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Posts Tagged ‘danielwalldammit

Just How Much Fallacy is Your To Quoque?

Judging you!!!

danielwalldammit posted on wordpress. Nov.7, 2010

We all learned that two wrongs don’t make a right when we were kids, didn’t we?

And we learned that ‘you too’ arguments are a fallacy back in Freshman logic class, right?

Right?

Okay, maybe not everybody, but this is a lesson a lot of us probably have in common. Most educated people ought to know that there is something wrong with answering a criticism by saying “you do it too!” or some variation thereof. Hell, most decent people ought to know better than that regardless of their education.

So, why do we do it?

Hell, almost everybody does it on at least some occasions. To be fair, some people do it more than others. They will do it every chance they get. Others try not to, most of the time anyway. So, the penchant for answering a serious concern with a quick ‘you-too’ gambit varies from one person to another, but I don’t know that anyone avoids it entirely.

This tactic also comes and goes with the times. It’s been particularly common for the last 4 years, so much so that folks even coined a new term for it; ‘whataboutism.’ The “Your side does it too” gambit has made a regular appearance in public debate for a long time, but it’s been particularly common for the space of about one presidential administration (or an administration plus the campaign before it). So, the internet collectively coined a new term to describe it.

Okay, but why is this kind of argument so common?

One reason? It’s not always a fallacy.

Another? For some people, it really is a way of life.

Variable Relevance: The (ir-)relevance of ‘you too’ games varies in a couple of interesting ways.

If someone corrects my behavior and I respond with “you do it too?” am I really engaging in a fallacy?

Variable Conclusions: If I mean by that you-too response that I am not really wrong, because you do it too, then yes. Hell yes! If that’s what I mean, then I am absolutely engaging in the tu quoque fallacy.

If, on the other hand, I mean; “Okay, I need to correct my behavior, but so should you, because you do in fact do this too,” then my response is not entirely unreasonable. I’m not denying my wrong-doing in this instance. I am just asking you to correct your own behavior right along with me.

Alternatively, I could employ a ‘you-too’ argument by of refusing to accept a rule that I have good reason to believe others are not going to follow themselves. Let’s imagine we are playing a game of soccer and you tell me I should stop touching the ball with my hands.

I could then say you do it too as a means of insisting either that you stop yourself or that we are just going to continue playing an odd game of soccer in which both of us are allowed to touch the ball with our hands. In this case, I am refusing to play by unfair rules, or unfair application of those rules.

It seems that there are at least some conclusions which could be reasonably drawn from a premise beginning with an assertion that is essentially saying “you do it too.”

Plus Alternatives: There is another context in which “you too” starts to become more relevant than it would otherwise be. In this case, the tu-quoque fallacy has some company, because the False Alternatives fallacy comes in here right along with it. This is the context of constrained choices.

If I tell you that apples bother my teeth, so I don’t like eating them, it would normally be quite foolish to respond by telling me that cookies have too much sugar. Whether or not cookies have too much sugar, apples still bother my teeth (always feels like I am biting into styrofoam). That does not change if cookies are bad for me. So, the cookie-themed response seems quite irrelevant.

…unless I want a snack, and I have exactly 2 options!

If my universe of possible choices includes an apple and a cookie, then problems with one might very well be a reasonable answer to my expressed concerns about the other. It’s not so much a logical inference as it is a conversational implicature. A possible respondent hears me complaining about the apple, realizes I have offered it as a reason for choosing the cookie instead, and responds by reminding me of a good reason to avoid the cookie

Of course apples and cookies don’t make these arguments themselves, so if this is a concern about false alternatives, how does it relate to the tu-quoque fallacy? Well, it comes into play when the apples and cookies do make these arguments themselves, or at least when we divide ourselves up into an obviously apple camp and a clearly cookie camp.

Or maybe when we try to pick a President.

If I say that Donald Trump has been self-dealing throughout his Presidency as a means of saying he is a terrible President, it wouldn’t normally help matters to say that Hillary does it too (using the Uranium One story about her charity foundation for example). Neither would it help to raise the prospect of similar corruption on the part of the Biden family.

These become relevant during elections precisely because the obvious alternative choice is understood, and so the range of viable possibilities is narrowed sufficiently to make these normally irrelevant arguments matter after all.

And here, 3rd party-proponents will have an obvious complaint of their own. What if there are better choices? What if you can point to a candidate that doesn’t have a history of self-dealing (or, more to the point, a history of having the charge of self-dealing leveled at them by political opponents)?

That’s a reasonable concern and one that speaks directly to the very kind of problem that logicians are trying to call our attention to when speaking about ‘false alternatives’ and ‘tu-quoque’ fallacies. Of course, part of the concern here lies in just how viable the third parties really are and what you are trying to accomplish with your vote, both of which speak to the question of just how constrained the alternatives here really are. If a 3rd party might really win, then it would be quite illogical to respond to a criticism of one major party candidate as though it were an obvious endorsement of another.

Conversely, you may know that the 3rd party is going to lose but choose to vote for them anyway as a means of signaling to the major parties that they should take you own political values more seriously. If enough others vote the same way, this could become leverage in the next election.

If a 3rd party candidate is, however, not a serious contender for winning an election, and the election is just too important to risk on a symbolic statement, then we may be back in the realm of 2 real choices and dirt on one viable candidate really will have to be weighed against dirt on the other. In such cases, “your guy does it too” and “the alternative is worse” start to become relevant again.

