Tag Archives: Jon Stewart

Consistency checking

Fig. 1: Not an inconsistency

Those familiar with Reddit know that inconsistency memes are very popular.  This is because consistency checking is a dominant form of criticism.  You cannot, after all, be for one thing but against another similar thing.  It’s a contradiction.  A contradiction cannot be, and if you support the one but not the other, you’re a scumbag, or just daft.  So it does double duty: it challenges a view as untenable while characterizing the holder of the view as dishonest, or an idiot.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course.  Provided that the inconsistency is a real one.  So many inconsistencies aren’t.

Here, I think, is a real one:

This at least shows that the 2nd Amendment advocates featured have to show a difference between rights of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th amendment rights and 2nd Amendment rights. This probably isn’t impossible, but it’s not obvious either.

Wrenching from context

Last night's Daily Show had a nice discussion of the "you didn't build that line" that Obama didn't utter (i.e., in the way suggested).  For those unfamiliar with this, the President gave a speech, talked about infrastructure (such as roads) necessary (but not sufficient) for success in business.  I can't have much success with my highway adult video store unless there's a freeway next to which to place it.  An obvious point, of course.  Sadly, many conservative media types cut out key lines in the President's speech to make it look like he was saying that no one built her own business, thus,  "you didn't build that".  That would be a stupid thing to say, unless of course you inherited your business (which many people probably do–so in their case it's true!).

So here's what the President actually said:

OBAMA: [L]ook, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the GI Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet. That's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own, we're in this together.

Here's how it was reported by Fox et alia (for a brief history of the distortion, see here and here)

OBAMA: If you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen.

[...]

The point is that, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Jon Stewart pretty much said all there is to say about what's going on: it's a case of straw manning by depriving of context.  The only thing that's true about what the President said is that those words came out of his mouth. 

All that aside, there is a theoretical point here.  In a recent article, Douglas Walton and Fabrizio Macagno ("Wrenching from Context: the Manipulation of Commitments") allege that straw manning of this variety (wrenching from context) are really "manipulations of commitments."  There are limitations to this view, namely that it gives too much credit to the straw manner, as it allows them to claim their representing commitments a person may actually hold (but for which they don't have evidence).  In addition, it doesn't capture the crucial aim of the context-wrencher: to close out an argument with someone by dishonest means.  But their notion of commitment does capture the method of the wrencher: though the wrencher may know his quotation to be inaccurate, he knows it represents the person's real views.  I think we saw something like this at work in Mitt Romney's "I like to fire people line" of a while back. 

What this means is that the wrencher is playing a rather different game from the one his audience is playing.  Even if his audience agrees with him, he's thinking that an argument (with evidence and all of that) is being offered by the wrencher.  But it isn't.  The wrencher is telling a story, a fiction, to a person who thinks he's listening to an argument.  Cross purposes, I think. 

Not intended to be a factual statement

Sometimes I wonder about the effectiveness of satire.  It's entertainment value is purchased oftentimes at the expense of fairness and accuracy–you have to straw man, a little at least, to satirize.  It appears, however, that sometimes straw manning is unnecessary.  Some people just satirize themselves. 

On this point, please enjoy the clip at this link  from the Stephen Colbert show.  A little context.  Senator John Kyl of Arizona claimed that 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's work is abortion.  In reality, it's three percent.  As a clarification he said his remark was:

"not intended to be a factual statement."

Now it is clear.

Good work, also,  here and  here and by the Daily Show.
 

Grown ups

People acquainted with media narratives know that the "adults" and the "grown ups" and the "serious people" are very often the Republicans, especially when we're talking about entitlements.  Democrats and their union friends, we're often told, are childish or immature for wanting something–public benefits such as medicare and social security–at no cost.  Click here for a funny illustration of that sorry meme

We have something along these lines in this Steve Chapman column from the Chicago Tribune.  The "real world," of course, demands cuts and reforms just like the Republicans want:

After House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a plan to overhaul Medicare, Democrats announced that despite its minor flaws, it was a brave and thoughtful attempt to grapple with a serious problem that has been ignored for too long.

Just kidding. They said it was the worst thing they've seen since "Sex and the City 2."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Ryan of offering "a path to poverty for America's seniors." Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Ryan's proposal would not reform Medicare but "deform it." The White House faulted Ryan for "placing a greater burden on seniors."

