I am not doing a chapter-by-chapter review of the latest altrightploitation book by Vox Day but I am going to spend some time in Chapter 6 (two posts) and then maybe one more post to sum up (tldr – it is rancid, don’t bother).
Chapter 6: Standard SJW Tactics begins with a complaint about him having his account partially suspended by Twitter. This is intended to exemplify what he calls the SJW tactic of “bait and report” i.e. Vox gets in an argument with somebody, loses his cool and posts something that leads to him being suspended.
Which apparently leads us to Aristotle:
“It is one of more than a dozen such tactics that I have observed SJWs utilizing over the past few year, and what is fascinating is how many of these tactics were first observed more than 2,400 years ago by one of Man’s greatest thinkers, Aristotle.”
Having said that, we don’t get an illustration of social media bait and report re-imagined for ancient Athens (which might have been interesting). I’d imagine the advice would be simple from Aristotle – if somebody is trying to bait you then don’t let them wind you up. There is an excellent example from Jesus in the New Testament dodging a “bait and report” when he is quizzed about paying taxes. Mind you I don’t think Vox reads the New Testament much, particularly not a section where his God implies that you should pay your taxes.
Anyway, put my side trip to Jesus aside, Vox is back with our friend Aristotle. This time rather than Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Vox wants us to look at The Organon and in particular the section called On Sophistical Refutations. “Sophistical” here referring to sophists – the quasi-professional arguers of stuff and/or Plato’s contemporary philosophers not in tune with the Socratic wing of thinking.
Aristotle lists 13 fallacies and Vox goes through them all to some extent. I’m going to look at them from a different direction
Fallacies in the language
The first set of fallacies Aristotle describes as “Fallacies in the language”.
Equivocation (sometimes listed, as Vox does, as Ambiguity) – using two concepts with the same name interchangeably. For example when Vox uses “SJW” to mean both a leftwing radical and a nice lady who helps at church. This works as part of this first four set of fallacies and when you consider each of them you can see how they run through most of Vox’s arguments.
In addition it is a ripe source of definitional games – such games are common in all forms or argument. They can be legitimate in so far they help refine or generalise concepts but it is absolutely necessary to be clear that this is occurring.
Amphibology – an exploitation of an ambiguity in sentence/phrase/word structure. A very Vox related example is that in English we can say “X are Y” to mean “some X are Y” or we can combine nouns to both qualify a group or describe a quality of a group. For example “dishonest politicians” describes a subset of politicians but can also be a description of politicians. This particular case amphibology works in tandem with the next fallacy.
It is important to note that ambiguity is baked into our natural language. The fallacy is not the use of ambiguous language in general because it is nigh on impossible to avoid using it and even trying to avoid it makes you sound like a Vulcan that other Vulcans find too pedantic. A statement like “white supremacists protested” can be read as “the people who protested were white supremacists” or as “there where protestors who were white supremacists”. The reasoning fallacy arises from exploiting the ambiguity – if Black Lives Matter say “police are shooting innocent African Americans” in context they clearly mean “there are specific cases of specific police officers shooting specific African Americans who were innocent of the crime that they were suspected of.” Normal speech does not (and to be useful cannot) unpack all the assumed understanding. This makes the fallacy quite powerful though – somebody like Vox can exploit a statement like “police are shooting innocent African Americans” and treat it as a semantically and logically quite different claim that police in GENERAL are shooting African Americans and the that the people they might shoot are all innocent. This much broader claim can then be not only debunked (despite it not being what BLM actually claimed).
The same ambiguity of language that requires cooperation from the listener to understand what is general and what is specific can then be exploited with the Alt-Right’s own claims (as discussed throughout). Now with a level playing field such games become tiresome quickly but when there is an inequity around media access, and an inequity with access to power what you end up with is a kind of communication tax on the more marginalized party. The Alt-Right get to be as ambiguous as they like because they can avoid taking responsibility for their claims and have no moral qualms about being inconsistent. A group like BLM, however, end up having to carefully watch for any ambiguity in what they might say because it will be exploited.
You will note that this applies even at the level of Republican versus Democrat. Hillary Clinton is forced to speak more carefully so as to avoid ambiguity. Male Republicans can rely on the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ambiguity. The communication tax advantages the powerful because more natural, more comprehensible and more accessible speech tends (surprisingly) to be more prone to ambiguity.
Combination – using a part to generalise about the whole. For example when Vox says “the media did X” when he in fact he is referring to a few media sources. This is the over-arching fallacy in much of Vox’s thinking in tandem with the kind of amphibology listed above. Muslims, immigrants, black people, women, “SJWs”, liberals, “globalists” – Vox’s claims are replete with attempts to make people see particular cases are collective properties. For example he may find a case of a woman somewhere retracting a sexual harassment allegation or a sexual assault allegation to imply/suggest that women IN GENERAL make false allegations. That such retractions are rare is ignored. You can see a similar approach with his use of scare stories about immigrants particularly involving sexual violence (for which he abandons his normal scepticism around such allegations) to suggest that this is a more general feature of immigrants.
