A Comment on Project Chariot

Introduction: The comments below come at the 7 and a half minute mark in a documentary called “Project Chariot.” The film depicts an effort by the Atomic Energy Commission to create a harbor by means of detonating nuclear bombs. Said harbor was to be located just south of Point Hope, Alaska. putting it within Inupiat territory and making it a threat to the Inupiat people of Point Hope and the surrounding lands.

The Documentary was made by Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson.

Another good source on this topic is the book, The Firecracker Boys, by Dan Oneill.

Key Facts: Project Chariot was part of a larger program know as “Operation Ploughshare” which was intended to explore peaceful use of nuclear power including the prospects of geo-engineering through nuclear detonation. Project Chariot would have created a harbor on the coastline of Alaska, just south of Point Hope. Opposition by the community of Point Hope in conjunction with other environmentalists and Alaska Natives helped to shut down Project Chariot, though radioactive materials were left at the target site after the project had been pulled. Many in the Point Hope Community remain concerned about the possible health effects of radioactive materials and the possibility that additional materials may have been left at the site.

Transcript:

“This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Now to me, a peaceful use is a joke. I don’t think there is a peaceful use for nuclear energy. There is too much waste and too much damage.”

7:38-8:00

  • Ernie Frankson, Point Hope Elder and Inupiaq Historian.

ANALYSIS

Comments: The clip is certainly brief, and Mr. Frankson may have been more concerned with the specific history of Project Chariot than with the philosophical implications of nuclear technology. Still, he has provided an argument on the larger topic of nuclear energy.

Statements: I made a couple minor adjustments to statements 2 and 3, just to clean the wording up a bit for argument analysis.

[1] This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

[2] …Peaceful use is a joke.

[3] [There is no] peaceful use for nuclear energy.

[4] There is too much waste and too much damage.

[5] [Project Chariot was unjustified.]

Diagram: I reckon the argument looks like this.

20201119_181051

Discussion:

Misplaced Literalism: It is possible to interpret Mr. Frankson’s use of the term ‘joke’ as a literal joke, in which case on might object to the premise on the basis of the fact that it isn’t funny. In context, however, it seems quite clear that the word is used simply to expression rejection of the idea. I think it’s fair to say this approach would be misplaced literalism.

Missing Assertions: It looks like the final conclusion to this argument is unstated. We could probably come up with a few variations, but in context, I think a simple statement condemning Project Chariot is most likely the intended point.

Alternatively, one could suggest a conclusion along the lines that Project Chariot could not have accomplished any peaceful goals. That would be a more modest conclusion, but it probably falls short of the practical goals of the speaker. As someone who would be negatively impacted by the project, it is doubtful that he means only to criticize the goals of the project; he means to reject it outright.

Evaluation:There are two central premises to this argument, 1 and 4.

Premise 1: Given the stated goals of both Operation Ploughshare and Project Chariot, it seems quite fair to suggest the point here was to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Mr. Frankson’s account of the rationale for going through with this seems quite accurate.

Premise 4: The biggest question regarding truth value in this example is probably focused on premise 4. To really do a good job of evaluating the argument, we would have to make a systematic study of the possible benefits and the possible detriments of nuclear energy. Note that this is a much larger theme than the specific effects of Project Chariot. In this clip, Mr. Frankson is not merely condemning Project Chariot; he is categorically rejecting the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This would include the use of nuclear power plants in use today. Different people are likely to assess the total pros and cons differently, and even systematic studies are likely to produce different results owing to differences in source funding and personal motivation, etc.

I am personally inclined ti agree with Mr. Frankson here, though I could not pretend my view of the matter is based on any particularly rigorous study of the subject.

Inference from 4 to 3: If Premise 4 is true, then 3 most likely has to be true (hence the inference between them is deductively valid). If premise 4 is deemed false, then that leaves the truth value of premise 3 up in the air.

Inference from 3 to 2: If the truth value of premise 3 is true, then most likely 2 if true as well, barring the misplaced literalism mentioned above. The language used in these premises doesn’t match closely enough to warrant calling them deductively valid, I think, so perhaps a strong value would be appropriate for the inference bewtween these statements.

Inference from 1+2 to [5]: The final inference from premises 1 and 2 to the unstated conclusion [5] seems strong as well. Given the terms of the argument, the purpose of the project is to generate peaceful uses for nuclear technology. If that is that is not possible in general, or in relation to this specific project, then it is hard to accept the justification for Project Chariot.

Why isn’t the last inference deductively valid? One could possibly suggest the project was warranted on some other grounds. In point of fact, other grounds were offered (such as economic utility), but as Oneill’s book makes quite clear the benefits anticipated by the project were implausible, even when studied closely at the time, and the harms likely to follow the blast, at least to the people of the North Slope of Alaska would be substantial. It is perhaps unfair to base an evaluation of the project on this other data since that is not mentioned in the argument, but if that is the case, the problem applies to both pros and cons, so I think it best to acknowledge only the possibility that other considerations could come into play. Given the issues raised by Mr. Frankson, the inference to 5 seems well supported if not deductively valid.

As I regard the main premises of this argument as true, and as the inferences appear to be highly relevant, I am inclined to think of this argument as sound. The most plausible counter-arguments, I would think would be coming from those who see nuclear technology as more beneficial than harmful. To someone with that view, one plank of Mr. Frankson’s argument begins from a questionable truth value. This would undermine the soundness of the argument.

