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!

 

You can’t get there from here

By Mike Cronin

I recently read an article that chronicled the lamentation of employers that college graduates today are not well versed in critical thinking skills. On the other hand, the graduates themselves thought they had a good understanding of critical thinking.  If employers and graduates disagree on graduates’ thinking skills, who is correct?  Turns out it depends on your definition of critical thinking.

The employers relied on the classical understanding of critical thinking: Objectivity, evidence, logic, reason.  The grads’ understanding of critical thinking tended towards “… opposition to the existing ‘system,’ encompassing political, economic, and social orders, deemed to privilege some and penalize others. In essence, critical thinking is equated with political, economic, and social critique.” Huh. Critical thinking has become “critique-al” thinking. That explains how an ever-growing segment of our population seems to fall for every “feel-good” con for giving up freedom and liberty in the name of “social justice” or “diversity” or “environmentalism” or “wealth redistribution” or any other socialist trap.

For the record:

You cannot cure poverty by taking wealth from others, because poverty is not only a financial condition, it is also often a mindset.  Consider that most millionaires in this country are entrepreneurs. Most business start-ups fail, and many of the successful entrepreneurs have been “poor” at some point.  They earned, then lost, a fortune and became “poor,” only to earn and keep a bigger fortune by applying what they learned from their original mistakes.  On the flip side, many “poor” people would, given sudden wealth, blow it all on luxuries and trappings, then fall back into poverty when the wealth dried up.

You cannot cure hunger in other parts of the world by decrying food excess here.  Wasted food here cannot change the conditions causing starvation elsewhere.  If you want to cure world hunger, you must first rid humanity of power lust and superstition and territoriality.

You cannot eliminate racism and bigotry and hatred by hating and being racist and bigoted. You cannot end “discrimination” by changing which group is “discriminated” against. You cannot avenge long-dead victims of a crime by punishing the descendants of the long-dead criminals. Change the words “crime” and “criminals” to “oppression” and “oppressors,” and the same truth obtains. (The old adage “fight fire with fire” works…in very few contexts. Fighting injustice with more injustice isn’t one of them.)

You cannot change reality by smuggling new meaning into old worlds. “Unemployment” comes to mind.  The most widely used unemployment figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been around 5% for some months (4.7% as of February 2017).  But that number uses a very narrow definition of “unemployed” and a very generous definition of “employed.”  If you are out of work and haven’t been looking for four weeks, you are no longer counted as “unemployed;” you are counted as “out of the labor market.” On the other hand, if you are out of work but exchanged at least one hour of labor for at least $20.00, you are counted as “employed.”  The real unemployment rate, i.e. the number of working-age adults that are not working and earning regular paychecks, is more like 40%!

You cannot build a Utopian health care system that relies on doctors (and other providers) whom you dis-incentivize.  Doctors have spent a lot of time and money to earn their degrees, and they expect to be able to run their practices and make good money.  Take that away from them, and all of a sudden there will be less doctors working and less people going to medical school. The doctors that do stay will be of lower caliber, and the quality of care will diminish greatly.

Likewise, you cannot produce a well-educated populace with a public school system purposely designed to prevent critical thinking by producing critique-al thinkers!

Social Justice and the Straw Man

By Mike Cronin

This is probably no surprise to anyone, but you might not have seen it expressed this way before.  The driving force behind many of the ideological rifts in this country isn’t genuine disagreement; it’s the lust for attention and power. Social justice warriors (SJWs) especially, will twist any fact, issue, or term into a grievance so that they can have a protest or riot in furtherance of their purported aims, when all they really want is attention, validation, and power.

Here’s a case study: President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.”  The facts of the ban are summarized here: “There are 206 nation states on Earth. People from 199 of them, Muslim or not, can get US visas. People from 7 of them, Muslim or not, cannot. The twelve nations with the largest number of Muslims are all on the “A-OK” list. There is no “Muslim ban.” (h/t to Michael Z. Williamson) But judging from the vitriol and even violence emanating from SJWs, you would think Mr. Trump had begun rounding up Muslims and putting them into camps. They invariably describe Trump’s action as racist.

I’m not going to defend Mr. Trump.  I get why he is instituting this ban: Because terrorists from the groups most likely to try to execute another 9/11 on our soil would be most likely to come from one of the countries on the list. But his ban holds a large class of people accountable for crimes yet to be committed by a potentially very small subset of that group.  Since that group isn’t race-based, that is not a racist policy, but it is collectivist.

But wait! Here comes SJW logic: since the ban “targets” predominately Muslim countries, it is against Muslims, and is therefore racist. Even if Islam isn’t a race?  Yes, say the SJWs. Because Islam is a culture, the ban is a case of “cultural racism.”  Even if, as described by Mr. Williamson above, the ban doesn’t apply to all, or even most, Muslims?  SJWs just ignore that inconvenient fact.

Ah. If you don’t like someone, or something they are doing, find a way to twist it into the most heinously-motivated act you can think of. Invent new terms to describe it. All so you can be seen to be fighting against it. (Oh, and let’s not forget, if someone you liked did the same thing? Forget it happened.)  In other words, the modus operandi for the SJW: If you can’t find it within in you to go to the Middle East and fight the real oppressors, stay comfortably ensconced in the US, find some objectionable policy, and make it into oppression so you can have a tantrum.  It’s the “straw man” fallacy writ large.

