Two Fallacies used against you

By Mike Cronin

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”

“You’re either for me or against me!”

Sound familiar?  These are example of the False Dichotomy/False Dilemma/False Choice fallacy, and we are surrounded by examples every day. It takes critical thinking to spot them and see them for what they are.

Let’s have another look:

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.” Maybe.  It might also mean I find it pretentious to brag about my charitable giving, or I don’t like to advertise my activities, allegiances, or involvements for security reasons; or it means I don’t want the sticker to damage my car, or it means I care about something else more than I care about starving kids in Elbonia, etc.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”  Or maybe he found out Program Y is corrupt, or he doesn’t like pork-barrel spending, or he’s a budget hawk, or he won’t agree to anything put forward by a political enemy, etc.

“You’re either for me or against me!” Or, maybe you have a far higher opinion of your significance than I do!

False dichotomies are a staple technique of politicians, especially during election campaigns.  Advertisers love them, too: “If you bought brand X, you’re paying too much!” How do they know? Maybe you got a great deal.

Whenever you see an either-or proposition on offer from somebody who wants something from you, it’s a safe bet to assume you are being offered a false choice.

Another popular fallacy that professional debaters (politicians, talk-show panelists, pundits, etc.) love to use is the “Straw Man” argument.  Simply put, it means exaggerating or misrepresenting something someone else said in order to (attempt) to make a clever rebuttal.  Here’s an example:

A large corporation announces it’s going to close a major plant in the US and move it to Mexico. One of the reasons given is the too-high labor costs here due to the minimum wage, workman’s comp, and payroll taxes in the US.

Professional blabbermouth:  “Company X announced today that it’s moving to Mexico.  I guess they think it’s OK to exploit Mexicans and pay them slave wages.  How unpatriotic.”

The blabbermouth ignored the full context.  It’s quite possible that a Mexican working in the new plant will make much less than his or her US counterpart; what is not mentioned is how far that pay might go in the Mexican economy, or how much better off the Mexican might be working in the new factory than her or she would have been without that opportunity. The blabbermouth also ignores the very real possibility that rather than the corporation being unpatriotic for moving, it may be that our law makers have been unpatriotic by creating the conditions that are driving the company to move!

 

Most Illogical

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By Mike Cronin

We are often presented with the terms “logic,” “reason,” “critical thinking,” and “common sense.” They are often touted as valuable skills or traits in our society.  But are they really so appreciated?

You are likely to find enough differing definitions of those terms to keep you busy reading for a while, but there is a common thread.

I think Ayn Rand described logic quite eloquently as the art of “non-contradictory identification,” and common sense as the “unselfconscious” use of logic. Critical thinking and reasoning have broader connotations, but generally include, or go hand-in-hand with, logic and common sense.

There are formal courses on logic and critical thinking, but it’s hit-or-miss whether you encounter them outside of philosophy electives at a college or university or at law school.  By way of one example: my own formal education has included familiarization with debate (taught as a segment of sixth-grade English), and I went to a high school that prided itself on producing critical thinkers. I’ve earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Yet, to my recollection, not one of those sources presented a formal course of instruction on logic or critical thinking. Why?

I suspect that many of you can report a similar gap in your own formal education. Could it be that our educational institutions, and the governments and/or religions that run them, don’t want to produce an abundance of critical thinkers because graduates so equipped might then apply their reasoning skills against some of the irrational curricula or insane policies emitted by learning institutions or their political and financial overlords?

Consider:  In its current guise, the Department of Education, with an annual budget in the tens of billions, was signed into existence by President Carter in 1979. It’s stated mission is to “…promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

Has it accomplished that mission?  It certainly “promotes” student achievement.  Cranking out a single inspirational poster can “check the box” on that mediocre and vague aspiration. It has also made progress on the “equal access” portion – you would be hard-pressed to find someone in this country who has no access to some form of publicly-funded K-12 education. But it has failed utterly at preparing students for global competitiveness!   US scores in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills are now near the bottom for industrialized countries.  Perhaps the mission statement of the Department of Education has little alignment to its true purpose.

Don’t think I’m being paranoid here.  No less a luminary than Woodrow Wilson, then President of Princeton University (and later to become President of the United States) revealed the elite’s view of the purpose of public education when, in 1909, he said: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” Note again that he said those words before he was elected President of the United States, so this idea did not overly detract from his elect-ability.

Nowadays, the elite’s plan seems to be to indoctrinate everyone with as much liberal education as they can absorb! Of course, the meaning of liberal has -ahem- been drifting left somewhat since Wilson illuminated the raison d’etre of public schools.

Might not the alumni of schools and universities that failed to teach courses on critical thinking or reasoning skills logically conclude they have been cheated?

On Critical Thinking

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By Mike Cronin

A lot of people talk about critical thinking, but I seldom ever see any explanation of what critical thinking is.  Left to our own devices, we might reasonably assume that critical thinking means being critical.  That is partially right.  Certainly people who practice critical thinking are often critical of others, but that is not the essence of the term.

To me, critical thinking means examining my own thoughts on an issue for errors in logic or reasoning before verbalizing them. It means basing my positions on a foundation of rational thought. It means recognizing bias, especially my own.

I’ve written before about bias.  When you read a news article or watch a news piece, the reporters and networks pretend they have no bias, but that is absurd.  Everyone has a bias – it is inevitable, because even the wisest among us cannot see things from every and all perspectives.  The difference between my blog and some others is that I tell you right up front what my bias is.  I am pro-freedom, pro-capitalism, pro-individualism, and pro-reason.  I am against socialism and any other form of collectivism. My biases are not a result of my upbringing.  If anything, my biases are in opposition to the trends and positions espoused to me in school, church, and to some degree, the military.

Logic is another key ingredient of critical thinking.  Ayn Rand described logic as the art of correct identification.  That sounds simple, but it has deep consequences.  It is easy for a child to recognize a lemon as a lemon, but it might be a bit harder for the child to understand that the lemon can never be anything other a lemon.  It can only do or behave as a lemon.  A person might squeeze it to get the juice, or grate it to get the pith, but a lemon cannot become a bird and fly away.

Wishful thinking and other logical errors are the source of much conflict and dysfunction in the world. An example:  The current brouhaha over gender identity.  We are either born with male anatomy or female anatomy (occasions of true androgyny are exceedingly rare). “Identifying” as the opposite gender from what one’s anatomy dictates (no pun intended) is logically erroneous.  One might align their conflicted desires to reality via surgery and drugs, but until those procedures are complete, one is “male” or “female” according to one’s anatomy.

At the heart of many arguments and conflicts over logic are premises.  There is no shortage of pundits, educators, and other influential people that use well-crafted logical arguments that stem from bad premises.  Take “equality” for example.  We might hear that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives want people to be treated as equal under the law, while liberals want everyone to have equal outcomes.  The first premise rests on the idea that no one is more valuable as a human being than anyone else.  It creates the conditions whereby a poor person can raise themselves up from poverty on their own hard work and merit. It is essentially correct, but hard to enforce, because the rich and well connected can sometimes buy better legal representation than the poor. The second premise rests on the idea that it’s not fair for one person to have more than another, so wealth must be redistributed.  It gives no attention to the concepts that wealth belongs to whomever created it, or that individuals have any responsibility for their own situation.  It is a bad premise, because it ignores the fact that life is not and cannot be fair, and it ignores all of the evidence of human history:  Humans cannot rise above animalism without individual effort to devise technology or apply the technology to raising the standard of living.

Are you a critical thinker?