Final Thoughts: This is a very tiny text dealing with a very large issue. Both Oneill’s book and Edwardson’s documentary are well worth the time.

Note also that a more modest set of premises focused on the specific costs and benefits of Project Chariot itself (rather than the categorical rejection of nuclear energy offered by Mr. Frankson in this particular quote) might avoid the questionable truth value of premise 4, making the argument less susceptible to counter-arguments, but of course, there are reasons to consider more general premises, reasons such as trying to pre-empt similar projects in the future.

Edna Maclean On Iñupiaq Counting

Introduction: The argument below can be found of page 831 of Edna Maclean’s Iñupiaq to English Dictionary.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: Edna Maclean, Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuniŋit: Iñupiaq to English Dictionary, Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2014.

The decimal system is handy because the fingers can be used as counters. The Iñupiaq  base-20 system clearly extends this notion to the toes as well. The Iñupiat counted on one limb at a time, so there were 4 groups of 5, hence the sub-base 5 and the two-dimensional system. The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board. Even the prototype of the Babylonian base-60 used points of the body to keep track of numbers. The majority of human counting systems are body-based. Some of the Iñupiaq number words clearly reflect their corporal origins. Tallimat, the word for five, for example, is related to the Iñupiaq word taliq, meaning ‘arm.’ The word for ten, qulit, means something like ‘top,’ suggesting that it refers to both of the arms  on the top half of the body. The word for eleven in most Inuit-speaking communities, including some Iñupiaq-speaking communities, means ‘it goes down,’ an indication that one is now counting on the toes. Further evidence is found in the word akimiaq, Iñupiaq for fifteen, which means something like ‘it goes across,’ implying that counting will now cross over an continue on the other foot.

The connection to the human body is most apparent in the Inuit words for twenty. Throughout the entire Inuit-speaking world, there is a clear human association. Most Inuit dialects use the same word for ‘person’ as for ‘twenty.’ The Iñupiaq word for twenty, iñuiññaq, is a word denoting a ‘complete person.’ Inuktitut dialects spoken in Eastern Canada use the word avatit, signifying ‘all the extremities’ of the body. Some have proposed that even the Iñupiaq word atausiq, for ‘one’ is probably also derived from a reference to the human body. Atusiq (or some close cognate variation, such as atauseq) is used almost universally where an Inuit dialect is spoken.

(Emphasis in original)

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is part of a larger discussion of numbers in Iñupiaq.

Statements: Okay, this is a long one (Sorry).

[1] The decimal system is handy because the fingers can be used as counters.

[2] The Iñupiaq  base-20 system clearly extends this notion to the toes as well.

[3] The Iñupiat counted on one limb at a time;

[4a] There were 4 groups of 5.

[4b] [This pattern of counting on one limb at a time explains] the sub-base 5 and the two-dimensional system.

[5a] The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board.

[6] Even the prototype of the Babylonian base-60 used points of the body to keep track of numbers.

[5b] The majority of human counting systems are body-based.

[7] Some of the Iñupiaq number words clearly reflect their corporal origins.

[8] Tallimat, the word for five, for example, is related to the Iñupiaq word taliq, meaning ‘arm.’

[9] The word for ten, qulit, means something like ‘top,’

(suggesting that)

[10] it refers to both of the arms  on the top half of the body.

[11] The word for eleven in most Inuit-speaking communities, including some Iñupiaq-speaking communities, means ‘it goes down,’

an indication that

[12] one is now counting on the toes.

(Further evidence is found in)

[13] The word akimiaq, Iñupiaq for fifteen, which means something like ‘it goes across,’

(implying)

[14] counting will now cross over an continue on the other foot.

[15] The connection to the human body is most apparent in the Inuit words for twenty.

[16] Throughout the entire Inuit-speaking world, there is a clear human association [in words for twenty].

[17] Most Inuit dialects use the same word for ‘person’ as for ‘twenty.’

[18] The Iñupiaq word for twenty, iñuiññaq, is a word denoting a ‘complete person.’

[19] Inuktitut dialects spoken in Eastern Canada use the word avatit, signifying ‘all the extremities’ of the body.

[20] Some have proposed that even the Iñupiaq word atausiq, for ‘one’ is probably also derived from a reference to the human body.

[21] Atusiq (or some close cognate variation, such as atauseq) is used almost universally where an Inuit dialect is spoken.

[22] The Inupiaq Counting system is based on body parts.

Discussion: This example poses the following themes: Argument Recognition, Explanation, Missing Assertions, Redundant Assertions.

Argument Recognition: Insofar as the relationship between statement 3 and statement 4 is an explanation, it is important not to treat the former as an attempt to prove the latter. This gives us at least one interesting question about argument recognition.

Explanation: The words ‘so’ and ‘hence’ included in statement 4a and 4b is best interpreted as signaling an explanation rather than an inference. The author isn’t really using statements 1-3 to prove statement 4 so much as suggesting a systemic relationship between each of these elements. The wording of statement 4b has been altered to reflect this fact.

Missing Assertions: The final conclusion of this argument isn’t fully spelled out. It has been supplied as statement 22.

Redundant Assertions: These two statements do not exactly mean the same thing, but for purposes of the argument at hand, the differences do not appear significant. Hence, I have provided both with the same number [5].

[5a] “The human body may be considered the living model of the earliest abacus or counting board.”

