Nowhere man

It’s often difficult to find actual hollow man arguments; what with all of the internet crazies holding these views, you can always find someone to weak man at least.

 

So I wonder, is the hollow man for the extremely lazy arguer?  Or is there some other more nefarious and devious purpose?  Here’s indolent Laura Ingraham, who has figured out why Obama doesn’t want to impose an Ebola-themed travel ban: so that some Americans die in penance for our sins (from Crooks and Liars):

Ingraham: The experts are telling him we can’t think about a travel ban because it will make matters worse. For whom? I think there have been a few moments where people have been honest about this on the left/ where in their heart of hearts think if a few Americans have to be infected and even a few Americans or more than that have to die to make the lives of Africans better , that’s just what has to happen. We owe a great debt to other countries in the world. including Africa, and if Americans have to die to repay that debt then we just have to die. I really believe this is where they are.

Yea, I don’t think so.   I wonder if the function of the hollow man here is to make it appear one’s opponent not only reprehensible positions, but is also dishonest about holding them.  They’re so dishonest that they don’t even utter them in public.  It takes in the know folks like Ingraham to figure it out.   Sure, you can weak man or nut pick all you want, but at least in those circumstances you’re engaging with your opponent (and they’re engaging with you).  One might be tempted to improve their views, or, at the very least, feel sorry for them.

Do you think this is a game?

Outsourcing most of the work to another blog here, so apologies.  Here is George Will on the Republican Party’s alleged war on women (from Digby’s blog):

One of the wonders of this political moment is feminist contentment about the infantilization of women in the name of progressive politics. Government, encouraging academic administrations to micromanage campus sexual interactions, now assumes that, absent a script, women cannot cope. And the Democrats’ trope about the Republicans’ “war on women” clearly assumes that women are civic illiterates.

Access to contraception has been a constitutional right for 49 years (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). The judiciary has controlled abortion policy for 41 years (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Yet the Democratic Party thinks women can be panicked into voting about mythical menaces to these things.

Digby then cites the usual litany of Republican types inveighing against abortion rights, access to birth control, and so forth.   To this extent (the extent which matters most I suppose), what Will says is patently ludicrous.  Will himself frequently complains about the “judicial activism” which recognized these rights.

In any case, this is a nice example of the red herring tactic: the complaint isn’t that these things are not currently rights in some narrow legal sense, it’s that they’re under threat of elimination as rights from all sorts of key Republican officeholders and opinion types.

This is sadly very uninteresting.  What is interesting is that Will fails to see the obvious objections to his claim:

Actually, Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner’s proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional “personhood” amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg. On this slender reed, Udall leans his overheated accusations that Gardner is bent on “trampling on women’s rights,” is on a “crusade” for “eliminating” reproductive freedoms and would “outlaw birth control.”

Indeed, the fact that such an amendment exists (and has the consequence of making certain kinds of birth control illegal) is the whole point of fearing attacks on reproductive rights.   I imagine that Will doesn’t think we should take such things seriously.   Good to know, I guess.

When people on your team, then, advocate crazy stuff that makes you look stupid, blame the people who believe they’re serious.

Dennett on Criticism

Here is some (fairly obvious I think) advice on criticism from Daniel Dennett:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Good practical advice, I think.  Facebook comment from someone:

I don’t think anyone can accuse Daniel Dennett of being ‘kind’ when it comes to criticizing the things he doesn’t agree with. When it comes to religion and determinism, I think ‘brutal’ would be a more appropriate word to use. Wish I could think of some concrete examples, but the only one that comes to mind is his critique of Rick Warren in a TED talk.

Maybe he got through the first three without learning anything.

Dred Scott and Godwin

Fig.1 Gay Marriage Analogy

When you’re out of arguments you go full Godwin (proposition p with which I disagree is Nazi).  When you go full Godwin Poe’s law goes into effect (we can’t tell your view from a straw man of your view–essentially).  On this score, here goes some bozo from the Witherspoon Institute, famous for their slippery slopes about Gay Marriage (society will be destroyed, eventually).  Via Talking Points Memo (the source for this kind of crazy nowadays):

In Dred Scott it was the false idea that some human beings can own other human beings, and that a democratic people cannot say otherwise. In the same-sex marriage rulings it is the false idea that men can marry men, and women can marry women, and that democratic peoples cannot say otherwise.

I suppose they’re both court cases of a sort.  In one, rights were recognized, in the other, they were denied.