Where your choices are constrained, criticisms of one choice can provide a meaningful response to criticisms of another, but this is still problematic. Such arguments don’t erase problems, and they don’t disprove initial claims. If you tell me, for example, that Hunter Biden was using his father’s position as Vice President under the Obama administration to make money, reminding you that the Trump family profits from his role as President (e.g. through fees paid by the Secret Service to Trump properties during his visits, use of political leverage to get Ivanka’s patents in China, or simply the profits made when foreign diplomats choose to stay at Trump properties while negotiating with him) will not prove the claims about Hunter Biden are untrue.

If I want to do that, then I have to provide an argument directly debunking the claims about Hunter Biden activities. What do I get out of calling attention to similar shenanigans about Trump? I get an argument about the significance one relative to the other. I get an argument about how each balances against the other when we assume both criticisms are of roughly equal merit. That may not be the best argument I could produce on the topic, but it would not be fallacious. It’s in this context that ‘you too’ (or at least ‘your guy too’) arguments start to make a little more sense.

One fascinating thing about this is the way that the relevance of such arguments comes and goes. I understood claims about Uranium One, debunked as they are, as a concern in the 2016 election. It was fascinating to me, however, seeing Trump fans continue bringing this up in response to criticism of his actions well into the Trump administration. I found myself saying; “well let’s impeach her too” then, by which I hoped to suggest that this was no longer a relevant means of answering concerns about Trump’s own actions. As the 2020 election heated up, concerns about Biden became a more viable means of offsetting those about Trump (at least to those who care nothing about proportion or credibility of the sources). In terms of addressing the choice at hand, it was useful for the Trump camp to have a claim about political corruption in play precisely because they knew many such claims could be held against Donald. What the merits of each claim really are is of course a debatable question, but having comparable accusations on the table makes possible a kind of argument about how one wishes to weigh one relative to the other.

When we were all expected to weigh Donald Trump’s character against that of another person, complaints about that other person could pass a certain test of minimal relevance to complaints about him. So, the relevance comparison to other people to criticisms of Donald Trump came and went over the course of his Presidential administration. When he was operating on his own, and the only viable question was about his own competence and integrity, they should have gone away.

Of course they didn’t.

Constraining Personalities: This brings us to one last point; some people thrive on the sort of constrained choices I am describing here. When they face an open range of possibilities, they work very hard to create the illusion of constrained choices anyway.

Yes, I have Donald Trump in mind here.

I am also writing about his many fans.

There is a reason the Trump camp was such a source of whataboutism claims throughout his Presidency. This is both a feature of the base to which he consciously pitched his politics and to personality of Donald Trump himself.

Audience: There are people who live in a world of artificially constrained choices, and you can see it their responses to a broad range if issues. Did you say Fox news got something wrong? Well then you must be watching too much MSNBC. If there is a problem with capitalism, well then why don’t you just go try China?

Don’t like Christianity? You must be an atheist! Is the American healthcare system broken? Well then, let me tell you the horror stories coming out of Canada! Concerned about police brutality? You must support riots in the streets! Don’t like coke? Shut up and drink your Beer!

And so on…

(Okay, I might not be that be that serious about the coke and beer example.)

Perhaps all of us fall into this way of thinking from time to time, but some people really do seem to think in such terms on a regular basis. They live in a world of social Manichaeism, a world in which 2 rival forces contend with one another for control of the world and of our loyalties. Anything said against one can clearly be understood as support for the other, because all questions of value must be measured according to the standard of which force one wishes to align oneself with. Other options are always illusory.

You are with the lord of light or you are with the lord of darkness, and if you don’t declare your loyalties openly, then that is a good reason to suspect you are on the wrong side of this conflict. In effect, such people keep making use of the false-alternatives fallacy because they actually do live in a world in which their choices are always constrained. Their assumptions about the world around them and the choices available to all of us consistently reduce all choices to a binary opposition.

Always!

Brief Technicality: I should add that the not all binary opposition are equal. What typically happens here is that people looking at contrary relationships often construe them as contradictory relationships? What is the difference? In a Contradictory relationship between two claims, they two have opposite truth values. If one is true, the other is false. If one is false, the other is true. In a contrary relationship between two claims, on the other hand, one of them must be false, but it is at least possible that both will be false.

In the case of either a contrary relationship or a contradictory relationship, you could infer the falsehood of one claim from the truth of the other, but you could only infer the truth of one claim from the falsehood of the other in the case of a contradictory relationship, not in the case of a contrary relationship.

Case in point: If I know that John is voting for Biden, I can conclude he is clearly not voting for Trump (unless he wants his ballot to be thrown out). If, on the other hand, I know he is not voting for Biden, I could not normally conclude that he is voting for Trump. He might be voting for a third party after all (and whether or not that is a good idea brings up all the points made above).

So, political loyalties are not usually well modeled on the basis of a contradictory relationship. Such loyalties are contrary at best even if specific choices made on the basis of those loyalties (e.g. voting) might be framed in terms of contradictory relationships.

