Category Archives: Weak Analogy

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.


We’ve had discussions of the use of persuasive comparison with the Ad Hitlerum and Godwin’s Law here at the NS a few times.  (Just a sample from John HERE and from me HERE).  Here’s a stealthier version (hence, sneakyGodwin), one that uses invocations of the Holocaust to make the analogy.  Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) invoked Martin Niemöller’s famous line about the temptations of ignoring Nazi oppression:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist…

Foxx, as reported by IHE, in defending for-profit colleges from govermental regulation:

” ‘They came for the for-profits, and I didn’t speak up…’ ” Foxx said. “Nobody really spoke up like they should have.”

The trouble, as with all the Godwins, is that government regulation of an industry isn’t akin to sending people to the camps.  The objective of the regulation is to keep people from amassing debilitating debt to these colleges. But, you know, sometimes it’s worth a shot to appropriate the vocabulary of resistance to oppression.

When ad populum identification itself is a fallacy

Matt Purple has diagnosed the Republican Party with a case of Stockholm Syndrome.  They identify with their oppressors, now.  Specifically, liberal Democrats.

Turn on MSNBC these days and you’ll see a non-stop metronome of post-Romney Republican flogging. You want this to stop?! Then pander to Hispanics! Give up on entitlements! It’s enough to send you thumbing through the Geneva Conventions.

Yes, he just made a torture analogy.  Ignore that.  Here’s the meat of the argument.  The fact that you lose an election, argues Purple, isn’t evidence that you’re wrong.  In fact, it’s evidence that you’re just principled.  The electorate is just… well… you know…  citizens of a democracy, and so stupid. [Here’s an old post on what I’m starting to call The Plato Principle, without fail invoked by losing parties of elections.]  Here’s Purple, again, on why electoral results aren’t reasons to change any policy planks in the Republican platform.

Certain conservative quarters are starting to sound like political strategy shops, fretting over which principles to jettison so they can win an election and make the abuse stop. Forget the Resurrection or American Founding or French Revolution. For these commentators, the formative historical moment for conservatives is now the 2012 election.. . . . This is such spectacularly bad logic that it’s tough to know where to begin.

The fact that Purple invoked logic (particularly, of the  “spectacularly bad” kind) is what caught my eye.  Here’s the first line of argument, again, on the Plato Principle: what wins elections is only what appeals to the stupid and easily moved by their debased self-interest, so is likely wrong.  So the fact that 2012 went against the Republicans is good news.  The degenerate idiots don’t like them.

The second line of argument is that the torturers have a hidden agenda with their criticisms.

Let’s start with the fact that the right’s Democrat tormentors don’t want a legitimate opposition party. They want a single Democratic Party, in agreement so it can pass its agenda. . . . Entitlements. Spending. Taxes. The debt. Regulatory policy. Healthcare. Abortion. Gun control.  Everything.

This is the next line, which is that one shouldn’t take critical input from those who you disagree with, as they are not only wrong, but also are out to make you change your mind.

Once we’ve gotten to the point where finding reasons to agree with others on anything is taken as a form of fallacious reasoning (again, I’m thinking that Purple’s main line of criticism is that in democracies, ad populum is rampant), we’ve hit the point where fallacy-hunting itself is a meta-form of fallacy. [N.B., John’s got a really great post on meta-fallacies from a few years back HERE].





Reductio by analogy

Johah Goldberg wrote a book about public and political discourse.  That makes him an expert about how people argue about policy.  His recent criticism of Joe Biden’s rhetorical flourish “if it saves one life,” reason to heavily regulate fire arms is an occasion for him to act the logic hound:

Maybe it’s because I wrote a whole book on the way phrases like “if it saves only one life, it’s worth it” distort our politics, but whenever I hear such things the hairs on the back of my neck go up.

Ok, so what’s Goldberg’s critical point?  That the ‘saves one life’ line of reasoning doesn’t work for lots of other things we could regulate:

The federal government could ban cars, fatty foods, ladders, plastic buckets, window blinds, or Lego pieces small enough to choke on and save far more than just one life. Is it imperative that the government do any of that? It’s a tragedy when people die in car accidents (roughly 35,000 fatalities per year), or when kids drown in plastic buckets (it happens an estimated 10 to 40 times a year), or when people die falling off ladders (about 300 per year). Would a law that prevents those deaths be worth it, no matter the cost?

