Monday, November 30, 2009

Switzerland Discovers Irrationality?

Imogen Foulkes' analysis for BBC News of the Swiss vote to ban minarets indicates that the descent of reasoned political debate into irrationality has now spread beyond the United States to Europe. As I read it, I could not help but remember what I recently wrote about Howard Dean's thoughts on the debate over health care reform:

Thus, in commenting about how problematic the opposition has been, all Dean could say was, "We didn't realize they would go that low." His worldview simply could not imagine that someone like Sarah Palin could turn arguments about health care into arguments over death panels. Dean's admission reveals an interesting principle, which should serve as a warning to all who try to engage in argumentation in the present day:

Rationality defines is limits through fundamental principles of logical reasoning; irrationality knows no bounds.

The very concept of a death panel was so far off the map of just about anyone in the Democratic Party that they simply could not anticipate those who live by fear-mongering putting it on the table.

Compare those remarks with the following observation by Foulkes:

What many Swiss politicians are beginning to realise this morning is that they underestimated the concern among their population about integration of Muslims in Switzerland, and about possible Islamic extremism.

So while the right-wing Swiss People's Party campaigned hard, warning in meetings up and down the country of the possible introduction of Sharia law in Switzerland, the middle ground and left-wing parties did very little.

There were few posters, and none to compete with the People's Party's eye-catching and controversial offering, which showed a woman shrouded in a black burka, a map of Switzerland behind her, black minarets shooting out of it like missiles.

Basically, the People's Party got their way through the same fear-mongering tactics that we have seen practiced so well by Palin and those who sail under her flag (which, presumably is not the State Flag of Alaska and hopefully is not the Flag of the United States of America).

Thus, the principle that irrationality knows no bounds applies not only to personal ethics but also to geographical extent. Almost two years ago I wrote about the entropic nature of political discourse:

Entropy is not restricted to the objective physical world of thermodynamics. There are many other processes that inevitably devolve into chaos; and, whether we like it or not, political discourse may be one of those processes.

That devolution of entropy is achieved by, among other means, diffusion; so we should not be surprised that politics at its most irrational should diffuse across geographical boundaries so readily, particularly in the world the Internet has made. The tragedy is less that it has diffused at all but that it has diffused to a country that gave refuge to so many of the persecuted as recently as during the Second World War. On the other hand signs of the flip side of this coin have been emerging for some time. Anyone who saw the 1973 Italian film Pane e Cioccolata, about the treatment of Italian "guest workers" in Switzerland, knows that this emergence has been coming for at least a quarter of a century.

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