The force of reasons

Fig 1: violence

We begin with a tale of inconsistency, borrowing (pretty much completely) from Atrios:

Krauthammer. [2005, when Republicans held a narrow majority in the Senate]

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems intent on passing a procedural ruling to prevent judicial filibusters.

The Democrats have unilaterally shattered one of the longest-running traditions in parliamentary history worldwide. They are not to be rewarded with a deal. They must either stop or be stopped by a simple change of Senate procedure that would do nothing more than take a 200-year-old unwritten rule and make it written.

What the Democrats have done is radical. What Frist is proposing is a restoration.

versus Krauthammer. [2013, when Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate]

The violence to political norms here consisted in how that change was executed. By brute force — a near party-line vote of 52 to 48 . This was a disgraceful violation of more than two centuries of precedent. If a bare majority can change the fundamental rules that govern an institution, then there are no rules. Senate rules today are whatever the majority decides they are that morning.

These two views are hugely inconsistent, of course.

What is even more ridiculous, however, is how Krauthammer characterizes a losing vote: “violence,” “brute force.”  Er, no.  It’s the opposite of that.

Furthermore, just because you can change rules (even allegedly longstanding ones) does not imply there are no rules.  For, after all, there is a rule that says how rules are changed.  That rule, at least, stays in place.

Happy Thanksgiving

Fig. 1: Thanksgiving

Hello All,

A heaping serving of thanks to all of The Non Sequitur readers–but special gratitude to the commenters.  Extra special gratitude to my co-contributors over the years.

On that note, please enjoy this 3QuarksDaily essay by Scott and Rob Talisse and Thanksgiving and Christmas.  A taste:

Unlike Halloween, Thanksgiving is a holiday of human significance.  Though it is occasioned by the mythology of Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians, the point of Thanksgiving is not that of rehearsing or commemorating that original event.  In this respect, Thanksgiving differs crucially from other holidays.  The Thanksgiving gathering is not a means to some other end, such as memorializing the signing of a document (July 4th), observing an ancient liberation (Passover), celebrating the birth of a god (Christmas), or honoring the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers in war (Veterans Day).  The point of Thanksgiving is rather to gather with loved ones, to reaffirm social bonds, to enjoy company, and to appreciate the goods one has.  To be sure, the Thanksgiving celebration is focused on a meal, typically involving large portions of turkey and cranberries.  Still, the details of the meal are ultimately incidental.  The aim of the Thanksgiving gathering is not to eat, but to be a gathering.  The coming of people together is the point– and the whole point– of Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Webinar on argumentation

Talisse and I had a short webinar with Critical Thinking and Political Philosophy professors this last Thursday.  We have a short transcript of our opening remarks over at WWA. (Unfortunately, the software for the webinar didn’t cooperate, so it didn’t record.  So I can’t post audio of the full conversation. Too bad, because we were awesome!)

First, get some straw…

We’ve pretty regularly noted that you can tell a straw man fallacy is coming when the speaker starts the windup for attributing views to his opponent by saying, “Some folks who believe X say…”  or “You know what all those X-ists say about this…”  What generally comes is a view nobody even recognizes as their view, or if it is, it’s only from the least capable of those who hold X.  And so we’ve been calling these hollow and weak men.

Now, what happens when the speaker’s on a roll?  It’s not just a one-off, but a series of these straw-man constructions.  For example, take Marta Mossburg’s “The Real ‘War on Women'” over at the American Spectator.   There are at least three in quick succession.

First, there’s the implication that Democrats who use the expression ‘The Republican War on Women’ don’t care at all about the way women are oppressed around the world.

When Terry McAuliffe, the governor-elect of Virginia,  relentlessly battered his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli for waging a “war on women,”  these innocent babies, teenagers and wives often attacked by their families and given no protection under the law throughout many countries in the world were not on his mind, however.  Not even remotely.

Second, there’s the implication of reverse racism in describing the progressive view:

It also fits in nicely with the progressive narrative that history is moving irrevocably forward to some ideal – which does not include stodgy white men.

And third, there’s the simple imputation of sheer craven rhetorical objectives to their opponents:

The success of the “war on women” trope should make Republicans realize that they are fighting progressives for whom the idea of truth is an outdated relic of a racist, homophobic, misogynist past to be discarded in favor of tactics that allow them to win elections and sway opinion.

Now, sometimes, the writing in politico magazines isn’t about making arguments.  Sometimes, it’s just about reminding people what’s at stake, motivating them to go out and win, galvanizing the side.  But here’s the thing: dog-cussing your opponents like this makes it very hard to intellectually engage with them afterwards.  It inculcates a habit that Talisse and I have been calling the No Reasonable Opposition perspective on the issues at hand.  And when you don’t see the opposition as reasonable, you don’t work on developing good arguments, and when you don’t work on good arguments, you don’t maintain your best reasons.  And then you become, ironically, just like the folks you were dog-cussing.

To the three straw men here, it’s worthwhile to say the following.  1. The “Republican War on Women” trope was about a series of elections and domestic policy, not about foreign policy.  You focus on what’s different between the two candidates and parties in that argumentative context and about the things they will determine – to talk about the treatment of women around the world is not what that discussion is about.  (One might call this, by extension, a form of red herring.)  2. There’s a difference between having less (unearned) influence and having no influence – if everybody gets a fair shake, there are going to be fewer white guys at the top.  It shouldn’t be hard to see that.  3. As to the cravenness view of one’s opponents, I’ll simply say that if you, yourself, aren’t very good at constructing good arguments, you won’t be very good at detecting them, either.


I used to be with it, then they changed what it was

Here is the now completely inexplicable Richard Cohen, “liberal” columnist for the Washington Post, on non racism:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

I don’t get it.  Cohen maintains that Republicans are not racist, they merely have to suppress the urge to vomit at the prospect of miscegenation, because, er that’s not what “their country looks like.”

On Logic and Dialogue

Talisse and I have a post over at 3QuarksDaily on why the dialogical perspective on argument is important.  I’m thinking that the line there about turn-taking is a good way to characterize what goes wrong with straw-manning in specific cases, only though.  For example, weak-manning isn’t part of a turn-taking exchange, but mostly a form of picking those with whom to play the game. There’s more to think about here.

Guns & Ammo

Dick Metcalf, an editor at Guns & Ammo of all places, argued in an editorial for the fairly obvious (well, at least to most people) claim that even constitutionally guaranteed rights–such the rights to freedom of religion and to a well-regulated militia–ought to be, er, regulated some (but not very much). Not every instance of speech is allowed; to use the author’s example, you cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Metcalf’s argument didn’t sit well with the Guns&Ammo crowd.  You can view selected responses here.  It would be charitable to nut pick them.  Why bother anyway, in response to their many reasonable interventions, Guns & Ammo fired Dick Metcalf.

Not surprising that a bunch of gun fanatics would turn to the ad baculum.

Ad baculum

Rand Paul’s Refutation Method (ironically plagiarized from some website)

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) has been accused of multiple counts of plagiarism.  The case against him seems fairly convincing.  Perhaps this is why Paul has gone ad baculum against his accusers (from the same link):

“Yes, there are times when [speeches] have been sloppy or not correct or we’ve made an error,” Paul said. “But the difference is, I take it as an insult and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting. I have never intentionally done so.”

He continued, “And like I say, if, you know, if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know, it would be a duel challenge. But I can’t do that, because I can’t hold office in Kentucky then.”

You really don’t get much of the old ad baculum.  For the uninitiated, ad baculum, or appeal to force, occurs when one threatens violence or sanction as a means to change someone’s belief.  Nice of Paul to give us an example.