Tag 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?

 

O tempora o mores!

Fig. 1: Ancient Roman Historians

Raising questions about an expert’s qualifications, motivations, and possible conflicts of interest is good practice.  However, a fundamental principle of argument says  that time is short and that one must therefore dispense with the bullshit.

This principle was violated by Fox News’ religion correspondent, Lauren Green, when she spent several minutes of an interview with well-known religious scholar Reza Aslan puzzling over why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus:

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

This not on its face a stupid question, but that was pretty much the only question the interviewer had for the next several minutes.  Her implication was that there is something suspect or inappropriate in a non-Christian’s writing about Jesus.  This is a variation on the fallacious variety of the ad hominem circumstantial: you’re just saying what you say about Jesus because you’re a Muslim out to terrorize Christianity with scholarship and footnotes.

That’s obviously silly and does not deserve refutation.

Sadly, having watched the interview, I have no idea what the book is about or whether it is any good.

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.

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.

The Green Hornet

When you have nothing to say against the actual arguments of your opponent–you know, her facts and inferences–you can always psychologize about her motives.  Cue the "you're just saying that because."  This, I think, would properly characterize George Will's response to any argument not his own (at least those which he doesn't straw man).  Today he enlists the help, as he often does, of a couple of fellows who say something he thinks makes his points about environmentalism, and by extension anything "liberal."  He writes:

In "The Green Bubble: Why Environmentalism Keeps Imploding" [the New Republic, May 20], Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of "Break Through: Why We Can't Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists," say that a few years ago, being green "moved beyond politics." Gestures — bringing reusable grocery bags to the store, purchasing a $4 heirloom tomato, inflating tires, weatherizing windows — "gained fresh urgency" and "were suddenly infused with grand significance."

Green consumption became "positional consumption" that identified the consumer as a member of a moral and intellectual elite. A 2007 survey found that 57 percent of Prius purchasers said they bought their car because "it makes a statement about me." Honda, alert to the bull market in status effects, reshaped its 2009 Insight hybrid to look like a Prius.

You can read the original article at the link.  This article doesn't seem interested in the actual realities addressed by "the green movement."  Here's a taste:

Little surprise, then, that they would start buying a whole new class of products to demonstrate their ecological concern. Green consumption became what sociologists call "positional consumption"–consumption that distinguishes one as elite–and few things were more ecopositional than the Toyota Prius, whose advantage over other hybrid cars was its distinctive look. A 2007 survey that appeared in The New York Times found that more Prius owners (57 percent) said they bought the car because it "makes a statement about me" than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent), lower emissions (25 percent), or new technology (7 percent). Prius owners, the Times concluded, "want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid." The status effects were so powerful that, by early 2009, Honda's new Insight Hybrid had been reshaped to look like the triangular Prius.

Of course, for many greens, healing required more than a new kind of consumption, however virtuous. In The New York Times Magazine's 2008 Earth Day issue, Michael Pollan argued that climate change was at bottom a crisis of lifestyle and personal character–"the sum of countless little everyday choices"–and suggested that individual actions, such as planting backyard gardens, might ultimately be more important than government action to repair the environment. Pollan half-acknowledged that growing produce in your backyard was ecologically irrelevant, but "there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden," he wrote. "[Y]ou will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen."

And so forth.  One can always find someone who participates in mass action whose motives are not directly in line with the goals of the mass action.  But hey, that doesn't say much.  Some Nazis, after all, were just in it for the chicks.  That doesn't make their Nazism any less horrible.

Boiling of the blood around the heart

There is a fairly simple argument for exploring the possibility of criminal trials against those who justified, ordered and performed torture: torture is illegal.  David Broder, however, seems very confused about the nature of legality.  He writes:

But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more — the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps — or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability — and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

Holy crap is that silly.  Vengeance is irrelevant to whether or not someone has broken laws.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, people have broken the law.  The people who trusted them with their vote (and those who didn't vote for them, but implicitly "trusted" them anyway) have a right to be rather narked (I don't know how to spell that Britishism properly) about their violating that trust.  There being angry about it, however, is an independent, mostly irrelevant, fact about their character used ad hominemly to distract the reader from drawing the correct conclusion.

It's about as irrelevant as the following:

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has — thankfully — made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness — and injustice.

The question is not whether the torture decision was a policy decision–we all know that it was–the question is whether that policy decision was legal.  Just because the right people sat in a room and debated it doesn't mean it's just politics.  It only makes the crime (should there be determined to be one) worse.    

A Simple One

Nothing fancy. 

Teacher writes to the founder of the Helios project "which brings Linux to school kids in Austin."

 "Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. … This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older version of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…"

"Starks pens an eloquent reply, which contains a factoid I have not seen mentioned before: "The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line. Microsoft has pumped tens of millions of dollars into your union. Of course you are going to 'recommend' Microsoft Windows."

I'll leave the question of eloquence aside, but the screaming ad hominem circumstantial is something a Logic teacher with an exam to write must love.

Association by guilt

Perhaps some of you might have heard that Barack Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists," such as William Ayers of the Weather Underground, or that he listened while his minister criticized America, or that some guy from the same city as him is going to go to jail.  Such are the McCain campaign's charges.  You might also notice that these are attempts "guilt by association" (here we call it "bad company"). To many, such a tactic is wrong on its face.  Rather than discuss the substantive policy questions that ought to be driving the current Presidential race, we have to sit through endless stories about who met with whom when where and how.  It certainly is dumb, and it makes all of us dumber.  Here's a well known leftish blogger:

So Palin’s "palling around" accusation is no more true than her boast that she "told congress ‘Thanks, but no thanks’" on the Bridge to Nowhere, or that she had the Alaska Permanent Fund divest from Sudan. But it seems to me that pointing out factual errors gives this line of argument too much credit: guilt by association, even when the association happens to be real, is a silly charge.

It's not a silly charge, however.  Whether the charge is true is certainly important.  As important as that, however, is whether the charge is relevant.  Relevance, in fact, is what makes the difference between a fallacious guilt by association charge and a legitimate one.  It's not, in other words, simply a matter of the form of argument.  The content–who is the associate, how long? how important? etc.,–makes all of the difference.

It turns out, I think, that Palin's charges are false or at best misleading.  Ayers is, in fact, a rather prominent person in Chicago politics–he even pals around with such mainstream figures as Richard M. Daley, our longtime mayor.  Besides, Ayers isn't in jail, and he doesn't seem to be currently a terrorist.  Besides that, he, in his civic role in Chicago politics, "palled" around with Republicans as well.

All of this, of course, makes a huge difference as to the relevance of the charge.  If Sarah Palin, for instance, "palled around" with members of a treasonous secessionist political party, I think that would indeed be relevant.  The same would be true for John McCain.  If he palled around with people who advocated assassination as a policy, or who defrauded thousands of people of their life savings, we might have reason to question his judgment.

So, while whether such charges as these are true matters a good deal.  But it matters just as much whether they have any relevance to stuff that matters.  Sometimes they don't.