Tag Archives: False Analogy

Straw Figures and Analogies

When one makes a straw figure of an interlocutor’s position, one casts it in worse lights than it deserves.  And so, one interprets a ‘most’ as an ‘all,’ or a prima facie duty as an absolute one.  And so with Mallard Fillmore’s recent comic, we have an imagined critical discussion.  The person in the black turtleneck says “we should be more like Scandinavia.”  Fillmore’s rebuttal is that there’s a brewery in Scandinavia that makes beer from urine, presumably with the thought that this is a counter-example.  He then predicts that this should have “no impact” on the black turtleneck guy’s thesis.

Of course, it’s a joke.  But the humor in the joke, I presume, is that the urine-beer point is supposed to be a kind of analogy-breaker, instead of a counter-example.

So, in the first instance, the Fillmore argument is a straw figure.  He interprets black turtlenecks’ thesis as: we should do all the things that Scandinavians do.  All it takes is one counter example.  So pee beer.  You could also have other things.  Black Metal, weird furniture design, love of Schnapps, obsessions with wool mittens.  Those are things that Americans could probably take the pass on.  (Sidebar: I’ve always thought I should like Black Metal, but I just can’t seem to get into it.)

As I take it, black turtleneck won’t be phased by the urine beer counter-example, because his argument isn’t that we should do all the things they do, just those from a relevant class.  So, decent treatment of workers, living wage, encouraging bicycles, social safety net.

So, here’s how I think that Fillmore’s argument works in the second instance.  It’s supposed to be a kind of analogy-breaker, and the line is that if you’re comfortable with all the social things that come with being a Northern European Socialist Utopia, then there are other things that come along for the ride. External costs.  And urine beer is just one of those things.  So the thought is that if you experiment with society to a certain degree, you break common sense.  And you end up with piss beer.

The irony, of course, is that if reductio of social policy can be done by way of what kind of beer a society produces, then we are in for some trouble.  And Fillmore implicitly recognizes that point.  See the next comic:

What’s funny, of course, is not just that Fillmore recognizes the  implication for American beers, but that he’s really hung up on the Danish piss brew.

Chicken Littles of Straw

Chicken Little freaked out when hit on the head with an acorn, and called out, “The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!”  Everyone goes berserk, then they see it’s just an acorn.  Chicken Little then retires to being an overreacting chicken, and things return to normal.  The end.

Calling someone a ‘Chicken Little,’ then, works as a form of analogy.  One sees someone reacting strongly to something, perhaps that it forebodes something worse, and one then points out that they are overreacting or don’t see the situation clearly.

It’s a pretty common feature of contemporary American political culture for folks to think and say that Donald Trump is a danger not just to this country’s prosperity and safety, but to the world’s.  He’s an authoritarian, he seems to have (or at least there’s the accusation that he’s) colluded with another state to secure his election, and he seems to be a general nincompoop who surrounds himself with avaricious doofuses.  That makes him dangerous as the President of the United States.

Well, Heather Wilhelm at NRO has had it with the doom-saying chicken littles out there.

The unprecedented volume of apocalyptic media pronouncements that Trump has inspired is unhealthy. . . .  How many times can one presidential administration end life as we know it?

The coverage of the Trump administration is “crazed and breathless” and bent on spurring your outrage or stoking your fears with predictions of doom.  Chicken Little apocalyptic journalists.  But Wilhelm has a counter to this:

[C]ongratulations! If you’re reading this, it means you’re still alive, and have survived the approximately 5,000 world-ending decisions that the Trump administration has supposedly made thus far this year. The Russians, at least as far as I know, have not yet taken over. Faced with budget challenges and various logistical challenges, including the fact more than 1,000 miles of our border with Mexico is actually a river, it seems that Trump’s much-decried Great Wall of America could be slowly shuffled off into the “it seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe not really” pile. When it comes to health care, congressional Republicans seem to be in the political equivalent of that one unlucky bumper car that gets stuck in the corner, no matter which way you steer. As Francis Fukuyama addressed the panic in Politico this week: “Trump’s a dictator? He can’t even repeal Obamacare.”

