I wanted to write about some of the interesting things people have been saying about reviewing but part of my brain obviously wants to talk about reason and evidence and those sorts of things. I guess I haven’t done much of that this year in attempt to look less like a philosophy professor.
Anyway – objectivity! The thing with objectivity as a word is that we (including myself) use it in a way that implies various things which maybe aren’t really part of what it means. Objectivity carries positive connotations and connotations of authority in contrast to subjectivity. Those connotations suggest impartial judgement and a lack of bias. That’s all well and good – words can mean whatever a community of users want them to mean but I think it creates confusion.
Here is a different sense of ‘objective’ – to say something is objective is to say that two people can follow the same steps/process and come up with the same answer reliably. Maybe we should use a different word for that but such processes are often described as ‘objective’ because they clearly contrast with subjective judgement.
The thing is that meaning does not in ANYWAY imply a lack of bias. Lots of systematic or automated processes can contain bias. Indeed we expect there to be biases in, for example, processes for collecting data. More extreme examples include machine learning algorithms which are inherently repeatable and ‘objective’ in that sense (and the sense that they operate post-human judgement) that nonetheless repeat human prejudices because those prejudices exist in the data they were trained on.
Other examples include the data on gender disparity in compensation for Uber drivers – the algorithm was not derived from human prejudices but there was still a pay disparity that arose from different working patterns that arose from deep-seated social disparities.
However, there is still an advantage here in terms of making information and data gathered more objective. Biases may not be eliminated but they are easier to see, identify and quantify.
Flipping back to ‘subjective’, I have discussed before both the concept of intersubjectivity (shared consensus opinions and beliefs that are not easily changed) as well as the possibility of their being objective facts about subjective opinions (e.g. my opinion that Star Trek: Discovery was flawed is subjective but it is an objective fact about the universe that I held that opinion).
Lastly the objective aspect of data can be mistaken for the more subjective interpretation of the data. In particular the wider meaning or significance of a data set is not established simply by the fact that the data is collected reliably or repeatedly.
Consider another topic: IQ. I’ve discussed before aspect of IQ and IQ testing and much of the pseudoscientific nonsense talked about it. Look at these two claims between Roberta and Bob:
- Roberta: My IQ is higher than Bob’s.
- Roberta: I am more intelligent than Bob.
The first statement may be an objective fact – it is certainly a claim that can be tested and evaluated by prescribed methods. The second statement is more problematic: it relies on opinions about IQ and the nature of intelligence that are not well established. The objectivity of the first statement does not establish the objectivity of the second. Nor does the apparent objectivity of the first imply that it does not have biases that may also impact wider claims based upon it.
“What if it was the case that the world revealed whatever goodness it contains in precise proportion to your desire for the best? What if the more your conception of the best has been elevated, expanded and rendered sophisticated the more possibility and benefit you could perceive? This doesn’t mean that you can have what you want merely by wishing it, or that everything is interpretation, or that there is no reality. The world is still there, with its structures and limits. As you move along with it, it cooperates or objects. But you can dance with it, if your aim is to dance— and maybe you can even lead, if you have enough skill and enough grace. This is not theology. It’s not mysticism. It’s empirical knowledge. There is nothing magical here— or nothing more than the already-present magic of consciousness. We only see what we aim at. The rest of the world (and that’s most of it) is hidden. If we start aiming at something different— something like “I want my life to be better”— our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit. Then we can put that information to use and move, and act, and observe, and improve. And, after doing so, after improving, we might pursue something different, or higher— something like, “I want whatever might be better than just my life being better.” And then we enter a more elevated and more complete reality.’ – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 100-101). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Jordan B Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life does try to separate itself from its antecedents such as Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking by asserting that it is grounded in empirical knowledge. When Peterson suggest you re-visualise your life (or as alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich would say ‘change your mindset’) he does so by claiming our perception is shaped by our attitude – which is vague enough to be undisprovable. To change you have to want to change and to convince yourself and other therapist cliches. As is common in this genre, the advice is not terrible when boiled down to these nuggets.
Take a step back though and we can see that nasty side.
