Category Archives: Ad hominem circumstantial

Judged by your fans

Pope Francis I has criticized corporate greed and capitalism’s systematic failure to ensure that people are not exploited.  Despite the fact that the communists have a longstanding critical attitude toward the Catholic Church, Mark Gruenberg at The People’s World, has applauded the new pope’s statements. (More on the pope’s views regarding the church’s “worldliness” here.)

When communists agree with the Pope, it’s time for conservatives to get antsy.  Especially conservative Catholics.  Cue Paul Kegnor at AmSpec.  Kegnor is careful to note first that:

The article quoted the pontiff several times. To be sure, few of us would disagree with any of the quotes.

So not it’s that the communists agree with what the Pope says that’s the problem.  It’s that communists agree with pope says.  That’s the problem.

Communists, of all people, finally believe they have a pope who agrees with them, that they like, that they can embrace, that they can encourage. I knew that Francis’ controversial interview on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage had thrilled liberals, liberal Catholics, dissident Catholics, secular progressives, agnostics, atheists, and socialists. You can read their websites. They love this guy. But communists?

Oh, yeah, I hear you.  When I find out that I endorse views held by a group I hold in contempt, I never take that as evidence that I may not have an accurate representation of that group.  I always take it that their agreement with me (or with the things said by another person that I agree with) is either strategic or based on their misunderstandings.  Never ever should, say, a Catholic think that Luke’s social justice doctrines have any resonance with concerns about capitalism.  Kegnor’s clear about it:

It seems to me that this is not the kind of praise that the pope should want.

Of course, the problem is that if Kegnor thinks that few people would disagree with what Pope Francis said, then aren’t there many, many others who’d be trouble, too?  For sure, politics makes strange bedfellows.  But why is one’s credibility in question when there are many who take you as credible?

 

Your argument’s fine, but I don’t like your friends

Gideon Caplin, Benjamin Gourgey and Josh Goodman over at AmSpec have piece on the “lawfare” of Muslim student associations and the Councilon American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).  The issue is whether Muslim students should have permission to pray during school hours. Caplin, Gourgey, and Goodman concede that the case can be made for student-led prayer under certain conditions. But then they turn ad hominem circumstantial:

Despite the fact that student-led prayer in public schools that adheres to the above criteria can be carried out within the law, Muslim students undermine their cause by directly inviting the assistance of CAIR, an organization that has been accused of financially supporting the terrorist activities of Hamas.

The trouble is that it doesn’t matter who CAIR has given money to (or has been accused of giving money to). If the students have the right, they have the right.  It’s not clear what the implication is or how this circumstance is supposed to undermine a case.  If the implication is that CAIR gives money to Islamic exteremist groups, and this student rights group gets support from CAIR… so they must be extremists?  Or is it that their case is undermined by the fact that they lose their rights to free religious expression because they have someone standing up for their rights that also supports Hamas?  Can someone lose their First Amendment rights of free expression just because they have radicals for friends?  Can someone’s argument be worse by virtue of the company they keep?

True tolerance

Chris Broussard at ESPN said that Jason Collins, the NBA player who’s come out as gay, isn’t a true Christian and is “in open rebellion to God.”  So what?  Well, he got some blowback from a variety of sources.  So what?  Well, he’s now got to clarify things, and when he does, he also needs to clarify a concept for all of us:

true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle [differing lifestyle beliefs] as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names

I don’t think that’s true tolerance.  Tolerance means that even when you think someone else is wrong about something that matters, you don’t exclude them or prohibit them from doing the things that they do.  Tolerance isn’t tolerance if you like what they do.  It means putting up with things you hate.  That, by the way, was one of the reasons why the stoics thought of themselves as the ones who kept the old Republican virtues alive, by the way. But, notice, that doesn’t mean that you have to hold your tongue.  In fact, tolerance without care for criticism and correction isn’t much of anything — it’s more like ignoring each other.  Oh, and convenient that he’s NOW saying that tolerance is not criticizing others.  Again, sometimes inconsistency is evidence of a double standard.

Inner Witlessness

David Brooks has a problem with all you people and your outrage over the rape of young boys.  So take a break from feverishly trying assuage your liberal guilt with innumerable OMG SANDUSKEEZ A PERV OMG #librulzrule tweets and witness the real root of your outrage: your own vain refusal to acknowledge the capacity of human beings to deceive themselves about their willingness to act.

