The mythology of the fallacy

•3 December, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a veteran Internet arguer, I have now come across false claims of fallacies so many times I’ve lost count. The most common ones: Ad Hominem and No True Scotsman. The People of the Internet seem to understand the Strawman fallacy a bit better than the other two, so I won’t address that one.

First of all, what is a fallacy? A fallacy is an argument that lacks logical consistency. As I will discuss later, it is not simply being incorrect.

Ad Hominem specifically means “to the person.” However, the fallacy doesn’t simply involve attacking the person. That may fall under the category of bullying or verbal abuse, but simply calling somebody names does not make your actions fallacious. A fallacious argument essentially requires the assumption, “therefore you’re wrong.” So saying, “you’re a dipshit,” is name-calling. Saying, “You’re a dipshit and therefore you’re wrong” is an Ad Hominem fallacy. Also, the “you’re wrong” part has to be dependent on the “you’re a dipshit” part. So saying, “you’re  a dipshit, and also you’re wrong” is also not a fallacy. Name-calling by itself does not make an argument any weaker or less logical. It just makes the person making the argument less likeable.

No True Scotsman. This one is my favourite, because it completely infuriates me when people use it. It is almost always used incorrectly. When you state that somebody does not belong to a group  simply because they did something unfavourable (but unrelated to the definition of that group), you are making a fallacious argument. The most common example used:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

The most important detail of this example, that many people fail to notice time and again, is that whether or not somebody puts sugar in his porridge is irrelevant to the definition of a Scotsman. If, for example, the argument was, “If you have no Scottish ancestry or don’t live in Scotland, you are not a Scotsman,” it wouldn’t be a fallacy, because you are literally referring to the definition of a Scotsman. Similarly, if you said, “peppers aren’t types of broccoli,” this wouldn’t be a No True Scotsman fallacy either, because of how both peppers and broccoli are defined*.

Now let’s get to the arguments I personally hear time and time again in my corner of the Internets.

1. “Saying that the USSR wasn’t socialist/communist is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Let’s follow this logically, shall we?
The definition of socialism: A wage-less socio-economic system where the workers own and control the means of production.
Communism: A stateless, classless society.
The USSR: A state-run country (therefore not communist) where government elites owned and controlled the means of production and dictated wages for workers (therefore not socialist).
Even Lenin referred to post-revolutionary Russia as “State Capitalism.” The Bolsheviks founded the Communist Party under the hopes that the region would eventually become communist (i.e. stateless and classless); not because they saw it is communist then. Similarly, Green Parties aim to create environmentally sustainable countries, but that does not mean that if they were to rise to power, the country/ies they oversaw would automatically (or even in a few decades’ time) become completely green. Whether or not forming a political party for the purpose of creating a communist region is a good strategy is up for debate (I would say no, seeing as how I’m an anarchist). But that’s a different discussion.

2. “Saying that ‘anarcho’-capitalists aren’t real anarchists is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Anarchism has always been a political philosophy that opposes the two arms of capital: The state and private property. This is the very basic definition of anarchism. It makes utterly no sense to call yourself an anarchist if you support private property or capitalism.

And while you’re at it, stop calling peppers broccoli.

And now my favourite. The Fallacy fallacy. Way too many people assume that an argument with poor logic directly means that the conclusion of that argument is untrue. In reality, anybody can make a fallacious argument. You can have all the facts in the world to back you up and still present your argument poorly. The converse is also true: You can make a completely logically consistent argument and still have an incorrect conclusion.

Knowledge of fallacies is important for critical thinking, but fallacies have become abused because people are too quick to shout “fallacy!” at somebody rather than actually looking at their argument. It has ironically become a way of avoiding critical thinking altogether.

 

*Note: Dictionary definitions are rarely sufficient for defining complex socio-political concepts (or any words, really). Instead, an understanding of historical context is needed.

“It-Could-Be-Worse” Syndrome

•15 September, 2014 • 2 Comments

Lately, I have come across a lot of people suffering from It-Could-Be-Worse (ICBW) Syndrome. Symptoms include:

  • Dismissing socio-political concerns due to the fact that worse problems exist somewhere in the world
  • Putting issues on a hierarchy based on what “deserves” attention and what doesn’t
  • Belonging to single-issue causes only
  • Denying the larger socio-political and historical contexts of issues

For example, according to some (mostly white) pro-Palestinians, the regular murder of Black people in the USA should not even be considered a problem, due to the fact that people in Gaza are being killed at a faster rate. They actually argued against Palestinians showing solidarity towards Ferguson because of this. I don’t think they went far enough. Wait! No, forget Gaza, because millions of people worldwide starve to death every year. But forget starving people! Because climate change will soon wipe us all off the earth, killing billions! It’s exhausting, and always comes to one inevitable conclusion: Only the worst of the worst problem in the world deserves any attention by anybody, and there is of course a clear hierarchy based on number of dead bodies/value of the lives taken/etc.