A common perception of society and human nature runs through social-Darwinism, post-war US pro-capitalism, Randian libertarianism and fascism. That perception does not mean that all these things are the same – libertarianism isn’t fascism – just that there’s a shared assumption about the world. This is that the strong lead and the weak follow. The view is both descriptive and normative. The assumption is that is the natural order of things, that we can’t avoid it – yet it is also assumed that a society might try to avoid this and do something different. Any attempt to do so is seen as a violation of the natural order which must be resisted.
The more tolerant libertarian may see this order as being simply the mechanics of the market in operation – they may see themselves as not approving of this state of affairs but simply acknowledging it as an empirical fact. If men get paid more than women, if poor people have worse health outcomes if some ethnic group is under-achieving educationally then the evidence that shows this shows that it must be inevitable. The fascist on the other hand greets the inequity with more enthusiasm.
A nineteenth-century conservative might see these inequities as God’s divine order:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
– All Things Bright and Beautiful in Mrs Cecil Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children 1848
A related strand of thinking overlays character on top of this hierarchy. While god has ordered our estate, god has also granted us gifts. Work hard and you can progress is the offer.
Norman Vincent Peale secularised this strand of theological inspired ideology within a secular framework and within mainstream political thinking for post-war America. Taking his own theological stance (tempered by US Protestantism and Calvinism) he mixed in ideas from psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung along with the political attitudes common among the managerial classes of 1950s New York.
12 Rules for Life is simply this same cocktail. The extra ingredient Peterson adds is an anti-‘political correctness’ stance and fear of ‘cultural Marxism’. The essence is the same though:
- The world is a competitive hierarchy and you can’t/shouldn’t change that
- But you can change your position in the hierarchy
Only the individual can change and if society changes then this upsets the supposed natural order.
Peterson doesn’t get into guns and only talks about health in vague terms but similar principles can find there way into fitness and wellness culture and gun culture. The emphasis away from the collective or institutional action to change the environment we are in (health systems, crime) to personal action. In each case, how an individual can buy something to get some kind of personal advantage over everybody else.
Accept these concepts in one area and you are primed for them in other areas. The message might not be misogynistic or racist in its first form but the skewed logic leads in that direction. If inequity is just the way the world is then whole classes of people must be poorer because of who they are. If trying to change these inequities is against the natural order than anybody advocating for change is an agent of chaos. If male members of some hegemonic ethnic group or nation keep winning in the game of existence then that is because they are supposed to be winning (either by God’s will or by some natural order or psychic fate) – but if they STOP winning (or don’t win as much) then this must be a breach of the rules.
12 Rules for Life is a series of poorly structured arguments built around this hard to describe quasi-ideology. Each chapter offers a rule for a better life but the content of the chapter often roams off into other points. The advice may be helpful or at worst innocuous but it is the attendant view of the world that is poisonous. There is not a view based on ’empirical knowledge’, when Peterson resorts to objective evidence it is only weakly related to his argument. His prefered mode of argument are appeals to myths and archetypes but even here there is little indication that Peterson has stress-tested his ideas against contrary evidence.
By the end of the book, the cherries have been picked, the arches typed and the anecdotes have been rambled. If the book is evidence of Peterson’s academic ability then I am concerned, if it is evidence of his abilities as a therapist then I am concerned and if it is evidence for his inner-life then I am concerned.
This discussion of how he reacts to cats is revealing:
“When you meet a cat on a street, many things can happen. If I see a cat at a distance, for example, the evil part of me wants to startle it with a loud pfft! sound— front teeth over bottom lip. That will make a nervous cat puff up its fur and stand sideways so it looks larger. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh at cats, but it’s hard to resist. The fact that they can be startled is one of the best things about them (along with the fact that they are instantly disgruntled and embarrassed by their overreaction). But when I have myself under proper control, I’ll bend down, and call the cat over, so I can pet it.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 352). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I don’t know about others but I don’t have to be under ‘proper control’ to want to pet a cat. I wish Peterson had put this insight in Chapter 1 – it would have changed the book for me. It would have become a character study – an insight into a man with his own demons, attempting to understand himself but prone to extrapolate his own demons onto the rest of humanity.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos is not a book I can recommend anybody read. there are better sources for advice and there are clearer essays on modern rightwing politics.
So my Sunday morning was taken up with behaviour that neatly mirrored my last blog post title. I’m not going to name names because there is literally an innocent party involved.
