Category Archives: ignorance of basic matters of logic

Santa brought you a fallacy

USA Today recently reported that “not all Christians believe there is a War on Christmas.”  Most who don’t have this belief have the contrary belief – that not only that there is not a war on Christmas, but that the holiday is doing just fine and one doesn’t need to force it on the non-believers.

But Larry Thornberry at AmSpec sees a fallacy:

A recent USA Today story carried the headline “Not all Christians believe there is a ‘War on Christmas.’”  Hardly surprising. Not all Christians believe Elvis is dead. The obvious escapes many, pious or heathen.

The title of the piece is “Objection, Your Honor. Relevance?”

Two important things.  First, ad populum arguments are not failures of relevance.  Otherwise the fact that something is ‘traditional’ or ‘common sense’ wouldn’t lend any support to anything.  But it does – else conservatism would, at it’s core, be a fallacy.  Ad populum arguments suffer, instead, from problems of weak authority – the matter is whether there are other reasons undercutting the authority or the accuracy of those attesting.

Second, the analogy between those who don’t believe in a War on Christmas and those who believe Elvis is still alive is mighty ridiculous.  The difference between the two is that Elvis-death-deniers fail with empirical evidence.  War-on-Christmas deniers distinguish being oppressed from tolerance.


A different explanation

George Whittman, at the American Spectator, has a suggestion to Bill Clinton: Stay Home.  Apparently, Clinton makes for accommodationist foreign policy with Muslims. Clinton opined that Islamic terrorism in Northern Nigeria was caused by economic troubles, and he suggested economic development of the North as a means of reducing the trouble. Whittman rebuts Clinton:

Clinton must have known that his statement was a direct attack on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan who had earlier responded sharply to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour when she suggested poverty and corruption were behind the rise in Nigerian terrorism. President Jonathan had vigorously replied that Boko Haram was “definitely not a result of poverty.…Boko Haram is a local terrorist group.”

Note, by the way, that the form of that explanation is as follows:  q does not explain p, because p.  Apparently, being an Islamic terrorist is causa sui.  Silly Clinton.

Did he just false dilemma himself?

Jed Babbin, over at The American Spectator, has some objections to the gender-integration of combat troops.  He breaks the issue into two questions:

First and foremost is whether the presence of women will add to or detract from the readiness and capability of the unit to perform its mission. The second is a moral question: Will having women serve in harm’s way benefit our military and society at large?

OK. That sounds fine.  Though the second moral question seems improperly formed.  Shouldn’t it be less an issue of serving society at large but more an issue of equal treatment of those in the military (i.e., not having a glass ceiling for women)?  Well, regardless, Babbin holds that the answer to the second is a NO, but he feels like the PC police will descend on him if he says much more about it:

The question of benefit to society has been mooted politically.

He then turns to the question, again, whether the presence of women will add or detract from readiness:

So we are left with the first question, which has to be answered with a resounding “no.”

Wait.  He posed the dilemma (add or detract), and now he says ‘no.’  Now, that doesn’t mean that he’s going to be arguing for a third option (though, given the way the question is posed, it should). Given what he says later (like, having women around yields “complete the destruction of the warrior culture”) it’s pretty clear that what Babbin means to say is that it will detract from readiness.  But, sheesh!  Somebody over there is playing (and being paid to be an) editor, right?


Trust your feelings

In service of the idea that arguments infect people like viruses, immuno-suppressed Dennis Prager catches some of that David Brooks virus (see here).  Prager, however, manages to get a worse version of Brooksosis acuta:

This latest study cited by David Brooks confirms what conservatives have known for a generation: Moral standards have been replaced by feelings. Of course, those on the left only believe this when an “eminent sociologist” is cited by a writer at a major liberal newspaper.

What is disconcerting about Brooks’s piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend: namely, secularism.

The intellectual class and the Left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.

