A Date With Human Resources?

Introduction: This is a pretty unremarkable exchange occurring on TikTok. On 4/30/2021, thatyogagirl posted a video sharing about a conversation with her mother about wearing a shirt with the word “Lesbian” on it. The argument listed below comes from JohnRosen877, one of many people to comment on her video.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: The argument we are interested in here is the one John Rosen offers in support of his claim that he faces discrimination. Additional comments have been provided for context.

JR: “But we don’t wear shirts that say straight.”

Syd: “That’s because you’ve never faced discrimination for being straight…. You should be grateful.”

JR: “I face discrimination when I try to date a lesbian.”

Syd: “Discrimination is not the same as being rejected by a girl.”

JR: “Sure it is if they don’t even consider me because I am male. It’s gender discrimination.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is probably a good example of the kind of reasoning used by internet trolls. The other makes a point, but that point is shaped by little other than the desire to achieve a short term victory over the target of criticism.

Statements: For purposes of this post, I am focusing on the claim that JR faces discrimination. That claim is of course made in direct response to the claim that discrimination is the key to gay and lesbian pride statements (such as the shirt in question), but we’ll limit our consideration here to the claims that JR himself faces discrimination. I had to rewrite the antecedent in statement 2. I do think the phrasing below represents the probable intent of the author.

[1] I face discrimination when I try to date a lesbian.

[2] [Rejection by a girl is discrimination,] if they don’t even consider me because I am male.

[3] It’s gender discrimination.

Diagram: Arguably statement 3 just elaborates on the significance of statement 2, but it also serves to underscore the significance of the category of discrimination at stake. Ultimately, I think it’s a linked argument.

2 + 3 ->1

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Dialectics, Equivocation, Schrodinger’s Asshole, Trolling.

Dialectic: I haven’t represented the contributions of others in the diagram, but the initial significance of the argument is framed by the original author of the video (thatyogagirl) and at least one of the other participants in the discussion (Sydjennish). It is furthermore Syd’s explicit denial of the claim that the rejection JR gets amounts to discrimination that prompts the reasoning used in this argument. It is, accordingly, the product of a dialectical process in which his reasoning is shaped by interactions with others.

Equivocation: John’s argument turns on the fallacy of equivocation. It’s an interesting pattern of equivocation that arises frequently in response to non-discriminatory measures in the workplace and legal system. People usually just refer to the principles at stake as proscriptions against ‘discrimination,’ but this is short for ‘prohibited forms of discrimination’ which involves discrimination against others on the basis of protected classes of status (e.g. race, gender, etc.) within a range of contexts in which the public consequences of discrimination outweigh the personal considerations for public policy. JR is able to show that this rejection is about gender, which would normally be a prohibited category of discrimination, but this act of discrimination still takes place (dating) in which the principles of non-discrimination would not normally apply.

Simply put, we don’t expect people to refrain from acts if discrimination in their love life.

While JR is right that a woman choosing not to date men (or even women, for that matter) is in fact a form of discrimination, it is not the sort of discrimination that normally triggers concerns over equity in the political economy. We could certainly apply the word to such decisions, but it would have none of its usual force. Whether or not JR is aware of this distinction is unclear from his comments in this discussion, but it should be sufficient to explain the foolishness of his argument.

Schrodinger’s Asshole: It is not at all clear that JR is serious about any of the points he makes here, raising the possibility that he may be not himself be all that sure whether or not he means it.

Trolling: Given the apparently flippant nature of JR’s argument, there is a strong likelihood that it was chosen for no reason other than to frustrate the author of the video and those who might support her.

Evaluation: The argument fails because it commits the fallacy of discrimination. The form of discrimination supplied in the premises is trivial whereas that to which he is speaking in the conclusion is about genuine mistreatment of gay and lesbian persons in range of social contexts many of which inflict genuine harm.

Final Thoughts: As this is a likely instance of mere trolling, it is tempting to suggest that this is beneath the level of scrutiny I’m applying here, but the significance of ‘discrimination’ is a recurrent theme in trolling responses to a range of social commentary, and some do not know how to answer it. A good deal of social discourse about serious issues contains arguments just like this, so I think it’s worth the time it takes to identify the deceits contained in them.

