False dilemma, inclusive disjunction

Mark Steyn’s lead post at NRO today was an argumentative (and organizational) trainwreck.  Here’s just one of the fallacious lovelies.  Steyn observes that lefties have in the past been against marriage, as a kind of anti-bourgeois bit of posing.  And now the lefties want marriage for homosexuals, now as a kind of ennobling and civilizinginstitution.  He  poses the dilemma for them:

Which of these alternative scenarios — the demolition of marriage or the taming of the gay — will come to pass? Most likely, both.

I like the fact that you can have an inclusive ‘or’ in ordinary English, but this one seems wrong.  First, it seems that the two features are at least prima facie inconsistent — if marriage is demolished, then it won’t play the taming function it’s supposed to play.  Right?  Second, are those the only two options or consequences? How about gay unions going on as they have for years and years, but now with legal protection from the state?


Scarequote overkill

Scarequotes are a form of downplayer (I’d posted on them and what I call the scarequote exercise earlier HERE) — you use them when you invoke the vocabulary of the opposition, but to call attention to how false the vocabulary is.  And so, when you introduce the opposition’s experts, you call them “experts,” and thereby you are on record for holding that they are only so-called experts. It’s a form of indirect discourse, like sarcasm or irony.  But it’s the club-instead-of-scalpel form of indirect discouse.  Now check out George Neumayr’s post over at the American Spectator and his use of the scare quote to address those who support gay marrige:

Were the people on their side, they wouldn’t need to doctor “social science” to justify their propaganda. They wouldn’t need to use judicial activists to undo democratic results. They wouldn’t need to ignore the written Constitution in favor of a “living” one.

Plenty of regimes that no longer exist once thought themselves on the “right side of history.”

There’s plenty more, but it would require more work contextualizing than it’s worth.  Here’s the weird thing: most of it doesn’t actually make sense.  Take the first use of scare quotes.  Unless Neumayr doesn’t think there’s any legitimate social science, the claim that doctored “social science” is being used by the opposition is a form of double-dipping.  Why not say just ‘doctored social science’?  What does doctoring so-called social science do?  In fact, that seems counter-productive for all sides.   The same goes for the “right side of history” downplayer, too.  Nobody he’s invoking thought they were only on the so-called right side of history.  Notice further that Neumayr’s thoughts aren’t clarified by adding the scarequotes — you can get the message that he thinks the social science is illegitimate, that the written constitution is preferable to the doctrine of a living constitution, and that those who believe they are on the right side of history are regularly wrong.  In every case, scarequoting in attributing thoughts to others confuses what’s so-called and what’s being attributed.  Scarequoting like that is just sloppy writing.

I’ll perform the scarequote exercise from earlier below, taking the last few sentences from my previous paragraph.

Notice further that Neumayr’s “thoughts” aren’t clarified by adding the scarequotes — you can get the “message” that he thinks the social science is illegitimate, that the written constitution is preferable to the doctrine of a living constitution, and that those who believe they are on the right side of history are regularly wrong.  In every case, scarequoting in attributing thoughts to others confuses what’s so-called and what’s being attributed.  Scarequoting like that is just sloppy “writing”.

Now that’s how you use a scarequote! And, again, notice that it’s mostly just cheapshots.

Those who don’t know anything love the…

Ignoratio.  Charles Cooper, arguing yesterday to defend California’s Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court, embraced the old strategy of invoking unknown harms to come from allowing gay marriage. [Transcript HERE] Justice Kagan asks Cooper if allowing same-sex marriage hinders state interests. Cooper responds:

]Your Honor, we — we go further in — in the sense that it is reasonable to be very concerned that redefining marriage to — as a genderless institution could well lead over time to harms to that institution and to the interests that society has always — has — has always used that institution to address.

Kagan then asks Cooper to clarify.  She asks:

What harm you see happening and when and how and — what — what harm to the institution of marriage or to opposite-sex couples, how does this cause and effect work?

And then Justice Kennedy jumps in to encourage Cooper to concede that there are no actual harms done:

Well, then are — are you conceding the point that there is no harm or denigration to traditional opposite-sex marriage couples? So you’re conceding that.

But Cooper won’t back down.  Just because he can’t name any harms or articulate how allowing gay marriage would cause heterosexuals not to marry, or have kids, or raise them right… won’t prevent him from saying bad things will happen.

The first one is this: expert acknowledged that redefining real-world consequences, and that it is impossible for anyone to foresee the future accurately enough to know exactly what those real-world consequences would be. And among those real-world consequences, Your Honor, we would suggest are adverse consequences.

But consider the California voter, in 2008, in the ballot booth, with the question before her whether or not this age-old bedrock social institution should be fundamentally redefined, and knowing that there’s no way that she or anyone else could possibly know what the long-term implications of — of profound redefinition of a bedrock social institution would be. That is reason enough, Your Honor, that would hardly be irrational for that voter to say, I believe that this experiment, which is now only fairly four years old, even in Massachusetts, the oldest State that is conducting it, to say, I think it better for California to hit the pause button and await additional information from the jurisdictions where this experiment is still maturing.