[5b] “The majority of human counting systems are body-based.”

argargbigargyepDiagram: The diagram for this argument isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The author is presenting multiple pieces of information in favor of a general conclusion. Some of her points can be grouped into sub-themes with intermediate conclusions leading to the main point. She may be talking about the meaning of words, but Edna Maclean doesn’t make use of tricky semantics here. Her evidence is pretty straight forward.

One judgement call that I did make in preparing this diagram was spelling out a statement to represent the final conclusion of this argument. Although it does contain general statements about the role of the body in language in general, it does seem that Edna Maclean’s main point here is that the Iñupiaq counting system is body-based, as she might put it. Since there is no specific claim in the text that quite expresses that, I took the liberty to spell this out as a missing conclusion.

Although I am a little concerned about the semantics of the phrase ‘body-based,’ I thought it best to use her own vocabulary to express this main conclusion, not the least of reasons being that I wasn’t sure I could improve upon that language anyway.

I left two statements out the diagram, because I am not entirely sure how they fit in the overall argument. Statement 20 raises the prospect that the Iñupiaq  word for ‘one’ is derived from the human body and statement 21 says that all the Inuit languages seem to use a similar term. It seems that statement 21 could be used in conjunction with the general pattern which serves as the overall point of the argument to suggest that such consistent pattern must also be derived from body parts. This would suggest adding an argument that runs 21+[22] -> 20, but this would be a minor side point in relation to the arger argument ending at statement [22].  Since I’m not sure that I understood the point anyway, I think it best to leave these off to the side.

Evaluation: Most of these inferences are pretty straight forward. The author keeps providing empirical evidence in support of a range of observations about the role of the body in counting systems in general, within Inuit languages, and specifically in Iñupiaq. I think ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ ratings would be appropriate for most of these inferences, but I’m not going to break each of them down.

Final Thoughts: The basic question here is whether or not Edna Maclean has given us adequate reason to believe that Iñupiaq numbers exhibit a pattern touching on the practice of counting body parts. I believe she has done so.

A Hopi Comments on American Music

Introduction: This story appears in the book, Native American Testimony by Peter Nabokov. It is attributed to Fred Coyote of the Wailaki people. Wailaki and Hopi are two different Native American peoples. This is nevertheless a story about an exchange between a Hopi elder and an anthropologist.

Key Facts: Hopi dwell in a relatively dry region of northern Arizona. As with a lot of indigenous peoples, they have seen their share of anthropologists intent on learning about their ways. The story thus begins with a perfectly plausible exchange between an anthropologist and a Hopi elder about Hopi music and its relationship to the environment. A final twist in the story reveals a completely different point.

Text: Peter Nabokov, Ed., Native American Testimony, Revised Edition. 1978. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. It can be found on page 392-393. Note that the section quoted below begins after several paragraphs of narrative in which the anthropologist in question keeps asking a Hopi elder to explain various songs only to find each time that the song is about water.

And so it went all afternoon. And every time the old man would sing a song, the ‘anthro’ would say, ‘What’s that about?’ And the old man would explain it. It’s about something or other – a river, rain, water.

And the anthropologist was getting a little short tempered. He said, ‘Is water all you people sing about down here?’

And this old man said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘For thousands of years in this country we’ve learned to live here. Because our need for this water is so great to our families and to our people, to our nations most of our songs are about our greatest need.’ And he said, ‘I listen to a lot of American music. Seems like most American music is about love.’ He said, ‘Is that why? Is that because you don’t have very much?’

ANALYSIS

Comments: Anthropologists take a lot of grief, much of it deserved. Still, the reaction of anthropologist in this story seems counter-intuitive. Hell, I think lots of anthros would be happy to find such a clear and consistent pattern in their notes. Still, he makes a good stand-in for the many non-native voices that have had bad things to say about Native American practices.

Statements: For purposes of this analysis, I have omitted much of the narrative framing and focused on the arguments attributed to the Hopi elder. I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing the first few sentences (and much of the larger text that was omitted here) in terms of one simple assertion (statement 1). I believe this is a fair estimation of the point behind these comments lead up to. I have also taken the liberty of rewriting the final question as a statement (number 7).

[1] Hopi songs are virtually all about water.

[2] For thousands of years in this country we’ve learned to live here

[3] [The reason for the theme in question is] Because our need for this water is so great to our families and to our people.

[4] to our nations most of our songs are about our greatest need

[5] I listen to a lot of American music

[6] Seems like most American music is about love.

[7] [Americans need love.]

Discussion:

Analogy: This is a good example of analogical reasoning The Hopi elder in this story begins with an explanation for the musical themes of his own people and then infers a similar explanation for the American public in general.

Explanation: The word ‘because’ in this argument could trip people up, particularly if they have recently been circling inference indicators in order to help them learn the difference between reasons and conclusions. In this instance, the ‘because’ isn’t really using the statement that follows to prove anything. It is suggesting that the rest of statement 3 is the cause of statement 1. Of course this text still presents us with an argument, but that argument involves a claim about the best explanation for the  central observations made by the anthropologist. Sorting the explanation from the rest of the argument is crucial to getting the argument right.

Redundant Assertions: Statement 1 is a very simplified version of the main point behind much of the text in the actual story.  The narrator, the anthropologist, and the Hopi elder all affirm the truth of the claim (though the anthropologist does so through a rhetorical question). Statement 1 thus expresses the point in each of the following claims:

{1a} “It’s about something or other – a river, rain, water.”

[1b] “Is water all you people sing about down here?”

[1c] “Yes.”