Certain parties on the internet decided that I’d been too outspoken or what not and decided that I needed doxxing. Now, personally, I think doxxing is something that can be easily classified as moral bad except in certain circumstances. Put another way you need a very good reason that outweighs the ethical wrong when revealing somebody else’s identity or personal information. The ethics of doxxing known harassers, bullies or people who make threats is where the question would lie. Doxxing because somebody has challenged your party line is straightforwardly wrong.
Put that aside for a moment. Imagine if you had convinced yourself that revealing somebody’s identity online is the right thing to do. Well, you still have a deep responsibility to GET IT RIGHT.
So, some ethically challenged idiot decided to announce to assorted others that they knew for a fact that I’m some person and got it completely wrong. OK, they got the continent right. Aside from that – nope. They targetted some poor soul who I don’t know and who I have never met and who (as far as I know) I’ve never interacted with.
Honestly, it would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that some other person is now likely to be the target of Sad Puppy harassment. Should we be surprised that supposed champions of free-speech try to silence people in this way? Nope, but I’ll try to be disappointed.
Still doing this for my sins.
I think I forgot to mention that Chapter 6 also involves a weird proxy argument with Mary Robinette Kowal. The pretext is to demonstrate some of the fallacies he mentions in action but he fails to describe them adequately. The general point is that there is ambiguity in what she said (some of which was from Twitter – not a great medium for ambiguity free communication) and therefore he was really right all along. Suffice to say the section works its way back to SFWA expelling Vox etc etc.
After the Aristotlean fallacies, Chapter 6 takes us to list of “SJW Tactics”. This bit is kind of fun because it is classic Vox projection. He divides them up into individual tactics and then organizational tactics. However, I’m going to do them in a different order – organizational first and then a game for everybody with “individual”.
These are the terrible things SJWs are supposed to do to organizations. Vox lists seven and he manages to set up a deeply insightful analysis of how an organization can be destroyed by political extremists. The only problem is that as an analysis it fit bests how the right have wrecked the Republican party. Again, I’ve changed the order to show the sequence of events better.
“The Code of Conduct: Modifying the organization’s rules and rendering them more nebulous in order to allow the prosecution or defense of any member, according to their perceived support for social justice.”
Lobbying organizations on the right like the NRA or “Americans for Tax Reform” have systematically created an extension of the GOP’s actual rules and accountabilities for their politicians. For example the ATR has been pressurizing Republican candidates (at state and federal level) to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
(the exact wording varies between position)
These kinds of ideological tests backed up with threats against the candidates nomination act as a complex code of conduct for GOP representative. Note there is little here that pertains to the ethics of their behaviour but only their ideological purity
“The Pharisee Gambit: The SJWs inside the organization load an organization’s rules and operating procedures with conflicting requirements and procedural logjams. This makes it highly difficult or impossible to get anything done. They attribute the resulting inability to accomplish anything on those within the organization they want to discredit.”
OK, I don’t know enough about the Republican Party’s organizational rules to point out a in-party example but never mind that because this reads like a near perfect description on Congressional Republican behavior dating back to at least Newt Gingrich. The only upside to their habitual procedural log jamming, is that they now find themselves so out of practice that they are struggling to push their own agenda – despite controlling both houses and the Presidency.
“Unlocking the Door: Relaxing the organization’s standards enough to permit unqualified entryists to enter the organization.”
It’s not just Sarah Palin, it is a long history of temperamentally unsuitable candidates now occupying positions of power. At a higher level we’ve seen an unwillingness to adequately vet Trump’s appointees and the normalization of white supremacists and krypto-fascists within the Republican Party.
“The Conspiracy: If you put two SJWs in the same room, they will find each other and organize a secret mailing list designed to coordinate attacks on people and ultimately converge converge the institution by sundown.”
I guess arguably the conspiracies have been quite open and hence only a partial match here.
“Break the Norms: Constantly violate the social rules that dictate the avoidance of political and religious matters in order to stir up conflict inside the organization.”
Again the GOP and the Fox News approach of make EVERYTHING partisan and force everything into a narrative about somehow Christianity being persecuted.
“The Skin Carcass: Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, demanding respect.”
