Current Affairs

Fallacies, framing, false dichotomies and insults – the US abortion debate

There can be no better exemplification of the Fallacy of false dichotomy than the fallout from another report about an anti-abortion speech by pastor Matt Chandler.
The fans of the speech appear to start their analysis from the viewpoint that anybody who disagrees with them is “pro-abortion”. This therefore means (in their world) that their opponents are one or more of: monsters, immoral, murderers, Nazis, eugenicists….
This is lazy, intellectually risible claptrap.
I know of nobody that I have met in 60 years who has ever said to me “you know, I am in favour of abortion because I think it is a jolly good thing”. The idea that the world is full of evil people promoting abortion is a fabulist, dystopian invention.
What we are witnessing here is the end result of what George Lakoff terms Framing. The people and the organizations who oppose the use of abortion realized a long time ago that by describing themselves as “pro-life”, they could then claim that anybody arguing against them on any front or using any form of objection is “anti-life” and therefore their arguments, by inference, are unworthy. Ditto “anti-abortion” as a framing phrase.
Anybody who argues in favour of any abortions is therefore a person with unworthy arguments. Actually, it’s far worse than that. Not only are the arguments of opponents unworthy, the opponents are entirely unworthy as people. Hence the rapid or immediate jump to the use of emotive words like “monster” and “Nazi”.
I am pro-life and I am also (in some limited circumstances) pro-abortion. I reject the framing of the opponents of abortion, and I also reject their arguments, particularly their juvenile, intellectually risible attempts at ad hominem smears. I mostly refuse to engage with people who have that mindset. Their arguments are, in most cases, ridiculous, devoid of logical or intellectual depth, and therefore worthy of dismissal or ridicule.
As John Scalzi said, if you want me to respect your arguments, have a good one. Starting from a logical fallacy, then moving via framing to establish strawman caricatures of opponents in order to be able to insult them, doesn’t even begin to make those people into serious opponents or debaters. As far as I am concerned, until they start to show a good deal more maturity and pragmatism, they can go pound sand, and I will work to make sure that their censorious, crypto-fascist ideas do not prevail.


Evaluating Political Propositions

In the next 18 months, politicians will be proposing or promising all manner of stuff. Some of it will be sensible-sounding, some of it may sound utterly incomprehensible. In any political process, it helps a lot to adhere to two simple rules when trying to evaluate the logic and reasoning behind a proposed course of action.
1. Follow The Money
Many political proposals are not being floated to advance society. More correctly, they are usually being proposed because some person or group somewhere is going to make money from them, and that person or group has been lobbying to have the proposal appear in the political process. That lobbying process usually runs on cash. Lobbyists don’t do the job for all the fine wine they can drink…
Politicians who are at all interested in power (and most are) usually operate on the WIIFM principle when advancing ideas or legislation (What’s In It For Me?). That often involves the acquisition of cash as a quid pro quo for the advancement of proposals or legislation, because the US political process is expensive. There is always the next election to fund, especially if you are a member of the House of Representatives and always running for re-election.

2. Look Where The Votes Are
In peacetime, politicians usually try to appeal to groups who they think will deliver the maximum number of votes for their party. They may dress those appeals up in all forms of fine-sounding language, but ultimately, you cannot have any power unless you get elected and gain some form of majority. Politicians usually appeal to voting blocs by some form of pandering.
Sometimes the pandering takes the form of empathetic noises about the values of that voting bloc, accompanied by symbolic actions to show that empathy. Sometimes the actions become more substantive and blatant, even ensuring in some cases that the bloc will gain financially from the proposed actions. (In less polite company, we might call that bribery). By the way, don’t feel too virtuous while reading this – if you benefitted from any recent tax cuts, that was because somebody who was elected to political office was trying to bribe you.
While it would be nice to logically evaluate all political proposals without considering the motive, that is not possible most of the time. Most proposals will fall into one or both of the above primary categories, and therefore need to be reviewed via those two lenses. That will continue until We The People stop allowing ourselves to be pandered to, and start demanding logical, sustainable actions from politicians. I’m not holding my breath.


Logical fallacies in election season #1 – The rhetorical strawman

Folks, during this election season, you are unlikely to find me using outmoded and not very useful terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “left wing” or “right wing”. They have been so debased and distorted over decades as to be meaningless. Quite often they are used as fallacious strawmen, sloganeering abuse that forms part of a disconnected word salad of vituperation aimed by partisans at real and perceived opponents. Just this week I was hit with word salad here on FB by an authoritarian nitwit trying the political equivalent of the Gish Gallop on me. Google “Gish Gallop” for details on that rhetorical or debating technique, more commonly used by crackpot Christian creationists. (It’s not that I am lazy, but it’s not a concise explanation).
The only distinction I find particularly useful is between authoritarian and libertarian modes of thinking. I find some use in the distinction between progressive and regressive modes of thinking, but that, too, has been hijacked to some extent by the strawman fallacy manufacturers.
So, if the response to discussions about politics doesn’t go much further than “I hate liberals” or “I hate conservatives”, that is going to get one of two reactions from me. Most likely, especially if I am busy, I will ignore it. Some of the time I may ask for a detailed explanation to support this viewpoint. And if i find that people are engaging in strawman fallacies or other defective rhetorical techniques, I am going to say so. For example. proposing a tax increase on some segment of the population does not automatically make somebody a Marxist, no matter what some internet web sites may claim. People making that claim need to read and understand a lot more about world political history.


