The Meta-hypocrisy Shuffle

What is meta-hypocrisy?

It’s an odd notion, you read it from time to time on the net. …at least I do.

Anyway…

Roughly speaking, meta-hypocrisy occurs whenever someone’s comments of hypocrisy are themselves hypocritical. Usually, this involves a hypocritical accusation that someone else is a hypocrite (or that that they have behaved in a hypocritical way).

There are of course a number of ways this could happen, but what I mean by “The metahypocracy Shuffle” (the MHS) is  the practice of hiding a hypocritocal stance by expressing it as an accusation of hypocrisy. This occurs when someone effectively flip-flops on a principle or value by accusing someone else of doing the same. In framing the issue as a problem with someone else’s ethics, an individual effectively casts her own stance as a metalinguistic response to their own views on the topic at hand. This effectively relieves her of responsibility to express a direct point of view on one or both polarities of the topic ay hand. Thus she can oppose the target of her criticism in both moments of his alleged inconsistency without clearly expressing an inconsistent view herself. In effect, her own inconsistency occurs as a social interaction while the inconsistency of her target is stuck with an inconsistency in his denotational texts.

This gambit renders the target of the accusation much more vulnerable to logical scrutiny and/or certain moral criticism than the person making the accusation, even though each has effectively changed their stance on the relevant principles at stake in the discussion. Because the accuser is only commenting on the hypocrisy of her target she enjoys the benefits of opposing him on both ends of his own inconsistency without ever stating a directly hypocritical stance on the subject. In effect, she gets the practical benefits of flip-flopping on a principle without e pressing an explicitly inconsistent stance on the issue at hand.

***

For example: Let’s say that we have a War. We’ll call this war Ping. Proponents of War Ping usually belong to Party Ticky. Those in party Tacky generally oppose it. Well, War Ping lasts for a while and then ends.

Some time after that, Party Tacky starts another War. This war is called Pong. The Ticky Party is really against War Pong.

Let’s imagine that Ralph belongs to the Ticky Party and Jimmy belongs to the Tacky Party. It should come as no real surprise that Ralph favored Ping and opposes Pong while Jimmy thinks Pong is a good idea, but Ping was really a terrible mistake. Both Ralph and Jimmy might have a problem insofar as they their political stances MIGHT seem inconsistent. Of course details matter, and it is quite possible that each could plead the merits of one war and condemn the foibles of the other in perfectly particular terms. It could very well be that one of those wars was a good idea and the other wasn’t. Also, either one could declare a change of heart on the value of war openly, thus explaining their change in approach as a matter of personal growth. There are lot of ways to get at the issue that might not raise legitimate questions of inconsistency.

…but if either Ralph or Jimmy (or both) has spent any time pleading the merits of military strength in general or railing against war in the abstract, then, (Sans an explicit change of heart) they definitely have a problem. Their stance is inconsistent, and given its moral dimensions, arguably hypocritical. Here it should be said that accusations of hypocrisy may not always be that substantive. Nevertheless, this is a common theme, especially in political and religious criticism, so actual hypocrisy, or even the mere perception of it, is not usually a trivial thing.

This is where the Meta-Hypocrisy Shuffle comes into play.

Ralph doesn’t have to say; “I was for Ping and against Pong, and here is why.” He doesn’t have to argue against Pong in direct terms at all, and he certainly doesn’t have to tell the whole world he has suddenly discovered the merits of pacificism. He can simply say; “Look at Jimmy! Jimmy was a Peacenik for Ping and now he’s all gung-ho for Pong. See now I told you that Jimmy is a goddamned hypocrite!” Ralph can even make this point whenever Jimmy (or even those agree with Jimmy) make the case for Pong. This enables Ralph to fully oppose anything Jimmy and his camp do to support war Pong without ever saying that he is in fact opposed to the war, much less that he himself has now reconsidered his views on war in general. In place of a direct stance on the war, Ralph just keeps telling us that Jimmy and his friends are inconsistent. The practical import of Ralph’s public statements is no more consistent than that of Jimmy, but in accusing Jimmy of inconsistency on the topic, Ralph is able to make Jimmy bear the brunt of any moral concerns about the shifting political landscape.

The fact that Jimmy could pull this same stunt on Ralph should be obvious. In fact, they can both do it at the same time, and if each preaches to his own choir, then the whole lot of them can enjoy the thought that the other guys are terrible hypocrites without ever even noticing (at least not in public) that they are just as inconsistent themselves.

***

This isn’t really a fallacy, but it is fallacy-adjacent. Arguably, much of this could fall under the heading of a tu-quoque fallacy, but that label alone misses some of the dynamics here.

What makes The Meta-Hypocrisy Shuffle interesting to me is not only the perverse irony of the tactic, but the way it hinges on shifting layers of meaning. What makes this trick work is that it moves the inconsistencies of the target into explicit denotational text while at the time shifting the inconsistencies of the accuser into the subtext of the public discourse. It effectively expresses hypocrisy while at the same time hiding, all the while directing attention to the hypocrisy of someone else.

I also believe it is an extraordinarily common gambit.

***

Note: The relationship between logical inconsistency and the more loaded significance of moral hypocrisy is really complex, and of course, questions about that relationship haunt this entire post.

Anyway, I think I’m going to save that topic for another day.

I mean; some folks might say that I should address questions about the relationship between inconsistency and hypocrisy in this post, but they probably didn’t think it was so important when they were writing their own blog post, right? What a bunch of hypocrites!

Begging the Variable

I don’t know is there is already a specific term for this error, but I have no doubt that it can be addressed with more conventional labels. Still, I think this is a common enough issue, that it might be worth giving it it’s own name, so I’m coining one here. Presumptuous, I know, but I’m doing it anyway. So,…

This occurs when somebody tries to counter quantitative research by raising the prospect of a confounding variable without considering the way the research might already have addressed that variable. For example, someone counters claims about anthropogenic global warming by stating that global temperatures vary considerably over time, thus ignoring the fact that such variations are considered in research on the topic to begin with. Another common example occurs when people try to counter a claim that links a given ethnic group with a stigmatized activity by speculating on the reasons someone specific might engage in the activity. (E.g. __% of this people commit suicide.” “…Well, maybe someone lost his job or his girlfriend left him.”) Absent a reason to believe the issue actually skews the results of the study, this information would not count as evidence against it; It might well help to round out the story, but it would not help to refute the initial observation.

Such suggestions should certainly be taken seriously if they are framed in terms of questions about methodology. Legitimate questions about the representativeness of a statistical sample or the possibility that a confounding variable could result in a misleading correlation are common, and they they are an important check on bad research, but this should be distinguished from variables raised as objections without addressing the methodology in any meaningful way.

What makes this style of reasoning an error is the complete absence of any attempt to engage the initial study (or studies). The allegedly confounding variable is offered as an alternative story preferred by the speaker without any serious effort to address the likelihood that it really invalidates the initial claims in question. In many cases, the appeal seems to be rooted in story telling. The speaker would simply rather tell this story than that one; the numbers don’t enter into it.