Voila, I give you the Grand Old Republican Party currently shuffling around with not a single shred left of the principles that it might have had in 1950.
“Blame History Game: Infiltrate, capture, and converge an organization, then blame all the resulting failures on the organization’s non-SJW positions prior to the changes you have made.”
Enough said really. The only remaining question is whether the same approach will continue with the United States.
For a happier note, observe how the last five also largely describes the Sad and Rabid tactics for Worldcon and the Hugos: entryism, breaking the norms, blame the past and the final objective turn the result into a mockery. Castalia still tries to use “Hugo Finalist” in this manner. Have no doubt that they would have attempted the first two if they had had more numbers, better organization and had faced less determined opposition.
OK here is where everyone can play!
Vox lists thirty odd terrible crimes of so called “SJWs”. Now I think I can safely say I recognize each of these from encounters from Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Gamergaters, or the wider world of Scrappy Doos. I started listing the examples but they became too numerous and overlapping. I’ve numbered and abbreviated each one and replaced “SJW” with […] so you can imagine the appropriate context. All you have to do is think of a Sad or Rabid Puppy example of them doing exactly that (or Gamergater example but that’s even easier as this is like a laundry list of Gamergate’s behaviors). Some overlap, like that time the Mad Genius crew decided Spacefaring Kitten was really Brianna Wu, others some up the whole movement (e.g. ‘The Predicted Demise’).
Extra points if the example is Vox himself 🙂 Answers either in your own head or if you want to share put them in the comments 🙂
- The Tag Team: If you take down an […]s argument with dialectic and successfully explain why his position makes absolutely no sense under any circumstances, he’ll disappear, but another […] will promptly show up to attack your position from a different direction.
- The Brave Sir Robin: When overmatched, the […] will run away and declare victory.
- The Dog Pile: If triggered by a rhetorical response to his own attack, the […] will broadcast it as far and wide as he can in order to summon reinforcements. This tactic is also known as the Swarm, and is the desired result of the Point-and-Shriek.
- The Bait and Ban: The […] attempts to draw you into a discussion, often by asking seemingly innocent questions or pretending to be seeking information about something that he’s just heard about. His questions will increasingly turn prosecutorial, then devolve into outright attacks. [To force a ban of some kind or as a pretext of a ban]
- DARVO: This stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.
- Crying Wolf: When an […] is feeling overmatched, or is responded to rhetorically in kind, he will often make false claims of abuse, harassment, and stalking.
- The Move On: When the […] helpfully tries to get you to just admit you made a mistake so everyone can move on.
- The Custom Dictionary: This is the same as Aristotle’s Ambiguity, or the Humpty Dumpty Dictionary, in which the […] selects, or utilizes, whatever definition he finds most useful to his cause at the moment, regardless of what you actually meant.
- The Gatling Gun: The […] spams you with insults until they find one they believe triggers you or makes you look sufficiently bad to others. This doesn’t necessarily mean one that actually serves either purpose, which can be confusing.
- The Woodstock 1969: The […] claims you were at a place, did something, or had a conversation that could have never taken place. The more outlandish the claim, the more effective this tactic is, because it tends to confuse the target and it can be difficult to convincingly disprove a negative, especially when the accusation is coming from a stranger on the Internet.
- The Planted Seed: This is when the […] intentionally plants a false claim with the aim of getting enough of their allies in the media or high visibility sites to repeat it. [This one is mainly Vox complaining that people call him a white supremacist because of all the white supremacist shit he says.]
- The Worst Person in the World: The […] claims you are “worse than Hitler” due to your violation of the Narrative.
- The False Ally: One […] pretends to take your side while the other […] presents the […] case. The first […] then pretends to be convinced and demands to know how you could fail to be similarly convinced. He acts betrayed when you fail to go along with his sudden conversion.
- Attack the Family: […]s will always go after your wife and children. [or spouse of any gender presumably]
- The Promotion: […]s always attempt to elevate a leader of the opposition in order to freeze, isolate, and marginalize him, thereby weakening the opposition. .
- The Fight Promoter: There is nothing […]s like better than “let’s you and him fight”.
- The Challenging Assertion:This is when the […] makes a statement of opinion presented as fact, daring you to contradict it and thereby reveal yourself as a Narrative-denier and legitimate target for the […].
