Tag Archives: argumentum ad populum (fallacious kind)

Argumentum ad bawitdabam

So we’re doing this.  Kid Rock gave a speech about his upcoming Senate bid during one of his concerts.  It was not well-composed, but it did have something that looked like an argument in it.  And here we are, seeing if we can do some logic with the American Badass.  Here’s the speech:

And a transcript of it is available here (provided, btw, by Metal Injection).

Rock gave two arguments of note.  One had an interesting bit of complication about taxes and entitlement programs to it.  Here’s the relevant piece:

It seems the government wants to give everyone health insurance but wants us all to pay. And to be very frank, I really don’t have a problem with that. ‘Cause god has blessed me and made my pockets fat.

“But redistribution of wealth, seems more like their plan. I don’t believe that you should say sacrifice, do things by the book and then have to take care of some deadbeat, milking the system, lazy ass, motherfucking man.

So, here’s what I see to it.  Rock holds that he’s OK with government subsidized health insurance, and he’s happy to pay in to that because he’s rich.  But he thinks that there’s a limit to what government entitlements he’s willing to support — and so he’s against free riders to the system.  (He runs a follow-up to the argument about ‘struggling single parents’ and the threat of ‘women, who can’t even take care of themselves, but keep having kid after fucking kid’).

But here’s the crucial thing.  It looks like Rock is saying his defaults are on supporting these entitlement programs, and he’s not willing to let the fact that there are free riders defeat support for these programs.  He just wants to stop the free riders from doing what they are doing.  Now, how he proposes to stop them is bonkers. In all the cases, he proposes that we ‘lock up’ those who are taking advantage of the programs.  That free riding is productive of outrage does not imply that free riders must be punished with incarceration.  Hence an argument from outrage.

What’s important here is noting that, again, Rock’s defaults are on supporting the programs.  It looks like he can distinguish his disappointment with those who cheat them from the fact that the programs work for those who really need them.  Again, his over-reaction to one shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s made a good move with the other.  (Well, perhaps it can overshadow it a bit … are we really going to ‘lock up’ people who have more kids than someone like Rock thinks they should while on welfare?)

The second argument is just a piece of word-salad that seems to come out as a case for him to be President.  Here’s the relevant bit:

Kid Rock for senate has got folks in disarray. Wait till they hear Kid Rock for president of the U.S.A.. ‘Cause wouldn’t it be a sight to see, President Kid Rock in Washington, D.C.. Standing on the Oval Office like a G. Holding my dick ready to address the whole country.

I’ll look the nation dead in the eyes, live on TV, and simply tell them, you never met a motherfucker quite like me

This image is very hard to erase from a mind.

As far as I can see, this is a form of ad populum, one that runs that because the Kid is dope/fly/cool, he should occupy the highest political office in the land.  The fact that the interest in his candidacy has ‘got folks in disarray’ is a form of the negative ad populum we’ve discussed a few times, one that runs:

P: If I do X, it will drive liberals/elites crazy

C: I should do X.

Again, I’m calling the move now negative ad populum, because the core of the line of argument is that the judgment of a certain class of people is so badly aligned, they are a barometer for the correct decision, except by way of negation.  You just do whatever would make them mad, or the opposite of what they would do.   Rock is, in many ways, running this argument convergently — both as an ad populum (I’m cool, so deserving the Presidency), and as a negative ad populum (my candidacy drives the libs nuts, so I’m deserving of more votes).  Of course, as with any ad populum, the matter is regularly underdetermined by the premises.  But, hey, when you’ve got a rock show to run, who has time for relevant premises, amirite?



Leaky Arguments from Precedence

Jack Shafer’s “How Trump Can Learn to Love Leaking” over at Politico has a few nice insights about the love-hate relationship many administrations have had for leaks, and he, I think rightly, observes that:

[T]here is no leak crisis, only a leak panic. . . . As leaks go, the ones currently tormenting the Trump administration are pedestrian, merely embarrassing the president rather than rupturing national security.

From this reasonable observation, Shafer makes, what seems to me, an unreasonable inference:

Trump, of course, might reject the status quo and order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to mount a hammer and tongs foray against the press and leakers, as Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan recently warned. But there is scant precedent for such a crackdown, and for good reason. To chase down journalists, Trump and Sessions would have to weaken the Department of Justice guidelines that protect reporters from such investigations. Would the political costs of trashing the guidelines and stalking the leakers be worth it, especially in cases where no vital secrets have been revealed?