First, a rule about properly run ignoratio.  The argument from ignorance runs that because we don’t have evidence that p, not-p follows.  There are two related conditions for using the form appropriately.  In one case, it’s right when the principle that were p true, we’d already have clear evidence for it is true.  For some things, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.  The second condition is when those arguing for p have the burden of proof — that is when p’s being false clearly yields worse consequences from not-p being false.  So when there are known harms to come from one error (taking p to be true when it is in fact false) but none clearly coming from another (taking p to be false when it is true), p has the burden of proof.

Now, take the SCOTUS case here.  Who has the burden of proof?  It seems, given the way the case is being handled, that the question is whether  Proposition 8 denies rights to a group of people.  If it does, then people have their rights stripped from them if the court strikes down the prior rulings holding it unconstitutional.  If it doesn’t, then if the court upholds the prior rulings, then rights have been extended in a case where it’s not necessary.  Those are the two errors possible.   Which is worse?  The former.  Waving one’s hand and trying to imagine worse consequences doesn’t change that.

Enough about fallacies to close.  Now a moment about moral reasoning.  And conservatism.  I simply abhor the way the conservatives argue about gay marriage.  John’s last post shows the deep mendacity of the movement, and this moment in front of the court is another case of the moral cowardice shown by those against marriage equality.  Since when do conservatives think that sacrificing the rights of a few to protect the bounty of the many is really acceptable?

Don’t try this at home

Hunter, writing at the The Daily Kos makes a salient point about iron manning.  Speaking of Ralph Reed, invited just this Sunday to NBC’s Meet the Press to comment on the subject of gay marriage (he commented on the science!), he writes:

Anyway, this all leads to the biggest scientific question of all: Just how shamed and discredited do you have to be before Meet the Press and the Wall Street Journal will stop propping your sorry ass up as someone we all ought to be hearing from? The press is still looking for insights into the moral issues of our time from Ralph Effing Reed? Why?

Here’s a question, however.  Philosophers have long distinguished, perhaps wrongly, between informed discussants and the rest of us.  They argue that since not everyone can pay attention to every single issue, at least in the way required to participate as a fully informed and capable interlocutor, they ought to be kept ignorant of those debates.  Don’t try this at home.

This raises for me a related question.  In light of the fact that not everyone is paying attention, or paying very close attention, to our various Democratic debates, do we not therefore have a special obligation in their regard–a special obligation that we are on our best behavior?  People do not pay close attention to debates over moral or scientific questions, so when you host them and invite them to join, you should perhaps think carefully about what you are going to expose people to.

Slippery coke

Check out this  Brian McFaden Comic (at the Daily Kos):*

Slippery slope

Seems like your standard slippery slope argument to me (in addition to some poignant commentary on how wasteful this particular argument is). We’ve talked about this a lot here–here’s one by Scott from a few weeks ago.  The question there was what distinguishes the slippery slope from the bumpy staircase.

I think of this whenever I walk through the outdoor area separating the building that houses my office from the rest of campus.  It used to be that smokers (such as I once was) would occupy tables in this covered area.  Now the area is off limits to smokers.  I can see a smoker’s argument going something like this:

banning smoking outdoors in this one place will lead to banning smoking outdoors in another place, and eventually to the banning of smoking in all public places on campus.

This is certainly a slippery slope argument, but it doesn’t seem fallacious to me.  There’s no significant conceptual distinction between the various moves.  I imagine the justification is that the University has the right to regulate toxic chemicals on campus.  They only do it piecemeal so as not to shock anyone.  Full disclosure, I look forward to the universal ban.

Back to Bloomberg.  Aside from the general question as to why start with giant soft drinks, this argument seems to be like the smoking argument.  If city government has the power to regulate such things, then there is no conceptual distinction between various other food-related regulations.  There seems in other words to be no relevant difference between the giant softdrink and the megabaconator.  Banning the one is just like banning the other.

*an earlier version mistakenly attributed the comic to Tom Tomorrow.

Work it

Fig.1 Lazy Government Workers

Rogers Ailes, head of Fox News, seems to think that government work makes you lazy (via TPM):

Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life,” Ailes said in Zev Chafets’ book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera.” “He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fundraisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.”

And this guy is some kind of evil genius.

A sad repost

Fig. 1: Pocket ChangeIt’s the anniversary of the Iraq War.  If anything, this war ought to teach us that arguments have consequences.  Here is the most recent assessment (according to a recent study):

(Reuters) – The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said.

The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.

The report, the work of about 30 academics and experts, was published in advance of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.

Now for some self-plagiarism.  Every now and then I return to Robert Samuelson estimate of the cost of war in Iraq.  At the time, he called it “pocket change.”  He should be reminded of this assessment every single day of his life.  But alas, judging by the columns he has penned since then, he is unaware.   Let’s at least remind ourselves.  Here comes the repost:

For a while–for those who remember–Samuelson been poo-pooing Obama’s “self-indulgence” on health insurance reform.  A more competent rhetorical analyst, by the way, might have fun with the way he always goes ad hominem on Obama–treating his own impoverished and uncharitable image of Obama rather than Obama’s stated positions (he even admitted once that this was his own problem).  But it’s worthwhile to poke fun at Samuelson’s priorities.  Way back before we spent 700 plus billion dollars in Iraq, chasing what turned out to be an easily uncovered deception, here is what Samuelon wrote:

A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but “can we afford it?” is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change. A war with Iraq would probably cost less than 1 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Americans have grown accustomed to fighting with little economic upset and sacrifice.