Another example? If you like capitalism, it’s probably safe to assume you are not in favor of communism, but could we really infer from a criticism of capitalism that you were a communist? No. You could be in favor of some alternative political economy. Old fashioned trade guilds, perhaps coupled with mercantilism, subsistence economics (as practiced in many indigenous communities), or good old Georgism (which may or may not be a form of socialism, depending on who you ask), all come to mind. (So, does rejecting the terms ‘capitalism’ or ‘communism’ outright as being to vague and sweeping.). Inferring support for one of these highly loaded terms from opposition to the other is hardly reasonable, and yet, people do it all the time.

People who should know better.

But people often treat contrary relationships as though they were contradictory, thus enabling a faulty implicature, the inference of a specific loyalty from criticism of an alternative commonly understood to be its opposite. This empowers both false alternatives and tu-quoque arguments. For some people this approach to decision making is just too gratifying to resist.

We sometimes encounter simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, and hence make choices between contradictory values, but much of our thinking takes place in a world with a broader range of possibilities. Those locked into the mindset of Social manichaeism are constantly pushing us to think in narrower terms to begin with. If all of us are prone to miss the possibilities from time to time, then some people seem to take this as a point of principle.

Personality: Enter a living train-wreck such as Donald Trump! He thrives on constrained choices precisely because his own actions and his own statements cannot stand up to scrutiny on their own merits. Whatever the man may have been like when he was younger, he has long since accumulated a range of of bad deals, unpaid debts, and obvious lies in a personal history of chronically abusive behavior. His own credibility would never stand up to scrutiny, not from anyone making an honest effort.

So, how does he manage?

He always brings with him a broad range of bluffs and diversions, and one of the most important is a constant penchant for attacking someone in virtually any context, and for doing it in the most humiliating way possible.

Every claim he might make, every question one might ask, is then subsumed under the effect of this personal attack. For those under attack, this means trying to balance the need to defend yourself against the effort to address any objective issues that may be on the table. For bystanders, it is a question of balancing concerns over Trump’s behavior against those he raises about others.

In the ensuing hostilities, trump can raise and drop any issues he wishes, make false claims, and set them aside at his liesure. If he is caught flat footed, the solution is as simple as insulting the person who pointed it out or any source they may rely upon. The end-result is a choice between him or someone else, and any doubts about that other person whatsoever will be enough for Donald. He has spent his lifetime exploiting the benefit of the doubt. It is a benefit does not share with others.

The logic of the whataboutism gambit suits Trump’s style perfectly.

Is Trump University credible? What about Hillary!?!

Did Donald tell a lie? Ask Obama if you can keep your insurance!?!

Is he mistreating immigrants? What are the Dems doing to protect us!?! (…and after 2016, ask Obama, because he did it first?)

Is the Trump family self-dealing through their position in government? Where is Hunter!?!

You get the idea.

This is a man in deep need of enemies. The closest he will ever get to redemption lies in the hope that those around him will think him better than the alternative. Small wonder that he preferred to keep Hillary on the table as a kind of shadow President, a mythic character he could use as a whipping woman even in the 2020 election.

At the peak of his Presidency, when she should have been off the table entirely, she was still the answer to concerns about Trump, replaced only when Biden stepped in to become Trump’s new foil, and only partially so at that. Trump has always needed a constrained choice to make a case for himself, because he is of no value on his own.

To know the worth of Donald Trump, one has always to ask what about someone else.

A man like that is made for the sort of strife we have seen this week, and throughout his Presidency. He is at his peak when the whole world has to think in terms of the constrained choices he seeks to bring about in all times and all places. For most of us these moments come and go. For the likes of Donald Trump, such moments are the only ones that count.

***

Is Donald Trump the only person like this? Not by a long shot, but he is my exhibit ‘A’, and as he is still in a position to do us all harm, he seems to be a relevant example. It was the dramatic nature of our recent elections that got me thinking about the way that certain arguments seem more compelling at some times than other.

I could just as easily have written an epitaph for nuance.

Perhaps that would have been more to the point.

Let us hope that subtlety finds room to breathe in all our minds sometime soon! It is one thing to say ‘no’ with conviction when that is what is called for, and it is quite another to live in a world that is polemics all the way down.

In the end, the point here is that there seem to be some folks who really thrive on the ability to reduce the world to a pair of choices under the assumption that to affirm one is to deny the other. Elections may be a special time to such folks, a moment in which certain patterns of thought seem a little less flawed and a moment in which the rest of the world may just be happy to join in that same pattern of thinking.

We probably all engage in similar patterns of thought in many other contexts, sports rivalries and all manner of brand loyalties come to mind. For my own part, I hope soon to set some of this aside and think about other things. I can’t quite say that i am ready yet.

I can’t quite say that the rest of America is either.

Hopefully soon!

Just How Much Fallacy is “Your To Quoque”?

Posted by danielwalldammit Nov. 7, 2020

We all learned that two wrongs don’t make a right when we were kids, didn’t we? (Like 2 negative identities pronouncement don’t make a sustainable positive identity)

And we learned that ‘you too’ arguments are a fallacy back in Freshman logic class. Right?

Maybe not everybody side with this logic, but this is a lesson a lot of us probably have in common.

Most educated people ought to know that there is something wrong with answering a criticism by saying “you do it too!” or some variation thereof. Hell, most decent people ought to know better than that regardless of their education.

Why do we do it? Since almost everybody does it on at least some occasions.

