences that may come from voting, but also estimating their own righteousness for not voting. It’s that latter estimation that I find particularly problematic in this election—if we take seriously the notion that either vote ends in a set of evil outcomes. For we can’t wash our hands of the election and decree our own righteousness while standing by doing nothing as admitted evil makes its progress. I don’t think Jesus will be very impressed with any of the ways His people stand by while identifiable wrong advances. It wasn’t praised in the Pharisees and scribes, and I highly doubt it’ll be praised among evanjellyfish either. Doug mentioned “other strategies” we have. I think he’d better serve the church writing about those strategies, because they seem preciously few nowadays.

But if this is “a battle enjoined” as Wilson put it, then there aren’t going to be any “innocents,” beloved. Who can lift up clean hands if they see murder practiced apace and don’t at least try to slow it? You see, the estimates of this war include the lives of babies unborn—nearly 3 million in the next four years. But it also includes other costs we’re bound to face: further erosion of constitutional authority, deeper divisions along ethnic lines, a return to Neanderthal attitudes toward women, restrictions of religious liberties, curtailing of civil rights, and a host of others. Count all the costs. You’ll likely conclude you’re warring against a king’s army several times larger than your own. Offensive strikes will look silly and ill-conceived. You’re down to defense. So put out your best defenses. Do what you must to hold the line as best you can. Clearly we aren’t going to win the war with either candidate in the next four years. But can we limit or slow the damage? Is there a candidate against whom we have a stronger defense? I know that’s gradualist thinking, but Doug is a gradualist with slavery so he ought to be one with abortion, too.

It’s all really very simple. The oft cited “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” is spot on. Doing nothing is not an option. So estimating becomes necessary. We must read the prospectus and decide, despite the fine print, whether we think past performance tells us anything about future results. And for my part, I’ve taken the rather pedestrian position that we know how to play defense with a conventional politician (Clinton), but we’ve never seen the likes of candidate Trump who blows hard where he wills and changes directions before his breath has stilled.

I think we can at least restrain evil in this election, even if we can’t positively foster the good. Those who would rather not dirty their hands and feign a position of innocence have to give an account for how they are trying to do at least that much—restraining what should be restrained even if they can’t altogether defeat it. If a person can’t do that, then they should probably ask the Lord to search their heart for ethical sinkholes.

As I’ve written elsewhere (see here, skip to the bottom if you like), knowing GOP and evangelical antipathy toward all things Clinton, and considering her utterly unoriginal, predictable, and conventional career, I estimate we can better oppose a “President Clinton” than a “President Trump,” who is impervious to counsel or correction, has the emotional stability of a 2-year-old, and eviscerates any claims to moral high ground for anyone who actively supports or endorses him.

And Then There’s Chicago

Now I really should end this post here, but there’s so much in Wilson’s critique that needs answering. And I shouldn’t end before making a brief comment on his use of Chicago and all the troubles there.

Doug, you really should consider going to Chicago and working on issues there. You seem to love evoking the carnage and suffering there, but I can’t find a place where you demonstrate much compassion and investment. The shame game you seem to be running is tired. The more you talk about it the more you seem to politicize it rather than offer anything. I know good people there who live and work in the community you so easily use as the poster community for Black dysfunction. Like the woman who just picked me up from the airport. Her family moved to Chicago when she was 10, probably on the tail end of the Great Migration. They’ve been in Christian ministry in that city for 30 years. They live, work, worship, and serve there with great concern for the community. I don’t think your comments help people like this sister and her husband one bit.

Of course, do as you wish. But my counsel would be leave it alone until you get over some tone deafness and can communicate some Christian empathy in the proper conversations.

Now I’ll Hush Up

So to conclude, we can no more live without making estimates than a fish can live without water. Indeed we swim in estimates—from how long our morning commute is likely to be, to how faithful a potential spouse is apt to behave, to whether it’s worth anyone’s time to read a blog. Indeed, walking by faith may just be the biggest estimate of all, and yet the Lord requires we do so, contra the assertion that lacking crystal balls means we should have none at all.

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