I know. A shocking thesis. Let's hear it again.

People are outraged over the rape of young boys because they are trying to mask their own guilt at knowing they would probably also do nothing.  Quoth Brooks:

First came the atrocity, then came the vanity. The atrocity is what Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing at Penn State. The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.

So, if people can't stop a genocide, they can't stop a rape.  That seems off to me, but who am I to say? After all, Dave has SCIENCE!

Even in cases where people consciously register some offense, they still often don’t intervene. In research done at Penn State [ed. note: site where study occurred chosen, like, totally at random] and published in 1999, students were asked if they would make a stink if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half said yes. When researchers arranged for that to happen, only 16 percent protested.

In another experiment at a different school, 68 percent of students insisted they would refuse to answer if they were asked offensive questions during a job interview. But none actually objected when asked questions like, “Do you think it is appropriate for women to wear bras to work?”

First, we're given no indication of (1) the source of these studies, (2) the size of the samples, or (3) whether or not they were published, and therefore subject to the rigors of peer review.  For all we know, this was some odd balding guy with wire-rimmed glasses and a bow tie and a New York Times press pass, wandering around Happy Valley and Different School University creeping out students with odd questions.  Second, of course self deception could be only explanation for the responses to these studies.  It couldn't be that college age individuals are often poorly educated as to what constitutes sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behavior, or that the studies appear, at least on their face, engineered to elicit a specific response.  Nope. The only explanation is that people deceive themselves as to the extent they would act to stop another human being from being harmed. Why, you might ask? Dave has answers, bros:

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the tendencies noted in the second paragraph stem from an adherence to the codified moral systems whose absence from present day society is implied by the same paragraph! But perhaps I'm simply deceiving myself. After all, as someone who considers himself a vehement opponent of old men raping children, I'm obviously just pontificating from my perch high atop the moral high ground. Right, Dave?

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?”

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

Seems to me the proper question is how we can stop 55 year old football coaches from using the facilities of one of the most illustrious athletic programs in the nation to rape boys.  Seems to me the proper question is how we might rebuild the power structure at Penn State to ensure that the full powers of that institution of higher learning are never put in service of the protection of a child rapist.  Seems to me the proper question is why a judge that worked for the foundation this man used as his child rape pool, was allowed to hear this man's case and then set him free on unconditional bond.  If my thinking that these are the proper questions make me someone who is simply trying to assuage liberal guilt, then I prefer the deception to the alternative.

Which, on the basis of Brooks' claims, seems to be nothing.

Gospel of greed

According to Pat Buchanan, taxing investment at something north of half of the rate work is taxed is

rooted in the philosophy of envy and the gospel of greed.

(Video here.  Why's that?

Mr.Buffett says he is unhappy because he doesn't pay as high a tax rate as he says his secretary does.

I suppose he envies his secretary's high tax rate and is greedy for more tax payments.  Watch the clip, not even John McLaughlin can make any sense of this.  Asking Buchanan to explain how it is that Buffett's claim that it is unfair that he pays a lower tax rate on his investment than his secretary does on work might amount to greed or envy, Buchanan retorts:

I think he's a plutocrat who is playing to the crowd.

Plutocrats, always playing to the crowd by demanding higher taxes on themselves.  This has to be the worst ad hominem circumstantial in the history of the McLaughlin Group.

The symbols of my religion are religiously neutral

Joseph Ianfranco and Byron Babione's recent post at the American Spectator, "Atheists Attack 9/11 Cross," deserves some comment, as it instantiates a troubling bit of doublethink when it comes to defending state-sponsored religious symbolism.  On the one hand, there is the line that these symbols are representative of the religion of the society, and so what's wrong with a democracy that reflects the religious views of the majority?  On the other hand, there is the line that recognizes the necessity of restraint, but also holds that using the specific symbols in question doesn't amount to government endorsement of any particular religion.  The trouble is that you can't have both. 

They run their first line of argument by quoting the majority (with Kennedy as the lead writer) in the SCOTUS Salazar v Bruno case regarding a giant cross erected in the Mojave desert:

The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society.

