Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fact-Value Voters

I have always despised the term "values voters" to describe social conservatives. The purpose of the term is to contrast it with those who care about the needy, think that discrimination against minorities is a bad thing, and want to end needless killing -- you know, those who don't vote on the basis of moral values. Note to the media -- hating gay people does not make you virtuous. I teach ethics, you can ask me about it.

But philosophers often refer to what we call the fact/value distinction. The claim is that there is a difference between those propositions that describe how the world is and those that prescribe how the world ought to be. Not many folks buy into the idea of a strict fact/value distinction anymore, but it does furnish a handy new label that could be attached to a new way of framing issues in the upcoming election. Progressives should deem ourselves the "fact-value voters."

Our positions are certainly based on the values like compassion and fairness, but at the same time the application of these values requires acceptance of facts about the world around us. There are many kinds of facts and we take them all seriously. There are medical facts of the sort that Republicans were more than happy to ignore in the case of Terri Schaivo. There are meteorological facts like warnings from the hurricane center that the administration failed to heed. There are geophysical facts like those concerning global warming. Biological facts about speciation and evolution that some want to pretend aren't really there in terms of public school curricula. Sociological facts about the lack of success of abstinence only sex ed. Facts about the likelihood of an insurgency not treating us like liberators if we go in with too small of a force into a war that was started because of claims about weapons of mass destruction that weren't, wait for it, facts.

The nice thing about facts is that you can't argue with them...they're facts. In case after case, the Republicans have buried themselves because they refused to face facts. We can reasonably disagree about what ends we ought to pursue and what means would be the most efficient ways of getting to those aims. But you can't argue with facts...at least, not without looking like an idiot.

And that, my friends is why we need to be the fact-value voters. Because we care about facts, and if you are not a fact-value voter you're an idiot.

But caring about facts does not mean you are Mr. Spock on steroids. No, one can be a fact voter and still be a values voter. We take our values very seriously, we just realize that we need to be realistic about the world we live in when trying to act according to those values. It's pragmatism, people, a good ol' American value. This appeals to the supposedly vast middle (should it still exist) that wants things done and don't want to be confused with those global-warming deniers at their creationist museum. Those are wacko fringe characters and need to be shown to be such. Oh yeah, they are also the power base of the Republican party.

So, I hereby declare myself a fact-value voter. Anyone with me?