Let Us Suppose

This is not a political post — Well, not a partisan one, honest! — so bear with me as I quote from Andrew Coyne’s opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on vaccine acquisition.

Let us suppose Canada were leading the pack instead of trailing it. If Canada were No. 1 in the world in doses administered per capita, instead of, at time of writing, 34th, do we imagine the response of the government and its defenders would be: This is something we have no control over? Would they say, as the Prime Minister did the other day, that it’s “out of our hands”?

The key bit is this:

Let us suppose Canada were leading the pack
instead of trailing it.

“Let us suppose” is among the best critical-thinking tools ever. Flip the situation — as in Coyne’s example — or flip the players as in these examples . . .

A politician I like takes credit for improvements to a complex social situation. Good by me. But wait a minute . . .

Let us suppose it’s a politician I don’t like. Do I now focus on the extended timeline for social change, and remember the many contributing inputs from other sources?

The opposing political party bent the ethical rules or took shameless advantage of procedural loopholes. I am outraged. But wait a minute . . .

Let us suppose the party at fault is the one I support. Do I now downplay the significance of the ethical breach — Everyone does it! This one wasn’t even so bad! — and rationalize the procedural games — That’s just politics?

The police propose increased patrols in minority neighbourhoods in response to higher street crime, and I doubt the likely effectiveness. Crime is a complex social phenomenon, after all. Better to go after its roots. But wait a minute . . .

Let us suppose the proposal was made by a local victims’ group. Do I now accept the validity of data showing that increased police presence deters crime?

I receive an unearned benefit and feel guilty. But wait a minute . . .

Let us suppose the person is not me but my best friend. Do I now find it easy to wax philosophical? Hey! Enjoy! It’s not as if they tried to benefit unfairly.

Flipping the situation helps me distinguish between legitimate reasons and weaselly excuses, between rational arguments and spin-doctoring. Flipping the players helps me distinguish between judgements based on principles and judgements based on personal preferences and biases.

Let us suppose.

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4 Responses to Let Us Suppose

  1. Points well taken. You remind me of a King named Solomon.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Well, many thanks. I certainly deplore stupid partisanship that substitutes a “my team right or wrong” mentality for principles.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    My mother had a pocketful (several pockets, actually) of maxims. One of her favourites was “the pot calling the kettle black.” Meaning, of course, to see yourself the same way you see others. As you say, flip the situation.
    Jim T

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