One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

Aside from actually getting Brooks' article wrong, suggesting that Brooks is a liberal, and claiming that people believe him, Prager has the shallowest understanding of moral philosophy.  One would think that the cure Prager needs is the Euthyphro Problem.  But the passage just before this shows his intellectual ailment to be much worse:

Ever since I attended college I have been convinced that “studies” either confirm what common sense suggests or they are mistaken. I realized this when I was presented study after study showing that boys and girls were not inherently different from one another, and they acted differently only because of sexist upbringings.

Maybe he should go back to college and ask for his money back. 

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.

Ever tried red herring?

Some people think gun control is a good idea.  But "gun control" could mean any number of things.  It might mean, for instance, a complete ban on guns.  Some people want that.  It might also mean a ban on military-style weapons.  Seems more sensible to me.  This might make it more difficult for some solitary crazy person to kill a lot of people at once.  You would have thought that, of course, until you consulted history:

(1) THE (NON) EFFECT ON PUBLIC SAFETY: Set aside the fact that criminals don’t obey any law. Set aside too the fact that even if all firearms could be magically disintegrated by appropriate legislation, the murderous would simply use other more time-tested methods of killing. It should not be forgotten that some 7000 were killed in a single day at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 using the available hand weapons, which did not include firearms. At the Civil War battle of Gettysburg in 1863, both sides suffered approximately 51,000 casualties in three days of fighting using primarily single shot, breech loading rifles and muzzle loading cannon quite crude by contemporary standards. Some 5000 horses were also killed. The problem, in 1066, 1863 and today is human nature, not the tools employed.

The little number there will tell you the author of this argument is presenting a convergent case.  The unique ridiculousness of this claim, therefore, may not be representative of the whole argument.  If I were to engage in a bit of weak-manning, I might argue that a person who would advance such a claim doesn't need to be listened to any longer.  But that's not fair play.  You can read the rest of the argument for yourself. 

This one is just uniquely hilarious, as it seems completely to miss the point that high-capacity magazines (assault weapons, etc.) make it easier for lone nutcases to kill a lot of people in a very short amount of time.  It doesn't, of course, end our inhumanity to each other in the form of war.  To invoke this, I think, is a textbook worthy instance of the red herring technique.  In case you're not familiar with that technique, here's another example:

It's not the case that the oil spill caused tons of environmental damage in the Gulf, have you ever tried red herring?  They're excellent and they're on the menu at your local Swedish restaurant. 

link courtesy of balloon juice.

It’s not hypocrisy if you don’t like it

Word has it that Paul Ryan, the respondent to the SOTU address, is a major fan of hack philosopher and confuser of undergraduates Ayn Rand such that he distributes copies of her works to staffers and credits her work with his desire to go into public service.

With Ryan and Rand Paul and everything, Ayn Rand, the original, has undergone somewhat of a renaissance lately.  This is really sad, as there seriously have to be more worthy versions of libertarianism on which to base one’s opposition to Obama’s extremely socialist agenda.

With renewed interest there will naturally be renewed scrutiny (and reawkened revulsion).  Along these lines someone has discovered (or made up I’m not sure which) that Ayn Rand and her husband received Social Security benefits.  This is supposed to be some kind of hilarious contradiction.  It’s not really.  You pay in to SS and get money out.  That’s the way it works.  You’re entitled to it because it’s yours.  They even keep track of it.  Now some might get more than they pay in, and whether Rand did is open and somewhat uninteresting question, but that’s another matter.

What is hilarious, I think, is what issues forth by way of justification for participation in public benefits.  Via someone’s attempt to support Rand’s view, here’s what she had to say about public scholarships (which has to be on the minds of all of those young Randians who get them, who attend public colleges, etc.):

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .

Again, in the case of Social Security (and medicare) this makes sense (though it remains a ridiculous justification–there is no way an average elderly person could possibly pay the private cost of medical insurance or health care nowadays)–but in the case of money simply gifted to you (or provided you in the form of deeply subsidized federal loans) it doesn’t.  Being morally opposed to receiving others’ stolen money, yet taking it anyway, thinking your moral opposition to it absolves you of hypocrisy makes you a double hypocrite: you’re a hypocrite for violating your own principles and you’re a hypocrite for thinking your moral opposition to an action you engage in and profit from makes you not a hypocrite.