Political Correctness – Short version

Politically Correct.
A loaded multi-meaning phrase.
I am writing a longer blog posting about this topic. However here is one observation in advance.
When I hear and read some people complaining that they hate political correctness, it is rather easy to see, based on what they say and write, that what they are really saying is:
“I am butthurt because I am not able to make assholish or stupid comments without somebody pointing it out in public”
When I was growing up in the UK, I used to meet people from Yorkshire a lot, since I went to college in Manchester. A lot of people from Yorkshire pride themselves on being “plain speaking”, “telling it like it is” etc. etc. Some of them are refreshingly direct. However, I soon discovered that some of them were, in fact, tactless or boorish assholes. Their rationalization for the pathology was “plain speaking”. It was just that, a lame rationalization.
So. when you hear somebody complaining about political correctness, take some time out to observe what they say and how they say it. They might be direct, and not interested in euphemism, indirect speech or other forms of verbal evasion. On the other hand, they might just be behaving like a jerk.


Twitter tossers

I have determined that there are some terribly low-wattage individuals on Twitter.
A guy shows up on my timeline today claiming that Barack Obama is behaving like a King. So I asked him for evidence to back up that assertion.
He did the usual blustering blather on me, telling me I could Google it (which is the hallmark of laziness, if you have evidence you should have it to hand and be able to cite it), but then in the same Tweet said “look at his attempt to get Amnesty which he is still pushing”.
Well…I had to point out that he just tried a self-refuting argument. The Executive Order that he refers to is held up in the court system because a Federal District court ruled that it was an impermissible use of Executive power. (It may or may not survive further judicial scrutiny). I replied that if Obama was really a King, he would have already enacted the change and that would be that.
He responded by blocking me.
There is a technical term for people like this from the UK. A stupid tosser. The sad thing is that this tosser had 4,300 followers. I guess this is proof that you can spout utter nonsense and people will follow you.


Questions about the religious affiliations of candidates

The right answer by any candidate for POTUS as to whether they are Christian, or whether any of their opponents are Christian, should be to refer the questioner to Article VI paragraph 3 of the Constitution which states
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
If they give any other answer that involves guessing or hinting about somebody’s religious affiliation, they are engaging in one or more of dog-whistling or pandering, and they either don’t know the Constitution, or they don’t care enough about it.


A quick word about drones

The word “drone” is being used in a debatably incorrect way when people talk about quadcopter RC devices. Those devices are merely, for operational purposes, updated versions of RC aircraft that have been flown by hobbyists for decades. Hobbyists have flown RC helicopters with hovering ability for a long time. They are nowhere near as sophisticated or lightweight as the current generation of quadcopter devices, but they perform the same function.
The paranoia (and yes it is mostly paranoia) about the new generation of RC air devices is fuelled by the use of the word “drone” to describe them. That word has acquired a very sinister meaning because of its use to describe larger, long-loiter military devices used elsewhere in the world to engage in surveillance and targeted assassination.
A quadcopter RC device is not a “drone” in any military or malevolent sense. They cannot carry any military payload. They have extremely limited personal surveillance capability, since they mostly contain GoPro or other cameras that have next to no zoom ability. They also have a flight time of 20 minutes at best, and require line of sight to the operator for reliable flight control.
Do quadcopters have the ability to cause problems? Well yes. RC aircraft and helicopters have the same ability, but there are regulations applicable to all of these devices under FAA rules. If a quadcopter strays into controlled airspace, that will be a safety issue, and the FAA has the ability to sanction the operator and possibly have him charged with serious offenses.
Quadcopters are regarded at this time by the FAA as aicraft, subject to many of the same rules and protections as aircraft. Hence people are being arrested and hit with charges for trying to shoot quadcopters down. The airspace above your property does not belong to you. It never has. If you don’t like that you need to campaign for a change in the Constitution. (BTW, there is no right to individual privacy defined in the Constitution, so if somebody threatening quadcopter vandalism says “It’s my constitutional right”, you can dismiss that claim. It’s horsepuckey).
The paranoia and unconstitutional attempts at restraint by local districts and counties in the USA are making the US into a laughing stock worldwide, and the results are going to be a lack of aerial device development in the USA, and loss of commercial opportunities.


Gun-waving citizens and their idea of “charm”

It seems that citizens have been disagreeing in public about a Confederate soldier statue in Denton. It involved open carry adherents, but this paragraph leaped out of the article at me:

“We’re out here to protest the sickening behavior of yesterday,” said Ian McDougal, Lake Dallas resident openly carrying a loaded AR-15, concealed revolver and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. “It’s ruining the charm of this town.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not regard people walking around with loaded AR-15 guns, other concealed firearms and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags as “charming”. I regard them as contributing to a level of scariness that will most likely cause me to avoid Denton on my travels.



A brief comment about polygamy.
I have read lots of people (some more intellectually honest than others) arguing that if SCOTUS has legalized same-sex marriages, then why not polygamous marriages?
The reality is that polygamy is already legal. You can live with as many partners of the same or opposite sex as you like, under the same roof or different roofs. What you are not allowed to do is register more than one of those concurrent relationships as a marriage. This is what the Fundamentalist LDS does today. The men have one legal wife, and many other women who function as subservient wives, and who appear to the welfare system to be single mothers. I will leave it to the readers to join the dots as to which entity is paying most of the bills for those “not allowed to call it that” wives and their children (HINT – it is not the FLDS, and it might begin with G). .
The real debate is not whether polygamy should be allowed, but under what conditions people should be allowed to register multiple concurrent marriages. The main objection, which I understand, is that polygamous arrangements like those of the FLDS are not exactly equitable or reflective of equality of partnership. I am not sure what the right solution is, but logically, nope, we cannot ban polygamy, we already have it, so we need to sit down and work out how to manage it for the good of society.

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