Division – attributing a property of a whole thing to part of the thing. The flip-side of combination and as a pair they make for some very poisonous fallacious reasoning. A common one we see on the right is ascribing a property of a religion to members of that religion (favourably or unfavourably). For example confusing a claim about Islam in general with Muslims (usually negatively) or Christianity with Christians (usually positively).
You can see how these build up into toxic syllogisms. A particular X is a Y, from which by amphibology and combination Vox re-express this as the idea that X’s in general are Y’s. By division he then reapplies that to some different particular X to conclude that this other X is a Y. This won’t be spelled out quite so starkly in his writing but that is the whole point of this kind of sophistry. The reason Aristotle was trying to name fallacies was not to identify every logically incorrect claim (of which there are infinite) but to spot the ones that effectively HIDE the bad reasoning.
In each case Vox can retreat on a specific element of his position because he expects his readers to make the fallacious leap. He rarely outlines the steps from, say a specific case of an immigrant in France committing a crime to the generalisation of immigrants being criminals, but instead asserts these as individual truths as if they had already been established. If challenged on any, he can exploit the inherent ambiguity to demand that his accuser proves SOME OTHER claim to be false.
Underlying both are deeper structural fallacies described below (Accident and Secundum quid).
Accent – an ambiguity created by the use of stress of a sentence. Aristotle’s version depends on aspects of how ancient Greek was spoken. In English the equivalent is how stress can change meaning: e.g. “I didn’t eat that cake.” (a simple denial) versus “I didn’t eat THAT cake.” (a denial that has been qualified to limit what is being denied.) Vox definitely doesn’t get this one saying:
“Accent is not much used by SJWs or anyone else who speaks English, because it is defined as “the ambiguity that emerges when a word can be mistaken for another by changing suprasegmental phonemes, which in Ancient Greek correspond to diacritics.” Also known as prosody, it is almost entirely irrelevant today, even in its expanded form that is based on the stress one lays on an individual word. You can safely ignore this one.”
Which is an equivalent mistake as looking at the original definitions of poetic meter from Greek and declaring that poetic meter does not apply to English.
Form of expression – a tricky one that Vox uses to mean any kind of category error. Ironically this one really does have issues with translation from Greek to English. Aristotle’s examples involve misuse of grammatical forms of words to create ambiguity around real categories – in his example using a grammatically masculine form for something feminine to essential mis-categorise a male thing as female. English has minimal grammatical genders and hence the closest example to Aristotle’s would be misgendering somebody in English. Obviously that isn’t an example that Vox is going to use. The fallacy might apply in English with tense, where grammatical agreement could be exploited with word games.
This paper takes the concept further and not a million miles from Vox’s use. Whether it is what Aristotle was driving at is another question but one way of seeing this as a deep and important fallacy is to regard it as saying that the grammatical expression of a sentence and its logical structure are distinct to the extent that two grammatically similar sentences can be quite logically different. For example “The current President of the USA has tiny hands.” is quite a different from “The current President of the UK has tiny hands.”
Fallacies not in the language
The second set of fallacies Aristotle describes as “Fallacies not in the language” i.e. more logically structurally.
Accident – ignoring obvious exceptions to general rules or generalisations. Readily exploited in nerd humour. Vox makes particular use of this when discussing emigration. Technically the term can be sensibly used to describe the kinds of population movements seen in world history from Germanic tribes in classical times to various central Asian peoples at multiple times in history. In those cases the movements were associated with war but those examples clearly have other features and qualities that are quite different from modern immigration. Consequently it does not follow that a feature of, say, the Mongol invasions is also a feature of modern asylum seekers.
Secundum quid – this forms a pair with accident, which together are both fallacies of generalisation. Also called ‘converse accident’ this involves over generalising from an exception.
Rather like the fallacies of Combination and Division we have a one-two punch throughout Vox’s work: a fallacy of over-generalisation (often exploiting linguistic ambiguities to hid the trick) followed by a fallacy of ignoring the exceptions and limitations of the general rule.
I think we can call them the bigoted sophist’s six: equivocation and amphibology are the specific means by which combination and accident generalise from specific cases to whole groups (often with FALSE evidence regarding the specific case) which are then re-applied using division and secundum quid to ascribe that fallacious claim about the group to a specific individual. Teasing the specific named fallacies apart is almost impossible.
And while I’ve used “exception”, more generally we are looking at fallacious generalisation to form general descriptions that are then held to hold at every level. For a more laughable example here is Vox drawing a very histrionic conclusion in a recent blog post:
“Do you remember hearing how Disney loved the song “Let It Go” so much that they created an entire movie to go around it? Did you ever ask yourself what it was they loved so much about it?
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children. They are one of the primary engine’s of the West’s degeneracy and decline. It is not an accident that everything they touch, in every industry, turns into morally radioactive slime.” http://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2017/10/the-devil-that-is-disney.html
I think there may be something wrong with me because sometimes I see arguments so perfectly bad that I feel like applauding.