Rhetorical Questions: The question: “He said, ‘Is that why? Is that because you don’t have very much?'” is rhetorical. It has been rewritten as statement 7.

Voicing: At face value, this isn’t even an argument. It’s a story. The argument is plot a development that unfolds within the story itself. The author nevertheless uses the story to voice an argument about mainstream American culture. In effect, the argument of the elder is the argument of the narrator.

Diagram: This is the diagram as I see it.

argI reckon statements 1 and 2 combine to prove 3, effectively telling us that a need for water is the reason for the prominent musical theme. Statement 3 is then used as an anecdote illustrating the truth of 4. Statement 4 is then used as the major premise, taken in conjunction with 6 (a new observation about Americans in general) to prove statement 7.

Ouch!

I figure statement 5 is an effort to provide evidence for statement 7.

This isn’t the cleanest argument structure you could find, but I’m pretty confident about most of it. The inference from 3 to 4 is the shakiest part of the diagram. It’s a big jump, and we could probably imagine a few different ways to look at the relationship between those statements. Still, people often derive a general principle from a single example. They may have unstated reasons for doing so, but this type of inference isn’t all that unusual.

Evaluation: I don’t see fallacies in this argument, and I don’t see deductive validity.  Most of the inferences here provide a little evidence for the conclusion, but they might be considered more suggestive than definitive. The result is a bunch of judgement calls.

1+2 -> 3. The notion that need for water is the best explanation for the musical theme emphasizing it is certainly plausible. We could explore other explanations, and knowing how to weigh them would raise questions not really covered in the argument. Is the argument enough? Hard to say, so I would consider this inference ‘moderate’.

3 -> 4. This is a Hell of a jump. The inference is ‘weak’ at best.

5 -> 6. This would be a kind of argument from authority. It’s a light version of authority, but the speaker is essentially using his personal experience to back the truth of his observation about American music. The strength of the inference thus rests on his authority to report that experience accurately.

Of course, listeners might find that statement 6 resonates with their own experience in listening to American music in which case they might not need an argument.

Either way, the inference is ‘weak’ to ‘moderate’.

4+6 -> 7. Once again the inference is reasonable, but we could probably find other explanations for the prominent theme in American music. What really accounts for the prominence of ‘love’ themes in American music is a tough question, though the Hopi elder certainly makes a plausible case. I would consider this inference ‘weak’ to ‘moderate’.

Final Thoughts: It does occur to me that this whole thing could seem rather petty to some readers. Why is the Hopi elder taking a dig at Americans in general? But of course explicit contrasts between the merits of mainstream American culture and that of Native Americans are very much a part of the history of Indian-white relations. That’s why it appears in Nabokov’s book. Whether or not this particular story is true, we can certainly find numerous instances in which non-natives have taken it upon themselves to comment on the short-comings of Native American culture, and unfortunately numerous cases in which such views informed actual policies with harmful effects.  The dig taken at mainstream American culture should probably be understood in this regard. It is as much an effort to counter-balance aggression from outsiders as it is a direct criticism of American culture.

 

William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley’s Name

Introduction: In his autobiography, William Hensley provides the following account of his name. It comes in the midst of a number of observations on names and the changes that non-natives brought to his own people (Iñupiat).

Key Facts: William Hensley is a well respected figure within the Alaska Native community. Among other things, he played a significant role in the politics leading up to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Text: This excerpt is from William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People, New York: Picador, 2009. The quote can be found on page 12.

It was common for converts to keep their Iñupiaq names as well as their new English versions, and to pass both down through the generations.

Thus my birth mother – Clara, or Makpiiq – named me Iġġiaġruk after her father, and also gave me his English name William Hensley.

ANALYSIS

Comments: Hensley’s has played a substantial role in the politics of Alaska Natives. His book is influential.

Discussion: There are a few themes here, all related to the question of whether or not this passage contains reasoning.

Argument Recognition: The issue here is argument recognition. As the passage includes the word ‘thus’ which is often used as a conclusion indicator, this could be confused with an argument (particularly by logic students who have just been taught to look for such words when trying to identify an argument). As indicated above, the term is not really used in that way here.

Explanation: The key to understanding this piece is asking a very simple question; how likely is it that Mr. Hensley is actually trying to prove that his name is both Iġġiaġruk and William Hensley? (The answer is ‘not at all’.) Instead, he is trying to explain how his name came into being, and at the same time illustrate a little about the context of cultural changes reflected in his own name and that of many of the people he grew up with. Hensley’s audience is likely to assume that his name is exactly what he says it is. So, the point isn’t to prove that these really are his names; it is to help us understand what they mean and how he came to acquire them. The text is accordingly best treated as an example of an explanation instead of an argument.

Inference Indicators: See directly above.

Final Thoughts: Because this is not an argument, the analysis ends here.

Elizabeth Peratrovich Takes on the Douglas Inn

ElizabethPeratrovichIntroduction: This is the first two paragraphs of a letter from civil rights activist, Elizabeth Peratrovich to then-Governor of Alaska, Earnest Gruening, the full text of which is available at Alaskool.org. In it, she addresses one of several instances of discrimination against Alaska Natives. In this case, it is a private business, but as Elizabeth notes in the passage presented below such discrimination was also present in state policies.

Note: The Photo comes via the National Women’s History Museum.

Key Facts: The letter is dated, December 30th, 1941, effectively placing it in the earliest days of World War II. Alaska was not yet a state; it was a Federal Territory. Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Tlingit woman. Her people are native to Southeast Alaska which ironically puts them in the Northwest Coast culture area as anthropologists would describe it.  Peratrovich would go on to champion the Anti Discriminatory Act of 1945, a piece of Alaska state legislation preceding the U.S. civil rights act by nearly 20 years.