To be fair, some people do it more than others. They will do it every chance they get. Others try not to, most of the time anyway.

The penchant for answering a serious concern with a quick ‘you-too’ gambit varies from one person to another, but I don’t know that anyone avoids it entirely.

This tactic also comes and goes with the times. It’s been particularly common for the last 4 years, so much so that folks even coined a new term for it; ‘whataboutism.’

The “Your side does it too” gambit has made a regular appearance in public debate for a long time, but it’s been particularly common for the space of about one presidential administration (or an administration plus the campaign before it). So, the internet collectively coined a new term to describe it.

Why is this kind of argument so common? One reason is that it is Not always a fallacy. Another is that for some people, it really is a way of life.

Variable Relevance: The (ir-)relevance of ‘you too’ games varies in a couple of interesting ways.

If someone corrects my behavior and I respond with “you do it too?” am I really engaging in a fallacy?

Variable Conclusions: If I mean by that you-too response that I am not really wrong, because you do it too, then yes. Hell yes!

If that’s what I mean, then I am absolutely engaging in the tu quoque fallacy. If, on the other hand, I mean; “Okay, I need to correct my behavior, but so should you, because you do in fact do this too,” then my response is not entirely unreasonable. I’m not denying my wrong-doing in this instance. I am just asking you to correct your own behavior right along with me.

Alternatively, I could employ a ‘you-too’ argument by refusing to accept a rule that I have good reason to believe others are not going to follow themselves.

Let’s imagine we are playing a game of soccer and you tell me I should stop touching the ball with my hands. I could then say you do it too as a means of insisting either that you stop yourself or that we are just going to continue playing an odd game of soccer in which both of us are allowed to touch the ball with our hands. In this case, I am refusing to play by unfair rules, or unfair application of those rules.

It seems that there are at least some conclusions which could be reasonably drawn from a premise beginning with an assertion that is essentially saying “you do it too.”

Plus Alternatives: There is another context in which “you too” starts to become more relevant than it would otherwise be. In this case, the tu-quoque fallacy has some company, because the False Alternatives fallacy comes in here right along with it. This is the context of constrained choices.

If I tell you that apples bother my teeth, so I don’t like eating them, it would normally be quite foolish to respond by telling me that cookies have too much sugar. Whether or not cookies have too much sugar, apples still bother my teeth (always feels like I am biting into styrofoam). That does not change if cookies are bad for me. So, the cookie-themed response seems quite irrelevant.

…unless I want a snack, and I have exactly 2 options!

If my universe of possible choices includes an apple and a cookie, then problems with one might very well be a reasonable answer to my expressed concerns about the other. It’s not so much a logical inference as it is a conversational implicature.

A possible respondent hears me complaining about the apple, realizes I have offered it as a reason for choosing the cookie instead, and responds by reminding me of a good reason to avoid the cookie

Of course apples and cookies don’t make these arguments themselves, so if this is a concern about false alternatives, how does it relate to the tu-quoque fallacy?

Well, it comes into play when the apples and cookies do make these arguments themselves, or at least when we divide ourselves up into an obviously apple camp and a clearly cookie camp.

Or maybe when we try to pick a President.

If I say that Donald Trump has been self-dealing throughout his Presidency as a means of saying he is a terrible President, it wouldn’t normally help matters to say that Hillary does it too (using the Uranium One story about her charity foundation for example).

Neither would it help to raise the prospect of similar corruption on the part of the Biden family.

These become relevant during elections precisely because the obvious alternative choice is understood, and so the range of viable possibilities is narrowed sufficiently to make these normally irrelevant arguments matter after all.

And here, 3rd party-proponents will have an obvious complaint of their own.

What if there are better choices?

What if you can point to a candidate that doesn’t have a history of self-dealing (or, more to the point, a history of having the charge of self-dealing leveled at them by political opponents)?

That’s a reasonable concern and one that speaks directly to the very kind of problem that logicians are trying to call our attention to when speaking about ‘false alternatives’ and ‘tu-quoque’ fallacies.

Part of the concern here lies in just how viable the third parties really are and what you are trying to accomplish with your vote, both of which speak to the question of just how constrained the alternatives here really are.

If a 3rd party might really win, then it would be quite illogical to respond to a criticism of one major party candidate as though it were an obvious endorsement of another.

Conversely, you may know that the 3rd party is going to lose but choose to vote for them anyway as a means of signaling to the major parties that they should take you own political values more seriously.

If enough others vote the same way, this could become leverage in the next election.

If a 3rd party candidate is, however, not a serious contender for winning an election, and the election is just too important to risk on a symbolic statement, then we may be back in the realm of 2 real choices and dirt on one viable candidate really will have to be weighed against dirt on the other.

In such cases, “your guy does it too” and “the alternative is worse” start to become relevant again.

Where your choices are constrained, criticisms of one choice can provide a meaningful response to criticisms of another, but this is still problematic. Such arguments don’t erase problems, and they don’t disprove initial claims.

If you tell me, for example, that Hunter Biden was using his father’s position as Vice President under the Obama administration to make money, reminding you that the Trump family profits from his role as President (e.g. through fees paid by the Secret Service to Trump properties during his visits, use of political leverage to get Ivanka’s patents in China, or simply the profits made when foreign diplomats choose to stay at Trump properties while negotiating with him) will not prove the claims about Hunter Biden are untrue.