As I see it, Shafer’s inference runs something like:

The leaks are mostly costly cosmetically for the administration, and prosecuting them would be politically costly.  Moreover, few Presidents have pursued many leaks.  Therefore, it’s unlikely that Trump will pursue the leaks.

 But the problem is that, as with all probabilistic reasoning, if we add evidence that we are dealing with an outlier case, then the inductive reasons are defeated.  And there are good reasons to say that Trump’s case is an outlier here.  Recall that he’s fiercely retributive for those who break his trust.  Moreover, that X is the way that folks in Washington have done things is not a reason that seems to hold much force with the Trump administration.

This is, I think, a good example of why the ad populum forms of arguments from precedence (and from all the motives that make up that precedence) are all inductive, and so non-monotonic forms of inference.  They can be just fine so long as we think the cases we are applying them to are not relevantly different from what had come before, but if we add the new information in, then that inference gets defeated.  And I think that most of arguments from precedence are suspended when we talk about the orange one.

I just repeat things I read

Lordy, what a presser yesterday! There was a lot for us to work on, but Trump gave an interesting answer to a challenge.

First, the challenge.  In the opening remarks and in the Q&A, Trump swung back to talking about the election.  He said his 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232 was the largest win since Ronald Reagan’s in 1984. However, Obama won more electoral votes in 2008 and 2012, Bill Clinton won more in 1992 and 1996 and George H.W. Bush won more in 1988.  So much for historic — at least he beat W’s 2000.  To this, Peter Alexander of NBC, after having corrected Trump on this, asked him:

Why should Americans trust you?

Trump’s replies were, from what I can gather from the audio:

I was given that information… I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.


I was given that information…  Actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

To the last bit, Alexander replies,

Well, you’re the President.

The last is interesting, if only because it’s an elision of instituional authority with cognitive authority.  But the more interesting feature is that Trump’s best reply to being caught out on a falsehood is (a) to say he’s just reading what’s written for him, and (b) to say he’d heard it before.  Of course, neither is a reply to the question of whether he’s reliable.

That he reads what’s written for him is not a relevant reply, since the question could be then put to: why should we trust the things you read?  To the latter, the issue isn’t whether he’s heard it before (there are many untrustworthy rumors and things people say), but whether they are credible.

I think these must be something like weak ad populum arguments, to the effect:

It’s been said/written that p

Therefore, p

The bridge principle, like with ad populum arguments, must be something along the lines If people are saying it, that’s reason to believe it’s true.

The problem with all ad populum arguments is that they are very weak inductions.  Moreover, if you don’t know who said it, then they aren’t really even cases of believing on the basis of testimony — it’s just that you’d heard it.  Generally, on-record testimony is better evidence, at least because people can be held responsible for their assertions.


When ad populum identification itself is a fallacy

Matt Purple has diagnosed the Republican Party with a case of Stockholm Syndrome.  They identify with their oppressors, now.  Specifically, liberal Democrats.

Turn on MSNBC these days and you’ll see a non-stop metronome of post-Romney Republican flogging. You want this to stop?! Then pander to Hispanics! Give up on entitlements! It’s enough to send you thumbing through the Geneva Conventions.

Yes, he just made a torture analogy.  Ignore that.  Here’s the meat of the argument.  The fact that you lose an election, argues Purple, isn’t evidence that you’re wrong.  In fact, it’s evidence that you’re just principled.  The electorate is just… well… you know…  citizens of a democracy, and so stupid. [Here’s an old post on what I’m starting to call The Plato Principle, without fail invoked by losing parties of elections.]  Here’s Purple, again, on why electoral results aren’t reasons to change any policy planks in the Republican platform.

Certain conservative quarters are starting to sound like political strategy shops, fretting over which principles to jettison so they can win an election and make the abuse stop. Forget the Resurrection or American Founding or French Revolution. For these commentators, the formative historical moment for conservatives is now the 2012 election.. . . . This is such spectacularly bad logic that it’s tough to know where to begin.

The fact that Purple invoked logic (particularly, of the  “spectacularly bad” kind) is what caught my eye.  Here’s the first line of argument, again, on the Plato Principle: what wins elections is only what appeals to the stupid and easily moved by their debased self-interest, so is likely wrong.  So the fact that 2012 went against the Republicans is good news.  The degenerate idiots don’t like them.