How to journalism

These CNN types are so obviously wrong it made my 101 students laugh:

Now comes Chris Cuomo, Yale graduate, to their defense:

CUOMO: Also, his tone was angry. He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it. Look, here’s what you guys were exposing yourself to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They’re unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening. And it’s happening there more there than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is. It’s not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an I. I mean, that’s what’s going on in that part of the world. Doesn’t mean other faiths can’t be violent and other cultures can’t be violent, but you shouldn’t be afraid of the question.

I’m wondering what “usually violent” would be, if the odd f**ktards with knives are “unusually” so.  Perhaps usual violence means you’re not actually angry when you kill someone, or you shoot them from a distance with a model airplane.  That, however, seems pretty unusual.

Inoculation vacation

I find this discussion of a recent book on vaccination (at Gawker, of all places) fascinating.  I mean the comment string actually, where the author is given a chance to answer direct questions from the readers.

To my mind, the author is far too light on the anti-vax crowd (and the readers let her know that).  She’s uncomfortable with them being labeled as stupid, as the anti-vax crowd speaks from a multitude of different perspectives.  A longish quote:

Well, first of all, what we’re calling the anti-vax position is actually a very diverse set of ideologies – thinking of it as one homogenous position is already robbing it of some of its complexity. One of the things that I’ve observed in my own thinking and in the thinking of other people who are vaccine hesitant is a tendency toward wide and sometimes loose association. For instance, we know a lot about the troubled history of paternalism in medicine and the ways in which the medical system has oppressed women – we associate the powerlessness we feel around vaccination with the powerlessness that has been forced on us historically. Or, we observe real and troubling problems in our current medical system, or in our system of government, or in our capitalist system, and we feel concern that those problems may bleed over into vaccination – may corrupt or pollute our vaccines. I think these concerns are legitimate – we have real, pressing problems with our medical system and with our government and with our economy. Do I think the best way to address those problems is to refuse vaccination? No, but I do think we (meaning those of us who care about the public health implications of vaccine refusal) need to be aware that significant social critiques are being made in the form of vaccine refusal. And if we want to enact change, rather than just self-righteously rant, we may even have to address the root problems of medical care, governance, and finance that are troubling some of the people who are refusing vaccination.

I appreciate the pragmatic impulse of the author (let’s worry about the public health issue, not the poor argument and misinformation). I think someone might write something significant about that notion, in fact.  Nonetheless, this strikes me as a bit of an iron man: there’s obviously an implicit social critique (as there is whenever anyone does anything against prevailing norms), but that social critique might be (and is in this case) lame, ill-informed, held by very few people, and dangerous.  It’s also probably not the point.  The point is the science.  And the objectors have, as the author believes, gotten that completely wrong.

The argument from ceded authority

Arguments from authority are typically third-person arguments: X says that p, so p is probably true.  Saying, I say that p, I have qualifications q, so listen up, is less common.  When you make an argument as an authority, you still cite reasons, they’re just reasons lay people don’t get.

Now comes Charles Krauthammer, quondam psychiatrist, who offers another twist on the argument from authority: the argument from ceded authority.  It works like this: I have qualifications q, but I’m not going to invoke them because they would prohibit me from saying p, so I cede this authority, and assert that p.  Here it is via TPM:

“So I decided when I left psychiatry never to use my authority. But let me just say as a layman, without invoking any expertise, Obama is clearly a narcissist in the non-scientific use of the word,” Krauthammer said during an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” “He is so self-involved, you see it from his rise.”

I’m pretty sure that expertise is not the kind of thing you can just put aside, as you would if you were a pro tennis player playing an amateur.  That expertise, once earned, pretty much stays.  So Krauthammer has offered an interesting variation on the age-old “I’m not a doctor. . . ” it’s “I’m a doctor, but I don’t play one on TV.”

Healthy eating

More tu quoque in the news.  This time, again, perhaps for the nth time, Michelle Obama, advocate of healthy eating.  This from Talking Points Memo:

And how well can she be eating? She needs to drop a few,” Ablow said during Tuesday’s episode of “Outnumbered.”

The comment drew a collective cringe from the same four female panelists who had called the first lady “annoying” for her health initiatives only seconds earlier.

Despite the ridicule from his fellow panelists, the show’s “one lucky guy” dug in.

Well, no, let’s be honest. There’s no french fries happening? That’s all kale and carrots? I don’t buy it,” Ablow said, adding that he would welcome nutrition advice from President Obama.

This guy makes my job too easy.  By the way, this is my job.