Faulty Reasoning and Emotionalism and the Boston Bombing

I’ve tried to avoid commenting on the Boston Marathon bombing. Over at Slate, Jillian Rayfield has compiled a list of ill-advised tweets from bloggers, columnists, reporters from left to right. I have my own speculations about who did it and why, but sometimes it’s best to just keep quiet.

Now, I almost cringe to bring him up, but this column deals with conservatism from a relatively independent perspective, so I feel compelled to address something Rush Limbaugh said on his program on Tuesday:

“This unending quest for why is rooted in the belief that there’s something wrong about this country, something about us that’s wrong, that’s warranted this. That’s why [liberals] want to know why. They want to know why so as to find a way to blame America, which will then give them yet another opportunity to demand change in America.”

I object to the perception of Republicans as “anti-science” or “anti-intelligence.” It’s often an excuse for liberals and navel-gazing moderate Republicans to engage in cultural snobbery. Oh, I’m not like one of those people who live in the South, go to church, and believe the Bible. But when Rush Limbaugh says things like this, it’s hard to dispute the perception that Republicans are uninterested in cognitive reasoning.

What Limbaugh said is wrong not simply because it’s transparently peddling anti-intellectualism, but because it aims to thwart a point-of-view no one holds.

First, arguments like these are designed to silence opposition. It’s natural to ask why, but in Limbaugh’s world, the only reason anyone asks why an atrocity occurred is because the questioner wants to learn why the victims deserved it.

So, this becomes an opportunity to revive the Bush-era talking point that terrorists hate us for our freedoms and anyone who disagrees must be part of the “Blame America First” crowd. No one was saying America deserved the 9/11 attacks and no one is saying it now. But it is a chance for Limbaugh to cast certain people who have asked questions about America’s military adventurism as insufficiently determined to track down perpetrators and enemies.

Second, are we saying that the desire to know why things happen is an inherently left-wing value? Is thinking, investigating, reasoning, and deducting not conservative values? Yet, in this line of reasoning, it’s morally abhorrent to comprehend why mass killings happen because it gives legitimacy to or excuses the perpetrators’ motives.

Let’s apply this reasoning to the current gun debate.

Why would we want to have guns in the home? Are there people of malicious intent in the world who might want to illicitly obtain our wealth and property? Well, yes, there are people like that. Chances are slim that any of us will be in a situation where we might have to defend ourselves with lethal force. But just in case, we might want to prepare ourselves for the worst.

The question is: At what point in my quest for gun ownership am I justifying the aggression of the other party? The crime could be motivated by any number of things. But because I have some nice things someone, perhaps out of envy or greed, might want to take them for himself. Yet, I took the time to consider why someone might want to do this and I took action.

Everyone seems in a hurry right now to blame each side’s favorite bogeyman for Monday’s bombing. It may be some time before we know with any certainty who did this or why. I’m probably putting more effort into what Rush Limbaugh says than is warranted, but conservatives are ill-served if they want to blame their favorite bogeymen by employing faulty reasoning and emotionalism on the Boston bombing.