Arguably, this is just a variety of circular argument, but it is a very specific form of circular reasoning that seems common enough to merit some focus of its own.

Can Straw Men Get Pregnant?

Introduction: Republican Candidate, Lavern Spicer posted this on twitter on July 15th, 2022. She is running for election to the U.S. House of Representatives. If successful, she will represent Distict 24 in Florida.

Key Facts: This comment is most likely offered in response to Congressional testimony by Berkeley Professor, Kiara Bridges. During a hearing on abortion access, Senator Josh Hawley asked Professor Bridges to clarify her unwillingness to simply say ‘women’ when referring to persons with the capacity to get pregnant. Bridges raised 2 concerns in response to this question: the fact that some women cannot get pregnant, and the fact that under some circumstances trans-men and other non-binary people can. Her comments have since become a popular target of criticism by right wing politicians and pundits.

Text: “Hey libs! MY HUSBAND IS ALL MAN and has never been able to get pregnant.

Any idea why?”

ANALYSIS

Comments: There has definitely been a lot of piling on when it comes to the exchange between Hawley and Bridges. A lot of conservative politicians and pundits have been using it to illustrate the absurdity of left wing (liberal and progressive) ideas about gender. Mostly, these argument do not engage the views of either Bridges or any actual thinking in liberal or progressive circles.

Statements: The full argument contains at least two missing assertions and one rhetorical question.

The rhetorical question has been rewritten here as statement 3.

The missing assertions are represented as statements 4 and 5. Statement 5 seems to be here main conclusion. Why? Because this tweet was not made in direct reply to Bridges or any of Bridges’ supporters. It is a general message sent out to the public at large. So, it seems unlikely that she is trying to engage any specific targets on any specific points. Her goal is to mock the opposition. Statement 4 is then necessary to represent her working understanding of that opposition. It can be represented in general terms (as statement 4a) or in terms specific to Bridges’ own testimony (statement 4b). Either way, the statement is likely to seem foolish to her intended audience.

[A] Hey libs!

[1] MY HUSBAND IS ALL MAN

[2] [He] has never been able to get pregnant.

[3] [Men cannot get pregnant.]

[4a] [Liberals think men can get pregnant.]

[4b] [Liberals think cis-gender men can get pregnant.]

[5] [Liberals do not understand gender.]

Diagram: I take statement 3 to be a conclusion drawn by abduction from statements 1 and 2. Statement is then added for contrast in order to draw the conclusion that liberals do not understand gender.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Abduction, Contextualization, Equivocation, Micro-Reasoning, Miscontextualization, Rhetorical Question, Semantics, Straw Man, Unstated Assertions, Voicing.

Abduction: As Spicer explicitly suggests that statement 3 is the explanation for statement 2, it seems best to treat the first inference as abduction. The argument seems plausible enough, but a bit depends on the meaning of ‘men.’ If the term is taken to include trans men, then it false and the explanation is too broad for the phenomenon in question. If it is taken to refer to cis-gender men only, then it is true, (At least I am unaware of any information that would contradict it) but this moves the problems in the argument into the inferences.

Contextualization: One of the interesting features of this argument is the way that it frames the nature of the conversation at hand. In it, Spicer addresses those she means to criticize directly. She refers to them as liberal, but of course her arguments are aimed at addressing comments by Professor Bridges, who is unlikely to identify herself as a liberal. Neither can it be taken for granted that liberals fully agree with Spicer. So, there are some real questions about Spicer’s sense of the discussion at hand.

Equivocation: insofar as Lavern Spicer is relying the biological impossibility of her husband’s pregnancy to discredit Dr. Bridges she is equivocating, because Bridges was not talking about cis-gender men (as she, Bridges, would put it). Bridges was talking about trans men. That Bridges uses the same term for both (Spicer probably wouldn’t) types of people does not diminish the error in equating one for the other. Spicer is using the notion that cis-gender men cannot give birth to discredit Bridges for acknowledging that trans men can. This is deceitful.

If Spicer were to address the issue directly, she would simply say that she and Bridges differ in the way they wish to talk about gender. Instead, she casts this as disagreement over a factual matter. She is not alone in this tactic.

Micro-Reasoning: This is an extraordinarily brief argument. As such, it’s author does not get the chance to clarify any of the points she is making. Still, it seems unlikely that its defects are simply the product of brevity. This tweet was meant to distort the issues.

Miscontextualization: Spicer frames her argument here as one directed at liberals, but is it really liberals she is taking issue with? As a proponent of critical race theory (CRT) Professor Bridges would be much better describes as a progressive than a liberal. Critical race theorists consistently oppose liberal approaches to law and other subjects, often describing their work as directly challenging classic liberal politics (which would include both moderate liberals and political conservatives). Also, the lengths to which Bridges goes in shaping her language to accommodate non-binary people would alienate a lot of liberals who may be content to call a trans-man a ‘man’ (something many conservatives refuse to do), but they will not necessarily reshape their language in other contexts so as to align their usage with the best interests of the trans community. Bridges views in this instance, at least, fall far to the left of liberal politics, so Spicer’s framing of the issue is quite misplaced. The effect of this distortion is to create the impression that a larger portion of the non-conservative public is implicated in the position she attacks than is actually the case. She is attempting to erase the middle ground on this issue, even as she seeks to marginalize the any who might be sympathetic to Bridges comments.

Rhetorical Question: when Spicer asks if liberals can figure out why her husband cannot get pregnant, she is of course telling us that they cannot. Hence, her rhetorical question has been reworded as statement number 3.

Semantics: The heart of this argument is a dispute over the language used to express gender. While progressives generally include trans men within their use of terms like “men,” conservatives typically insist on restricting the term to biological (cis-gender) males. Liberals and libertarians vary more widely in their approach to the subject. Ultimately, this argument is an attempt to stigmatize those adopting more inclusive use of the label by portraying them as unable to grasp standard biological facts.

Unstated Assertions: One of the central problems posed by this argument is the question of how best to characterize the points Bridges implies without stating openly. I do think it fair to suggest her goal is a general swipe at her political opposition rather than a focused attack on Bridges (hence, statement 5 as the conclusion). This raises the question of what does Spicer think liberals think. We can construe that broadly in the form of statement 4a or narrowly in the form of statement 4b.

Setting aside the question of whether or not Spicer has correctly identified those who believe as Bridges does, statement 4 might be fairly said to be true, but that would shift the problems with this argument into the inferences (making it a question of equivocation and/or straw man). If we adopt statement 4b instead, then the statement itself is false. There is no indication that even Bridges believes that cis-gender men can get pregnant.

Straw Man: Insofar as Spicer is attacking (and any who might agree with her), this argument commits the straw man fallacy, because Bridges does not saw that cis-gender men can get pregnant.

