Introducing The 103rd Rationalization: Kennedy’s Stall, Or “We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It.’

The latest rationalization for the list came to my attention when I used it myself.

I have been reading various opinion pieces and reports about the stance of anti-vaxxers as researchers push to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible for the Wuhan virus.  A Daily Beast essay cautioned that the need for haste had to be balanced against the consequences of failure:

“Urgent as the need is, public health leaders warn, moving too quickly could have disastrous consequences not only for reining in COVID-19, but for vaccines more broadly. If a vaccine is released that doesn’t work well or yields dangerous side effects—especially in the face of an historic pandemic—it could empower anti-vaccine activists and reduce support for other longstanding vaccines that have gone through rigorous and exhaustive testing”

My reaction to that was instant: “What sense does it make to moderate your efforts to solve an urgent problem because you are worried about a possible future irrational reaction to an adverse result? “You cross that bridge when (and if) you come to it,” I thought. Then the faint sound of an ethics alarm ringing caught my attention.

That sounded so much like a rationalization that I had to check the list to see whether it was already there. It’s not. But it belongs there, and I’m going to place it right under #52, The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past,”  as #52A, Kennedy’s Stall, named after a particularly enduring Chappaquiddick joke.

Like many, perhaps even most of the rationalizations on the list, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” is both a rationalization and legitimate argument, depending on the circumstances. It is a legitimate rebuttal for those who want to avoid any course of action because of fear of a worst case scenario, however remote. The prescription is ideal to banish efforts to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

At the same time, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” is also a rationalization for rash action, deliberate inattention to predictable problems, and poor or non-existent planning. Like the other rationalizations that swing both ways, the logic of “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” must be carefully examined any time that argument is used. A habit I often cite as the best way to use the Rationalizations list is to stop cold any time you hear one of them coming out of your mouth, and treat it as an ethics alarm.  It is telling you that you may be lying to yourself that an irresponsible course of action is justified when it may not be.

An addendum: I just noticed that the Daily Beast is now using as a motto, “Unprecedented  times call for unprecedented reporting.” Wrong. That’s just another phrasing of 28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

Reporting should have exactly the same standards at all times. The Daily Beast’s motto is a rationalization for unethical conduct, like advocacy, propaganda, and reporting short-cuts.

3 thoughts on “Introducing The 103rd Rationalization: Kennedy’s Stall, Or “We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It.’

  1. In this case, I don’t think it was a rationalization. It really does not matter what people who oppose vaccinations think.

    And, it was not a call to rash action (unless you were willing to forgo normal safety precautions. Yes, the need is urgent and urgency requires action, but the rationalization would be release the vaccine as early as possible and tweak the side-effects later.

    I don’t think you were suggesting that safety be compromised. While certain risks may be increased as a result of the hasty action, it is not as if those risks are being ignored or postponed. For example, any risk that exceeds the fatality rate of the virus would be unreasonable. But, a calculated risk is calculated. If you say, we have an X% risk of complications now, but can probably reduce that further by 95% in the next six months with better blah blah blah, then you are properly managing the risks and expectations.

    I am pretty sure this brings up another issue we have addressed here. Something about releasing a faulty software version on time (I hear it has happened!), while planning to fix whatever bugs arise in a later patch. That would be a better example of this rationalization, in my opinion.

    That would be where this is a rationalization because the release is not urgent and you are not even assessing what risks or problems may arise.


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