There’s no modern Socrates, so you must be…

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist of some standing.  But he, unfortunately, isn't much for logic. Or, perhaps, simple consistency.  His recent article, "The New Sophists," over at National Review Online, exemplifies these two traits in spades.

Hanson's thesis is that there's just so much double-talk and empty rhetoric, especially from the left, and more especially regarding global warming.  Al Gore "convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, and then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he had helped create."  And the recent record snowfalls in the Northeast are clear evidence that global warming is a sham.  When climate scientists explained that events like this are not only consistent with global warming, but to be expected, Hanson retorts:

The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow is proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: What, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

It's not just climate science that has the double-talk, though.  Hanson sees it with discussions of the Constitution:

One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed on MSNBC that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “written more than 100 years ago” and has “no binding power on anything.”

To all of this, Hanson makes his analogy with classical Athens and the problem of the sophists:

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, someone writes that record cold proves record heat, . . . or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.

OK. That's a nice point, at least if it were true about the cases he was discussing. (Did Hanson not read the reasons in the NYT article he never cites as to why we'd get crazy snowfalls because of global warming?  If he's going to talk about the article, talk about its argument, too.  Sheesh.  And Klein said it was over 100 years old, and that it's not binding, … but that doesn't matter to Hanson, I guess).  But it's on this point about sophists run amok that Hanson bemoans our fate:

We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can be.

So we don't have a modern Socrates.  So what's Hanson doing, then?  By that statement, he can't think he's Socrates or doing the job of criticizing the new rhetoricians, can he?  So what is he?  I think I know:  He's another sophist.

Slippery Slopes and Puppies

Charles Kruse, President of the Missouri Farm Bureau, was recently interviewed by the New York Times about Missouri's upcoming Referendum Vote (Prop. B) outlawing overcrowded dog breeding operations and  setting living standards for dogs owned by breeders (adequate shelter, rest time between litters, access to outdoors, not living in excrement, and so on).  In effect, the proposed law outlaws puppy mills, and the Humane Society of Missouri is behind the proposition. Here's what Kruse had to say:

This is just a first step…. It’s pretty clear their ultimate desire is to eliminate the livestock industry in the United States.

Wuh?  This is about dogs.  They don't eat those in Missouri, do they?  (I went to WUSTL for undergrad, and I don't remember them serving dog anywhere in St.L., but that was the city, and all.) But seriously, folks, how does making it illegal to make a dog have litter after litter in squalid conditions with no time to regain her heath or even be healthy at all make it so that there's no livestock industry?  Even if this were the Humane Society's endgame, what's wrong with treating dogs in ways that aren't utterly horrible?

You know that Kruse, on the Farm Bureau website, has an answer to that question:

“Furthermore, if Proposition B passes, these radical animal rights organizations and individuals won’t stop there.  As experienced in other states, they will work to further regulate Missouri farmers, driving them out of business as well and driving up food costs,” said Kruse.

Oh, I see.  It's not that this sets a precedent, it's that because the Humane Society promotes vegetarianism, a win for them about treating dogs decently is a blow to anyone raising chickens or cows for slaughter.  They won't stop there.  But what if there is a perfectly legitimate position, and there are other reasons to oppose where they want to go from there?  What about that? 

There's an old distinction to make between slippery slopes and bumpy staircases.  It seems that this is more bumpy than slippery.  Moreover, what's Kruse got against dogs? 

I’m not a bigot, but I play one on “The O’Reilly Factor”

Here's Juan Williams, formerly of NPR, on non-bigotry:

"Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

NPR fired this guy.  If they fired him for being an f—ing moron they would be absolutely more than justified.  I can think of two reasons: first, Muslims in traditional garb are not going to commit acts of terrorism; second, Muslims as a whole ought not to be identified for logical and political reasons with Taliban-style extremists (Wanna be identified with Timothy McVeigh?). 

One more reason: Williams endorsed the justification, although this time a bit more plausibly, for any Iraqi or Afghani or Iranian or just anyone at all perhaps in the non-Israeli Middle East who worries that Westerners, in particular Americans, might want to democratize them.