Voicing: Many of the problems in this argument arise out of the relationship between Spicer and those she means to criticize. This is complicated by two things; the fact that she is responding to Professor Bridges without naming her directly and her choice of ‘liberals’ as the stated target of her criticism. She thus gives voice to a point of view with an indefinite original source? Do really liberals really think this way? Does Professor Bridges? The answer to both of these questions is ‘no,’ albeit for different reasons. All of these are problems entering the argument through the process of voicing those Spicer means to criticize.

Evaluation: The argument fails because it does not actually engage the views of anyone out there. It either fails because statement 4b is blatantly false, or because the inference requires equivocation to make it work in the case that we use statement 4a to flesh out the argument. This argument is unsound.

Final Thoughts: ultimately, this is an argument over the way people use language. Professor Bridges makes a point to speak of gender in a manner that maximizes awareness of transgendered identities. Many on the right wing of American politics are pushing back hard against this, insisting that words like ‘men’ and ‘women’ be used only for cis-gendered people and eliding entirely questions about intersexed people or anyone else who might think of themselves as non-binary. Liberals may seem caught in the middle, and libertarians seem to pick one approach of another. In any event, this is about vocabulary, and vocabulary is always a matter of choice. Progressives cannot force anyone else to adopt their language and conservatives cannot force anyone else to stick with more conventional usage. The closest either party can do is to malign the other side for making the wrong choices on the basis of certain value-based priorities. What arguments like this one attempt to do is resolve that quickly by dressing a practical choice up as a factual question. Spicer wants us to think ‘liberals’ are getting the facts wrong. She had to get several things wrong in order to do that.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy (Appeal to Purity)

This fallacy occurs when someone rescues a generalization from counter-evidence by introducing a spurious appeal to purity. The classic example can be found on Wikipedia:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person A: “But no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

The problem of course is that the existence of an actual Scotsman who does in fact put sugar on his porridge should be sufficient evidence to disprove the initial claim. Instead, the speaker (Party A) dismisses the counter-evidence on the basis that it doesn’t really count because the party in question isn’t TRULY a member of the class in question. Significantly, what makes the difference in this case is nothing but the fact that the party in question is not acting in a manner consistent with the generalization.

We get this fallacy from the philosopher, Anthony Flew, and it reflects some of the themes of his larger body of work. The problem he was getting at here is a question of meaning. If counter-evidence doesn’t count, so to speak, then generalizations like those offered at the outset of such an argument don’t really tell us anything after all. What starts off as a false statement ends up as a tautology, which is not really an improvement.

The accusation that someone has committed this fallacy usually arises in the context of discussions about group membership and the people in those groups. Atheists and Christians will often accuse each other of producing the fallacy when talking about who does or doesn’t belong in either category. National identity will also give rise to the concern, and any other source of significant identity can certainly produce candidates for arguments which might be thought to commit this fallacy. There is no inherent reason to restrict this label to discussions of people, however. Notions like ‘true love’ can produce the problem just as easily as discussions about who is or isn’t a real Christian, a genuine atheist, or a true American. So can ideas about genres or music, books, or film.

People also tend to focus on instances in which a positive value is idealized and then defended from counter-evidence, but it can also be used to blunt criticism (e.g. “So&So isn’t really a criminal; it was just a misdemeanor.>)

The fallacy occurs whenever a spurious distinction is introduced in defense of a generalization.

Meta-Missing Evidence

Introduction: This was posted on June 30, 2022. It is part of the general public debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights.

Key Facts: There are a few facts which might have bearing on the (de-)merits of this argument.

1: The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

2: A common argument on this topic suggests that the Second Amendment is essentially a reference to muskets, not the kind of weapons currently available to the American public. See here for example.

3: The Belton Flinklock is certainly not the only non-musket available at the time. They would of course have been familiar with canons. Muzzle-loading rifles had been used for hunting and even saw some use during the American revolution. The Gieardoni air rifle provides one additional example of an experimental semi-automaic rifle. Still, muskets were the predominant form of weapon used in warfare. I believe muzzle-loading rifles may have been more useful in hunting, but I am not entirely sure of this.

4: Much of the current discussion of gun control focuses on the prospect of banning assault weapons, or otherwise subjecting them to some form of stricter-than-usual regulation. What constitutes an ‘assault weapon‘ can be a difficult question. The difficulty is of course compounded by the controversial nature of the debate over gun control.

5: While Washington is known to have ordered 100 of these for his troops during the American revolution, there is no evidence that he received them or that his troops actually used them. By most accounts, the deal simply fell through.

Text: “The Belton Flintlock could fire 20 rounds in 5 seconds. That’s 50% faster than a modern AR-15. George Washington commissioned 100 of these in 1777 — 14 years before the second amendment. Next time a left winger mentions ‘muskets’, remind them how little they know about history.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: For reasons best explained here, I regard the claim that the Second Amendment refers only to muskets as completely indefensible. The prospect that modern weapons pose problems today that America’s founding fathers may not have anticipated is very real, but that is a political question; it does not point us to a narrow construction of the Second Amendment. If one were to use existing weapons available at the time, there are better candidates for consideration than the Belton Flintlock. Raising the prospect of its use in the revolution without acknowledging the fact that it simply wasn’t is both unethical and intellectually unhelpful.

Statements: There seems to be an unstated intermediate conclusion in this argument. I have presented 2 different variations (5a and 5b), one specific to the issue of semi-automatic weapons which are increasingly controversial in current debate and another, more moderate conclusion to the effect that the framers of the Second Amendment would have been familiar with weapons other than muskets. I do believe the author is going out of his way to touch upon the former, but the latter would provide him with less to prove while still enabling him to challenge efforts to reduce the meaning of the Second Amendment to muskets.

Statement 4 is framed in snarky terms, but it is essentially a rejection of the notion that the meaning of the Second Amendment can be reduced to muskets. I have accordingly suggested a couple variations on this, one which is limited to the modest question of whether or not the Second Amendment is only about muskets and one extending to the specific question of whether or not the Second Amendment can or should be seen as applying to semi-automatic weapons.

[1] The Belton Flintlock could fire 20 rounds in 5 seconds.

[2] That’s 50% faster than a modern AR-15.

[3] George Washington commissioned 100 of these in 1777 — 14 years before the Second Amendment.

[4] Next time a left winger mentions ‘muskets’, remind them how little they know about history.

[4b] The meaning of the Second Amendment cannot be reduced to muskets.

[4c] The meaning of the Second Amendment extends to semi-automatic weapons.

[5a] The framers of the Second Amendment were familiar with weapons other than muskets.

[5b] The framers of the Second Amendment were familiar with semi-automatic weapons.

Diagram: There are two inferences in this argument. The first is a linked argument (1+2+3 proving 5) and one simple argument (with 5 proving 4).