The last line’s funny, I’ll give Fukuyama and Wilhelm that.  But how is this a reply to the worries people actually had about the Trump administration?
Seriously, the evidence here is that things aren’t SOOOO bad, so what’s with all the hand-wringing?  Moreover, it’s not that people were predicting that the world would end, or that it’ll be like RED DAWN up in here.  The worries were that he’s an authoritarian dingus, who will either do something belligerent or something stupid.  That he hasn’t done something mindbogglingly belligerent or incomprehesibly stupid YET isn’t reason that people who had worries that he will do something belligerent or stupid were wrong or had no basis.

On Originalism and Omelets

Q: How many eggs do French people like to have for breakfast?

A: One is an oeuf.

Hilarious!  That’s about the quality of Jonah Goldberg’s recent posting at NRO, titled “Close Encounters with a ‘Living Constitution'”.

Here’s the setup.  Goldberg orders an Arizona Omelet at the diner, the Red Flame.  But the server brings him a bowl of oatmeal.  When Goldberg objects that he didn’t order this, the server replies that he, in fact, did order the oatmeal.

“This is oatmeal,” I’d say. “The menu says that the Arizona Omelet has cheese and onions and jalapenos in it. It also says it’s an omelet.”

Waitress: “Well, we here at the Red Flame believe that the menu is a living, breathing document that changes with the times. Oatmeal is healthier than an omelet, and we feel that people should eat more of it. So, we only serve oatmeal, but we call it by different names.

The point, as we see, given the analogy, is that taking X as a ‘living document’ is just to impose one’s will on the document.  Words don’t mean what they mean at all.  Or they mean what we just want them to mean.  And here’s how Goldberg sees the plausibility of this line of thought:

That’s more like how the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” works in real life. A judge makes a small leap of interpretation that seems reasonable — say, replacing onions with shallots, which after all, are a kind of onion. Then the next judge makes another incremental hop in interpretation. And then another. And another. Until eventually the waitress brings me the head of Alfredo Garcia

So Goldberg’s reasoning is that because it happens in ‘incremental steps,’ there will be no constraint on how to read the Constitution or a menu, for that matter.   But the problem is that there must still be a ‘reasonable interpretation’ at each of these steps.  Red onions for shallots… and note what makes it reasonable is that they are kinds of onions.  (And note that it’s a replacement, not a re-interpretation.)
But here’s the big lie to the reasoning — none of the ‘reasonable’ replacements actually end up with what Goldberg takes as obvious — that there’s a series of reasonable interpretations of ‘omelet’ that yields a bowl of oatmeal.
Goldberg closes by noting how he sees the dialectical situation:
There are some issues where I think liberals have a sincerely held, rational, and legitimate point of view that I simply disagree with. But the doctrine of the Living Constitution is not one of them.
You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me.  At no point in time does someone who cares about individual rights thinks that there would be a problem with the dead hand?
And so, we see a fallacy double-dip.  First, there’s the faulty analogy between the situation of Living Document interpretation of the Constitution and the Red Fire Diner’s omelet, and the case Goldberg makes for it as a slippery slope.
The ur-fallacy here is the slippery slope, since reasonable interpretations don’t have the all-too-easy-slide to voluntarist re-writing, the slope isn’t slippery.  So the two cases aren’t analogous.  Oh well, if this is how well Goldberg thinks who hold Living Document views reason, then of course he shouldn’t think there’s a rational and reasonable disagreement.  But he’s not reasonably held that view.

Some analogies are like idolatry

It was a pretty widely used trope to invoke idolatry to criticize the support for the Obama Presidency, especially early on.  So it’s not a surprise to see it come back for critique of opposition to Trump, except in this case, invoking the fall of what the believers took to be the true religion.  Enter David French for some gloating:

I’m beginning to get a sense of what it was like to be alive in ancient times when a marauding warlord melted down your village’s golden calf. Weeping. Gnashing of teeth. Rending of garments. Wearing of vagina hats. Their god failed to protect the village, and now he’s a bracelet on the warlord’s wrist. It’s pathetic, really, the emotional reaction to Donald Trump’s victory, but the intensity of the emotion is nothing new. Remember the ecstasy when Barack Obama won?