The argument can be used against people with mental illness too, and it is especially personal then. “Get off your ass and stop being depressed; there are starving kids in Africa” is one that I’ve heard and read so many permutations of, it’s hard to count. Note the reference to the entire, diverse, second-largest continent in the world as a homogeneous “country.” Africa is a favourite scapegoat of people with ICBW Syndrome. Mental illness is perhaps the most poorly understood category of illness, and even the most aware of individuals can succumb to ICBW Syndrome when mental health is being addressed.

I was recently talking to a guy about the elections in New Zealand, discussing the recently exposed corruption of our current government, which has now made world-wide press. He said it didn’t matter, because things in Iraq were much worse. People killed to be in political power there! He then went on to say how spoiled New Zealanders were because we have a benefit system and public healthcare (which has, ironically, been cut significantly by the current government).

This is, of course, ignoring the larger problem: In this case, that corruption exists at all, and infiltrates even the most “stable” democracies. But another problem with socio-economic and historical context was revealed by that conversation: That even in the countries in the world with stronger social protections in place, poverty is still a problem. By claiming that Kiwis are spoiled, this guy was blaming the poor for their poverty in New Zealand, because they couldn’t cope even in a system that wasn’t as horrific as what some have experienced in Iraq.

This argument is one I see more from well-off people who are from wealthier countries, especially those who have visited poorer countries. They insist that the poor here need to suck it up because at least it’s nothing like [insert poorer country here]. Instead of acknowledging that things are bad here too, it’s an either/or kind of logic. People with this syndrome cannot connect issues across borders, and therefore it is impossible to understand how a global system like capitalism or imperialism could be a causal factor. They cannot see how liberal reforms act as Band-Aids that mask some, but not all, problems with capitalism in wealthier countries.

ICBW Syndrome is a very dangerous disease. It causes not only apathy, but actual victim-blaming and brings sometimes otherwise liberal people to adopt surprisingly conservative ideologies. Initial acknowledgement of the insidiousness of capital is an effective treatment and can stave off the worst symptomes, but it is not a cure, as even socialists aren’t immune. Only a constant, critical analysis of the interconnected effects of capitalism, racism, and imperialism can protect an individual from the antisocial verbal vomit associated with ICBW Syndrome.

A note to liberals about good corporations

•20 February, 2014 • Leave a Comment
A lot of liberals try to separate the good from the bad corporations.

What is a good corporation?

A good corporation is a corporation where the workers are self-determined and have complete democratic control of the means of production and their wages.

A good corporation is a corporation that doesn’t make a profit or have a profit motive.

A good corporation is not a corporation.

Anything else is just different degrees of evil.

I learned an important lesson today.

•28 June, 2013 • 2 Comments

No, it wasn’t “go to sleep at a normal hour.” That will be a lesson for another day, unfortunately.

But I did learn how to conserve my energy when debating. Just one step at a time.

See, I got a couple people’s attention on Twitter when I criticised somebody for retweeting something with a homophobic and sexist slur in it. I was lucky that they were respectful enough and simply started debating me (instead of insulting me). I responded to some, but selectively. Here are examples of what I responded to:

“But I’m not homophobic! I love gay people and women!”

“You’re being a bit touchy. You shouldn’t let things get under your skin.”

Things I didn’t reply to:

“This really pissed me off. Bitch is just a word, who cares.”

“Bitch you should have to repeat yourself bitch.” (Referring to the fact that I had to repeat myself on a couple occasions)

Note the vitriolic undertones in the second lot. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I usually bite when I see anger thrown at me. This time I decided not to respond, and it worked out well. The three who responded to me less angrily (I won’t say politely, because one of them did call me “illiterate”) all left the argument in a neutral way. “Good luck with your endevours,” “I respectfully agree to disagree,” and “It was nice knowing you. Take care.”

Now, this is not to say that other people can’t get into more anger-laced disagreements, or that you don’t have the right to stand up against oppression in an aggressive manor. It’s just that I cannot handle that kind of confrontation. It burns me out, and then I can’t work to contribute to society the way I hope to.

So I really hope that this is the beginning of a less angst-ridden path for me, on the subject of debating and disagreeing.

 

***If you would like to contribute towards preventing further angst, please read my comments policy before commenting.***

Just an illustration

•11 June, 2013 • 4 Comments

I had a lot of difficulty finding an American political spectrum to my liking on the Internet. This is probably the closest:

AmericaPoliticalSpectrum

The “space available” would be where socialists sit. What I refer to as “liberals” are: “progressives” (those who would be in the “center” on this spectrum) and Democrats, on the center right.

A better spectrum, that I created, is this one:

PoliticalSpectrum

Just in case you didn’t know that liberals irritate me

•29 May, 2013 • 31 Comments

RecordStraight

From Being Liberal‘s page on Facebook.