Because there are a couple variations of statements 4 and 5 (and we could imagine more variations on each), this leads to several different ways of understanding the argument. I would suggest that there are two significant variations to consider; one which focuses on simply countering the claim that the second amendment can be reduced to muskets (thus using statements 4b and 5c) and one addressing the issue of semi-automatic weapons (thus using 4c and 5b). The diagram looks the same either way; it’s just a question of which versions of statements 4 and 5 would be referenced by those numbers.

For purposes of clarity: I will refer to the different versions of this argument from here forward as the “Muskets-Only” and the “Semi-Automatic” variations. The former construes the argument in terms of statements 4b and 5a, and the latter uses 4c and 5b.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Counter-Argument, Meta-Reasoning, Missing Assertions, Poisoning the Well, Suppressed Evidence, Tokenism.

Counter-Argument: Whatever else this argument does, it clearly offers evidence countering claims coming out of the gun control camp. In one version of the argument, the Belton Flintlock is offered in response to claims that the Second Amendment can only refer to muskets and in another, it is offered in response to the claims that the second Amendment should not be extended to semi-automatic rifles. Either way, the fact that George Washington ordered 100 of these muskets could certainly count as evidence against the claims in question. That evidence is, however, seriously undermined by the lack of evidence that the order was ever fulfilled. The author implies that Washington had a hundred of these, but most likely didn’t, and that leaves us with the fact that the weapon was not widely available. So, there is little reason to believe its existence could have been weighed heavily in discussions about the Second Amendment.

Meta-Reasoning: As a counter-argument, this one addresses questions about what is and what is not good reasoning. Rule treats arguments reducing the meaning of the Second Amendment to muskets as unsound in view of the existence of this weapon and its implied use by Washington’s armies. This leaves out questions about the relative significance and availability at the time. It is one thing to say that such weapons did exist; it is quite another to say that their presence was sufficiently significant to shape the thoughts of those framing the Second Amendment.

This does leave me with one interesting question; did anyone bring these weapons up in relevant discussions at the time? I do not know the answer to this question.

Missing Assertions: Insofar as this argument contains a missing intermediate conclusion, it does raise questions about how to formulate a missing statement. Here, the challenge is figuring out how much of this arguments is aimed at simply countering the muskets-only theory adopted by some advocates of gun control, and how much of it is specifically aimed at showing us that semi-automatic weapons were already known to those involved in creation and ratification of the Second Amendment. Rules final conclusion suggests the former is the main point of the argument, but at least some of his comments clearly address the more specific theme of semi-automatic weapons.

Poisoning the Well: Insofar as Rule uses the word ‘left winger’ he might be thought to be poisoning the well. the phrase could be construed as an insult, and indeed, he probably means t as an insult. Rules intended audience probably also sees it as an insult. That said, comparable language is often used for the right and the insult is hardly strong. It’s a trivial concern.

Suppressed Evidence: The biggest problem with this argument is the suppressed evidence. Rule tells us that Washington ordered 100 of these weapons, thus creating the impression that these were used in the American revolution. As the weapons were never supplied, this gambit is highly deceitful. Once we factor this information into the argument, we are left with a claim about a weapon that was known at the time, but not one that was a significant factor in events of the day. So, it’s relevance to the thinking of those developing the Second Amendment is sketchy at best.

Tokenism: The mere existence of this weapon does not change the fact that muskets were the predominant weapon used by soldiers at the time. Those writing the Second Amendment would certainly have been aware of muzzle-loading rifles (as opposed to smooth-bore muskets), but experimental weapons like this were not widely used at the time. The relevance of this unfulfilled order to the thinking of America’s founding fathers is marginal at best, negligible is more like it.

Evaluation: By either construction of this argument, the problems of suppressed evidence and tokenism wreck the inference from statements 1 through 3 to 4. The argument is unsound.

Final Thoughts: This is a good example of a crappy argument thrown out in support of a perfectly good conclusion. Either construction of this argument ends with a conclusion that is perfectly defensible on grounds having nothing to do with the argument Run Rule presents here. Would that settle the larger gun control debate? Not even close. But we could certainly rule out at least one implausible argument in favor of gun control and/or against a meaningful right to bear arms. Nothing in Rule’s post helps us get to accomplish this.

A Masked Musket?

Introduction: This was posted to twitter on June 11, 2022. It is clearly an argument about the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Many similar arguments have been made online and in other contexts on pretty regular basis.

Key Facts: There are a few facts which might have bearing on the (de-)merits of this argument.

1: The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

2: Muskets were not the only weapons known to those writing the Second Amendment. They would of course have been familiar with canons. Muzzle-loading rifles had been used for hunting and even saw some use during the American revolution, and experimental forms of semi-automatic weapons such as the Gieardoni air rifle and the Belton flintlock had been developed by this time. Still, muskets were the predominant form of weapon used in warfare. I believe muzzle-loading rifles may have been more useful in hunting, but I am not entirely sure of this.

3: Much of the current discussion of gun control focuses on the prospect of banning assault weapons, or otherwise subjecting them to some form of stricter-than-usual regulation. What constitutes an ‘assault weapon‘ can be a difficult question. The difficulty is of course compounded by the controversial nature of the debate over gun control.

4: James Madison’s first official draft of the Second Amendment was proposed in 1789. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791.

Text: “The Second Amendment is from 1789. So, technically, the second amendment only applies to muskets.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: I am using this as a representative sample of a broad range of arguments about the meaning of ‘arms’ by gun control advocates.

Statements: There are two statements in this argument.

[1] The Second Amendment is from 1789.

[a] So,

[2] technically, the second amendment only applies to muskets.

Diagram: 1->2

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Availability Heuristic, Contextualization, Hedges, Indexicality, The Masked Man Fallacy, Micro-Reasoning, Semantics.

Availability Heuristic: It appears that the author assumes that muskets were the only weapons available in 1789, or the only ones who count as far as she is concerned. Either way, it’s a problem. While muskets were certainly the most prevalent weapon used in war, they were not the only weapons available. So, the notion that the Second Amendment can apply only to muskets does not literally work, even as applied to the weapons of the day.

Most likely, this is an expression of the availability heuristic. In other words, the author is letting her sense of the weaponry available at the time be defined entirely by the weapons most talked about in history books and movies (which deal most often with warfare). She may even be aware of some of the author weapons of the era, but they do not stand out in her mind so much as muskets.

Just how much this matters is another question. Experimental semi-automatic weapons were not widely available at the time, and even rifles were not the main weapons of war as of yet. (Also, she may mean to include muzzle-loading rifles in her own use of ‘muskets.’ A distinction between a smooth-bore musket and a muzzle-loading rifle is probably not that common in modern thinking about guns, at least not amongst the general population.

This is probably a trivial mistake. Insofar as the author is most likely trying to distinguish between muzzle-loading weapons available in the founding era from some construction of ‘assault weapons’ today, a significant difference would not be hard to establish. So, if this is a problem, it is probably not a problem critical to her argument.