- It’s Just This One Brick: […]s always defend the next tactical step towards their long-term objective as being totally unrelated to all their past and future efforts.
- The False Fallacy: When confronted, they will often claim the opponent has made a logical fallacy, although when asked which specific fallacy was made, they are not only unable to identify it, but even point out where in the argument it happened. [Vox then gives an example in which he had an argument but the guy does actually point out one of Vox’s common fallacies – false equivalence]
- The Straw Man’s Advocate: The […] assumes a position for his opponent, then pontificates on how this assumed position is contrary to something that the opponent has said, creating a hitherto nonexistent dichotomy between the opponent’s two positions. Any failure to rectify the real position with the imaginary one is proof that the opponent is wrong and a hypocrite.
- The Straw Man’s Mask: This is when the […] incorrectly summarizes the opponent’s position in order to better attack it.
- The Failed Flounce: When feeling pressed, […]s frequently declare that they are too busy to continue the discussion or have to leave for one reason or another. More often than not, this does not prevent them from continuing the argument for another hour or two.
- The Forgetful Fade: Upon being confronted with an opponent who outmatches them, an […] will often vanish, only to return again later with precisely the same arguments, facts, and figures that were previously refuted.
- Attack the Source: […]s frequently request a source for even the most obviously true statement in order to attack it rather than argue the point directly or admit they are wrong.
- The Sock Puppet: This is when an […] creates multiple accounts in order to pretend to be different individuals and create the false impression that more people support his position than actually do.
- The Amused Spectator: […]s love to claim that everyone is laughing at their opponent… They like to pose as being amused, world-weary sophisticates, but they can never maintain the pose for long once people start mocking them and it often collapses in an entertaining, rage-filled meltdown.
- The Brushfire: If an […] feels he is losing the upper hand, he will not infrequently attempt to burn down the discussion with distractions, inanities, vulgarities and obscenities in order to avoid taking a kill shot, or at least to prevent third parties from noticing his defeat.
- The Crowd Inflation: […]s always, always, always exaggerate their numbers and posture as if their position is the standard, accepted, mainstream one, no matter how obviously untrue that is.
- The Predicted Demise: An […] will frequently affect sadness over the inevitable downfall of his opponent, who is fated for certain failure due to his crimethink and ineptitude. Example: “It’s a little sad, actually. You’re really overestimating how much people care.”
- The Worst Possible Assumption: An […] will consistently assign the worst possible meaning to every statement and preemptively take offense at it without making any attempt to determine whether any offense was intended or not.
- The Concerned Supporter: This shows up every election cycle, when obvious Democrats claim to have voted for every Republican candidate for President except the current one, because he has gone too far.
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.
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.
I doubt this is original but it is worth going through because strange right-leaning people keep shouting about biology at me. Oddly though, I was prompted to write not by an argument about nature v nurture but a different argument about invention v discovery in mathematics. I’m not an expert on blood groups (which is sort of the point) so apologies for any biological errors. Note also this is a description of one specific relationship between a social construct and biology. Others may have things in common but that doesn’t mean they are the same or have the same relationship between a biological aspect and the associated things that a society may construct around it [i.e. neither the social constructs of gender nor ‘race’ is directly analogous to blood group]. Anyway, here we go.
You probably know your blood group. Once upon a time I regularly gave blood and felt a moral obligation to do so. I’m O negative, which is a handy default blood type for donation as it contains neither A, B or Rh factors and hence shouldn’t trigger an immune reaction in most people of other blood types.
But ABO and Rh are just two blood typing systems and even with those two systems, there are variations. Group A can be further subdivided into approx 20 subgroups of which A1 and A2 account for most type-A people. In terms of inheritance, there are also exceptions to the commonly understood rules – CisAB (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cis_AB ). More generally there are tens of other blood typing systems that categorise other factors that can exist in human blood and which can potentially complicate blood transfusion.
The ABO/Rh system is a very effective simplification of a set of much messier, more organic categories. Yes, it is determined by your biology (you don’t get to pick) but the significance of whether you are “A” or “AB negative” etc depends very much on the existence and practicalities of a blood donation system. That system also has practical constraints but it is effectively something societies choose to do and requires political and social support as well as the existence of hospitals and an infrastructure to support them.