So, the point is supposed to be that Obama-style liberalism was a kind of false religion — a golden calf, of sorts.  Now that it’s not only fallen, but is destroyed by another, the old true believers are in shock, despair.  And French takes it that it’s because these true-believers just have got the wrong religion.

This is post-Christian politics to its core. This is the politics one gets when this world is our only home, and no one is in charge but us. There is no sense of proportion.

The funny thing about analogies is that they are supposed to not be identities.  But French just went from saying that liberalism is like a false religion that’s fallen to just saying it is a false religion that’s fallen.  Doesn’t that change the point?  And, hey, don’t conservative Christians get angry when their religion’s not the law of the land, too?  Of course, one’s sense of proportion is indexed to the religion (or set of values) one thinks is true – of course you think that others have no sense of proportion when they mourn things you think are worthless or vicious.

Ad Fuhrer-em

We’ve been doing a lot of Ad Hitleremspotting these days at the NS, but, hey, it’s the season of the Godwin.  Check out the statement from Brenda Barton (R) from Arizona on Facebook:

Someone is paying the National Park Service thugs overtime for their efforts to carry out the order of De Fuhrer… where are our Constitutional Sheriffs who can revoke the Park Service Rangers authority to arrest??? Do we have any Sheriffs with a pair?

I object for a few reasons.  First is just linguistic.  It’s der Fuhrer.  Second is analogical – how in any way is using the force charged with protecting the parks to close the parks like Hitler’s abuse of power in Germany? And park service rangers are given police force training.

Here’s the rich part.  Barton’s responded to criticism of her post, and she’s issued the following clarification.

What I did suggest, rather directly, was that the National Park Service enforcement personnel (referring to them as ‘thugs’ for their reported behavior) were simply following orders of ‘their leader’ – and I used the German phrase for emphasis, Der Fuhrer. . . .I am referencing the Presidents behavior as indicated by his actions. The Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary defines ‘Fuhrer’ as ‘(2) a leader exercising tyrannical authority. . . . As many are aware, some recent comments of mine on Facebook have touched a sensitive nerve with many people. Additionally, many have simply taken my posting out of its contextual environment. . .  Had I chosen my words differently, or had the President offered to use the power of his office to lessen or mute the public impacts of this impasse in Washington, we might not be having this discussion.

OK, so the defense is as follows:

1. When I use ‘De Fuhrer’ I just mean ‘tyrant’

2. When I used the term it was for emphasis, and to take it as more is to take it out of context.

3. It’s the president’s fault that I had to compare him to Hitler.

Point-for-point, silly.  In fact, to use 1 and 2 together is inconsistent.  The term ‘Fuhrer’ has the emphasis it does not because its usage as leader, or even tyrant, but as THAT tyrant named Adolph.  The context of using ‘Fuhrer’ is the context of exemplifying Godwin’s Law.  3 is amazing.  In effect – it’s not my fault that I can’t think of another apt analogy… I mean the guy’s literally like Hitler when he does this!   (This is, really, a case of instead of backing away from the Ad Hitlerem, but embracing it!)

Some analogies are dangerous

Sorry to all the NS readers for the long hiatus.  I'll be doing my best to blog more often, certainly over the summer.

Vanderbilt's head football coach, James Franklin, has had a pretty good run.  He took Vandy to a bowl game this last postseason, and he's got a good recruiting class coming in.  He also, as it turns out, shares a resemblance to me (or me to him), as I've been confused with him around Nashville more often than I'd like to admit.  (I wonder if he can say the same about me — though I doubt it, as I am a good 6 inches shorter than he is.)

He was recently gave an interview with a curious piece of analogical reasoning:

I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife. If she looks the part, and she’s a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal.

