Thursday, August 03, 2006

Public Opinion Polls (Moral Equivalency's Ace) and Other Fallacies

Haroon Siddiqui toes the Toronto Star's editorial line exquisitely today in his piece entitled "Canadians reject government's 'principled' stand," wherein he blusters much and says nothing at all.

1) He begins--drawing heavily on the analysis of historian Desmond Morton--by framing Stephen Harper's support of Israel in terms of his (Harper's) "absolute dependency on U.S. trade." Quoting Morton, he says: "Mr. Harper has said, `Ready, aye, Ready,' in following the U.S. policy and offering full and complete support to Israel without any attempt at a moderate position to press for what Kofi Annan is talking about — that is, getting a ceasefire."

Now, Kofi Annan has been talking about a whole bunch of things, and it's a powerfully cynical statement about Canada's apparent tradition of neutrality to suggest that his is the moderate position we should be aligning ourselves with. But this is beside the point ... The unavoidable logic underlying Siddiqui's claim, via Professor Morton, is that the only possible reason for a consensus of opinion between the governments of the United States and Canada, ever, is economic self-interest. Which is, of course, a) a fallacy, given that we share a basic ethical groundwork as expressed in the common principle of our liberal democracies--so, anything short of a bulk of consensus in ethical matters (and Canada can offer little more of support in the world than the moral variety) would seem to be near impossible; and b) just too clunkily beside the point, given that it is Israel we are talking about, not the USA. As ever, the Star's hysterical anti-Americanism clouds its judgement to the point of obtuseness.

2) Siddiqui then invests his argument against the PM's 'principled stand' with the favourite weapon of intellectually indefensible (or not decisively defensible) positions: public opinion polls. That is, the Strategic Counsel tells us that only 32% of Canadians support Harper's position. My question is: so what? At a rough guess I'd say that 68% of Canadians know diddly-squat about what's going on between Israel and Hezbollah right now, as they certainly know diddly-squat about Canada's role as "mediator and peacemaker in the Middle East." So it works out. Indeed, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find 10 people on Bloor St. in rush hour who could string together 3 loosely factual sentences defending the majority's apparent desire to "stay neutral." (Stay neutral! I just love this! The myth of Canada's historic neutrality persists in spite of the fact--that so many effing people have pointed-out--that it has never actually been neutral.)

3) He then quotes this prize platitude from Allan Gregg (Chairman of the aforementioned Strategic Counsel) addressing Canada's steady shift from its once pro-Israeli position to a recognition that: "there are no white hats in this conflict." (How cute, Mr. Gregg. Are there ever?) And while this may be true--leaving, for a moment, the issue of its triteness--I wonder if he could say the same about the number of black hats being worn at this little costume party and by whom.