Arguments from Persecution Redux

My last posting was about James Gannon's "Hayseed Rebellion," and the version of ad populum argument I'd called 'arguments from persecution."  I've reconsidered the reconstruction, as I don't think  the argument hangs on the injustice of persecution per se, but the vice of the persecutors being a function of what they are persecuting.  In this case, the crucial element of the argument is that it is addressed to an audience of folks who feel as though they are under attack from somebody (or who are open to being convinced that they are) who persecutes them for what they believe is right.
Take the opening characterization Gannon uses:


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


Now, his audience (it is American Spectator) is someone who accepts the antecedent.  But they feel uncomfortable, I think, about the consequent.  I think Gannon's audience would want to say something like the following:  I stand for traditional marriage, which is between a man and a woman, but that doesn't make me a homophobe or a bigot.  That just makes me a conservative. 

Gannon's statement, clearly, attributes a view, then, to an opposition that is inattentive these fine distinctions between conservatives and bigots.  You see, bigots deny rights that are deserved, conservatives deny rights that, erm, aren't deserved. Or are "special rights" that the rest of everybody else has.  Or something like that.  The irony, as Gannon takes it, is that these folks who hold that to be opposed to treating gays as equals is a case of bigotry are educated.   These educated folks just don't get it, yet they look down on conservatives, who are right, you see.

Now, I've myself used this little frame of argument in passing, but with postmodernists.  These folks think that everyone who thinks that logical thinking and valid argumentation is worthwhile are 'logocentric' and hold a 'totalizing' view of the world.  Totalitarianism isn't far (down a slippery slop).   So when I say these things to right-minded folks, i.e., those who see the value of logic and valid  argumentation, all I need to do is say that they have names of disapprobation for these things that are so clearly right.  That's enough, because we see this as a short-hand for saying: this group is composed of stupid people who must be stopped. 

So these contrastive statements (if you believe this thing that seems right to you, then you are a that thing that seems wrong to you) are for the purpose of out-grouping a class of people who think that of you.   We think this, they think the things we think are stupid.  This is right, so that makes them stupid. All done, especially when it's done in the right tone of voice. 

The objective, then, is to show the vice of those who are wrong and stupid: they have special terms of abuse to refer to those who are right.  They call us (conservatives) bigots, homophobes, religious  nutcases, and so on.  That not just shows that liberals are wrong, but that shows that their error breeds unique vices.  Liberals don't just need correction.  They need confrontation, and resistance.

So the reconstruction:
P1:  You hold view p. And view p is true (that's why you hold it, duh!)
P2: Those who belong to group X hold that anyone who holds view p has vice V.
P3: You do not have vice V.
C1: Those in group X are wrong about p.
P4: Those who hold that those with true beliefs are vicious are opponents of truth.
C2: Those in group X are opponents of truth.
P5: Opponents of truth must be resisted and reviled.
C3: Those in group X must be resisted and reviled.

And thereby, you make a case against a group (and provide a rallying cry) simply by the fact that they criticize you. 

Hobnob

Something I don't understand:

The country long ago stopped wondering whether a president demeans his office by appearing on a late night comedy show. The more immediate question posed by President Obama’s appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Wednesday is whether a political satirist loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president.

Interviewing (fairly well I'd say) isn't "hobnobbing."

Boo Effing Hoo

I'm not trying to horn in on Scott's rock'n'roll fallacy posts, (kudos and kleos for correct guesses for what song is in my head right now), but I think there's a sub-type of the ad misericordiam fallacy that we might name by the title of this post. I don't have an example in print right now, rather I've been running into this argument occasionally in conversation. It runs something like this.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

No really, it runs something like this:

A: "We think X is bad because it places significant burdens on us."
B: "That's nothing we have had much greater burdens placed on us."

Or, colloquially:

B1: "Oh, Boo Effing Hoo, that's nothing compared to what we suffer."

So, there are some forms of this argument that might be reasonable, but when it is offered as a reason against rejecting X it seems to me to be fallacious, unless some sort of substantive premise, a "shared misery premise" is added. Something along the lines of:

B2: "It is your turn to share the burden that we have already endured."

But, as I've encountered it out in the irrational wildernesses of discourse, it seems often to be a nice variation on the ad miseridcordiam fallacy–a way of turning an assertion about burdens into a misery pissing contest.

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.

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. 

Facts and science and argument

The first rule of American political discourse is that you cannot mention the inanity of American political discourse.  Here is Obama:

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared,” Obama said Saturday evening in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. “And the country's scared.”

A thousand examples come to mind.  Just for fun, however, I clicked a link right to the left of this Politico story.  Near the top of the page, this is what it said:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Monday rolled out a new attack on Barack Obama, charging that the president looks "demonic."

Pointing to a recent picture of the president highlighted by the conservative Drudge Report, Limbaugh improbably declared during his show Monday that there are no other photos of "an American president with facial expressions like this."

"These pictures, they look demonic," Limbaugh said, in comments later posted on his website.

"It is strange that these pictures would be released," Limbaugh said of the images, which were taken by a wire service. "It's very, very, very strange."

"An American president has never had facial expressions like this," the conservative insisted. "At least, we've never seen photos of an American president with facial expressions like this."