I’ve written before about why I do not consider myself a liberal. I rejected the label many years ago.

I want free healthcare;
Healthcare is a basic human right and free healthcare is entirely attainable.

I don’t want money for nothing;
But fundamental human needs like food and shelter should be met for EVERYBODY.

I don’t expect any election to bring the result I want;
I want the entire system to change to bring about real, direct democracy.

I do want businesses to be unprofitable;
As the profit motive breeds sociopathic behavior.

I don’t want the wealthiest Americans to pay for everything;
I want there to be no “wealthiest Americans.”

I do not understand why liberals spend so much time apologizing to the Right. They try so hard to find common ground, as if finding common ground with people who have sociopathic beliefs is a good goal. “No no no, it’s not that I want FREE healthcare, god no, how silly!” No, it’s not silly. It’s not even particularly liberal, in other countries. In many countries, free or almost free healthcare is just a given, and it is appreciated by people on the Right and Left.

There’s this tendency for liberals to waste their energy distancing themselves from socialists as much as possible. “We don’t want money for nothing.” I don’t know very many people who think that everybody should get money for nothing. Ironically, money is so abstract nowadays that it is the wealthy, the people who invest and speculate, who receive money for literally nothing. It drives up the prices for food and housing – you know, those non-abstract things that people actually need. It is these basic necessities, the resources themselves, that should be shared, or in terms that neoliberal economists can understand, be “free.”

The idea of an election in any country having the results I want is ridiculous. I don’t think countries should exist. They’re just territories marked by militaries; the human equivalent of pissing in the dirt. Elections are essentially frauds; democracy in Western “democracies” isn’t participatory or direct; it is an authoritarian rule of one of a handful of (or two in the US) parties that are at the beck and call of the wealthy. Choosing between a couple corporate puppets is not democracy.

Lord, how liberals love to go on about how much they love capitalism! “It isn’t capitalism that’s the problem, it’s unregulated capitalism,” they say, or “corporatism.” Despite the fact that the profit motive is what causes everyday human beings to behave like sociopaths, it isn’t the profit motive that needs to change, just how much the profit motive is controlled. God forbid anybody have the radical idea of getting rid of the root cause of our problems!

What exactly would be “their share” when it comes to the wealthiest Americans? Is there something inherent about them that means that they deserve more wealth than the average American? History suggests no. Wealth in our current system is primarily obtained through luck and privilege, by benefitting from a long history of exploiting other people, so why should we allow some people to have it while others don’t? There should be no “wealthiest Americans.”

Why can’t we all just get along?

•10 April, 2013 • Leave a Comment

My response to my friend on Facebook’s post:

Do you avoid walking down the street at night for fear of being raped? Do you see pictures of people of the beauty ideal of your gender plastered on billboards, TV, and magazines, to an extent that you cannot escape from them? Do you get tired of being called a bitch for ignoring catcalls or glaring at people who slap your ass? Do you have trouble speaking your mind for fear of being seen as a “bitch,” but also fear not saying anything because you might be seen as a weak female? Do you have to cover yourself from head to toe, and sometimes even your face, in certain countries? No? That’s because you’re male.

Do people follow you around in stores to make sure you won’t steal anything, just because of your appearance? Do people generalise your entire ethnicity as “lazy,” “violent,” or “ungrateful?” Do people call you a n**er when you walk down the street? Are you less likely to get hired or get into a university than a white person with the same or even fewer qualifications? No? That’s because you’re white.

Do you get people spitting at you and telling you to “get a fucking job?” Do you get paid barely enough to survive, no matter how hard you work? Did you grow up in a ghetto that has an almost inescapable cycle of poverty? No? That’s because you’re not poor.

This isn’t about who did what to whom first, it’s about what the consequences are, what we see in our society now. Systematic oppression of specific groups DOES exist, and you simply can’t argue that groups doing horrible things to other groups cancels everything out. Cause and effect exists. When people are enslaved for hundreds of years and then continuously oppressed, it has an effect. When people are treated like they don’t matter, it has an effect. To claim that there is an equal amount of oppression coming from People of Colour and women would be to ignore history and current society.

And it is absolutely essential to acknowledge history and to understand the roots of our problems. An economic system that was built by rulers and elites for the purpose of continuing their rule is not a healthy one. Comparing an economic system that systematically oppresses the poor to ones that liberate them, and saying that they are both valid, strikes me as strange.

Capitalism is a relatively new system that came about through the evolution of human greed, dissociation, and violence. It is an adaptation to specific times of scarce resources and hostile climates. Anarchism and communism are as old as human history. They evolved through humanity’s natural affinity for community, communication, empathy, and culture. There are things that are objectively detrimental to the human mind, and things that aren’t. To ignore this fact is once again to ignore cause, effect, and human history.

 
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