Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 21, 2015

On proxy issues in psychology and politics

Some debates about the Omnibus bill drove home a few things. On the one side, there is a wide sense of betrayal among the conservative and libertarian base that Paul Ryan has sold out to The Worst President In History. There is also the sense that a 2,000-page bill that was passed in record time cannot but contain some fugly stuff. (Echoes of 0bamacare.)
On the other side, people that have actually read the bill and have experience in dispassionately analyzing long documents found that 0bama paid for his pet concerns (and those of the party base) by major concessions on less eye-catching issues.
I can in all sincerity say I sympathize with both sides of the argument. The fracas drove home again to me the concept of a proxy issue. This is something one sees in politics as well as during arguments within relationships.
What is a proxy issue? In short, it is a comparatively trivial issue that takes on a larger-than-life importance in a relationship or political debate, not because of its intrinsic value, but as a stand-in for a deeper issue.
How many of you remember the hoary joke about the man who got his wife a beautiful present for their anniversary, took her to a nice restaurant and a show she was sure to like, then had to sleep on the couch because he had forgotten to write her a card? That joke is really a cartoonish exaggeration of the concept of a proxy issue.
Take, for example, the issue of additional H-2b visas in the Omnibus. The numbers involved, less than 60,000 unskilled workers, are but statistical noise in a labor market the size of the US. Some of the anger created may be due to innumeracy, to be sure. But much of it is about a deeper issue: that Congress really seems to not care about the plight of US workers in a ‘jobless recovery’, or that an unholy alliance of left-wing transnational oligarchic collectivists (“tranzis”) and big business lobbyists seems hell-bent on ramming ever more immigration down our throats. Not to mention the security concerns, pooh-poohed by tranzis especially.
Another example of a proxy issue. Israel’s Law of Return offers immigration and an accelerated citizenship path to people of Jewish ancestry and their families, as well as to converts to Judaism. (Contrary to widespread belief, Israel is not unique among democracies in this regard.) The Orthodox parties on one side, and the (in Israel tiny) Reform and Conservative denominations in alliance with left-wing parties on the other side, have been engaged in a tug-of-war for decades about whether this law extends to non-Orthodox converts. Based on the amount of noise on both sides, one would think we were talking about at least tens of thousands of people each year (out of a population of eight million). In fact, the actual number of such cases is in the dozens (!). While its actual, sociological importance is therefore essentially nil, it has become a proxy for the debate “who really calls the shots here, the Chief Rabbinate or the secular Jews”?
I have noted with wry amusement older US women well past child-bearing age saying they must vote Shillary because she will protect her right to have an abortion. Muggeridge’s Law at work? Or is it not really about the abortion per se, but a proxy for the very concept that religious scruples in these matters would have any effect whatsoever on society?
This is not to be confused with single-issue voting. I know a number of stridently pro-life activists got extremely upset when they saw the Omnibus Bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. This is *not* a proxy issue: PP is too large-scale an operation to qualify as such. In this context, a proxy can instead be seen on the other side: their insistence that the extremely disgusting and indefensible practice of partial-birth abortion remain legal.
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[*] Full disclosure: numbers are quite literally my livelihood.


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