Pocket change.  In reflecting on this piece (called “A War We Can Afford”) Samuelson wrote:

Yes, that column made big mistakes. The war has cost far more than I (or almost anyone) anticipated. Still, I defend the column’s central thesis, which remains relevant today: Budget costs should not shape our Iraq policy. Frankly, I don’t know what we should do now. But in considering the various proposals — President Bush’s “surge,” fewer troops or redeployment of those already there — the costs should be a footnote. We ought to focus mostly on what’s best for America’s security.

When it comes things that are actually real, on the other hand, Samuelson is skeptical:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody’s Investors Service — the bond rating agency — published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama’s health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

900 billion?  That figure is almost exactly what we’ve spent in seven years of war.  Weird.  But this time cost is all that matters.

Imagine something costing only 900 billion over a decade and killing zero people.

Iron Palin

Kyle Peterson at The American Spectator reviews Sarah Palin’s speech at CPAC.  It’s classic euphemism meets iron man (See one of John’s posts on iron manning HERE):

Sarah Palin hit all the laugh lines in her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday afternoon, bringing the audience to its feet perhaps a half-dozen times. At points, Palin simply jumped between one-liners.

Jumping between one-liners means free-associates for laughs.  And Peterson means that in a good way.  Well, as good as you can mean by that.  And when did steal the show come to take the place of upstages all?  Oh, and here’s the obligatory Orwellian moment when Palin expresses just how serious she is:

“We’re not here to dedicate ourselves to new talking points coming from D.CWe’re not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party,” she said. “We’re here to restore America, and the rest is just theatrics.”

Yes, says the person with no political agenda beyond talking points and who simply jumps between one liners.


Welcome to the Secular Theocracy

Jeffrey Lord’s post at The American Spectator about the “Theocratic” bent of “The Left’s” obsession with bans on things that are bad for us or are bad for the environment ends with a great flourish.  Lord’s analogy is to the theocracies of old that banned things like subversive books for theological reasons.  But since liberals ban things, they must be like the theocrats, too:

The very people who shriek the loudest about the danger of an American theocracy based on religion — something that has never happened under the Constitution, nor can it — are well on their way to creating the secular version of just that.

Lord’s case:  liberals want to ban sugary drinks, fracking, excessive use of salt in pre-prepared foods and restaurant fare, plastic bags, and the Bible.  What’s weird about the case is that the reasons liberals use to ban these things are reasons that all in the debates can understand as reasons: public health and the shared costs of obesity, environmental health and clean water, more public health, plastic waste and environmental destruction with plastic bags, and separation of church and state.  Those are all bans that benefit all by protecting us from consequences.  Banning books doesn’t do that.  That’s why we use ‘theocracy’ as a bad word for a government.

So Lord’s analogy is silly to begin with.  But to call a secular order committed to public reasons a ‘theocracy’ is simply a manifest contradiction.

Pump up the jam, pump it up

Fig.1: Pump it up.

Timorous airline passenger and Fox News alleged liberal Juan Williams has admitted to making one of his weekly columns an undergraduate copy paste job.  According to Salon‘s Alex Seitz-Wald:

In a case of apparent plagiarism, Fox News pundit Juan Williams lifted — sometimes word for word — from a Center for American Progress report, without ever attributing the information, for a column he wrote last month for the Hill newspaper.

Almost two weeks after publication, the column was quietly revised online, with many of the sections rewritten or put in quotation marks, and this time citing the CAP report. It also included an editor’s note that read: “This column was revised on March 2, 2013, to include previously-omitted attribution to the Center for American Progress.”

But that editor’s note mentions only the attribution problem, and not the nearly identical wording that was also fixed.

The really strange thing about this case is what it reveals about the writing and thinking process of the two-million dollar a year Fox News pundit:

In a phone interview Thursday evening, Williams pinned the blame on a researcher who he described as a “young man.”

“I was writing a column about the immigration debate and had my researcher look around to see what data existed to pump up this argument and he sent back what I thought were his words and summaries of the data,” Williams told Salon. “I had never seen the CAP report myself, so I didn’t know that the young man had in fact not summarized the data but had taken some of the language from the CAP report.”

Two things.  First, he has an assistant?  I’ve always suspected assistants were behind the obscure factoids and misleading statistics in George Will’s work (full disclosure–someone, I’ll find out later who, made this very same quip, I’m borrowing), but Williams’ defense makes that clear.  Second, and more importantly, Williams confesses to his hacktackular thought process.  He has an idea, then sends someone else out to provide data that “pumps it up.”  It’s almost as if he had reached a conclusion, then dispatched a lackey to find him some premises.  He’s the master chef of ideas, some underpaid assistant can chop up the ideas and cook the facts.