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.

Three Tips for Filtering the Feed

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By Mike Cronin

Last year I wrote about the war on Christmas. This year the election of Donald Trump has overshadowed the usual brouhaha over nativity scenes at City Hall. So this year I thought I’d go with something a little more practical. The guiding purpose of this blog is to make sense out of the vast array or “manufactured truth” that we are constantly bombarded with. Here are a few tips and tricks to deal with it every day:

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  1. Consume news skeptically: the first thing you need to remember about the news media is that their first concern is to sell advertising. Their second concern is often to reinforce a narrative or advance an ideological or even partisan agenda. Running in third place is actually informing you about the new events of the day. There has been much ado recently about fake news. Given the first and second criteria just outlined, almost all the news is fake to one degree or another. When there is some crisis happening, such as 9/11, and the news “breaks in” to tell us about the event as it’s happening, they haven’t had much time to adapt it to their preferred narrative. In those cases we are usually getting real news, even if some of the details are inaccurate while the debris is still falling or the smoke is still rising. As soon as one of these stories acquires its own theme music, it’s no longer breaking news. At that point you must start taking it with a grain of salt. In reality, the best way to glean something of the truth may be to examine headlines from multiple news sources, to include some foreign outlets such as the Economist, BBC, and perhaps even Al Jazeera or Xinhua.  Even so, while those sources may tell you what’s happening and why, they seldom articulate what it means and what will likely happen because of it. Personally, I like to scan the news headlines, but I also like to read intelligence. One of my favorite sources is StratFor; a private “intelligence” firm that uses the lens of geopolitics to explain the world.

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  1. Geopolitics, as you might have guessed, is not just about geography or politics, but about how geography enables or constrains political and/or economic action between nations and other actors. For example: The United States is largely regarded to have the largest economy and the most powerful military, and we are generally thought of as being the world’s only superpower. But it is not only our military might or our form of government that has led us to this condition. The United States is this way in part because of where it’s at and what it has. The most striking example of this is our river and coastal waterway system. “The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.” (From StratFor’s “The Geopolitics of the United States.”) Give these advantages, it would have been a shock if the US had not become an economic powerhouse! By way of contrast, consider the difficulties faced by a landlocked country. Afghanistan, for example, is estimated to have over $1 trillion worth of natural resources in the form of valuable ores and minerals. Yet owing to the difficulty of getting to and from Afghanistan and navigating within its borders, and the fractured nature of its tribal society, Afghanistan has never realized its economic potential, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Where the United States has abundance of access, Afghanistan has a dearth. Geography has dealt a difficult hand to landlocked countries, but there is at least one way to overcome that difficulty: adopt a Western form of governance that recognizes individual rights and promotes liberty. Switzerland is the epitome of a country that can overcome geographic isolation by staying neutral in the conflicts of its neighbors and giving its people freedom.
  1. Like most, I’ve had geography classes, and classes on US. Government, but I never had a “geopolitics” class per se in my formal education. Our schools are set up to teach material as discreet subjects, but our brains are not set up that way. We learn and make memories by association. Another example might be economics. The word economics conjures up thoughts of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, changing interest rates and conducting “quantitative easing.” Those elements of economics were among the set popularized by John Maynard Keynes, and “Keynesian Economics holds sway among the vast majority of economists today.  9i7jfxdepbiuxmllhv6wxoykazrjmeynuapn20ngnu0But in a broader sense, economics is the study of human activity. This goes hand in glove with geopolitics, as does history. Come to think of it, so does psychology. What if there was a way of learning economics (and other subjects) in a way that more closely mimics the way the human brain learns? Under such a rubric, there would be far fewer barriers between what we think of as the traditional subjects. Such a field exists.  It’s called “praxeology.” In short, praxeology is the study of volitional human action, and it is a basis for the Austrian school of economic thought.  We can borrow the concept to help us understand the world without trying to become economists ourselves.

Using these three tools (skeptical news consumption, understanding how geography can enable or constrain political and economic action, and removing the artificial barriers between “subjects,” and examining human action holistically), we can better learn to Filter the Feed.

Ten Observations on Election 2016

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By Mike Cronin

Donald Trump’s victory certainly stirred up a lot of clamor and noise this week.  Let’s see if we can herd some of the cats:

  1. Democracy has failed. The people chose Hillary Clinton by 200,000 votes, but the electoral victory went to Trump. Our “democracy” cannot fail if we don’t have one, which is in fact the case. We were given a federalist republic under the rule of law. We use democratic processes for some decisions to give the people a voice, but we are not supposed to have a system of straight-up majority rule. As to the electoral vote: It remains to be seen whether any electors will “go rogue” and vote against their “pledge” on Dec 19th, but it has happened before (as recently as 2004).  Of course, it’s never been by enough margin to change the outcome of an election.  In this case, at least 38 would have to be “faithless electors” to get Clinton to 270.
  2. Trump hates immigrants. He hates Mexicans. He hates Muslims. He’s racist.  We’ll, he might. Only he knows for sure.  However, he is married to an immigrant and he has people from all walks of life working for him.  He certainly doesn’t think people should be here illegally, which is not the same thing as hating the people who are or the people who want to be.
  3. Trump is a misogynist sexual predator. His caught-on-camera crudities certainly lend themselves to this narrative. There’s little actual evidence and no credible accusers that demonstrate he hates all women or has assaulted any of them, but Trump’s verbal vulgarity in this area is one of the most troubling things about him. Still, while Trump has been caught speaking like a sexual predator might; Hillary Clinton continues to aid and abet one.
  4. Trump is going to destroy all of the progress progressives have made over the last eight years. Possibly, but presidents seldom accomplish their full agendas.  Yes, Trump will have a Republican-majority Congress, but it won’t be a super-majority, and the Republican establishment doesn’t like him.  Trump bills himself as a deal maker.  He’ll have to be to get his agenda anywhere.
  5. Trump is going to elevate nationalism over globalism. Both are euphemisms for collectivism; only the boundaries are different. Neither is as good for individuals as unfettered free market capitalism.  There might possibly be temporary beneficial effects for Americans in the shift, especially if our troops come home and small businesses can thrive again.
  6. Trump is an idiot/outsider/politically inexperienced. He certainly does not articulate himself with Obama’s grace, but he is no dummy. In fact, he’s likely quite adept at persuasion (see items five and six on this list). He is certainly gifted at getting free publicity (or at least notoriety) from the very mass-media that hates him. Also, his lack of political experience, i.e. his NOT being a career politician or D.C. insider, is one of the fundamentals that led him to get elected.
  7. What happened with the polls? They consistently gave Clinton the edge! Bottom line: garbage in/garbage out.  The pollsters drew their samples from the same body of “likely voters” they always used, and in some cases “oversampled” Democrats.  The former was neglectful and led to the Democrats believing in their own invulnerability; the latter was a nefarious attempt to convince would-be Trump voters to stay home on Election Day. Once exposed, the revelation likely caused the exact opposite effect. Either way, the pollsters failed to obtain accuracy because they could not, or would not, sample validly.  
  8. FBI Director Comey’s shenanigans (i.e. his announcements regarding the on-again/off-again investigation into Clinton’s email debacle vis-à-vis Huma Abedin’s laptop) comprised the quintessential October Surprise, and it hurt Clinton. It certainly didn’t help, but it’s much more likely that Clinton’s shenanigans hurt Clinton.
  9. Why were Clinton and Trump our candidates? What secret weapon did they employ that none of their competitors had? 30-plus years of universal name recognition.
  10. What does it mean that Republicans gained more seats in Congress, strengthening their majority? They didn’t get a super majority, so there are a few (rare) actions they would have to earn Democratic support for in order to act: Impeaching the president and overriding his vetoes are two such cases. 2. Republicans will get to shape the Supreme Court for the next generation. 3. Republicans now have an opportunity to reverse much of the Democrats’ work over the last eight years. Whether they will actually do so, or get complacent and/or get caught up with internal divisions remains to be seen.

Choosing a Beekeeper?

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By Mike Cronin

Today’s item is an update of “Will You Vote for a Beekeeper,” originally posted January 2, 2014.

The most basic (and most commonly employed) model of the political spectrum places Fascism (like Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini) on the extreme right side of the scale, and Socialism or Communism (like the former Soviet Union or modern North Korea) on the extreme left side.  A government, a country, or a person’s political position can be gauged on this spectrum.

The problem with this model is that while the ideologies of Fascism and Communism may differ on the surface, in practice they result in the same conditions for the vast majority of people who live under them: subjugation. There may be distinctions between the two on paper, but in reality both ideologies are collectivist; that is, they espouse that the state, or the party, or the race, or the group, i.e. the collective, is more important than the individual, and that the individual exists to serve the larger group. In other words, both of these forms of politics, Communism and Fascism, treat humans like bees or ants, i.e. as drones (or slaves). The individual’s rights don’t matter (or even exist), only the party, or country (or hive/colony, i.e. collective), matters.

The achievement of the founding fathers was in creating a nation founded on the concept that the individual has rights that are inherent, that is, they are not granted by the state, and that the sole purpose of government is to protect those individual rights. The implementation of this idea was flawed, but still gave rise to a nation that brought more liberty and prosperity to more people than any other in history. One of the hallmarks of the system the founders built is the peaceful transition of power that has attended every presidential election and inauguration (save perhaps Lincoln’s).

One of our most contentious campaign seasons will culminate with the general election on Tuesday.  Consider: Whether a politician identifies as a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, does not matter as much as this: What does his or her character and voting record reveal about their understanding of individual rights?  Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are remarkable as candidates in that each was chosen by their party seemingly on the strength of name recognition over any other factor.  (Both have been in the public eye on a national scale for 30+ years, far longer than any of the other candidates on either side.) They certainly haven’t been selected for their “sterling” personal attributes.  Will we elect one of them based solely on popularity (or notoriety)?  Can either of our candidates be considered defenders of our rights, or are we choosing between beekeepers?