If I want to do that, then I have to provide an argument directly debunking the claims about Hunter Biden activities. What do I get out of calling attention to similar shenanigans about Trump? I get an argument about the significance one relative to the other. I get an argument about how each balances against the other when we assume both criticisms are of roughly equal merit.

That may not be the best argument I could produce on the topic, but it would not be fallacious. It’s in this context that ‘you too’ (or at least ‘your guy too’) arguments start to make a little more sense.

One fascinating thing about this is the way that the relevance of such arguments comes and goes.

I understood claims about Uranium One, debunked as they are, as a concern in the 2016 election. It was fascinating to me, however, seeing Trump fans continue bringing this up in response to criticism of his actions well into the Trump administration.

I found myself saying; “well let’s impeach her too” then, by which I hoped to suggest that this was no longer a relevant means of answering concerns about Trump’s own actions.

As the 2020 election heated up, concerns about Biden became a more viable means of offsetting those about Trump (at least to those who care nothing about proportion or credibility of the sources). In terms of addressing the choice at hand, it was useful for the Trump camp to have a claim about political corruption in play precisely because they knew many such claims could be held against Donald.

What the merits of each claim really are is of course a debatable question, but having comparable accusations on the table makes possible a kind of argument about how one wishes to weigh one relative to the other.

When we were all expected to weigh Donald Trump’s character against that of another person, complaints about that other person could pass a certain test of minimal relevance to complaints about him. So, the relevance comparison to other people to criticisms of Donald Trump came and went over the course of his Presidential administration.

When he was operating on his own, and the only viable question was about his own competence and integrity, they should have gone away.

Of course they didn’t.

Constraining Personalities: This brings us to one last point; some people thrive on the sort of constrained choices I am describing here. When they face an open range of possibilities, they work very hard to create the illusion of constrained choices anyway.

Yes, I have Donald Trump in mind here.

I am also writing about his many fans.

There is a reason the Trump camp was such a source of whataboutism claims throughout his Presidency. This is both a feature of the base to which he consciously pitched his politics and to personality of Donald Trump himself.

Audience: There are people who live in a world of artificially constrained choices, and you can see it their responses to a broad range if issues.

Did you say Fox news got something wrong? Well then you must be watching too much MSNBC. If there is a problem with capitalism, well then why don’t you just go try China? Don’t like Christianity? You must be an atheist!

Is the American healthcare system broken? Well then, let me tell you the horror stories coming out of Canada! Concerned about police brutality? You must support riots in the streets! Don’t like coke? Shut up and drink your Beer!

And so on…

Perhaps all of us fall into this way of thinking from time to time, but some people really do seem to think in such terms on a regular basis.

They live in a world of social Manichaeism, a world in which 2 rival forces contend with one another for control of the world and of our loyalties.

Anything said against one can clearly be understood as support for the other, because all questions of value must be measured according to the standard of which force one wishes to align oneself with.

Other options are always illusory. You are with the lord of light or you are with the lord of darkness, and if you don’t declare your loyalties openly, then that is a good reason to suspect you are on the wrong side of this conflict.

In effect, such people keep making use of the false-alternatives fallacy because they actually do live in a world in which their choices are always constrained. Their assumptions about the world around them and the choices available to all of us consistently reduce all choices to a binary opposition.

Always!

Brief Technicality: I should add that the Not all binary opposition are equal. What typically happens here is that people looking at contrary relationships often construe them as contradictory relationships? What is the difference?

In a Contradictory relationship between two claims, they two have opposite truth values. If one is true, the other is false. If one is false, the other is true.

In a contrary relationship between two claims, on the other hand, one of them must be false, but it is at least possible that both will be false. (Two negative positions don’t make a positive stand)

In the case of either a contrary relationship or a contradictory relationship, you could infer the falsehood of one claim from the truth of the other, but you could only infer the truth of one claim from the falsehood of the other in the case of a contradictory relationship, not in the case of a contrary relationship.

Case in point: If I know that John is voting for Biden, I can conclude he is clearly not voting for Trump (unless he wants his ballot to be thrown out). If, on the other hand, I know he is not voting for Biden, I could not normally conclude that he is voting for Trump. He might be voting for a third party after all (and whether or not that is a good idea brings up all the points made above).

So, political loyalties are not usually well modeled on the basis of a contradictory relationship. Such loyalties are contrary at best even if specific choices made on the basis of those loyalties (e.g. voting) might be framed in terms of contradictory relationships.

Another example?

If you like capitalism, it’s probably safe to assume you are not in favor of communism, but could we really infer from a criticism of capitalism that you were a communist? No. You could be in favor of some alternative political economy.

Old fashioned trade guilds, perhaps coupled with mercantilism, subsistence economics (as practiced in many indigenous communities), or good old Georgism (which may or may not be a form of socialism, depending on who you ask), all come to mind. (So, does rejecting the terms ‘capitalism’ or ‘communism’ outright as being to vague and sweeping.).

Inferring support for one of these highly loaded terms from opposition to the other is hardly reasonable, and yet, people do it all the time.

People who should know better.

But people often treat contrary relationships as though they were contradictory, thus enabling a faulty implicature, the inference of a specific loyalty from criticism of an alternative commonly understood to be its opposite. This empowers both false alternatives and tu-quoque arguments. For some people this approach to decision making is just too gratifying to resist.