That's fine, but the key is that using that symbolism for lots of people's acts displays those people's acts in the light of those religious stories.  There's having holidays on days that people of the dominant religion will likely take off, then there's using their symbols to invoke public virtues.  This puts too much stress on the establishment issue, so defenders of religious symbolism then demur that the symbolism is all that religious to begin with.

Who drives by such a cross and immediately sees an "establishment of Christianity" instead of a memorial? Not most Americans, 72 percent of whom favor inclusion of the 9/11 cross at the New York memorial and see no constitutional violation.

Huh. That's funny, as invoking the opinions of the majority of people won't save the case that is the tyranny of the majority.  As if the issue was settled as follows:  You say this is the majority overreaching its bounds?  Well, 75% of the people we polled say this is just fine with them!

But the deeper issue is the strange cultural blindness that Christian monoculture imbues people with.  The state erecting a giant cross doesn't look in the least like an endorsement of Christianity, because crosses just mean piety and holiness and such.  That's just what crosses mean, right?   It seems reminiscent of the Wittgenstein joke about the Frenchman who said that French is the best language, because the words come out in the order that you think them.

 

Wave the flag, miss the point

Melissa J. Ferguson, at Cornell University, just released findings showing that exposure to the American flag inclines you to vote Republican.  The more you saw the flag before the '08 election, the more likely it is that you voted for McCain.  The more you saw the flag in '10, the more likely you voted Republican — even if you self-identified as a Democrat.  This is troubling for two reasons.  First, it seems that patriotic displays count in favor of Republicans.  And so the causal connection is actually the other way — it's not that Republicans wrap themselves in the Flag because they're Republicans, it's that they're Republicans because they wrap themselves in the Flag.  That occasions the second piece of troubling news — it's imagery that's having the effect on people, not reasons, evidence, or anything like that.  Change a few features of your environment, and next thing you know, you're a conservative.  That should give conservatives pause about what basis they really hold their convictions.

But all that is beside the point when Lisa Fabrizio at the American Spectator responds to the news.  You see, she can't take the good news (that her ideological stripes have an advantage) without being suspicious of who's bringing it:

What is intriguing though, is the motivation behind these studies. Because they expose the tremendous anxiety of liberals when confronted by American patriotism, they reveal more about the observers than the observed. Because, in the main, liberals are ashamed of our country and all that it has represented and all that represents it: mainly our military and our flag.

But it seems she hasn't been paying attention. It's not the imagery that's the problem.  It's the ideology that the imagery serves that's the problem for those liberal folks.  To get hung up on the images is to miss the point.

Even the colors of the flag are cause for concern amongst those who despise what it stands for: purity, vigilance and valor. No, in modern America, liberal hearts do not beat true for the red, white and blue.

Now it's about color schemes.  Surely there's a correlation between you wearing an American Flag jacket or  John Phillip Sousa on your ipod and how you vote.  But the findings show that for many conservatives, it's the imagery that makes the determinations.  How does the motivation behind the researchers (whether or not they are liberals, commies, or whatever) influence the troubles for conservative conception?  Maybe, as noted before, it really is more a game of identity politics than anything else. You already know what to expect when you see someone wearing a tricorn hat.

Picking the Low Fruit

While feeling guilty about supplanting Scott's great post on Subjunctive Tu Quoques, (which you should read first–and while I'm at it, how did I not know about this? All that time studying particles in Greek! Here's the full link. Bravo.) I thought I might pick some low hanging fruit.

An absolute treasure trove of logical fallacies can be found through the various smear-campaigns of Center for Consumer Freedom. In case you haven't come across these folks before, NYT had a short piece a few months ago describing CCF's campaigns on behalf of various corporate interests against not for profit advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society of the United States. I'm sure Christopher Buckley didn't have these guys in mind when he wrote Thank you for Smoking but the comedy at times is equally broad.

Anyway, HSUS is squarely within their sights and sites these days as are any attempts to regulate "humane" conditions for livestock. Enter David Martosko, the mind behind Humanewatch.org, in the Sacramento Bee:

What's really at stake here is that word: "humane." HSUS seems to want a monopoly on it, even though other animal welfare-oriented groups – and plenty of scientists – disagree with its agenda. And that agenda is where the rubber meets the road: HSUS is run by vegans who don't believe anyone should eat eggs, regardless of how or where they were produced.