The chief outrage, in their minds, is his proposal to restructure Medicare for Americans currently younger than 55 while keeping the old version for older folks. Instead of guaranteeing a certain set of benefits regardless of cost, the government would pay a fixed premium so recipients could choose their own packages.

The other meme is the "brave" or "courageous" meme.  This one, unfortunately, has even been adopted by Democrats.  On the unity of the virtues theory, however, you can't be stupid and courageous, or wrong and courageous. 

Back to the point.  The "reality" meme usually requires that you show that someone else's plan is unrealistic.  You can do that by carefully demonstrating the shortcomings of their views or their presuppositions, or you can do that by misrepresenting them.  The second is faster.  Here's Chapman again:

I have news for people old enough to be thinking about retirement: Your children may love you, but not enough to be taxed into poverty. Ryan's detractors pretend we can go on enjoying the status quo indefinitely. But it's only a matter of time before we hit a fiscal wall, hard.

There are three basic choices. We can keep on just as we have in the past until the program collapses of its own weight. Or we can restrain costs by letting the federal government ration medical care. Some patients would have to wait months or years for procedures now taken for granted — and some wouldn't get them at all. Death panels, anyone?   

"Ryan's detractors" sure seem stupid, don't they?  There's a reason they don't have a name–they don't exist.  They're hollow men.  Whatever you say about the opposition to Ryan, you'll have to admit that they tried to have a discussion about health insurance reform in light of the problems of rising health care costs, an aging population, and, of course, the limitations of the private insurance model.  Whatever you say about them, you cannot say that they embraced the status quo indefinitely. 

One more thing along these lines.  Notice that Chapman considers three options for reforming medicare: (1) do nothing; (2) death panels; (3) Ryan's plan.  That's a false trichotomy.  It's like a false dichotomy, only you add two unworkable choices rather than just one.  Since (1) and (2) are ridiculous, ergo, ipso fatso, (3) is our only realistic option. 

A courageous adult conversation about the realities of health care systems in the industrialized world, however, would consider many other empirically tested options.  Would it be immature to want that?

Daily Show on Nutpicking

Watch at this link for a fun back-and-forth between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on the argumentum ad Hitlerum. 

TL;DR for O'Reilly, his Nazi invocation (about "the left") is just fine because his assistants found an anonymous commenter at a blog who called Nancy Reagan evil and wished that she die soon (of natural causes).  What that has to do with the Nazis is beyond me. 

That, of course, is some classic nut picking, or as the experts call it, weak manning.  What makes it especially fallacious (if that is possible) is that it's deployed in an ideologically monochrome (should I drop this phrase? Should I not comment on my sentence during my sentence?) context in order to disqualify an opposing arguer on account of the very bad arguments they make.  This last part being critical to the nutpicker.   

Shill the messenger

Last week, Jon Stewart, television comedian somehow in charge of all responsible TV media criticism, interviewed a TV financial journalist, Jim Cramer, who defended his well documented wrongness by claiming merely to be an entertainer who was "lied to" (rather than a trusted financial guru and television journalist).  It was an embarrassing performance for Cramer, who only made himself looking even worse when he spoke up in his own defense–calling Stewart a comedian, and claiming to have been taken out of context.  That only invited more context.  Leave it to Richard Cohen, Washington Post liberal columnist, to misunderstand the whole proceeding.

He writes,    

The acclaim visited on Stewart for spanking Cramer tells you something. In the first place — and by way of a minor concession — he's got a small point. CNBC has often been a cheerleader for the zeitgeist — up when the market's up, down when it's down. This is true of the business media in general.

But the role that Cramer and other financial journalists played was incidental. There was not much they could do, anyway. They do not have subpoena power. They cannot barge into AIG and demand to see the books, and even if they could, they would not have known what they were looking at. The financial instruments that Wall Street firms were both peddling and buying are the functional equivalent of particle physics. To this day, no one knows their true worth.

It does not take cable TV to make a bubble. CNBC played no role in the Tulip Bubble that peaked, as I recall, in 1637, or in the Great Depression of 1929-41. It is the zeitgeist that does this — the psychological version of inertia: the belief that what's happening will continue to happen.

My informal sense of Stewart's position is that Cramer has represented himself and has been represented as some kind of god-like financial guru (cf. "In Cramer We Trust").  Yet, as Cohen concedes, Cramer didn't know what he was talking about.  That's Stewart's point.  You can see the video here.

I think it's obvious that Stewart is not guilty of the very strong claim Cohen seems to be attributing to him.  So this seems to be a fairly straightforward straw man.