The second line of argument is that the torturers have a hidden agenda with their criticisms.

Let’s start with the fact that the right’s Democrat tormentors don’t want a legitimate opposition party. They want a single Democratic Party, in agreement so it can pass its agenda. . . . Entitlements. Spending. Taxes. The debt. Regulatory policy. Healthcare. Abortion. Gun control.  Everything.

This is the next line, which is that one shouldn’t take critical input from those who you disagree with, as they are not only wrong, but also are out to make you change your mind.

Once we’ve gotten to the point where finding reasons to agree with others on anything is taken as a form of fallacious reasoning (again, I’m thinking that Purple’s main line of criticism is that in democracies, ad populum is rampant), we’ve hit the point where fallacy-hunting itself is a meta-form of fallacy. [N.B., John’s got a really great post on meta-fallacies from a few years back HERE].





Ad populum seals it

A good deal has been made about Rick Perry's doubts about evolution and global warming.  And so the concern that we have yet another know-nothing Republican on our hands is pretty popular (though Hitchens has an interesting take, too, namely, that he's cynically just putting on).  Rich Lowry, over at National Review, has seen this game before, and he warns his readers that this is an old familiar canard, the "Anti-Science Smear" on Republicans.  Here's how he responds to the evolution line:

According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans think God created man in his present form, and 38 percent think man developed over millions of years with God guiding the process. Is three-quarters of the country potentially anti-science?

Seriously. That's the response about evolution. 

The trouble is that I am unsure that those three quarters polled by Gallup that day could answer many detailed questions about evolution.  They may not be anti-science, but they aren't science literate, at least most of them.  That's probably the case about many, many things. (I'd love to see if Gallup could produce a  percentage of people who think that there's a highest number.) Calling people who answer a poll question in a fashion that does not reflect the scientific consensus 'anti-science' is probably too quick, but calling a Presidential candidate who should know better the same is just about right.   Or else, perhaps, Hitchens is right, and he's just putting on for the cameras and the 75% that really think that way.


In what's good for the gander news, NRO's Jonah Goldberg thinks that President Obama's rhetoric has turned ugly.  He's using patriotism against Republicans. 

According to his new stump speech, if you oppose his agenda, then you don’t care about America as much as he does.

Well, let's see the line that Goldberg thinks crosses the line.

What is needed is action on the part of Congress, a willingness to put the partisan games aside and say we’re going to do what’s right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election. . . . There is nothing that we’re facing that we can’t solve with some spirit of ‘America first.'

Goldberg objects that the 'America First' spirit is supposed to "separate the patriotic from the petty."  But surely this is mild compared to, say, Michele Bachmann saying liberals are unAmerican or even the rest of Goldberg's article, which makes hay about how the President is going on vacation (and so thereby must not be patriotic, either!).  

The point, however, isn't to make the hypocrisy charge here.  The point is to say that Goldberg doesn't defend those charged with pettiness.  He only cries foul at their being called petty.  But surely if there is a group of legislators that are out only to save their hides for the next election rather than making hard choices or getting on with the work of governing, then they need to be called out.  Moreover, it's not the charge of being unpatriotic that I saw in the Obama speech, but the charge of political cynicism.  And it's easy to be a political cynic and be really patriotic.  In fact, those all too often go hand in hand, don't they?

Everyone ’round here loves the ad populum!

Quin Hillyer, over at the American Spectator, is running the "We don't cotton to his kind" argument about President Obama's policies and style of governance. Hillyer has recently moved to Mobile, Alabama after years in Washington, D.C.  He's now writing about how everyday Americans in RedState American cities (or, as Hillyer calls them, "The Real America") have their American sensibilities offended by so obviously an un-American President. 

More than anything else, though, again and again and again, the question comes at me, with a deep concern almost plaintive in nature: Who is out there who can beat Obama and do an okay job? This isn’t merely a “Clinton is a scuzzbucket” or a “Carter is inept” sort of sentiment. This is different. This is an expression of the conviction that what Obama is doing, along with the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, is alien to our very idea of what being an American means.