We sometimes encounter simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, and hence make choices between contradictory values, but much of our thinking takes place in a world with a broader range of possibilities.

Those locked into the mindset of Social Manichaeism are constantly pushing us to think in narrower terms to begin with. If all of us are prone to miss the possibilities from time to time, then some people seem to take this as a point of principle.

Personality: Enter a living train-wreck such as Donald Trump! He thrives on constrained choices precisely because his own actions and his own statements cannot stand up to scrutiny on their own merits.

Whatever the man may have been like when he was younger, he has long since accumulated a range of of bad deals, unpaid debts, and obvious lies in a personal history of chronically abusive behavior. His own credibility would never stand up to scrutiny, not from anyone making an honest effort.

So, how does he manage?

He always brings with him a broad range of bluffs and diversions, and one of the most important is a constant penchant for attacking someone in virtually any context, and for doing it in the most humiliating way possible.

Every claim he might make, every question one might ask, is then subsumed under the effect of this personal attack. For those under attack, this means trying to balance the need to defend yourself against the effort to address any objective issues that may be on the table.

For bystanders, it is a question of balancing concerns over Trump’s behavior against those he raises about others. In the ensuing hostilities, Trump can raise and drop any issues he wishes, make false claims, and set them aside at his leisure.

If he is caught flat footed, the solution is as simple as insulting the person who pointed it out or any source they may rely upon. The end-result is a choice between him or someone else, and any doubts about that other person whatsoever will be enough for Donald. He has spent his lifetime exploiting the benefit of the doubt. It is a benefit does not share with others.

The logic of the whataboutism gambit suits Trump’s style perfectly.

Is Trump University credible? What about Hillary?!

Did Donald tell a lie? Ask Obama if you can keep your insurance?!

Is he mistreating immigrants? What are the Dems doing to protect us?! (…and after 2016, ask Obama, because he did it first?)

Is the Trump family self-dealing through their position in government? Where is Hunter?!

You get the idea.

This is a man in deep need of enemies. The closest he will ever get to redemption lies in the hope that those around him will think him better than the alternative.

Small wonder that he preferred to keep Hillary on the table as a kind of shadow President, a mythic character he could use as a whipping woman even in the 2020 election. At the peak of his Presidency, when she should have been off the table entirely, she was still the answer to concerns about Trump, replaced only when Biden stepped in to become Trump’s new foil, and only partially so at that.

Trump has always needed a constrained choice to make a case for himself, because he is of no value on his own.

To know the worth of Donald Trump, one has always to ask what about someone else.

A man like that is made for the sort of strife we have seen this week, and throughout his Presidency. He is at his peak when the whole world has to think in terms of the constrained choices he seeks to bring about in all times and all places.

For most of us these moments come and go. For the likes of Donald Trump, such moments are the only ones that count.

Is Donald Trump the only person like this? Not by a long shot, but he is my exhibit ‘A’, and as he is still in a position to do us all harm, he seems to be a relevant example.

It was the dramatic nature of our recent elections that got me thinking about the way that certain arguments seem more compelling at some times than other.

I could just as easily have written an epitaph for nuance.

Perhaps that would have been more to the point.

Let us hope that subtlety finds room to breathe in all our minds sometime soon! It is one thing to say ‘no’ with conviction when that is what is called for, and it is quite another to live in a world that is polemics all the way down.

In the end, the point here is that there seem to be some folks who really thrive on the ability to reduce the world to a pair of choices under the assumption that to affirm one is to deny the other.

Elections may be a special time to such folks, a moment in which certain patterns of thought seem a little less flawed and a moment in which the rest of the world may just be happy to join in that same pattern of thinking.

We probably all engage in similar patterns of thought in many other contexts, sports rivalries and all manner of brand loyalties come to mind.

For my own part, I hope soon to set some of this aside and think about other things. I can’t quite say that i am ready yet.

I can’t quite say that the rest of America is either.

Are you aware of a few of your idiosyncrasies?

We behave according to the biases we accumulated from our environment. Idiosyncrasies are the norm in life. Even when we become conscious of a few of our biases, it is doubtful that we get the necessary stamina to change.

We’re all biased species. It becomes an unconscious behavior. Our experiences (and idee-fixe in our surrounding) shape who we are.

The perception of our race, ethnicity, gender, height, weight, sexual orientation, place of birth, and other factors impact the lens with which we view the world.

How can we recognize and acknowledge our own biases? Does identifying our kinds of biases (like affinity bias, halo bias, perception bias, and confirmation bias) make a difference in our daily decisions or change our viewpoints?

It is important to make a distinction between 3 broadly different approaches: objective, polemic, and deceptive. This distinction isn’t metaphysical. It’s a question of intent.

In order to discriminate among fake news, facts, objective statement, value judgment… we require vast general knowledge in many fields of study and apply our experimental mind on each subject matter. Otherwise, people will offer the excuse of “common sense” to absolve their laziness in the mind

It is Not an easy endeavor that should span a lifetime and be conducted with the passion of learning, credibility, fairness in treating readers…

Note: I usually edit any piece in my own style and add comments.

