“Overabundance of Caution” Means Whatever the Hell Tom Evslin Says It Means

The VTDigger commentary space is often a repository for the very best in straw-man punching: setting up an easy target and dispatching it with, if you’re talented enough, a rhetorical flourish.

Well, Tom Evslin, entrepreneur, serial Republican donor, self-appointed technology seer and number-one fan* of Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service**, went one better in the straw man competition. He threw together a whole bunch of miscellaneous straw men under the rubric of “overabundance of caution” and went straight down the line, punching each of them in turn. All in service of a point that apparently made sense to him but is, in fact, utterly incoherent.

*He has given his own Starlink satellite dish a nickname: “Dishy”

*His occasional musings on the glories of Starlink have found a home on True North Reports, because Musk is the closest thing reality offers to an Ayn Rand hero. Except Musk is a phony; his companies have received literally billions in public sector grant funding.

The overarching point is that Our Political Leaders sometimes overreact to a potential danger, thus putting us all in metaphorical shackles. And by “overreact,” I mean doing something that Tom Evslin disagrees with. Ah, if only we were all as wise as he.

Here’s the list. See if you can find a common thread in the real world, outside of Evslin’s own imagination.

— Germany started closing its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster, making the country too dependent on Russian fossil fuels.

— The FDA triggered the infant formula shortage by closing down a manufacturing plant.

— Public schools stayed shut for too long during the Covid pandemic.

— We’re too afraid of Putin to properly arm Ukraine.

I’d sing the old Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others,” except that every one of them is a completely different case. The only common thread is that Evslin would have done something else if he were in charge.

Which is, like, lazy essaying of the highest order. But then we get to the part where he’s vastly oversimplifying each case.

Germany did fast-track de-nuclearization after Fukushima, and the power industry complained. But the country was also weaning itself from coal, and Evslin isn’t whining about that. Not to mention that Germany has gone farther than just about any nation on Earth in transitioning to non-nuclear renewable energy. So yeah, Fukushima was a thing, but the country’s energy policy is much broader and more sensible than Evslin suggests.

The FDA did order the closure of the infant formula plant, and Evslin thinks it was overly cautious. But c’mon, the plant was closed for months after FDA inspectors “found Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria, which can be deadly to infants, in several areas.” That doesn’t seem optimal. We could perhaps blame the plant operator for not, um, keeping the place clean?

Evslin also doesn’t mention that the conglomeration of formula production made us far too dependent on a single plant. Maybe we should reimpose a Teddy Roosevelt-style antitrust regime instead of blaming the FDA.

As for the schools, well, that’s a subjective judgment and Evslin is clearly on the “let ‘er rip” side of the coronavirus debate. Did we keep them closed too long? That’s a matter of unprovable hypotheticals about what would have happened if we’d reopened sooner. There are plenty of folks, including many parents and school staffers, who think we reopened too soon.

And Evslin is a Ukraine hawk. That’s fine. But it’s not that we’re too afraid of Putin to arm the country. I think we all, except for Trump Republican apologists (some of whom Evslin financially supports) see Putin as a bully and Ukraine as a victim in need of assistance. What we’re afraid of, and rightfully so, is the potential escalation into a broader war, perhaps even World War III. I guess Evslin would be okay with a reasonable risk of global destruction.

So no, I’m not at all persuaded by Evslin’s logic. Well, I’m persuaded of one thing: He’s not very good with rhetorical argumentation.


1 thought on ““Overabundance of Caution” Means Whatever the Hell Tom Evslin Says It Means

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Except Musk is a phony; his companies have received literally billions in public sector grant funding.”

    I wish that more commentators/reporters, etc would expose this about Musk, along with so many others of this ilk, including Evslin.


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