All of the alien ideas are: the health insurance mandate and government stimulus spending.  But what Hillyer takes as the indicator that Obama is so alien isn't really that he objects to his policies.  He takes it that because Obama doesn't go in for flag-waving extravaganza, he's not one of us.  Same goes for pretty  much anyone associated with him:

Does anybody doubt that Van Jones would sneer at the tri-colored bunting? Does anybody doubt that White House Science Czar John Holdren would look askance at the propagation of so many carbon-emitting children? Does anybody really think that Obama himself feels real joy at hearing a 13-year-old recite the Declaration’s words about rights endowed by a Creator?

Yes, it's come to this — the lefties are sneering cheese-and-brie-crowd haters of America and Americans. 

Taking back political discourse for the nice bigots

James Gannon used to write for the Wall Street Journal.  Now he writes for American Spectator, and he's bringing his insights about public discourse to bear on the rhetoric leading up to the mid-term elections in his recent "Hayseed Rebellion".  He makes some observations about how his side of the debate is being portrayed:

If you believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman, you are a homophobe and a bigot.

Yep, that's right.  If you believe that, you are a homophobe and a bigot.  Where's his problem there?  Be proud of your bigotry, right? (Spoiler alert: Gannon says just that.)

If you believe that the U.S. Constitution means only what it actually says, you are an extremist who ought to be wearing a powdered wig.

Uh, no.  It means that you likely haven't read the Constitution, or that if you have read the Constitution, it's with the radio on,  watching television, while smoking crack.  Seriously, even folks who knew the framers had to read the Federalist Papers to understand what's going on, what's being said, at times.  And then there's stare decisis.  The world's a complicated place, and that means that 18th century legal principles may be relevant, but not perfect fits every time.  Whatever, maybe powdered wigs are in.

If you have misgivings about the morality of abortion, or any doubts about the absolute right of a mother to kill her unborn child, you are a religious fanatic, an anti-feminist, and probably a right-wing Catholic.

OK. I think I get where Gannon's going, now.  He thinks that if he can tell bigots, homophobes, re-enactors of 18th Century legalisms, and religious fanatics that liberals think they are bigots, homophobes, religious fanatics, and general nincompoops, then they'll get mad and act like the bigots, homophobes, fanatics, and nincompoops they are.  And he can do this while noting how generally nice they are, until they've been angered.  Liberals wouldn't like them when they're angry.

And the docile, largely silent majority of ordinary Americans, who don't relish confrontation and controversy, have allowed these institutional forces to have their way in changing American culture. Up to now. . . .

Hey, all you bigots and extremists and homophobes who still believe in all that stuff this country used to stand for — it's time for your Willie Stark moment. It's time to stop being so nice, so naive, so accommodating to the movement that is intent on changing your country radically and permanently. It's time to stand up, speak out, reject the unfair labels being pinned on you and reject the redefinition of everything you care about.

First of all, I can hardly believe that Gannon thinks that the exemplars of this movement are mostly nice.  They are mostly people who think they are nice, but those are often the least nice of all.  Moreover, at this point, who's making these "nice" people angry?  Is it the liberals?  Or is it the blowhards who have been telling them what they believe? 

A quick point on analyzing ad populum arguments to close.  Many are arguments from authority — the authority of crowds.  In this case, this argument is another form of argument from authority, but one less from numbers.  This form of argument is one from persecution conferring authority.  Here's a rough try at the move:

P1: People with identity X are widely persecuted for their views

P2: Persecution is wrong.

C: It is wrong to persecute identity X.

P3: If it is wrong to persecute those with identity X, then X must be right.

C2: X and the views coming with it must be right.

The problem is all with P3, clearly, as there are plenty of stupid views and identities that have been treated shabbily, but that bad treatment hasn't been instrumental to the improvement of the views.  Wiccans, anyone?  So what is the "Hayseed Rebellion" that James Gannon is suggesting?  Not sure, but I have a feeling it involves voting Republican.  That's a good way to let off some steam, you see. 

Of course, they could try to do things that would make the rest of America not think they are homophobes, bigots, racists, and nincompoops.  But that'd be, you know, accommodationist, and they're done being nice, apparently.

Pile on

The other day I talked about this weak and hollow man rich column by Charles Krauthammer.  But there was way more about that column that an attentive undergraduate could have criticized.  Here's another tidbit.  He wrote:

And now the mosque near Ground Zero. The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration's pretense that we are at war with nothing more than "violent extremists" of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour.

So fine two thirds of the population are against the Ground Zero community center.  What else have two thirds of the people been against?  I wonder.  Let's go back in time:

The reponse?

The "smug attribution of bigotry" to 82 percent of the people.