Text:

Dear Mr. Gruening,

My attention has been called to a business establishment in Douglas, namely, “Douglas Inn,” which has a sign on the door which reads, “No Natives Allowed.”

In view of the present emergency, when unity is being stressed, don’t you think that it is very Un-American? We have always contended that we are entitled to every benefit that is accorded our so-called White Brothers. We pay the required taxes, taxes in some instances that we feel are unjust, such as the School tax. Our Native people pay the School tax each year to educate the White children, yet they try to exclude our children from these schools.

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is by no means the most impressive work left behind by Elizabeth Peratrovich, but it is relatively accessible to argument analysis. Given sufficient flexibility to pursue an open discussion, it might make for an interesting jumping off point into some historical discussion about discrimination and the Alaskan civil rights movement.

I should also say that sometimes argument analysis does a poor job of assessing the significance of elements in a text. Elizabeth’s comments on discrimination in the schools are essentially offered as part of the reasoning for changing a private business practice. In effect, she is also calling attention to government policies, and that has an impact beyond its support for the conclusion of the argument.

Statements: Relevant pieces of the argument have been reproduced below. Note that two sentences have been split into more than one statement and the resulting fragments have been rewritten slightly to fix up the resulting grammar. Also, I broke the first sentence up into three separate claims. As always rewritten sections have been presented in square brackets, as has a missing assertion supplied below (statement 10).

[1] [The nation is experiencing an emergency.]

[2] [The national emergency calls for a unified effort to resolve it.]

[3] [Discriminating against other Americans at this time is Un-American.]

[4] We have always contended that we are entitled to every benefit that is accorded our so-called White Brothers.

[5] We pay the required taxes[.]

[6] [We Alaska Natives feel that these in some instances these taxes are unjust.]

[7] [The School tax is an example of such an unjust law.]

[8] Our Native people pay the School tax each year to educate the White children[.]

[9] [Yet, white people] try to exclude our children from these schools.

[10] [It is unfair to tax people for services they are excluded from using.]

Discussion: This argument raises the issues of Missing Assertions , Paraphrasing, and Rhetorical Questions.

Missing Assertions: I have added a missing assumption to the effect that it is unfair to tax Alaska Natives for schools they cannot attend (statement 10). This is added to 7+8, thus providing the major premise that generates 7 from those two assumptions.

Paraphrasing: In addition to the rewriting the rhetorical question (see below), the first sentence, actually contains 3 separate claims, which I have written above as statements 1-3.

Rhetorical Questions: The first sentence is a classic rhetorical question. That sentence has been broken up into three components, the third of which originally took the form of a question It has been rewritten as a statement.

Diagram: Elizabeth gets to her main point (i.e. the conclusion) at the end of the first sentence. The first two clauses of that sentence provide a quick argument for the 3rd using the circumstance of war to appeal to patriotism. The rest of the passage begins a more detailed argument about the fairness of allowing discrimination against Alaska Natives in view of taxation. Statements 8 and 9 (as well as the missing assumption of statement 10) explain the unfairness of school taxing for the schools (statement 7). That is then used as an example showing that some of the taxes imposed on Alaska Natives are unjust (statement 6) which is then combined with a claim that they pay these taxes (statement 5) to argue that Alaska Natives are entitled to the same benefits as other Alaskans (statement 4). This is then used to argue once again for the general conclusion (statement 3).

ElizabethPArgv2

Evaluation: Most of this is pretty straight forward, and I don’t see much need to pick it apart here. I’ll just have a couple random thoughts on various aspects of the argument:

1) Evaluating the truth of statement 2 could lead to some interesting questions about whether or not some values and loyalties might trump the need for unified effort in dealing with national emergencies (and in particular wars).

2) It might be worth unpacking Alaskan educational policies for the purposes of evaluating Elizabeth’s arguments on the taxation system and discrimination against Alaska Natives. At present, I just don’t know the history of those laws well enough to provide that analysis.

Final thoughts: Elizabeth Peratrovich kicks ass.

Russell Means – Mother Earth Will Retaliate!

Introduction: Russell Means, a Lakota activist with the American Indian Movement (AIM) made the comments below in a famous speech given at the Black Hills International Survival Gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation on July of 1980. The speech was subsequently printed in Mother Jones Magazine and also in the Book Marxism and Native Americans by Ward Churchill. Means uses the speech both to distance himself from Marxist activism and to outline his own form of indigenous activism. Respect for Mother Earth provides a central theme of the argument. A copy of the full speech an be found here.

Note: Sam D. Gill would later include a critique of this speech in his book Mother Earth: An American Story. In this book, gill argued that the concept of Mother Earth as it is referred to in speeches like that of Means is in fact a modern development rather than a common indigenous belief stretching back into the distant past. Ward Churchill’s blistering response to Gill’s work can be found in his book, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians.

Key Facts: It isn’t clear from the text presented here, but when Russell Means speaks of a disaster eliminating those who abuse her, he is specifically suggesting that disaster will NOT eliminate Native Americans (at least not all of them). The revolution he is suggesting is thus the reversal of colonization with its negative effects for both the environment and indigenous peoples.

Text:

All European tradition. Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That’s revolution. And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.