The analogy runs: wooing a woman is like recruiting a football star.  The better-looking the woman, the more competition and so the better you must be at social manouvering to successfully woo her.  The same goes for high-school recruits.  The better the recruit, the more competition and so the better you must be at getting them to like you if you are to get them to come to your school.  Here's Franklin running with the argument:

There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.

Both jobs, the argument goes, require a special skill — the schmooze — and so if we can see that you're good at one, we can reasonably expect you to be good at the other. 

Franklin has since apologized on Twitter for his comments, saying they were supposed to be humorous, but "fell a few yds short".  All fine politically to apologize — he did describe another coach's wife as a "D-1 recruit", which sounds exceedingly misogynistic.  And weird, isn't it?  Seriously — can you imagine the on-campus interview dinner?  Franklin getting a long hard look at your wife over the table? Ew. He should apologize for all that.  In fact, I think considerably less of him for saying it, and the apology is the only thing that keeps me from being totally disgusted with the guy.  Oh, and he also should apologize for part of his apology — "just kidding" isn't much of an apology. But was the argument any good?  Is there really a correlation between being able to marry a beautiful woman and having the social skills recruit high school football players? 

Here's the best case I can make for it.  I remember the football stars I knew in high school.  They were pretty high on themselves, and were suspicious of everyone else who tried to hang with them — always on the lookout for hangers-on and such.  Being able to break into their clique would be a very, very difficult proposition.  I suspect trophy-wife-types have the same characteristics, and being able to get close enough to one to even have a real conversation must take some real social skill and determination.  Again, similar skill sets.

But here's where the analogy may start to break down.  First, with the trophy wives.  One thing may attract a beautiful wife may not be social skill, but looks.  That is, I don't think the most socially skilled people date the best looking people, but rather look for other socially skilled people.  And beautiful people look for other beautiful people.  I'd think the best thing that having a "D-1 recruit" wife predicts is whether you are good looking, too.  Not whether you're charming.  Second, with the recruits.  I'm not yet convinced that the ability of an assistant coach to talk to pretty girls yields the skill to talk to football stars.  In fact, again, I'd bet that the better determining factor in whether you can talk to a football star is whether you, yourself, were a football star or know many greater stars.  That is, I'd bet that having been an All-American guard for Nebraska gets you more cred with highschool football players than having a hot wife.  At least for the sake of recruiting. 

Now, James Franklin knows better than me about this.  He's around pretty women and football stars all the time.  But me?  I just hang with my smokin' hot wife and have only a few interactions with football players in my courses.  They like logic class OK, but I never have to recruit them, as it's a requirement at Vandy.  Maybe also should be for the coaches.

Analogy and hypocrisy

Cal Thomas thinks Newt Gingrich is being unfairly criticized for his consulting work for Freddie Mac.  The charges of hypocrisy, he holds, are off base.  Here's the defense:

That Gingrich took money from Freddie Mac, an agency he now derides, may seem like hypocrisy to some, but not to me. I, for example, think the Department of Agriculture should be closed, though I once worked for them. I also received a student loan, which I repaid, though I am now critical of how some of the government's student loan programs are run. I attended public schools, but believe parents ought to be able to send their kids to a private school if it promises to offer a better education. Am I hypocritical?

I wonder what Thomas would have to say to someone who said: Yes, all that is hypocritical.  Now, it may be the case that Thomas worked for the DOA and thereby learned that they don't do anything worthwhile.  So he believes that the agency should be shut down.  He may have taken a student loan because it was a sweet deal.  Now he sees that the government shouldn't give such sweet deals, because it can't be on the hook for the loans.  And it may be the case that he attended a public school, but because there were no other options.  So he now believes there should be private school options, too.  That's the story to tell.  In these cases, we have someone who was part of the system being criticized who saw something negative about it and now has critical things to say.  That's perfectly intelligible. And it's not hypocrisy. (My own view is that he's not a hypocrite, just wrong)

But are these cases analogous to the Gingrich case?  I don't think so, as Newt knew what Freddie Mac was about before he took the consulting job. He had choices of alternatives as what companies or corporations to be an advocate for.  If he's hired as a consultant, he should be knowledgeable enough to know what he's getting into. Thomas may not be a hypocrite for the incongruity between his past and his current views, but that's not enough to get Newt off the hook for the hypocrisy charge.