Contextualization: The issue here arises because of the contextualization behind the Second Amendment. It is a text written in a particular time and place, but it is also a text written with future generations in mind. We also read this text today under the assumption that it must somehow be relevant now. In effect, this is a text with a exceptionally broad context insofar as its authors clearly meant to speak to people not yet born on matters not yet coming to pass. The problem is thus a question about how to manage the logical implications of a text with different practical implications at different times.

Hedges: The term “technically” is a hedge. Its use indicates that the author sees her interpretation as narrow in comparison to conventional meaning. For reasons mentioned below, it is doubtful that her interpretation of the Second Amendment is ‘technically’ correct.

Indexicality: Part of the problem here is a problem of reference and predication. The text of the amendment refers to something by means of a term, ‘arms.’ What that term means in semantic terms, is one thing. What real-world objects may be referenced through that meaning is another. The problem here is a question of what specific things are referenced by means of the term ‘arms?’ The term carries certain notions, but the actual objects reference by those notions have changed over time.

Masked Man fallacy: Probably the biggest problem with this argument is its confusion of reference by intension with reference by extension. The relevant term in question is ‘arms.’ What the author asks us to consider is the fact that this term was used in 1789 to refer to a much narrower category of weapons than we could use it for today. She concludes from this that the term applies only to that narrow range of weapons from 1789 rather than the full range of arms presently on the market for civilian gun ownership. In so doing, she derives a conclusion about intensional meaning of ‘arms’ from the extension of the original reference to muskets.

This seems like the opposite of the usual form of the masked man fallacy. This fallacy treats two terms as equivalent in meaning if they refer to the same actual things even when the equivalence is not known to a given subject (e.g. Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is in New York because she knows Superman is in New York and we know that Superman is really Clark Kent). In the case of this argument by contrast, a broad intension is denied, because of a limited initial extension (to muskets only) in its initial reference whereas there is nothing in the semantics of the term that suggests it must be so limited. Those who wrote, debated and ratified the Second Amendment may not have known about an AR-15, but we have no reason to believe its characteristics would not have qualified as a form of ‘arm.’ The direction of the inference is unusual for an application of the masked man fallacy, but the author is still confounding reference by intension with reference by extension.

Micro-Reasoning: It is probably safe to say that some of the problems mentioned here are directly due to the brevity of the argument.

Semantics: The argument is explicitly about the meaning of the text in question, and many of the problems mentioned here are also a function of questions about meaning.

Evaluation: Insofar as the argument commits the masked man fallacy, or something very close to it, this argument is unsound.

Final Thoughts: There are of course many different variations on this argument, some of which may avoid the problems outlined above. What we know is what was written at the time and what weapons were in use at the time. How those who wrote it might assess the costs and benefits of the Second Amendment today is an entirely different question. It might be fair to suggest that the difference between guns in 1989 and guns today should lead us to recalculate the costs and benefits of the Second Amendment. What doesn’t work is an argument deriving a narrow intention from the general terminology based on a factual comparison between the weaponry of 1789 and that available today. You could say; “things have changed and so we should rethink this.” What you can’t say with reasonable force is that the framers meant for the Second Amendment to apply only to the weapons generally available at the time.

Whose Red Herring?

Introduction: Representative Matt Gaetz posted this to twitter on June 9th, 2022.

Key Facts: June 9th was the first day of televised hearings over the events of January 6th.

As a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz was himself involved in efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from the Trump administration to that of Biden which is very much part of the story of January 6th.

Text: “But January 6! ‘BREAKING: According to GasBuddy, the national average has reached $5 per gallon.'”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This argument turns on context. One has to know what the issues are and how the author of the argument relates to them in order to assess which issues might be used as a distraction for others.

Statements: It’s a simple argument with an unstated conclusion.

[1] But [the other side wants us to focus on] January 6!

[2] ‘BREAKING: According to GasBuddy, the national average has reached $5 per gallon.”

[3] [January 6th is a diversion from more important issues.]

Diagram: 1+2 -> 3.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Missing Assertions, False Alternatives, Red Herring, Suppressed Evidence.

Missing Assertions: Insofar as the conclusion of the argument (statement 3) is unstated, this argument raises the issue of missing assertions.

False Alternatives: One way of looking at this argument (and many others like it) would be to think of it as a complicated instance of false alternatives, one in which extra possibilities are ruled out in practice if not in theory. Insofar as it presents one issue as a distraction from others, this argument might be said to assume that our attention will fall on one option or the other, but not on both. Of course there are more subtle ways of addressing questions about the media cycle and the public attention span, but there is at least some concern that arguments like this force people to choose between looking at one issue and looking at another when folks might have legitimate reason to want to address both in their own right.

Red Herring: This argument suggests that the January 6th hearings are a distraction (even a deliberate diversion) from the issue of high gas prices, whereas the argument itself may well be using the high value of gas prices to draw attention away from the televised January 6th hearings which began the very day that Gaetz posted his tweet. In effect, the argument answers any questions about the January 6th hearings by telling us to focus on inflationary gas prices instead.

Note: There is of course an implied dig at President Biden in this argument insofar as many on the right blame him for those high gas prices. Whether or not this is fair is an interesting question, but Gaetz is well aware that many who see his tweet will think of inflationary prices as Biden’s fault, thus priming them for the suggestion that the January 6th hearings may not only be a distraction from a more important issue, but actually a calculated effort to draw attention from President Biden’s failings.

Suppressed Evidence: In this argument, Gaetz raises the issue of high gas prices, but offers no comparable account of the substance at issue in the January 6th hearings. He thus loads the significance of one issue in comparison to another about which he offers no substantive account. Neither does Gaetz explain his own role in the political events likely to be covered in the hearings, nor does he account for for the timing of his own tweet. All of these, and more (e.g. the economics of global oil markets) would be essential to any serious consideration of the weight of these issues.

Evaluation: The argument is unsound insofar as it is a red herring.

Final Thoughts: This is just a very ironic argument for Gaetz to make. It is a diversion tactic disguised as a complaint about a diversion tactic.

A Silent Pass?

Introduction: This quote appears expresses theme commonly appearing in progressive rhetoric of late, namely, the notion that phrases like “not all white people” are disingenuous and unnecessary responses to statements critical of whites. Similar arguments are made in other contexts of social justice advocacy and debate (e.g. sexism with “not all men.”)

Key Facts: The meme itself appears to be a quote from @chloemadaleine. I found a twitter account matching the name in question, but it is protected. So, I do not know of any particular details regarding the context in which this statement might have been made. As the meme is circulating about the net these days, it does occur to me that many will experience the argument with no more contextual than I have myself at this point.