Most recently, HSUS has opposed attempts by California lawmakers to specifically define the standards mandated by Proposition 2. The very vague language that California voters approved in 2008 gives HSUS's enormous legal team enough wiggle room to hassle farmers who don't see things HSUS's way.

Of course, enriched chicken cages could be furnished with couches, Jacuzzis, treadmills and iPads, and activists who believe in "rights" for birds would still complain about them. HSUS is among them. And its vision of what's "humane" is outside the mainstream.

Since HSUS's view is that a vegan diet is the only "humane" way to eat, this whole "cage-free" egg campaign is a sideshow. It's a temporary step toward the group's larger goal.

Much of the argument against HSUS you find here and elsewhere has to do with what they "really want." Here it includes a "monopoly" on the word "humane" (whatever that means) and forcing everyone to eat tofu-scramble rather than scrambled eggs. Often evidence is trotted out in support of this agenda comprised of quotations from employees and fellow-travelers of HSUS, not occasionally, taken baldly out of context.

Nevertheless, there's an interesting argument from true intention here that is sort of like a circumstantial ad hominem  but seems interestingly different. It looks like the structure is something along the lines of:

1. P supports policy x (cage free housing).

2. P's real intention is to adopt radical end y (veganism).

3. Therefore, we should resist policy x (cage free housing).

It's not a simple ad hominem in this form since it doesn't deny the truth of a claim, though it could be formulated as a circumstantial ad hominem. What seems to be added is an implicit slippery slope argument that suggests that because P supports y we should not allow x since it would advance y. This is the sort of argument that lots of tea-party folks seem to fall back on–Obama's real intention is to turn the country into a socialist state, Obama advocates health care reform,Therefore we should resist health care reform. But, it's certainly not limited to the right-wing. We hear similar arguments made about corporations and certain other administrations. I don't have an example to hand right now, but I'm sure we can come up with a bunch. It's really the laziest of all argumentative vices.

In the case of President Obama the "real intention" premise is so laughable that the logical flaw in the argument is overshadowed by the obvious falsity of the premise. Most of these "real intentions"premises have a cartoonish world domination feel to them. But in the HSUS case it is, perhaps, in some sense true that HSUS are advocates of veganism (or their CEO is, or many of their members are–I'm not sure how to think about ascriptions of beliefs to organizations) and maybe even want to further that end through HSUS's actions. But, even if that's true, the conclusion does not seem to follow without some additional premises connecting x and y more closely, just like slippery slopes arguments.

Nevertheless, it is a really bad argument–even if HSUS does believe that everyone should become vegan this says little about whether their opposition to enriched cage housing as less humane than free range or other cage-less alternatives is well founded. Though to be fair to Martosko he does offer appeals to several expert organizations (American Humane Association, Temple Grandin and the American Veterinary Medical Association) who do hold that enriched cage housing is humane. But, rather than engage their serious disagreements over the substantive issue, he prefers the lazy route.

New study shows: liberals don’t have conservative economic views

Ron Ross, at The American Spectator, reports that a Zogby International survey "confirms what (he's) long suspected — when it comes to economics, liberals are clueless."  The survey asks respondents to identify themselves on a spectrum from very liberal to very conservative, and then eight questions come.  Ross notes: 

On the basis of eight economic questions, wrong answers correlated consistently with ideology.  Progressive/very liberal respondents got four times more wrong answers than libertarians.

Ross concludes that the survey results "demonstrate a strong connection between economic ignorance and interventionist enthusiasm.  Those who are most determined to interfere with the economy know the least about it."

Well, golly, if there really is a connection between not knowing economics and being a liberal, that'd be a bad thing.  Especially for liberals and their views about economics.  So let's look at all the economics that liberals are so ignorant about.  Here are two of the most telling questions:

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.  (Unenlightened Answer: Disagree)

6. Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. (Unenlightened Answer: Agree)

The rest of the questions are the usual libertarian talking points (minimum wage laws increase unemployment, licensing professional services causes the price for those services to be raised).  The crazy thing is that question 1 is so vaguely stated that anyone with any sense would ask for clarification: Are the restrictions with regard to where the houses will be built, what kind of houses, or whether they must meet safety codes, and so on? In some cases, those restrictions will drive prices up, and other times, down.  Of course, the survey has the right answer that they do.  Why? Because that's what libertarians believe.