But now a broader question:  of what relevance is the hypocrisy charge against Gingrich, to begin with?  There's already so much about the guy I don't like, the fact that he's a hypocrite about this is not very important.  But I think the importance of the point is more for deep red Republicans.  Hypocrisy, especially on an issue like this at a time like this, is really important to anyone who is looking for the right (right-wing) fiscal conservative.  If Newt has a history of getting into bed with failed companies  that contributed to the mess, it's harder to sell him as someone who can fix it.  The issue, really, isn't his hypocrisy, but his judgment generally. 

Donald Effin’ Trump

Over at National Review Online, Dennis Prager has some important things to say about Donald Trump's choice of words.  Well, what choice of words, first:

The following comments were made in a public speech last week by a man considering running for president of the United States.

On gas prices: We have nobody in Washington that sits back and says, ‘You’re not going to raise that f***ing price.’”

On what he would say as president to China: “Listen, you mother f***ers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent.”

On Iraq: “We build a school, we build a road, they blow up the school, we build another school, we build another road, they blow them up, we build again. In the meantime we can’t get a f***ing school in Brooklyn.”

Ho hum.  The reality is that I love me some F-bomb.  I do object to Trump's sentiments, though.  But it's not the fact that Trump puts some salt on his verbiage, it's the fact that he thinks he can yell at China and say he can tax a trade partner at 25 percent.  Protectionism is great, until you pay for it with their tariffs and so on.  We're in the can with the Chinese, but I'm unsure that this is the solution. Washington doesn't set gas prices, either.  And Iraq?  Anyone who was for the war knew going in it was a 'you break it, you buy it' deal.  And Brooklyners don't need a school for f***ing.  They already know how (joke by amphiboly — like cooking school).  Regardless, Prager has other issues.  Yeah, it's with the dirty words, especially with their use in public.

But there is a world of difference between using an expletive in private and using one in a public speech. For those who do not see the difference, think of the difference between relieving oneself in private and relieving oneself in public. It usually takes a university education and a Leftist worldview not to see the enormous moral distinction between public and private cursing.

One disanalogy: nobody has to clean up a puddle when I tell a dirty joke.  Another: I'll still privately curse in front of my neighbors. One more: some cursing is artistic and is wasted unless it is shared with the world.  I can't help it: It's OK for someone to collect all the dirty language someone else has used.  Fine, fine — I do understand Prager's point, though.  It is unseemly to curse like that.  I get it, and I've even got a university education and everything (read the quote again, if you didn't get that last one).  I'm glad that Prager made sure to get in an unseemly jab at educated elites while chastising a Republican for acting indecently and uncivilly.

If we cannot count on Republicans and conservatives to maintain standards of public decency and civility, to whom shall we look?

Geez. Is this another false dilemma without the other option?

Discrimination by any other name

Roger Scruton is a serious philosopher.  That's why I was disappointed to read his American Spectator article defending an English couple's right to refuse to allow a gay couple to share a room at their hotel (see the Guardian report).  It's not that I was disappointed that Scruton would defend these folks (I expected that), but that I expected a good argument.  Instead, I got the old canards. 

Maybe that [laws prohibiting discrimination] is the only way to proceed, but it involves curtailing freedom in ways that can easily be resented.

Ah, prohibiting discrimination curtails the freedom of discriminators to discriminate.  That is a very important freedom, indeed.  And we must be very careful not to cause people the harm of feeling resentment.  That's a much worse harm than not being treated as an equal.

We discriminate between people on grounds of their height, their age, their strength, their virtue, their looks.