Facts and science and argument.  Anyway, Here's Michael Gerson's take on Obama's remarks:

Let's unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents "facts and science and argument." His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

There is a principle in argument, called the principle of charity, which has it that in the absence of the object of one's criticism, one ought to be nice.  This is not nice.  And it's obviously false.  Obama is talking about the state of our political discourse–the discourse where whether he looks like the devil constitutes a noteworthy intervention. 

But don't let me tell you.  Listen to Gerson (a few paragraphs down the page):

There have been several recent attempts to explain Obama's worldview as the result of his post-colonial father or his early socialist mentors — Gnostic attempts to produce the hidden key that unlocks the man. The reality is simpler. In April 2008, Obama described small-town voters to wealthy donors in San Francisco: "It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." Now, to wealthy donors in Massachusetts, opponents are "hard-wired not to always think clearly." Interpreting Obama does not require psychoanalysis or the reading of mystic Chicago runes. He is an intellectual snob.

Not only does this reference the kind of off-the-wall crap that constitutes political analysis in certain quarters, but in engages in the kind of silly discourse Obama is criticizing.  Rather than consider Obama's fairly moderate point–I mean seriously, death panels–Gerson turns the discussion to the person.  Perhaps Obama ought to have said: "rather than have a discussion about reality, some, such as Michael Gerson, would like to talk about what a snob I am to make such a demand."

Me and the Devil blues

Sanctimonious Christian moralist and Iraq war salesman Michael Gerson has questions about atheism:

But Christopher Hitchens is weaker on the personal and ethical challenge presented by atheism: Of course we can be good without God, but why the hell bother? If there are no moral lines except the ones we draw ourselves, why not draw and redraw them in places most favorable to our interests? Hitchens parries these concerns instead of answering them: Since all moral rules have exceptions and complications, he said, all moral choices are relative. Peter Hitchens responded, effectively, that any journey becomes difficult when a compass points differently at different times.

One of the neatest things about Philosophy is the way it forces one to think through remarks such as these.  Is it the case that that "good" has no meaning without God?  Whatever would that question mean anyway? 

It seems to me, after all, that's it's not obvious what it means to be good in the first place.  Is it to have the right kind of intentions–as in "when I dreamt up oratory justifying a human rights catastrophe I meant only the best."  That doesn't seem right.  What about this: "when I went along with those with insufficiently skeptical beliefs about the nature of the threat from Iraq and Al Qaeda, I was a sinner with an imperfect, flawed character"?  Well, that doesn't seem right either.  What about this: "no one really can know what the good is, like say invading Iraq, as we are not God, we're sinners and we can't know the future."  That has something going for it.  It just has one problem: it puts you on par with the atheist. 

Fill in the blanks

Dear Readers–been off for a bit, usual excuses.

Writing for the New York Times, Peter Baker alleges that "Obama fills in the GOP's blanks."  Ok, that's the title of the article, but I didn't find anything in the article that made that same decisiive point.  It's an interesting one, because it alleges Obama is a serial hollow manner:

WASHINGTON — In speech after speech lately, President Obama has vowed to oppose a Republican proposal “to cut education by 20 percent,” a reduction that would “eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start programs” and “reduce financial aid for eight million college students.”

Except that strictly speaking, the Republicans have made no such proposal. The expansive but vague Pledge to America produced by House Republicans does promise deep cuts in domestic spending, but it gives no further detail about which programs would be slashed. So Mr. Obama has filled in his own details as if they were in the Republican plan.

Let's say it's the case that there exists no Republican plan to cut spending on education by 20 percent.  Obama's attacking that claim would amount to a hollow man–attacking an argument no one actually makes. 

Not every employment of the hollow man scheme is fallacious, however.  I think this is a good example of a non-fallacious use.  Let's say for the sake of argument that there exists a non specific plan to cut domestic spending (which includes education among other things) "deeply."  In the absence of detail, the critic of this plan is forced to "extrapolate" or as I would say, "infer" which programs would receive cuts (and how much).  

So the critic–Obama in this case–infers.  His move is a fair one, as it asks for clarification of something admittedly vague.  In a direct dialogical exchange, this would be a perfect opportunity for the Republicans to clarify their position.  Near the bottom of the article, the author finds that they do:

That means, the White House said, that the $100 billion cut would amount to a 20 percent reduction in domestic programs, so it is fair to extrapolate the effects on education, Head Start, college aid and other programs. Republicans said they could choose to cut more deeply in some programs while sparing others, so education would not necessarily be cut 20 percent. At the same time, they do not rule it out

So his hollow man, which admittedly is an argument made by no one, turns out not to be illegitimate.  The counter move–logically at least–ought to be a claim that they will not cut education by 20 percent, or that the programs in question will remain in place.  But they havent' (in this article) done that.  They can't even deny that Obama is wrong.  This seems like a perfect use of the hollow man. 

God only knows…

Ever notice how people use the expression, usually when claiming and attributing widespread ignorance, "God only knows…"?  The upshot of it is to say: the issue is evidentially impenetrable, so only an omniscient entity could know the answer.  But the expression doesn't say that.  It says that God only knows, not that only God knows.  If God only knows, that means that knowing is the only thing he's doing. Moreover, it doesn't say that we (or anyone else) don't know… which is what the expression was supposed to imply.  Now, you can imply that by quantifying over God instead of over knowledge.   So why do people say it that way, if it doesn't mean what they say?

Maybe it's because in saying "God only knows,"  one is actually compressing a dramatic pause, so: "God, only, knows," which would read the quantifier ranging over "God," not "knows".   Any thoughts?