With question 6, I don't see this as a matter of having knowledge of basic economics or any such thing, but more a question of having ethical judgment about what counts as exploitation.  Again, because the right answers are being determined by people who casually use the term "leftist," as a term for anyone who's not a member of the John Birch Society, the right answers will likely be different from, say, any morally developed adult.

None of this would be surprising or irritating if the survey and report did not use terms like "unenlightened" and "wrong" for the answers here.  Now, if the survey were about, say, basic economic knowledge, where there is no reasonable disagreement, then we'd have no problem.  But here we have the simple strategy of polling one's opponents in a disagreement, noting how they have views you reject, casting them as being wrong, and then reporting how often those with whom you disagree are wrong about things that matter.  But, even if liberals are in error, these are not the simple errors that Ross portrays them to be.  These are controversial matters in economics, ones about which intelligent people disagree.  To portray this as a matter of ignorance, as Ross does, is not just a distortion of the debate, it's simple lying.  But Ross is all too happy to run up the score when the deck is stacked:

What we're seeing all too often is "the arrogance of ignorance." Both arrogance and ignorance do enormous damage in the world, but together they are a toxic brew.

Ross's gerrymandered study really only shows that opinions about economics track political self-identification.  That's not news, and certainly not something to make the hay Ross does of it.  There's another toxic brew, in addition to Ross's arrogance and ignorance: it's willful deception and self-righteous indignation.

**Hello Everyone–Welcome Scott Aikin, our newest contributor

–Editors.


You just want to be happy

Today Robert Samuelson, mustachioed captain bringdown of the Washington Post op-ed page, meditates on the obvious fact that people who think they're right about something feel good about being right.  The only thing is that he mistakes this for some kind of profound discovery.  He writes:

Obama's approach was politically necessary. On a simple calculus of benefits, his proposal would have failed. Perhaps 32 million Americans will receive insurance coverage — about 10 percent of the population. Other provisions add somewhat to total beneficiaries. Still, for most Americans, the bill won't do much. It may impose costs: higher taxes, longer waits for appointments. [argument please–eds]

People backed it because they thought it was "the right thing"; it made them feel good about themselves. What they got from the political process are what I call "psychic benefits." Economic benefits aim to make people richer. Psychic benefits strive to make them feel morally upright and superior. But this emphasis often obscures practical realities and qualifications. For example: The uninsured already receive substantial medical care, and it's unclear how much insurance will improve their health. [WTF? –eds.]

Purging moral questions from politics is both impossible and undesirable. But today's tendency to turn every contentious issue into a moral confrontation is divisive. One way of fortifying people's self-esteem is praising them as smart, public-spirited and virtuous. But an easier way is to portray the "other side" as scum: The more scummy "they" are, the more superior "we" are. This logic governs the political conversation of left and right, especially talk radio, cable channels and the blogosphere. [Or it's even easier to portray them as having ulterior psychological motivations about feeling good about themselves-eds.]

I think a country as rich as ours ought to be able to provide health insurance for everyone.  I think this for moral reasons and practical ones.  On the practical front, the total costs, I think, of our current system outweigh the benefits.  The new bill, by the way, wasn't just about the uninsured (and really Samuelson ought to know this)–it was about reforming the insurance you already have (which in many cases barely qualifies as "insurance").  Now, thankfully, if Samuelson develops a new condition–mustache cancer for instance–he can't be "rescinded" (that was the idea, anyway) by his insurance company just because he's sick.  If his kid has a preexisting condition, the Post's insurance policy can't not cover him.  Well, that's the idea anyway. 

Does it make me feel good about myself to have supported such a position?  Maybe.  Did I think it was the correct position to take?  Yes.  That feeling–feeling good about having the right position–is a consequence of my thinking I have the right position, rather than the cause of it. 

But in any case, I think we can all assume for the sake of argument that everyone always wants to feel good about himself.  We can also assume that people want to feel good about themselves for good reason.  The relevant question here is whether people who supported (or opposed) HCR have good reason to feel good about themselves. 

Maybe they do, maybe they don't.