Text: “If you’re white and not racist, you will not give a fuck about black people calling white people racist now. Because you know that what you’re saying does not apply to you. If you’re offended, you’re racist. It’s simple.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: The quote above arises out of a problem in the rhetoric of modern progressivism, namely an effort to address concerns about larger, systemic, patterns of social injustice (in this case racism) while retaining rhetoric that still calls out specific people for specific forms of behavior. The notion that some people are racist and some people aren’t hearkens back to more conventional definitions of racism, treating it as a toxic personal orientation whereas the tendency to produce sweeping generalizations is driven largely by an interest in racism as a larger social force which by definition functions to benefit white people. Either definition of racism works just fine on its own, but contemporary social justice advocates (at least in popular circles) tend to invoke the individualized model as accusation even as they insist on larger systemic models when defining what does or doesn’t count as racism. There may be scholars who handle this with more consistency, but the rhetoric of social justice seems caught between its own paradigm and those it disavows without quite leaving behind.

Critics of contemporary social justice advocates typically have a much easier time of it, often insisting on personal models of racism as the only ones that count, thus rendering discrimination against white people pretty much the same as discrimination against persons of color. This too distorts a lot of important issues.

Statements: I am treating item ‘b’ as adding emphasis rather than as a substantive part of the argument. It was tempting to think of a missing assumption in the form of a biconditional statement to the effect that such statements are objectionable/offensive to white people if and only if the white people in question are racist, but this doesn’t seem necessary. The actual text from the meme itself is sufficient to make sense of the argument.

[1] If you’re white and not racist, you will not give a fuck about black people calling white people racist now.

[a] Because

[2] [If you’re white and not racist] you know that what they’re saying does not apply to you.

[3] If you’re offended, you’re racist.

[b] It’s simple.”

Diagram: Unfortunately, the text only gives us one inference indicator [a] which tells us that statement 2 is a reason for something (surely, statement 1). Statement 3 is thrown in without any guidance as it to its relationship to the rest. So, we end up with several possible diagrams. We can start with an inference from 2 to1. Statement 3 is then either irrelevant commentary (diagram I), a second reason to accept statement 1 (diagram II), or a conclusion drawn from statement 1 (diagram III). Alternatively, statement 3 is a separate inference from statement 2 (diagram IV).

I’m inclined to think diagrams 3 and 4 are the most plausible, leaving us with either her last point as her main point or two separate conclusions, one suggesting that non-racists should not be threatened by statements about white racism and one suggesting that anyone who is threatened is guilty as charged, so to speak. Statement 3 packs a Hell of a punch, making it unwise to treat as irrelevant and also unlikely that the line was meant as a mere reason to think of something else. It either shares the stage wit the author’s first point as a final conclusion in its own right, or it was the whole point all along.

Discussion: This topic raises the following issues; Ad Hominem, False Alternatives, Interactional Eclipse, Masked Man Fallacy, Micro-Reasoning, Motte and Baily Doctrines, Bo True Scotsman Fallacy, Satire, Thought Policing, Transposition.

Ad Hominem: The suggestion that any whites who object to generalized statements about white racism must therefore themselves be racists is a classic ad hominem. It effectively refutes any concerns they might offer on the basis of a direct personal attack. Whether this is best thought of as a simple ad hominem (abusive) or the more complex ad hominem (circumstantial) is another question. As it does effectively comment on the motives and biases that whites bring to the issue, it is probably best to consider it a circumstantial.

False Alternatives: Insofar as this argument asks us to distinguish between white people who are racists and those who are not, this argument presents us with false alternatives. In fact, it does so on terms which should not arise at all in account taking the possibility of systemic racism seriously. Simply put, if racism is a feature if society as a whole, then the issue is not who is or is not racist; it is whether or not their specific words and deeds are contributing to racism in any way. It should go without saying under such a view that anyone could fall into racist patterns of thinking and talking. We can even suggest that white people might be more prone to this than others, or at least that we may plug into these patterns in particular ways. What we cannot do with any consistency is divide people (white or otherwise) into a simple binary set of those who are racist and those who are not.

Interactional Eclipse: Insofar as the argument accuses any white person objecting to statements about white racism of being racist in their own right, its interactional significance is rather high. It effectively sends a signal to white people that they should think twice before expressing disagreement. Drawing this line in the sand, so to speak, may well prove more significant than any of the intellectual merits of the argument.

Masked Man Fallacy: One of the more interesting angles to this argument lies in the way it uses definition by extension to answer problems arising from definition by intention. Many of the problems alluded to here arise when statements about white racism appear to implicate whites as a universal class. This can be done explicitly (by saying “all whites” or something to that effect) or by implication (e.g. “white people are like…), which suggests a universal implication without explicitly asserting the quantifier. Either way, a good portion of the objections here come directly from concerns about the possible unfairness or inaccuracy of such categorical assertions. The argument then asks those concerned about such problems to think of themselves as the exception and hence to drop their objections. The problem with this approach lies in the fact that the objections arise precisely because such statements do not admit of exceptions. In effect, the argument answers a question about the intentional meaning of an assertion (everyone?) by virtue of an unspoken extensional consideration (well, not me!).

It should also be said that some white people might object to categorical assertions about white people without necessarily thinking of themselves as the exceptions.

Micro-Reasoning: This was likely a tweet to begin with, and the argument is certainly short. There is only so much precision that can be expected of reasoning presented with such brevity.

Motte and Baily Doctrines: I think it’s fair to see this argument as an attempt to shift between motte and baily (perhaps to defend the bailey from the motte). If we imagine a qualified statement (e.g. ‘some white people do x’) as the motte and a categorical assertion along the same lines (e.g. ‘white people do x’ or even ‘all white people do x’) as the bailey, this argument appears to be a case of someone trying to defend the bailey from the confines of the motte. In effect, the author is saying that there is no need to assert the existence of exceptions because you can just imagine yourself as one of them.

No True Scotsman Fallacy: Normally this fallacy is applied in an effort to defend a positive generalization, but you could see this argument as an invitation for people to imagine themselves as the obvious exception to a negative generalization. You may fit in this awful category, but you’re not REALLY one of them. You get a pass! And since you get a pass, there will be no need to question the generalization, which I won’t be rethinking, because anyone who doesn’t fit the narrative also gets that free pass and we are all good, right?

This too is the NTS fallacy.

Satire: I’ve been dumping on this argument pretty hard, but there is at least one way of thinking about it that might redeem the argument a bit, as a sort of satirical ladder which must be pulled up after one has climbed it. It is as if the author is entertaining the prospect of an exception, only to suggest that that is in itself absurd. What if I really do try to imagine myself as a non-racist? Sure, I’m liberal. Sure, I have black friends (and other clichés). Sure, I disavow racism, and try hard not to discriminate, but can I really say that I am completely free of racist thoughts and deeds? What about that one thing I said last year that I’m still kicking myself about? And then there was that one time, …I mean, I didn’t mean to, but… The point here is that while we can distinguish between people whose personal orientation is more or less consciously racist, we probably cannot point to a person whose thoughts and deeds do not reflect racist assumptions under any circumstances. This is at least one of the implications of systemic racism.

