Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Logic of Ridiculous Quotes

I've been thinking lately about logic and how we misuse it.  I only took one logic class in college and I don't think I was really committed to learning yet at that point.  In fact I remember almost nothing about it.  Sadly.

But I've read up on logic and rhetoric since that time and tried to learn what I can.  I still can't always get a fallacy tagged with the proper name (ad hominem, post hoc, begging the question, red herring, slippery slope...), but I'm trying.

I realize now how important to society is the skill to present information in a coherent, systematic manner.  Alongside that is the flip: the ability to analyze the information coming at us in order to determine it's validity.

Two recent quotes highlight the need for the ability to test the information coming at us.  I discovered both of these today, within a few hours of each other.  Congresswoman Harman's quote is from Thursday, this week, I believe.  The quote from Frances Fox Piven is from December, probably old new to some readers.

From Jane Harman, Congresswoman from California's 36th district, in an interview with The Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell,  "Every responsible law enforcement person in the country supports this."  (At 34 seconds in the linked video).

This quote follows the Congresswoman's claim that there are too many guns in the hands of ordinary Americans, that there is too much ammunition available, and that clips for rapidly fired weapons hold too much ammunition.  In context I believe the quote refers only to the capacity of what she calls rapidly fired clips. 

Regardless of for or against what Congresswoman Harman is arguing, her argument is rendered useless by her use of the adjective, "responsible."  What defines responsible?  It is a relative term.  Who gets to decide the opinions of which law enforcement persons ought to be deemed responsible.  It tells us nothing about what real proportion of law enforcement people support the law.

Besides the logical gaff, the comment is a huge insult to the many hard working law enforcement people who do not support the Congresswoman's ideals.  It labels any law enforcement person who does not agree as irresponsible.

From Frances Fox Piven, professor of Political Science and Sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, "You know I don't have data on this, but I am absolutely sure..."  (at the 1:27 minute mark).

In the entire video clip, Ms Fox Piven pigeon holes and insults those Americans who attend TEA parties.  She knows all about what make us poor naive Americans tick.  The whole scant 4 minutes of the video clip is one slam after another against this segment of society.  She starts with a variety of labels: older, white, well-off, unhappy about the direction of America.  (This last one is a surprise.  Is that why people got involved in political activism?  In context, she means that they are naively clinging to "the good ol' days".  The way she describes it comes across as very patronizing.)  She labels us with being unable to deal with the idea of an African American president and an increasingly darkening populace.  She doesn't call us racist.  The accusation is much more patronizing that that.  We are just so, so shaken up by all the changes.  We (us white, old, well-off Americans) just can't function.  

The quote itself is followed by her opinion that the s**ual revolution has so disenfranchised this older, white, well-off demographic that they are fighting back in the from of "their crazy rallies".  That is the WOW point for which she has absolutely no data and yet is absolutely sure. 

OK, so to get beyond the ever so maddening tone of the clip, and back to the logical fallacy,  I don't really think I even have to say anything about it.  I'll just repeat the idiocy, "You know I don't have data on this, but I am absolutely sure..."

I know she doesn't have any data on anything she said in the speech.

I've been to three TEA parties.  We live in a primarily white area of Minnesota.  So yes, our TEA parties are pretty white up here.  Unless we bussed SIEU members in and paid them to hold signs for us, I wouldn't expect anything different in that regard.   Most TEA party patriots find busing people in for rallies and paying them to demonstrate a little disingenuous.

But we are definitely not mostly older.  We are definitely not mostly well-off.

And I don't have any data on this, but I can absolutely guess that if I pulled up some footage from the many TEA parties that have occured around the country, I'd see young people, I'd see Americans of a variety of color, and ethnic backgrounds.  I probably wouldn't be able to tell by looking, but I could absolutely guess that they would live within a wide variety of income levels.


madhenmom said...

If you're old and well-off, I guess that would make me ancient and, hmmm, obscenely rich.

Nice job tackling the logical errors in those arguments. So much of my frustration with the media is how the left is able to get away with mischaracterizing our position. Grrrr.

How were you able to get a not only coherent, but also intelligent post up with a house full of sick kids? :) Great job, Mary!

theMom said...

Thanks, Char. I actually had it most of the way done yesterday morning, but then we had to leave and I hadn't proof read it. So I got up before all the sickies were cognizant this morning and finished it up.

But yes, my brain was quite fried all day with only, at the longest interval, two hours of sleep without interruption all night last night. Most of the rest of the time I was half sleeping with that one ear open thing mom's do with sick kids. And then up and down, up and down...

BTW, you might be interested to know that I used my brain dead day to finish reading P&P. Then later I was bored and started Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Don't ask me why.