Oy.  Well, for sure, he’s responding to stark version of the ‘saves one life’ principle, but the application of the principle in the gun laws case is about regulating a product that’s designed to kill.  For sure, if we can prevent the wrong kinds of deaths, that’s the objective.  So the analogy may be appropriate for a straw liberal, but that’s not Biden’s argument.  And note, on top of all that, we do use a version of the ‘one life’ principle with all those other products, only that we don’t prohibit their purchase.  We regulate salt in foods, we institute speed limits and require safety measures in car production, and have pretty clear warnings about buckets and ladders on them (the presumptions being that people don’t purchase them so as to drown toddlers or jump off of).

The irony of it all is that Goldberg says that phrases like Biden’s cheapens our political discourse.  Sometimes, it’s not the phrase that cheapens, but the way it’s taken.


Arsenic and old lace

Rick Warren, MEGACHURCH Christian minister, has a lot of gay friends.  You can tell this by the respect for them oozing from his well-considered words.  In an interview with Piers Morgan of CNN, he had the following to say about the naturalness of homsexuality.

WARREN: Here’s what we know about life. I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. Sometimes I get angry and I feel like punching a guy in the nose. It doesn’t mean I act on it. Sometimes I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don’t act on it. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t make it right. Not everything natural is good for me. Arsenic is natural.

The iron manners among you will want to say that he is merely claiming that just because something is natural does not make it right.  And indeed in the very abstract such a point is a reasonable one. 

But this is actually not an abstract point.  Because the issue on the table nowadays is that Homosexuality is a natural form social interaction among humans and many other animals.  The evidence is that people and other animals lead purpose-driven, fulfilling lives as homosexuals.

Warren rejects that, however.  For him, homosexual behavior–i.e., sex–is morally wrong (because, he states elsewhere, the Bible says so).

So indeed, homosexual behavior is natural (though he says earlier in the interview that the jury is still out on this–he studies these things apparently), but it's natural like arsenic, the poison that will kill you, is natural.  Or worse, it's natural like his urges to violent reprisal. 

Consistently confusing criticism for censorship

Jeffrey Lord's post, "Gay Totalitarianism," over at The American Spectator is hampered by confusion.  Lord's main case is that liberals can't stand dissent, and want to shut down any opposing voice.  This has, in his view, been in bright highlight with the Chick-fil-a issue.  Here's his case in point:

Down in Southwest Florida liberal reporter Mark Krzos of the News Press was furious at seeing free speech exercised in his midst, whining on his Facebook page that "The level of hatred, unfounded fear and misinformed people was astoundingly sad. I can't even print some of the things people said."

So this means Mr. Krzos wants to shut down Occupy Wall Street? It gets better. Krzos went on:  "I have never felt so alien in my own country as I did today while covering the restaurant's supporters…. It was like broken records of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and a recitation of half-truths and outright lies…. Such a brave stand… eating a go**amn sandwich. "

So this guy feels "so alien" in his own country because he comes face to face with free speech? What country is Mr. Krzos living in? Cuba? North Korea?

I can't speak for Krzos, but on my interpretation, his alienation was at seeing speech he disagreed with, and that he felt he was powerless to address or argue against because of the way the beliefs of the speakers were formed.  It's not the freedom his lines were objecting to, but to (a) how the views stated were misinformed and hateful, and (b) that those speaking seemed to be only interested in those who speak for them, not the views of anyone else.  Krzos wasn't, by my lights, calling for the supporters of the chicken chain to be jailed or muzzled or anything like that.  He was criticizing them.  That's how you respond to speech when you recognize the freedoms — you use more speech to criticize it.  Ah, but Lord's on a roll, and can't resist the conservative argument-by-comparision-money-shot on speech issues:

As we have mentioned before, leftist intolerance for dissent and opposition is as old as the blood soaked guillotines of the French Revolution. Not to mention the Revolution's 20th century descendants from Communists to the Nazis (aka the National Socialists) to their more modern American cousins like all those progressives who hid for decades behind the hoods of the Ku Klux Klan or a few decades later appeared as Bill Ayers and his bomb-setting brethren in the Weathermen.

Whew!  When Lord makes historical comparisons, he doesn't hold back.  (Oh, love the "aka the National Socialists"… what's that even doing? Making a point about socialism?)   I said at the end of my previous post that there's a weird thing about many Burkean conservatives, that they see Robespierre behind every progressive.  This seems overkill, but maybe with the Robespierre line so abundant, you've really got to pile on to be sure that folks know you're using hot rhetoric.

Again, the point is that responding to dissent with criticism and responding to dissent with violence are different things, and Lord's case conflates them.  Responding to speech with more speech is a form of tolerance, actually — you face something you think is wrong, but you don't destroy it,  only criticize it.  But for the analogy to go through, you have to be responding with violence. 