By this approach, the point of the argument would be to let the would-be exception struggle with their own self-awareness a bit, and in the end hopefully conclude they are not so free of racism after all. In effect, the argument starts off by letting people try to make a distinction between racist and non-racist white people only to realize the distinction is untenable.

Whether or not this is what the original author had in mind, I cannot say. I do think that much of the rhetoric for which this kind of argument could be offered as a defense is far more personal and far less subtle than would be consistent with this approach. Simply put, when someone is called racist, the implication is virtually always about their own personal orientation and even moral characteristics. Such accusations are not (normally) about abstract connections to large-scale patterns of social inequity.

Thought Policing: Insofar as the argument effectively stigmatizes any dissenting views, this does suggest a degree of thought policing. That will work better in some contexts than others, but then again it also appears more in some contexts than others.

Transposition: In diagram 2, the inference from 3 to 1 would work by transposition. This is also true of the inference from 1 to 3 in diagram 3. Suffice to say that those inferences are deductively valid.

Evaluation: Obviously, I do not consider this argument sound. Whatever the diagram, the main problem is the implausibility of the central notion that one might object if and only if she is racist. There are a few different ways to imagine this connection, but none of them really work, So, statement 2 doesn’t work as a starting premise for any version of this argument.

Final Thoughts: There is another problem at the root of all those associated with this argument. It’s choice people make in their rhetoric, and that choice involves a real trade-off in terms of the impact one makes on a conversation. Simply put, qualified statements don’t have anywhere near the impact that generalizations (even implied generalizations) can generate. Once people can imagine themselves as one of the good guys, it becomes all to easy to do just that and a nation full of people who know damned well there is a problem can’t seem to find anyone actually responsible for doing anything about it. Also, it doesn’t help that qualified statements are often quantified in vague ways. Changing “all whites are racist” to “some whites are racist” or even “many whites are racist” weakens the claim without actually adding much in the way of precision. Under these circumstances, the temptation to go with a generalization is certainly strong. Leaving out quantifiers altogether (e.g. ‘whites are racist’) still gives an author the strength of a generalization while reserving the possibility of admitting exemptions when pressed about it. So, this kind of quasi-universal language seems to have become a common solution to the problem.

Not surprisingly, a range of would-be allies and folks who fancy themselves as non-racist or even anti-racist are uncomfortable hearing statements that implicate them in racist thought and practice. Hence, the “not all…” rejoinders. Naturally, such responses weaken the impact of the claims in question and often serve to derail the conversation altogether as people haggle over the possibility that some white folks might not be so bad. Strong advocates of social justice thus have an interest in silencing these rejoinders, some of which might be thought of as sealioning or engaging in philosophy dude-bro behavior. Hence, we get arguments like the one presented here.

The problem is that the problem is real, just as the original problem is real.

Pardon me: The problem (with this argument and others like it) is that the problem (of exceptions to sweeping generalizations) is real, just as the original problem (racism) is real.

People have to decide which of these matters more to them and what they want to do about it. This argument reflects a clear choice of priorities; but it also reflects an attempt to force the issue in some very problematic ways.

The Tautology Post is the Post of Tautologies

A tautology is a statement that is true by definition. It thus shares some qualities with circular argumentation, but the principle difference lies in the fact that a tautology takes the form of a single proposition or statement whereas an argument would require an inference from one statement to another.

Note that some phrases are considered tautological in themselves, e.g. “close proximity,” but such phrases are of less interest to argument analysis than tautological statements insofar as the latter skews questions of truth value in interesting ways whereas tautological phrasing generally doesn’t.

Tautologies certainly have specific uses within formal logic and mathematical proofs. In every day speech, tautologies often draw contempt under the impression that those who produce them think they are saying something substantive, but tautologies can also provide emphasis or clarify the relationship between different terms. In some cases, context may suggest a slightly different understanding between the terms in question, thus giving tautologies a degree of substantive meaning not apparent from the surface grammar of the statement. (For example; in the Yogi Berra quote; “It ain’t over till it’s over,” the first instance of over most likely means something like “settled for practical purposes” and the second “officially completed,” leaving us with a quote about the relationship between a possible outcome and an accomplished fact. ) Tautologies can also be used to reject waffling or equivocation by another party (E.g. “Either you did or you didn’t!”).

***

Some of these may or may not be examples of tautological reasoning.

1: Phonological ambiguity at no extra charge!

2: Squid Reasoning (not necessarily tautological, but close enough to get a mention)

3: A circle of violence.

4: If it looks like a Tautology and quacks like a tautology…

5: The sports commentator John Madden is often credited with once saying; “They are simply going to have to score more points than the other team to win the game.” If anyone knows of an exact source, would you mind dropping me a comment?

6: “Boys will be boys.” (Common saying)

7: “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.” The Beatles, All You Need is Love, 1967.

8: “It ain’t over till it’s over,” Yogi Berra commenting on a baseball game in 1973.

9: A Whole Song!

10: This example is real, unless it isn’t.

11: Because of course it is.

13: Well, at least it was open when it was open.

14: “‘No’ means ‘no’.” (Common saying.)

15: Had this one on my bumper until I didn’t.

“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” Buffalo Springfield, What What It’s Worth, 1967.

A Just So Militia

Introduction: This is a video posted to Youtube on October 26, 2021 by a social media personality going by the name Cramersez. The original video was clearly developed for TikTok, though I cannot find a direct link to it.

Key Facts: Militias figured prominently in the thinking of America’s leadership in the American revolution and the early years of American government. They were a significant theme in the development the Second Amendment. Modern paramilitary organizations in the USA often present themselves as militias, but they lack the institutional connections of colonial militias, Modern militias are often associated with right wing extremism and in some cases, domestic terrorism. Anti-(Federal)-government themes are a prominent part of the rhetoric coming out of modern militia.

Text: This Youtube video does not come with the option to produce a transcript, so this is my transcription. Anyway, the argument runs as follows:

“I’m going to say it again. Do you know why the Federal Government and state governments are so afraid of militias? Because militias, their only purpose for existing is to protect our rights. That’s it. They don’t want to take power. They don’t want to be governors. They don’t want to be presidents. They are only there to protect people’s rights, in case the government refuses to do so, like in Michigan, where a lady at a school board meeting begged the sheriff to protect their rights, begged the sheriff to intervene, and protect their children, and the sheriff said; “Fuck you.! I’m not going to do that; I’m going to side with the people who sign my check.” That’s why the militias are there. So when the law, when our politicians, when our so-called leaders, when they stop abiding by the Constitution, that’s what the militias are there for. And that’s why they are afraid of them.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: I spent a few minutes trying to find the specific incident in Michigan to which Cramer was referring here, but I couldn’t determine whether or not any of the stories I found were the specific story in question. This too is one of the features of sloppy rhetoric like Cramer uses here. His laziness makes work for those critics who might take him seriously enough to check. Conversely, it doesn’t take much effort to agree with him.