ANALYSIS

Comments: The passage here begins with a swipe at Marxism the significance of which is somewhat lost when we focus on this single paragraph. The notion that Marxism no different from other European traditions is actually quite central to the overall speech. It’s also the reason he comes back to the idea of revolution at the end of the paragraph, essentially taking an extra dig at Marxists in those last few  comments. Tthe overall speech contains an extensive critique of Marxism and its impact on indigenous communities.

Mother Earth provides another really fascinating feature of this argument, and I’m going to suggest that Means’ particular wording invites parallel lines of reasoning. He does assert quite literally that Mother Earth herself will ‘retaliate’ for abuse she has suffered at the hands of Europeans, and he is clearly suggesting that her retaliation will be directed at those living as Europeans. It’s interesting to note, however, that he also rephrases his argument about Mother Earth to refer to the ‘environment’ thus broadening its appeal to include those who might not literally believe in Mother Earth.

It’s also important to understand that Means has taken great pains in the rest of the speech to qualify his comments about Europeans in terms other than race. Whether or not that is sufficient to settle concerns over the fairness of his generalizations is one question, but he is not advocating racism here, at least not the straight-forward variety some might see in his wording.

Statements: I would suggest breaking up the argument into the following distinct claims, presented in bold below. I’ve left the initial punctuation alone, which may look odd, but several compound sentences have been broken up into distinct sentences.

[1] All European tradition. Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things.

[2] Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused.

[3] this cannot go on forever.

[4] No theory can alter that simple fact.

[5] Mother Earth will retaliate,

[6] the whole environment will retaliate,

[7] the abusers will be eliminated.

[8] Things come full circle, back to where they started.

[9] That’s revolution.

[10] And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.

Discussion: This argument raises issues involving Figurative Speech, the Principle of Charity, and Paraphrasing.

Figurative Speech and The Principle of Charity: It is tempting to think of Russell Means’ references to Mother Earth as figurative speech. Those less inclined to think of the earth as a person with a will of her own may well be interested in finding a way out of that interpretation, especially if they are inclined to support the larger themes of the argument (i.e. the notion of an imminent environmental catastrophe). A more charitable interpretation of Means’ argument would thus take him to be referring to deleterious changes in the environment rather than a literal act of retaliation by a person. The problem with this approach is that Means does appear to intend his reference to Mother Earth quite literally. The principle of charity ought not to be used to save an author from himself (or an audience from ideas they find objectionable). So, I think it fair to suggest a literal belief in Mother Earth has a role to play in this argument.

Luckily, Means does seem to provide an extra statement on the topic of retaliation, dropping ‘Mother Earth’ in favor of ‘Environment’ in a second line. This invites a parallel line of reasoning that gives Means the ability to have his cake and eat it too. He can suggest that Mother Earth really is going to strike back at Europeans while outlining a second way of thinking about it in which normal environmental features will have the same effect. It is worth noting, however, that the rest of the speech presents a critique of scientism (as some would phrase it today) which would suggest that strictly mechanical treatment is insufficient to understand the problem. Ultimately, I think Means means to advance the literal vision of retaliation by Mother Earth.

Paraphrasing: A literal interpretation of the word ‘retaliate’ seems a bit inappropriate for description of environmental change in statement 6 (as opposed to the Mother earth argument advanced in statement 5). It would perhaps be best to rewrite this as [change] or [reaction], providing it is understood that the effect is deleterious in either event.

Diagram: The argument appears to present two major themes, one being the abuse of nature (‘Mother Earth’) by Europeans and the negative consequences likely to follow from this, and the second being the nature of revolution.

Means of Mother Earth (cropped)

Evaluation: It will be easy enough to imagine reasons for believing the truth of statements 1 and 2 as well as that of 3 and 4. It will also be possible to suggest that these are over-simplifications of European tradition for statements 1 and 2 and natural processes in statements 3 and 4. Students less inclined to take ‘Mother Earth’ literally may be less inclined to grant the truth of statement 2, but once again statement 1 provides secular alternative. The sweeping conclusionary nature of the terms adds another problem to the evaluation of these statements. One can think of a broad variety of practices destructive to the environment, and many (perhaps most) of these can be traced to some European or Euro-American institutions. Whether or not these constitute defiance of the natural order requires some consideration of the language involved.

The inference from 1-4 to 5 is moderately well supported. If indeed Europeans are indeed abusing Mother Earth and defying the natural order, it it seems natural to expect retaliation. What keeps me from assigning this a higher relevance is a sense that it is really narrative conventions that guide this inference. In practice, it isn’t clear to me how Mother earth will behave in any instance. So, it isn’t really obvious how she will react to abuse. The inference to 6 seems Moderate to strong to me insofar as one can suggest a number of likely negative consequences to destructive treatment of the environment (e.g. acid rain and the Ozone layer in past times, ocean acidification and global warming now, and countless related issues). One could suggest in the abstract that environmental features are sufficiently resilient to prevent such consequences, that social institutions are sufficiently resilient to adapt to the resulting changes, or simply that the inference is beyond our capacity to evaluate. Means is speculating. The speculation may seem intuitively plausible, but it is speculating just the same.

The inference from 5 to 7 is weak at best, owing to the selective nature of the catastrophe Means imagines to be on the horizon.If we start with the assumption that Mother Earth will be making a decision about the matter, it is at least possible to imagine that she will choose to spare some portion of the indigenous population, but there is no clear reason (other than narrative conventions) to suppose that she will.