Look at how the very, very, very particular becomes the sweepingly general. You can watch the fallacies above in action but they often crash and merge into each other. It is a ballet of bad reasoning. To wit:
We have PART of the lyrics of ONE song by ONE character at a PARTICULAR moment of that character’s development which, as fans of Frozen will explain to you (maybe this will go over Vox’s head as it is has more character depth than the usual Castalia House output) is when that character is intended to be ethically dubious (literally and literary a nicer version of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen). That lyric, in one movie from a studio which puts out many movies and which has many scriptwriters, lyricists, directors etc working on many projects is THEN taken by Vox as indicating the GENERAL belief of the organisation.
A fallacious argument would be: Alastair Crowley looks a bit like Vox Day doing a podcast therefore Vox Day will be evicted by the Italian government
That belief is then equated with (and I mean “equated” i.e. treated as being equivalent in all aspects except form) one statement by infamous occultist Alastair Crowley . Now fair enough, as the statement was asserted as a general law by Crowley, it is probably legit for Vox to then ignore the broader complexities of Crowley and his beliefs.
We then get a sort of hidden mangled Affirming the Consequent (see below) that presumably is supposed to work like this:
Crowley was a Satanist
Crowley said X
Therefore Satanists say X
“Disney” said X
Therefore Disney are “literal satanists”
Seriously, if I had to manufacture an example of fallacious reasoning I couldn’t produce anything quite as appallingly demonstrative as proving that Elsa’s showstopper proves that Disney are literal satanists and one of the primary causes of the destruction of Western Civilization.
The next step (which doesn’t appear in the post) would be citing a particular person associated with Disney and on the basis of the argument above EVEN IF THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH FROZEN suggest that they are satanist. I’ll let you know when I see it happen :).
Irrelevant conclusion – essentially asserting a conclusion that is not supported by the (possibly valid) argument. Vox seems to think that the issue here is just irrelevance but is missing the point. Aristotle didn’t highlight this as an example of a fallacy just on the basis of irrelevance. Obviously asserting a conclusion not supported by your argument is a fallacy but Aristotle is pointing out how an apparently related conclusion that follows an apparently valid argument can be persuasive because the audience feels like they have been rationally led to a conclusion.
Take this argument Vox uses a bit earlier in the chapter when he mangles “forms of expression”:
“That being said, some form-of-expression fallacies are clearly intentional. It is almost certainly an intentional category error when objections to mass Islamic immigration into the European Union are described by SJWs as being racist, for the obvious reason that Islam is a religion, not a race or an ethnicity, and even the most maleducated SJW is likely to know that.”
Vox presents an argument: Islam is a religion and not a race or ethnicity. He then concludes that therefore opposition to “Islamic immigration” cannot be racist. You can spot some of the other fallacies in play there e.g. “Islamic immigration” is not how immigration policies work, immigrants don’t emigrate from Islam, and also *Islam* isn’t the thing doing the emigrating but rather Muslims – and of course, Muslims immigrants will have ethnicity. However, more generally Vox’s conclusion doesn’t follow from his argument. The premise of the argument is basically correct: Islam is not a race or ethnicity but the question is about the motives for opposition to kinds of immigration and hence is about the beliefs of those doing the opposing NOT what Islam is or might be – it pertains to what they (the opponents) think and racism and racists have never shown any particular requirement to stick to facts or reason about the targets of racism.
Begging the question – assuming what you are setting out to prove. Enough said really.
False cause – any of a variety of fallacies where it is asserted that one thing is a cause of another without sufficient reason. Examples are legion but the modern right indulges in a new fallacy that we might call “denial of cause” i.e. fallaciously claiming that an actual cause is a false cause because they really don’t want to deal with the actual cause.
Affirming the consequent – this a classic logical or syllogistic style fallacy.
Usually described in terms of implications and if p then q style sentences you can get a similar effect from an invalid syllogism. All A are B, C is a B, therefore C is an A affirms the consequent fallaciously.
If a dog is healthy then it has a cold wet nose
When I get out of the pool my nose is cold and wet
Therefore when I get out of the pool I am a healthy dog.
Vox’s description is a bit odd but not wrong.
“Affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy that is considerably less often encountered, although a crude and unsophisticated version of it that I call That Just Proves is utilized as a form of rhetoric by some SJWs. Another, more useful description is the confusion of necessity and sufficiency, which occurs when one infers the opposite from the original statement. To put it more simply, if X implies Y, that does not mean that Not-X necessarily is Not-Y. It might be, but it also might not be, so to say that it is would be wrong. Since it’s very unlikely that you will encounter this form of argument from an SJW or be able to coherently explain to him what is false about it, let’s just move on.”
Vox is correct: if X then Y does imply if Not-Y then Not-X but not vice-versa. However, the fallacy applies without getting into negation. I’m really not sure why he thinks this is uncommon.
Complex question – posing a question that forces some additional assumption. There are a whole bunch of these in Foreword e.g. We are told that the book will answer many questions about SJWs:
“What causes their inherent blindness to objective, observable evidence that their conduct dooms and destroys everything it touches?”
I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the many other examples.
Standard SJW Tactics
The second half of the chapter is devoted to “Standard SJW Tactics” and it is worth its own post because you’ll recognise each of them from Sad and Rabid Puppy behaviours during the Puppy Kerfuffle.