Good Lord

I admit that for me, it's galling to see Christians playing the game of claiming discrimination when challenged on their own discriminatory policies.  It's usually about sex, whether about insurance covering contraception or gays in the military, but its always a confusion about whether they have a right for their bigotry to ground policy.  When bigotry isn't the law of the land, they say they're being discriminated against, because their religious views aren't applied to all.  But George Neumayr over at the American Spectator takes it to a new level. He rehearses all the usual pieties about how Christianity is under fire in a secularist state, and it looks to be the AmSpec boilerplate.  But then when he moves to the contraceptive issue, he's got a surprising twist to his argument.

The sheer idiocy of the HHS mandate was illustrated recently by Senator Tom Harkin, who, in a comically desperate attempt to cast the absence of free contraceptives and abortifacients as a form of corporate oppression, said, "There are many women who take birth control pills, for example, because they have terrible menstrual cramps once a month, some of them almost incapacitated, can't work. I know of young women myself who, because of this, aren't able to work and be productive, and it's prescribed by their doctor." Harkin, apparently, can't rest until these women are back working on Obama's animal farm, having received, under the gaze of government, all the suitable injections to guarantee their productivity for years to come. Harkin's paternalism is so touching: What would women do without his monitoring of their ailments?

Holy cow.  I mean, is Neumayer trying  to miss the point?  Just for the sake of making the whole thing clear, here's Harkin's argument:  The point of the mandate is to ensure that people can live their lives even when they face health care challenges, and some health care challenges take the form of menstrual cramps.  If we don't make medicine to address this part of the mandate, we leave these women out.  We shouldn't leave them out, so we need to cover their medicine — which is a contraceptive.  Now, for sure, having contraceptives covered by the mandate is also part of a larger human right to control your own destiny (by having control over when one has children), but Harkin's not making that argument.  He's just talking about how people have debilitating problems, and resistance to covering contraceptives leaves them out.  Simple, right?

Well, apparently not.  Here's how I see the Neumayr reply.  1) He's claiming that the government is giving these people injections and thereby controlling (or monitoring) their reproductive lives, and 2) He's claiming that it's just about putting people to work.  But this entirely misses the point.  For sure, if government helps you get the care, there is a measure of control and monitoring in that, but that's more control for you, too, assuming that without the help, you won't have the meds at all!  And the point about work is just silly, really.  Harkin's using work as merely an example of productive life.  He could just as well have said: read the Bible closely, or be a stay-at-home mother, or write for NRO.  You can't do any of those things, either, if you've got debilitating cramps. 

And animal farm?  Sheesh. First off, how many readers at AmSpec got the Orwell reference?  And second, of those who did, how many were only because they saw the movie?

Lead with the Godwin!

Thomas Sowell opens his article over at the American Spectator with a sentence that would make any fan of Godwin proud (see the know your meme bit on it!):

It was either Adolf Hitler or his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, who said that the people will believe any lie, if it is big enough and told often enough, loud enough. Although the Nazis were defeated in World War II, this part of their philosophy survives triumphantly to this day among politicians, and nowhere more so than during election years.

What Sowell points out as the lie is that the gap between rich and poor has widened (because the rich are getting richer, not that the poor are that much poorer).  Whether it's a lie or not isn't the issue, but rather the analogy employed to describe the dialectical and political situation.  Or, perhaps, I was just reading a parody site of Thomas Sowell's essays (think Poe).

Well, if they didn’t have the guns…

Just as predictable as the question about whether we need stronger gun controls follows after a public shooting spree, there is the predictable response from conservatives that guns don't kill people, evil/crazy/bad people kill people, so stop with gun control. (See John's earlier link to the Onion article on this point).  Here's Thomas Sowell, over at National Review Online:

Do countries with strong gun-control laws have lower murder rates? Only if you cherry-pick the data…. Britain is a country with stronger gun-control laws and lower murder rates than the United States. But Mexico, Russia, and Brazil are also countries with stronger gun-control laws than the United States — and their murder rates are much higher than ours….

This is the old bait-and-switch, isn't it?  (Otherwise known as red herring)  The question about gun control laws, at least under these circumstances, is whether it's a good idea to have assault weapons available, as with them, public shooting sprees are very, very destructive.  It's not about whether the murder rate will go down.  If you want to murder someone, you'll likely do it with a gun or without.  But if you want to go on a spree of violence, you'll do that with a gun or without, too.  The point of the question is that with the latter, the with the gun option, the public spree of violence kills more people.  Sowell's point about homicide is just beside the point.  Well, at least he's not running the if there were more people with guns, this wouldn't happen line (see, John Lott for that one).

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.