Category Archives: Ad hominem tu quoque

Binge and surge

**Update below**

I was going to make a post about the fallacy of amphiboly, but then I read Robert Kagan’s “The Surge is Succeeding” in today’s Washington Post. Kagan’s article is instructive in its subtle and misleading use of evidence. In the end he doesn’t so much as argue that the surge is working so much as claim the press ought not to be saying that it’s not working, because it’s too early to tell, so it’s working. That’s a pretty straightforward argument from ignorance. And we’ve seen this sort of thing before from Kagan–given the absence of attacks on the US in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the invasion has stopped terrorism. Well, the acute will notice that the latter is a causal fallacy.

But back to the question of evidence. Kagan’s central evidence for the success of the surge:

>Four months later, the once insurmountable political opposition has been surmounted. The nonexistent troops are flowing into Iraq. And though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect.

>Some observers are reporting the shift. Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that “early signs are encouraging.”

There is a puzzling circularity to Kagan’s reasoning here. His evidence for the success is the sentence that follows that reports evidence of the success–not the other way around. For most normal evidentialists, the Press–for which Kagan has no regard (more in a second)–reports things they claim to be happening, and we either believe them or disbelieve them. Not t’other way round. So Kagan ought to write: some observers have noticed a shift, and after considering their authority against that of, say, the White House, and the rest of the world media, I believe them. After all, they’re bloggers known for “straight talk.”

In addition to his strange selection of authorities and the weird and apparent circularity of his argument, Kagan finds time to dig at the press:

>A front-page story in The Post last week suggested that the Bush administration has no backup plan in case the surge in Iraq doesn’t work. I wonder if The Post and other newspapers have a backup plan in case it does.

Zing! Take that fact-reporting newspaper! The Post–for however wrong it has been about this entire Iraq fiasco–does not need a military back-up plan in case the surge works. It’s a newspaper. We hope that it will report when the surge is working. But apparently, it keeps reporting otherwise. Since those are facts friendly to the enemy, the Post must be working for the enemy. Sheesh.

And yet, Kagan writes for the Post.


Glenn Greenwald says what commenter Phil has been saying lately:

>No rational person would believe a word Robert Kagan says about anything. He has been spewing out one falsehood after the next for the last four years in order to blind Americans about the real state of affairs concerning the invasion which he and his comrade and writing partner, Bill Kristol, did as much as anyone else to sell to the American public.


Et tu quoque, Gore?

The argumentum ad hominem is cool. Rather than address the salient points of your claim, I just attack you and declare your claim false on those grounds. QED. Such is the case with the “Al Gore’s an energy-hogging hypocrite” thematic. It’s a pitiful attempt to argue against global warming by proxy. Today, Dr. Henry I. Miller (not to be confused with Ana?s Nin’s lover) of the Hoover Institution joins the fray: >Perhaps I can offer a medical explanation for why Al Gore simply doesn't feel that he should be judged by standards of behavior applicable to everyone else. On the basis of his actions and writings over many years my guess is that Mr. Gore suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard? Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard. Now, Dr. Miller holds both an M.S. and an M.D., but no mention of a PsyD. However, he has read a book: >The criteria for this diagnosis, as described in the psychiatrist's bible, the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," include a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity [in fantasy or behavior], need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts," as indicated by the following: >"A grandiose sense of self-importance [e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements]." Ah, I see: Al Gore is a self-aggrandizing narcissist (read: politician). So, that’s his problem. My problem is that I fail to see how his hypocrisy is germane to the issues of global warming. That Mr. Gore has, in his official function, wrapped himself in contradictions to appease constituents may be true. Yet, it has no bearing on the facts of global warming. That’s the funny thing about science: the facts speak for themselves, regardless of the apparent hypocrisies of the orator. Nevertheless, Dr. Miller has more important fish to fry, like this one:. >Mr. Gore regularly demonstrates his grandiosity. Who can forget his notorious claim that he had been instrumental in creating the Internet? Indeed–especially not when your ilk will not let it go away. Moreover, this entire “Gore thinks he invented the internet” meme is pure fiction, just ask Bob Somerby. But Wait! Not only is the former VP a deceitful hypocrite, he’s a big meanie in committee, as well: >While a senator, Mr. Gore was notorious for his rudeness and insolence during hearings. A favorite trick–which I experienced first-hand–was to pose a question and as the witness began to answer, Gore would begin a whispered conversation with another committee member or a staffer. If the witness paused in order that the senator not miss the response, Mr. Gore would instruct him to continue, then resume his private conversation, leaving no ambiguity: Not only is your testimony unimportant, I won't even pay you the courtesy of pretending to listen to it. Dr. Miller treats this as some sort of coup de grâce, but there’s one problem here: suppose everything Dr. Miller has accused the former VP of is true—the facts of global warming remain the case. Even if Mr. Gore is a hypocrite, a liar, a Senate bully, and a narcissist possessed of egregious delusions of grandeur, the temperature of the earth is rising, the hole in the ozone layer is still there, the polar ice cap continues to melt, sea levels continue to rise, and our increasing carbon emissions continue to contribute to the problem. –pm

Et tu quoque Al Gore

John Tierney, no friend of the global warming camp, discusses “carbon footprints” this morning in his “Times Select” column (sorry, no free access). Al Gore he says:

He advises you to change your light bulbs, insulate your home, and cut back on driving and air travel. If you must make a trip, he notes helpfully, “buses provide the cheapest and most energy-efficient transportation for long distances.”

And yet,

Fine advice, and it would be even better if he journeyed to his lectures exclusively on Greyhound. But he seems to prefer cars and planes. When you tally up his international travel to inspect melting glaciers and the domestic trips between his homes — one in Washington and another in Nashville, not to mention the family farm in rural Tennessee featured in the movie — you’re looking at a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint.

Tierney doesn’t draw the fallacious conclusion–that Al Gore’s position (we should reduce our carbon footprints) is false. Instead he seems to be suggesting the conclusion, which is not necessarily fallacious, that “Al Gore is a hypocrite.”

We should note that although this is not necessarily fallacious, it isn’t obvious that the evidence above provides good reason to believe that Al Gore is in fact a hypocrite. In fact, Al Gore–much to the chagrin of many environmentalists–has always favored various market solutions to carbon emissions:

Gore and David say they offset their energy usage by sponsoring reductions in greenhouse gases through alternative forms of power and energy conservation (like building wind farms and paying farmers to turn methane into electricity).

But, how does Tierney argue that this isn’t sufficient? By invoking the judgment of a more radical environmentalist position:

Quoting Gandhi — “Be the change you want to see in the world” — Komanoff says his fellow environmentalists should stop offering “get out of purgatory free” cards [carbon offsets] to the rich and instead insist that everyone personally reduce energy use.

So apparently, Gore’s position is not internally hypocritical, though Komanoff disagrees with it. Nonetheless, Tierney thinks that if you want to work to reduce carbon emissions you must accept Komanoff’s positions:

I’m not such a purist myself — I’d let the average person salve his conscience with a carbon indulgence. But I’d hold environmentalist preachers like Gore to higher standards, especially when they’re engaging in unnecessary energy use.

The tu quoque fallacy is an interesting one. If one is too explicit with the fallacy, it isn’t very effective. But subtle forms of it–like Tierney’s here–which assert hypocrisy and therefore suggest that the messenger and the message are somehow compromised are very effective. Most readers of Tierney’s column will probably conclude that because Al Gore is a hypocrite his arguments and prescriptions do not need to be taken seriously.