Oh, the false analogy!  The familiar, yet utterly irrelevant, old saw of the discrimination apologists.  Yes, we discriminate on the basis of characteristics relevant to a job, opportunity, and so on.  Isn't the burden of proof always on those who do the discriminating to explain why some characteristic is relevant?  If there is a relevant connection between the characteristic and the opportunity, we don't call the decision 'discriminating,' but 'distinguishing.'  Is there a relevant bit of distinguishing to be done with homosexuality?

The purpose of including sexual orientation in the open-ended "non-discrimination" clauses of modern legal systems is to overcome "prejudice," to normalize homosexuality…. It is, however, much more of a prejudice to think that matters of sexual conduct can, in this way, be simply placed beyond moral judgment — as though they were not, for ordinary people, the very essence of the moral life.

Ad populum, too. Everyone thinks it is unnatural and immoral, so that's evidence it is.  But why think that these views are right? 

It is one part of a considered religious morality that has stood the test of time.

But why does the fact that it is an old view make it a good one, yet?  Surely at some point in time over the course of the long testings of time someone must have said that perhaps the view needs to be worked out in some detail.  After all that time, all they have to say for the view is that it is old and keeps getting older… standing the test of time. Oh, but the times are changing. 

THIS, IT SEEMS TO ME, shows what is really at stake in these disputes. They are not about human rights, or about the perennial conflict between liberty and equality. "Non-discrimination" clauses are ways of smuggling in vast moral changes without real discussion . . . . Sex, sexual orientation, and maybe soon sexual practices — so that the hotel keeper will no longer be able to discriminate against the person who happens to live as a prostitute.

And the slippery slope to running a flophouse for prostitution for a finale!  Well, at least he didn't have the slippery slope to bestiality.  And after having repeated the same old weak arguments for discrimination, has Scruton made any headway in helping this real discussion he wants to have?  I'm sad to say I don't think so.  Which, again, is too bad.  Because he's the best thinker that conservatives have.  That may be evidence as to just how bad-off the conservative case against gay rights is.

Equivocations, False Analogies, and Racist Stereotypes, Hooray!

Pat Buchanan hits the fallacy jackpot over at Human Events.  Here's his article in a nutshell: we should reconsider the utopian dream of educational equality, because educational ability across races is not equal.  He starts with the familiar argument from athletics.  In the NFL, blacks outnumber whites and all other races:

In this profession, white males, a third of the population, retain a third of the jobs. But black males, 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, have 67 percent of the coveted positions — 10 times their fair share. . . .  Yet no one objects that women are not permitted to compete in the NFL. Nor do many object to the paucity of Asian and Mexicans, or the over-representation of blacks, even as white males dominate the National Hockey League and the PGA.   When it comes to sports — high school, collegiate or professional — Americans are intolerant of lectures about diversity and inclusiveness. They want the best . . .

When it comes to athletic ability, we have very different native capacities, and so it should follow for educational abilities, too. 

Why, then, cannot our elites accept that, be it by nature, nurture, attitude or aptitude, we are not all equal in academic ability?

Buchanan's evidence for this difference in ability between the races is what he sees as the permanent achievement gap in the New York math and language achievement tests.  Whites and Asians generally outperform Hispanics and blacks, even after a good deal of work has been poured into the system to even the numbers.

Since 1965, America has invested trillions in education with a primary goal of equalizing test scores among the races and genders. Measured by U.S. test scores, it has been a waste — an immense transfer of wealth from private citizens to an education industry that has grown bloated while failing us again and again.  Perhaps it is time to abandon the goal of educational equality as utopian — i.e., unattainable — and to focus, as we do in sports and art, on excellence.

Oh, in case you didn't get the point, Buchanan is telling us to re-calibrate our academic expectations for people who are brown:

For an indeterminate future, Mexican kids are not going to match Asian kids in math.

Fallacy checklist:  Equivocation on 'equality'?  Check!  Inequality in ability (even in native abilities) does not mean that one deserves less.   False analogy between sports and athletics?  Check! If you can't throw a curveball, no biggie.  Can't read, well… Vicious use of racial stereotypes? Check!  Seriously, this guy ran for president and almost won the Republican nomination in '96.