How Many Lumps?

Introduction: This example comes from a cartoon, entitled “Rabbit’s Kin,” featuring Bugs Bunny, starring Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg. It was put out by Loony Tunes.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: Bugz Bunny invites Pete Puma to enjoy a cup of tea, wherein the following exchange takes place (text taken from IMDB):

Bugs Bunny: There’s nothing as sociable as a nice cup of tea, I always say. How many lumps do you want?

Pete Puma: Oh, three or four

Bugs Bunny: [Bugs bunny whacks Pete on the head with a mallet 5 times and 5 lumps appear on his head] Oh dear, I gave you one too many. Well we can fix that.

[whacks the 5th lump back in his head]

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is of course a joke.

Statements: Much of this argument has to be inferred from the context of the exchange and the actions of the character’s in question. It ends up being a simple argument with an unstated conclusion. (Bugs acts on the conclusion rather than telling us what he has inferred from Pete Puma’s answer.

[1] [I want] 3 or 4 [lumps].

[2] [Pete Puma wants 3 or 4 lumps on his head.]

Diagram: This is a simple argument.

2 ->[1].

Discussion: This raises three themes; Dialectic, Equivocation, Missing Assertions, and Playful Reasoning.

Dialectics: Bugs builds up to the punchline of this gag by questioning his intended victim (Pete Puma). It’s perversely Socratic, …which come ton think of it may be true of many of his cartoons, as well as those of Daffy Duck. Both of these tricksters consistently engage in a kind of dialogue with their adversaries and base whatever punishment they have in mind when the other party’s own choices.

Missing Assertions: Insofar as the conclusion of this argument must be supplied (using Bugs’ actions to determine the conclusion he has drawn), this is an example of a missing assertion.

Equivocation: Bugs clearly shifts the meaning of “lumps” over the course of this exchange. When he asks how many Pete Puma wants, there is a strong implication that he means “lumps of sugar.” After getting his answer, Bugs shifts the meaning to “lumps on the head.”

Playful Reasoning: This is not a serious argument, of course. It is a joke. It is accordingly cheating to use this as an example of the equivocation fallacy.

…If I doos it, I get a whippin.

I doos it!

Evaluation: The argument is of course unsound as it commits the fallacy of equivication.

Final Thoughts: Yes, this post is self-indulgent.

Not Be on a Boat

Introduction: This text is from the play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. In this scene, the two central characters contemplate death while passing the time on a ship sailing from Denmark to Britain.

Key Facts: This is a dark comedy. The philosophical discussions between these two characters are full of absurd exchanges like this one.

Text: Really, the argument is contained in the last line (along with a missing conclusion.)

“Rosenkrantz: Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

Guildenstern: No, no, no. Death is not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.

Rosenkrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is not a very serious argument.

Statements: The relevant argument would be as follows:

[1] I’ve frequently not been on boats.

[2] It is possible to not-be on a boat.

Diagram: This one is simple.

2 ->[1].

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Dialectics, Equivocation, Missing Assertions, Playful Reasoning.

Dialectics: Although they are not following any particular methodology, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are engaging in a philosophical discussion through which each builds on the other’s points to help the author make his own points. This is accordingly a kind of dialectics, albeit a comic one.

It’s tempting to say that this might not be dialectics, because Guildenstern doesn’t really build on Rosenkrantz’s point. He just denies it. Yet, the fallacy can only be understood by looking at the shift in meaning between then Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, so perhaps it’s a failure of dialectics, which still makes it a kind of dialectics.

…I think.

Equivocation: Rozsenkratz is talking about a state in which existence is no longer a predicate of the subject, i.e. the dead person. Guildenstern is clearly evading the point by telling he has not been on boats, i.e. that he, while existing, simply wasn’t on a boat.

Missing Assertions: Rozenkrantz’s conclusion is not spelled out in the text of the play, but he clearly means to suggest that Rosenkrantz is wrong. So, the argument contains at least one missing conclusion.

Playful Reasoning: the actual source of the argument is of course not seriously advancing an argument here, at least not the one presented above. He is using the form of a denial to generate a joke. It is accordingly cheating a bit to use this as an example of a fallacy.