Biases All the Way Down, Some Biases are More Troublesome Than Others

danielwalldammit posted on wordpess.com

When I listen to people complaining about indoctrination in the schools or dismissing perfectly sound journalism by chanting the mantra “fake news,” I’m always struck by the hopelessness of trying to reason with them.

Phrases like “just the facts” spill from their mouths, their keyboards, and their keypads quite often, and not a few of them are happy to remind us that facts do not care about our feelings.

These phrases do not usually convey skepticism.

They do not challenge us to provide evidence or compelling reason. Instead, they signal an absolute barrier to any hope of meaningful communication.

These phrases did not become popular in the American political vocabulary because they help to explain the problem with erroneous or dishonest journalism.

Nor have these phrases been generally used to correct flawed textbooks or abusive teachers.

As they are commonly used in America today, these phrases consistently provide thoughtless people with a shield against unwelcome information.

As I listen to such folks talk, or read anything they write, I can’t help thinking those who find nothing but bias in academia or mainstream news are often the same folks who speak of objectivity in terms of the most naive realism.

They think Facticity is part of their cultural capital, they own it, and so they invoke it freely in encounters with others.

Ask these people what it means to do a good job as a teacher or a journalist, a documentary film-maker, etc. and they will describe an absolute devotion to facts coupled with a complete absence of subjectivity.

They have few thoughts as to how that works, but the goal seems pretty obvious to them.

If pressed, some might concede that such an account of any given subject never really happens, but they are likely to insist that it should be an ideal of sorts, a goal to which one ought to aspire.

They don’t understand that the ideal itself isn’t even coherent. You cannot describe a fact without injecting yourself into the description.

Even the facts you choose to relate reflect a choice and a value statement about what is and what is not important in a story. So, does the language you use to describe those facts, and of course the conclusions you draw from whatever you take to be the settled facts of a story also reflect all sorts of choices about what lessons might be worth learning from the world around us.

We never actually get a purely factual account of anything; we can’t even conceive of it in the abstract, because the most rigorous visions of evidence-based reasoning are themselves saturated with value judgements and personal biases.

If objectivity is meaningful at all, it is as a element in relation to subjectivity, (or perhaps inter-subjectivity), not as a pair of alternatives from which we choose. We can speak of an object only in relation to a subject. To imagine the one without the other is to indulge in fiction.

To those who suppose this fictional objectivity is reality, I suppose it is the rhetorical equivalent to reality television, a pretense to veracity offered with a smirk and wink even as any claims to meet that standard unravels unravels around us.

This naive realism goes hand in hand with a pan-partisanship in the consumption of information.

As nobody ever actually meets these impossible standards of objectivity, it provides a ready excuse to dismiss any information one doesn’t wish to hear.

You can always pick apart the choices other people make when they try to state facts. You can quibble over the language they use to express themselves or ask why they think this fact here is important and not that one there? Nobody meets the standard in actual practice, so each and every source of information comes ready-made with all manner of excuses for rejecting it. One has only to make exceptions for those one wishes to keep after all. If those exceptions seem selective, well then, by what standard would anyone presume to make such a judgement?

All of this leaves us with is a sense of bias which provides license for more of the same, and a way of talking about bias that reduces everyone and every approach to information to the level of open partisanship and nothing but partisanship.

All biases are equal in this mindset, because those adopting it do not really think about how one sorts a reasonable account of any given subject from a foolish one. They needn’t accept the authority (or the credibility) of a judge, or a scholar, or a journalist, because they can find evidence of a personal point of view in each.

This flattening of critical merit makes every controversy into a sort of intellectual playground, a range of possibilities all of which possess equal intellectual merit. It puts every couch-potato responding to a 3-minute news segment on Covid19 right on par with a scientist who has studied infectious diseases throughout her career. It empowers the Dunning-Krueger effect, in effect, by denying that there is any meaningful difference in knowledge to begin with.

I keep coming back to this, not because the problem is conceptually interesting, but because I find myself talking to so many people who seem to live in this mindset. They know what sources they like, and they know which sources they cannot be bothered with, but their own explanations boil down to a kind of unacknowledged voluntarism. Intellectual rigor of any kind simply does not enter into this mindset, because every actual stance is, for them rooted in pure personal bias.

A professional historian writing about World War II might as well be their friend Frank who told them about a thing he saw once in a movie. A journalist summarizing countless hours of research enjoys no more credibility than the first thought that jumps into their own head upon hearing the story.

A medical doctor talking about a global pandemic is easily trumped by a blog post detailing an elaborate conspiracy theory. These same people are happy to sing the praises of objectivity, and in particular to use high standards as a foil against their enemies, but in practice, their mental life is a playground of choices made on thin pretexts. That is all they hear from others; it is all they produce themselves.

I find myself struggling to produce a simple account of objectivity and bias, one which affirms neither this naive realism nor this practical pan-partisanship.

If I am thinking about bias in the presentation of information, and I am, I usually want to make a distinction between 3 broadly different approaches, objective, polemic, and deceptive. This distinction isn’t metaphysical. It’s a question of intent.

When I refer to an account as objective, I do not mean to suggest that its author has achieved some miraculous account devoid of any personal bias. What I mean in such cases, is that the author has made an effort to express the relevant facts of the story, and perhaps to provide an account of the different positions others have taken on the subject.