The inference from 6 to 7 suffers from the same problem, but even more so. It’s one thing to suggest that an environmental disaster looms in humanity’s future and quite another to suggest that it will be selective in its destruction. Even if we grant Means’ argument that it is Europeans who are responsible for the trouble, there is little reason to believe that subsequent negative consequences would be limited to the guilty parties or even that they would spare a portion of the innocent.  Some problems , such as global warming are likely to hit all of humanity.

The argument is unsound.

Final thoughts: I find myself more interesting in Means’ argument here than a straight-foreword logical analysis would seem to suggest. Ultimately, it is the selective nature of the coming disaster that strikes me as unsupported (and likely unsupportable).

First Woman’s Argument (NSFW?)

Introduction: This argument comes from the emergence narratives of the Diné (Navajo). These stories relate the origins of the Navajo people and convey a good deal about their values and sense of the natural order in the process. The passage below begins a section of these stories commonly described as “the separation of the sexes,” a narrative dealing with gender roles and marital relations. The version of the story we are using here comes from a book known as Diné Behane (The Navajo Creation Story) by Paul Zolbrod, published in 1987 by the University of New Mexico Press. Zolbrod’s work pieces together all of the stories of Navajo cosmogony into a single narrative, a bit like a Navajo Bible. This portion of Zolbrod’s work has been made available at the Twin Rocks Trading Post website.

Just a note of warning: This example has an adult theme.

Key Facts: The argument in question begins in the second block of text. The rest may be treated as context.

Text:

Altse’ hastiin the First Man became a great hunter in the fourth world. So he was able to provide his wife Altse’ asdzaa’ the First Woman with plenty to eat. As a result, she grew very fat. Now one day he brought home a fine, fleshy deer. His wife boiled some of it, and together they had themselves a hearty meal. When she had finished eating, Altse asdzaa’ the First Woman wiped her greasy hands on her sheath.
She belched deeply. And she had this to say:
“Thank you shijoozh my vagina,” she said.
“Thank you for that delicious dinner.”
To which Altse’ hastiin the First Man replied this way:
“Why do you say that?” he replied.
“Why not thank me?
“Was it not I who killed the deer whose flesh you have just feasted on?
“Was it not I who carried it here for you to eat?
“Was it not I who skinned it?
“Who made it ready for you to boil?
“Is nijoozh your vagina the great hunter, that you should thank it and not me?”

To which Altse’ asdzaa’ offered this answer:
“As a matter of fact, she is,” offered she.
“In a manner of speaking it is joosh the vagina who hunts.
“Were it not for joosh you would not have killed that deer.
“Were it not for her you would not have carried it here.
“You would not have skinned it.
“You lazy men would do nothing around here were it not for joosh.
“In truth, joosh the vagina does all the work around here.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: First Woman is presenting an extremely cynical view of gender relations, and particularly of sexual activity. Not surprisingly, things get worse from the completion of her argument. As the story unfolds, men and women will go their own way only to learn how much they need each other. One might suggest that First Woman’s argument is set forth here for the explicit purpose of countering it with the overall storyline.

It’s easy enough to see how this could provide the kicker for a discussion of gender-relations, but it could provide an interesting jumping off point for discussions about utilitarian reasoning and the objectification of others. One might even wish to invoke Kantian themes about treating other people as ends rather than means here. Is First Woman treating reducing First Man to a means? Is she suggesting that he does the same to her?  Of course the problem with all of this lies in the crude battle-of-the-sexes nature of this passage. Some of the less mature students in a classroom could pick that up and run with it right off the cliff of good sense. If using this example in a critical thinking exercise, it might be worth thinking in advance about how you want to steer the conversation.

Side note: I once had a Navajo student comment that this story may reflect the influence of missionaries insofar as it seems to portray First Woman in a rather bad light here. she is essentially playing much the same role as Eve insofar as she begins the argument which will lead to the undoing of everything. As Navajos are a matrilineal society, she thought it unlikely that her own people would produce such a story, at least not on their own. I can’t say one way or another myself, but the comment has always struck me as worthy of consideration.

Statements: Here, the elements of First Woman’s argument have been placed in bold and numbered in square brackets.

“[1a] As a matter of fact, she is,” offered she.
“[1b] In a manner of speaking it is joosh the vagina who hunts.
“[2] Were it not for joosh you would not have killed that deer.
“[3] Were it not for her you would not have carried it here.
“[4] You would not have skinned it.
“[5] You lazy men would do nothing around here were it not for joosh.
“[6] In truth, joosh the vagina does all the work around here.”

Discussion: The argument raises a number of interesting issues for critical thinking; incompleteness of evaluation, redundant assertions, transposition, figurative speech, paraphrasing, indeterminate reasoning, and voicing.

Incompleteness of Evaluation: This is the kind of story often described as a myth or a legend, or conversely as a sacred narrative. I don’t want to get bogged down on what that means here, but it does have one very significant practical consequence. The events described in the narrative itself are essentially off the table for evaluation. How would one even assess the truth of the specific claims about first Man’s actions, much less his motivations. Those who adhere to a literal belief in Navajo origin legends might insist that claims 2,3, and 4 for example) are absolutely true and others of a more skeptical bent that they are literally false as the whole story is unreal. In practice, I often think it best to set aside those questions and focus on the claims with real meaning for people alive today, in effect statements 5 and 6. In such stories the details of the legendary events are presented for the purpose of foregrounding values meaningful to people today, and in this case that leaves us with an interesting argument about gender-relations. In some approaches to this argument, it would be best to skip directly to that theme while skipping the legendary events entirely.