Evaluation: The argument is unsound because it commits the fallacy of equivocation.

Final Thoughts: Sometimes, the best* examples of a given fallacy are made up for humorous purposes.

* Admittedly, this would be for an ironic value of ‘best.’

Band of Brothers – Where Are We?

Introduction: This is a scene from the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers (2001). It takes place in Part 2, “Day of Days” at about the 13 minute mark. In this scene, two paratroopers (Lieutenant. Winters and Private Hall) have just linked up following a night drop into enemy territory during the invasion of Normandy. The following conversation occurs as they look for other U.S. soldiers and try to get their bearings while attempting to evade German defenses.

Key Facts: Different companies within the drop force were supposed to be dropped into different locations. for a variety of reasons (not the least of them being fire from German anti-aircraft guns), many seem to have missed the mark. Lieutenant Winters is from Easy Company (so he is not in D-Company or Able Company).

Text:

1) Lieutenant. Winters: “Aren’t you D-Company?”

2) Private Hall: “Able Sir.” (pause) “Guess that means one of us in the wrong drop-zone, sir.”

3) Lieutenant Winters: “Yeah, or both of us.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: The actual reasoning here is fairly simple, and this is one case where the conventions of argument analysis may lend themselves to unnecessary complication. So, let’s just get on with it.

Statements: We must add two missing assumptions, and each step of the reasoning will require some degree of rewriting to bring out the reasoning. Leaving out the problematic missing assumption, I would suggest the following propositions (each presented in bold).

1) [Missing Assumption: Lieutenant Winters is in Easy Company.]

2) Statement Two: [Private Hall is in Able Company.]

3) [Missing Assumption: Easy Company and Able Company have different drop zones.]

4) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall are in the wrong place.]

5) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall, or both of them, are in the wrong place.]

Discussion: This is a pretty simple exercise in reasoning. It touches upon dialectics, the reconstruction of missing assumptions, and the fallacy of false alternatives.

Dialectics: The argument illustrates dialectics insofar as the men cooperate to arrive at a common understanding of the issue.

Missing Assertions: Lieutenant Winters’ membership in Easy Company remains unspoken as it is obvious to both parties, as is the assumption that each of the companies in question has a different drop zone. It’s tempting to suggest that Private Hall makes a more serious assumption over the course of the discussion. In the second line, he infers from the fact that each was intended to land in a different drop zone that one of them must be out of place. This might be taken to assume that at least one of them must have landed in the right place. Alternatively, Hall makes no such assumption and the problem arises with his inference that one of them is in the wrong place. His account of the situation would then be incomplete, but it wouldn’t be erroneous. In keeping with the principle of charity, I would suggest going with the latter option as Hall’s specific wording does not commit him to the specific mistake in question.

False Alternatives: Whether it arises in an assumption or an inference, Lieutenant Hall’s conclusion fails to address the possibility that both he and Lieutenant Winters had landed in the wrong place.

Diagram(s): It isn’t clear to me that a visual diagram of the reasoning here is all that necessary or helpful, but for the sake of consistency I thought I should attempt it. After toying with a couple options, I am opting to suggest two simple models, one representing the Reasoning of Private Hall and one that of Lieutenant Winters.

Evaluation: Barring significant revelations from historical specialists, I think we can assume that premises 1, 2, and 3 are true, which leaves the inferences for us to evaluate. Assuming a literal interpretation of statement 4, support the inference in Private Hall’s reasoning would be weak at best, leaving an unsound argument. Support for the inference in Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning would seem to be deductively valid, though perhaps one could find a fiddly argument to bring it down to a rating of strong. In either event, Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning appears to be sound.

Final Thoughts: This kind of reasoning is more common in real life than it is in logic textbooks. The two men build on each others’ statements to achieve a common understanding. In the final turn, Lieutenant Winters does not so much tell Private Hall that he has made a mistake as simply suggest a better conclusion. As the narrative unfolds, Hall introduces a potential mistake and Winters simply sets it aside. As a food-for-thought kind of question, one might follow this example by asking students to think about the the varieties of context in which bypassing criticism would be more wise than direct confrontation. Conversely, one might ask if there are contexts in which direct criticism would be more useful.