I will still have questions about the author’s specific choices, the accuracy of their descriptions, and if I know something about the subject, I am likely to sense bias creeping into their narratives. When I call it ‘objective’, it is because I can still see a few objective information creeping through the haze of personal bias, and because I perceive the author’s goal as being rooted in the objective features of the story. Whatever their personal views, there is something about the facts of the matter that has their interest. If they are doing their job right, it will have mine as well.

If I am ever tempted to dismiss the prospect of an objective account as a result of the many subjectivities that always seem to accompany them, I have only to consider some of the alternatives.

There is a world of difference between someone who is trying to tell a story based on the facts as they understand them, and someone for whom a story is solely an instrument of their own personal agenda. While bias might count as failure in the former case, in the latter, that bias is precisely the point.

If ever we forget the merits of an objective account, their absence is certainly noticed whenever we encounter polemic work.

An author or speaker whose primary goal is the advancement of a partisan view tells a very different story than one who is trying to give us an objective account. The facts they elect to provide are not merely shaded by personal bias, they are explicitly chosen on that basis.

One literally doesn’t get any information that doesn’t help the polemicist build his case. His language too is chosen for the purpose of expressing a clear stance on the subject in question. We don’t expect of such writers that they will spend a lot of time on things that don’t facilitate their own argument. To do so would be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Let’s take for example the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of WWII. I have plenty of textbooks that provide a basic and brief account of this event. One of the major controversies of this story is the question of whether or not doing so was necessary and/or justified in any sense by the circumstances facing the allies near the end of that war.

Any author trying to tell me that story will normally provide some account of the reasons for dropping the bomb, and in doing so, they are likely to show some sense of their own take on that controversial subject They will cover the facts most relevant to their position on the subject, and they will likely describe them in language that suggests some degree of their own sense as to whether or not the decision was sound.

Some authors try to address the controversy by providing an account of the controversy itself, telling us what different people have said about the question over the years. In such cases, it would not be unreasonable to expect they will do a better job of accounting for those positions they agree with than the ones they do not agree with.

All of which is very different from reading a text in which an author takes a stand on that very question. You can find such readings. You can find people who will tell you the decision was absolutely appropriate, and they will make the case as to why.

Others will describe it as an atrocity, and they too will provide an argument as to why that is the case.

In neither of these instances would one expect the polemicist to spend a great deal of time covering facts which don’t help their case. If they do, it will only be to show how their position deals with these facts after all, and so their account of these seemingly neutral features of the story will of course be largely an exercise in stretching a specific viewpoint to cover the facts in question.

None of this is a terrible thing. There is a place for polemics in human communication. My point is simply that a polemic is very different from an attempt at an objective account.

If bias is a bug in the former; it is a feature of the latter, a genuine benefit. If polemic writing is well done, it leaves us with a clear vision of the viewpoint expressed within it. It is a good thing, but it is a different kind of than we get from those trying to write a more thorough and objective account.

(How about the US didn’t want Stalin to occupy all of Korea before Japan ceasefire? Japan had to surrender and stop Russia advances)

Whatever the goals of a writer or a speaker, whether it be polemic or objective, we can also distinguish between those who show a certain respect for truth and reason and those who are consciously deceptive about such matters.

Even the most strident of polemicists is perfectly capable of telling the truth as she understands it and using reasoning that is at least plausible rather than fallacious.

On the other hand, some people are just bad actors: Not only do they make a conscious choice to advance a single point of view; they are willing to deceive to us in the service of that point of view. Their account of the facts will contain not mere errors but conscious lies, and their reasoning will include deliberate cases of misdirection.

Such people are not merely influenced by personal values and personal agendas; they operate free of any moral or intellectual restraint. Lest we forget that objectivity matters, or give up on it altogether, an encounter with such a deceitful soul ought to remind us that facts matter after all, and so does sound reasoning.

I really do not mean to advocate some naive objective metaphysics, but I am sure some folks will say the way I have tried to qualify my use of the term here is inadequate, but this post isn’t really meant to outline an epistemological theory.

This post is mean to describe some differences in communicative practice. The need to do so is motivated less by abstract philosophical questions than a general sense that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain any standards of honesty or intellectual rigor in public discourse.

The problem isn’t just that some people cannot tell the difference between sound journalism and internet gossip; it is that such people increasingly dominate our public discourse and they are increasingly able to obscure such distinctions for purposes of public policy.

Much of their ability to do so lies in their ability to find personal or political bias in even the most professional of publications (whether scholarly or journalistic).

My point here is not to suggest that some people are above personal bias; it is calling attention to the different ways in which bias enters into the work of public media.

For some people bias is a problem they can never really seem to escape.

For others, bias is precisely the point.

For some, it is the only point.

How’s the Future is calling to you?

The future is calling~

by ~mimo~

Never before have I felt so unsure about what the future holds as I do today.

Every morning, a new story in the news that are stranger than the next, and world leadership trying to force the strangest and lowest of standards as the new norm.

And at the first signs of tremors we feel as the future threatens to eradicate the past.

Anyone not feeling this must be sleep walking through life and bouncing from distraction to escape.

How did we get here and what will our children’s world look like?

Gray Mountain Murals

by danielwalldammit

Good Question

Care
The reddish figure has been there awhile. Each of the other murals seems to have replaced earlier pieces.

 


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2021
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