I also said that I used to give blood. I’m not allowed to currently because I lived in the UK during the height of the BSE/Mad cow disease outbreak. Concerns about the transmission of a prion disease via blood transfusion have meant that many countries place restrictions on blood donations. That rationale makes some sense given the extent to which prions are not well understood. What makes less sense is the restrictions imposed on men who have sex with other men (phrased that way to match the eligibility questions). Rules on blood donation to prevent the spread of HIV prevent people who have engaged in ‘at risk’ sexual behaviours (e.g. http://www.donateblood.com.au/faq/sexual-activity ). Such rules prevent many gay men in long-term monogamous relationships donating blood. The rules arise out of medical and practical considerations but such rules also have a social impact and arise because of social aspects (from international travel to personal and sexual relationships).
You should note another trick I employed above: I said ‘type-A people’. Once we have categories that can be applied to aspects of ourselves it is easy to see them as categories of people. I’m O negative, well no, no *I* am not, not really – my blood is O negative for the purpose of blood donation, it really isn’t much of a thing about who I am beyond that. The notion of me being O negative only really makes sense in the context of donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion (or a few other related circumstance). Prior to the development of safe blood transfusion and large scale blood donation, your blood group is not something people would know or care about. Even that history is entwined with complex social factors including the development of modern healthcare infrastructure but also the development of modern warfare.
Blood groups have also generated their own pseudosciences and racist theories – a kind of inevitable consequence of any system that allows a categorisation of people entails a dark desire to identify that categorization with other aspects including personality or as a means of identifying some inherent purity. Suffice to say there is little evidence of blood group actually determining anything other than the most likely blood needed in a blood transfusion (and as we’ve seen even that is a simplification – although a very effective one).
In most developed countries blood donation is voluntary but even such a primarily altruistic system has social implications. It isn’t had to imagine a situation in which blood donation was more heavily required or in which there were more significant socio-economic implications to donating blood. In such a situation the layers of social significance to blood type would be greater both in a direct sense and in the sense in which any social division generates its own myths and stereotypes. A world in which blood transfusions had to be more common and was connected to economic status, would with a capitalist-style economy lead to more weird (and unpredictable without knowing more details) stratifications by blood group.
So what’s my point if it isn’t a point about gender or race? The point is very much NOT that other social construct work the same way as blood group might in a fictional society. However, a broader point remains true. Critics of the term ‘social construct’ treat it as if a person is saying ‘wholly arbitrary’ or ‘completely made up’ or ‘fictional’. Treating the term like that makes it an easy strawman to knock down. No society exists in a vacuum*, so the things that our societies construct** are things that have practical limits and which are influenced by the environment that is constructed in INCLUDING the existence of other constructs. But the physical, ‘real’ influences on how a social construct has evolved over time do not mean that the categories, stereotypes or social expectations that arise apply in a deterministic way to individuals – some elements might (e.g. O- blood is safe for me to receive), others less so (e.g. whether there is a greater moral imperative for ‘O- people’ to donate blood) and others not at all (e.g. pseudoscience blood-group personality types).
tl;dr Societies and social attitudes are shaped by ‘real’ things including biology, but that does not imply that biology (or physics or chemistry) somehow validates them, makes them somehow extra true, or makes departure from them (either as an individual or as a direction for society) some kind of revolt against reality or science.
*[OK maybe there is a society of space squid, plying the void between the stars but that is a separate issue.]
**[You’d think that was obvious from the term ‘constructs’. Anything we physically construct has physical limits and depends on physical rules but can still be a work of creativity in which arbitrary, non-determined choices are made.]
Via the usual source of right wing nonsense comes this article: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-03-31/case-against-immigration?cid=int-lea&pgtype=hpg
Which has this graph in it:
The point of the image being: ‘look at that alarming rise’. Nicely, though, the graph itself is hosted here https://www.theatlas.com/charts/SyQXAao3e and you can download the data such that it is
Throwing into the mix the actual US population for the historical years and looking at those figures as a proportion gives:
This graph tells a different story: a return to a historical norm rather than a change of character. A baby boom and some shifts in immigration policy leading to an unusual dip by the 1970s.