Figurative Speech and Paraphrasing: If taken literally, it would be hard to vouch for the truth of statement 7. First Woman’s vagina does not actually hunt, and she offers this claim only “in a manner of speaking”, so the literal meaning is not quite her meaning. Proper evaluation of the argument thus requires some paraphrasing to arrive at a defensible version of the statement.

By way of paraphrasing, I would suggest the following alternative versions of statement 6.

[6b][joosh, the vagina is the reason men contribute to family life.]

[6c][joosh, the vagina is the reason any work gets done around here.]

Indeterminate Reasoning: This argument is perplexing, because several different models of First Woman’s reasoning would be consistent with the actual text. I count 3. Maybe others could find a fourth. The different models stem from radically different approaches to the text at hand.

If one takes the story at face value, then the argument is literally a matter of First Woman trying to justify her answer to First Man. Statement 1 thus provides the conclusion of the argument with larger assumptions about gender relations serving as premises for her answer. We’ll call this First Woman’s Very Particular Argument.

If on the other hand, one considers the argument a means of communicating something about gender relations, then First Woman’s account of First Man’s actions provide the assumptions with those larger themes appearing as conclusions in her argument. Statement 6 then provides the conclusion of the argument. We’ll call this First Woman’s General Argument.

Yet another variation would involve treating statements 5 and 6 as the major premise behind statements 2, 3, and 4, then use statements 2, 3, and 4 as demonstrating the truth of 1. This looks weird in a diagram, but which still seems a plausible construction of the argument. The main advantage to it, lies in the ability to focus questions of evaluation on the two premises most important to a contemporary audience. Once you’ve decided whether or not you think they are true (or to what degree they are), the rest of the argument falls into place.

Redundant Assertions and Transposition: Statement 1b is simply an elaboration of 1a. The two should accordingly be treated as the same proposition. It is possible to see statements 5 and 6 as mild variations on a single point. In fact the relationship between them comes very close to that of transposition, but that interpretation requires a little more rewriting than seems appropriate. If you wish to explore it, then I think the argument would go something like this:

[5a][If there is no joosh, then men don’t do anything.]

Therefore, [6a] [if men do something, it is due to joosh.]

Note that an extra element (causation or motivation) does appear in statement 6a. This element is not entirely a function of transposition. That’s nit-picky, I know, but makes a good reason to reject transposition as a model of the reasoning.

Voicing: There is a sense in which First Woman speaks for the narrator in this story, if only for a time. Of course different story-tellers may skew the meaning of the narrative to suit the needs of the moment, but at some point the passage expresses more general notions about gender relations. One must therefore consider (as we have above) not just the argument as an artifact between two characters in the narrative, but also what it might mean for us, so to speak.

Note: It is this question of voicing that makes the more generalized version of the argument seem more plausible. Taken at face value, it would be best to treat First Woman’s Argument as answering First Man’s question directly, but as this is a story told for the purpose of communicating something about gender relations in a broader sense, it makes more sense to focus on the broader statement as the actual point of the passage.

Diagrams: The preceding discussion leads us to three plausible constructions of First Woman’s argument.

Evaluation: The central question throughout any of these constructions of the argument is whether or not First Man (or men in general) would do anything (or at least do anything for the women in their lives) were it not for sex. This notion is most present in statement 5 which appears as a premise in all 3 of the diagrams presented above. So, in all three versions of the argument the most critical evaluation remains a question of whether or not one agrees to the truth of that statement.

In First Woman’s Very Particular Argument this could also be applied to questions about the truth of statements 2, 3, and 4. If those statements are true, then it is difficult to see how one could evade the truth of statement 1, so that inference would carry a value of strong or deductively valid. the move fro 5 to 6 also strikes me as strong as does the move from 6 to 1.

In effect, the only real question in this argument is whether or not one believes that men only help women for purpose of having sex. It’s easy enough to see that men do such things, but then again First Woman isn’t saying that men often do this; she is saying that’s always the case.

It is much the same in First Woman’s Rather General Argument, though the inference from statement 1 to statement 6 would be much more shaky (weak to moderate?).

In First Woman’s Rather Tricky Argument, virtually all of the weight rests on the truth of premises 5 and 6 as the inference to statements 2, 3, and 4 then approaches deductive validity and the inference from 2,3 and 4 to 1 is probably also high.

Final Thoughts: Although, this passage does rather clearly contain elements of reasoning, it does not do so in a way that shows exactly what is being used as a reason for what. Ultimately, what this argument might illustrate best is the indeterminacy of reasoning, or the notion that some elements of reasoning may not be a feature of the initial argument so much as a consequence of an interpretation imposed on that argument by a reader or listener. It’s difficult to escape the sense that some of these statements are meant to support others, but which is which? We end up with three plausible models of the reasoning here (or at least I do), each reflecting a different sense of what is really at stake in the discussion.

I think First Woman’s Very Particular Argument is the best representation of the argument as presented in the text, but that assumes that the point is really limited to the characters in the narrative. If one wishes to address the reasoning as applied to the contemporary world, I would take First Woman’s Rather General Argument as the most accurate model as it puts the generalization foreword as the real conclusion of the passage. That said, First Woman’s Tricky Argument is perhaps the most elegant model for purposes of evaluation as it enables us to focus our questions about the reasoning on the truth of two premises. Were I looking for a clean model of analysis, I would opt for that one.