Statements: There is a lot of grouping here. The redundant assertions are obvious enough. Cramer also makes use of parallel construction, but that still leads to separate statements in at least one instance (statements 3-6). In others, it means, the opening clause of a single statement is repeated with minor variations. These must be grouped up (statement 8). Finally, I grouped up all of the elements of the story he told about a woman in Michigan (statement 7). Were I to go into detail on that story, I would of course prefer to break that up into distinct claims.

[a] I’m going to say it again.

[1] [This is the reason] the Federal Government and state governments are so afraid of militias.

[b] Because

]2] militias, their only purpose for existing is to protect our rights.

[2] That’s it.

[3] They don’t want to take power.

[4] They don’t want to be governors.

[5] They don’t want to be presidents.

[6] They are only there to protect people’s rights, in case the government refuses to do so,

[7] like in Michigan, where a lady at a school board meeting begged the sheriff to protect their rights, begged the sheriff to intervene, and protect their children, and the sheriff said; “Fuck you.! I’m not going to do that; I’m going to side with the people who sign my check.”

6] That’s why the militias are there.

8] So when the law, when our politicians, when our so-called leaders, when they stop abiding by the Constitution, that’s what the militias are there for.

[c] and

1] that’s why they are afraid of them.

Diagram: The specific conclusion of this argument poses an interesting question. It’s tempting to see the claim (statement 1) that the only reason governments are afraid of militia is their sole purpose is the conclusion, because he seems to frame that as his central thesis. Yet, the notion that militia exist solely to protect the rights of American citizens (statement 2) seems to be a more robust claim with more direct relevance to actual political questions. So, I am inclined to treat that as the conclusion of the argument. From there, we get two major sub-arguments; one focusing on the motives of militia (4+5->3) and one focusing on the specific way Cramer things militia activity might be triggered (7->8->6) Both lead to statement 2.

The second of the two main arguments is worthy of a little comment. I take statement 7 to provide anecdotal evidence for the conclusions Cramer wishes to draw about the purpose of militia. It (putatively) establishes the need for extra-governmental action. Statement 8 is describes the principles he thinks would apply in cases like that, and this then leads to statement 6, which is simply a more succinct expression of the same thing. This then leads to statement 2, which is even more succinct.

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes; Anecdotal Evidence, Begging the Question, Cherry Picking, Inference Indicators, Just so Narratives, Misplaced Concretism, Suppressed Evidence, Redundant Assertions, Unsupported Claims.

Anecdotal Evidence: Cramer’s use of a single story to support his claim is an example of anecdotal evidence. That his story is unsourced and told in highly partisan terms is an additional problem. Even if his account of the Michigan example is accurate, this does not prove that militias would help in the matter, and even if they could, this does not prove that they pose no threats to others or that their sole purpose is protecting people’s rights.

Begging the Question: Cramer is trying to prove to us that militias are not dangerous, but his central argument consists merely in the assumption that their only purpose is benign. This is a circular argument. Likewise, his anecdote assumes the woman in his story was right about the issue and that the sheriff in question was refusing to do his job. This too begs a number of questions about the actual dispute in his example, questions made more difficult to nail down by his complete lack of any concrete reference to the actual story. Insofar as a just-so narrative is his central stratagem in this argument, the whole thing hinges on his ability to frame the narrative in terms which match the desired outcome. The entire post is an exercise in begging the question.

It does seem quite likely that militia members will describe their intervention in any aspect of American politics as being warranted by the defense of individual rights, but this merely means that is the story they will tell. Whether or not individual rights are being infringed upon is another question, and whether or not militia activity is likely to help is yet another. In effect, Cramer is telling us about the narrative that militia will bring into a conflict, but this does nothing to reassure us that they will not do so for specious reasons.

Cherry Picking: Everything that makes this anecdotal evidence, also makes this argument an example of cherry picking.

Inference Indicators: The use of ‘because’ indicates an explanation indicates an explanation is forthcoming. It does not introduce a reason as would normally be the case. It could be viewed as a conclusion indicator if this were abductive reasoning, but Cramer doesn’t really give us a reason to believe this is the best explanation for government fear of the militias. He simply presents that as an obvious fact. In the end, this ‘because’ isn’t really an inference indicator at all.

Just So Narratives: Cramer offers no real argument for his claims that the only purpose for the militias is the protection of rights is to protect people’s rights. He does not examine other possible motives for joining a militia, or other possible uses for militia, nor does he present any reason to dismiss concerns about domestic terrorism. He simply tells a story in which their single-minded purpose is assumed rather than proven. Cramer does give us an anecdote in support of the possibility that militia could be used for such purposes, but that does nothing to answer other concerns about militia. In effect, the single-minded purpose of militia enters this argument as an artifact of story itself. No evidence in support of that single-minded purpose enters into his argument.

Misplaced Concretism: Simply put, governments are not afraid of militias. Governments are not afraid of anything, because governments do not have emotions. Government officials may fear militias, but so can individual citizens. Cramer’s decision to treat governments as though they had the qualities of persons allows him to recontextualize the fears of actual people in unrealistic terms, effectively attributing them to an abstract and malevolent entity. This makes it much easier to deny the fears.

A similar problem applies to his references to the purpose of militias. Cramer makes a seamless transition from talking about their purpose (which could be understood as formed by actual people) to claims about what ‘they’ want, His comments on this theme are not precisely about the goals of membership, but neither are them limited to the characteristics of organizations. In effect, he is still talking about militias even as he is talking about them in terms of real human motivation.

Suppressed Evidence: Cramer’s account of militia does not address the connection between militia and domestic terrorism which is a large source of concern . The exact nature of this connection is of course debatable, but Cramer does not address it in any way. He simply ducks the issue.

Redundant Assertions: Statements 1 and 2 are both repeated twice.

Unsupported Claims: Cramer provides no evidence in support of his specific take on the anecdote. Neither does he support his assumptions about the exclusive purpose of militias. His claims on these subjects remain unsupported.

Evaluation: The argument fails for multiple reasons, most of which have already been mentioned above, but to address the specific argument.

Statement 7: There is no reason to believe Cramer’s account of the story is accurate. There is less reason to believe it establishes a need for militia action, and still less to believe that this is the only reason militias exist.

Statement 1 commits the fallacy of misplaced concretism. It also remains unsupported insofar as Cramer provides no reason to believe that the sole purpose of defending rights is the specific reason governments (or actual people) are afraid of militia.

Statements 4 and 5 also commit the fallacy of misplaced concretism, and there is no reason to believe they are true, Neither would their truth prove that militias constituted no threat to anyone who wasn’t taking people’s rights.

Final Thoughts: Neither the Federalnor the state governments fear anything. Actual people do, and it is actual people who suffer the consequences of domestic terrorism which is intimately connected to the modern militia movement. Oklahoma City should have established this once and for all.