Pinterest Politics

Introduction: This is just a couple of posts from two random netizens on Pinterest. What we are interested in is the exchange between “Patty” and “Mary.” Specifically, we are interested in the argument produced by Mary.

Key Facts: Actually, this is beside the point, but it’s worth knowing that the quote in the meme which started this conversation is in fact spurious. According to Monticello.org, there is no evidence that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote this.

It is perhaps a little bit more relevant to that the statement by “Patty” was made in the last days of the Trump Presidency, after the insurrection of January 6th and shortly before Joe Biden is to take office. She is clearly referring to Donald Trump in her own statement. There is a strong likelihood that “Mary” took this to indicate that Patty is a liberal, in which case her statement is actually a personal dig at Patty, independent of anything it says about Pinterest.

Text: The relevant text is as follows:

Patty: “Pinterest is patriotic. I fear only what the unstable man might do next now that he is cornered.”

Mary: “Pinterest is far from patriotic. As liberal as you can get…”

(Ellipsis in original)

ANALYSIS

Comments: Beyond, the 2 key facts mentioned, above, I have nothing to add here.

Statements: The argument is entirely contained in Mary’s post.

[1] Pinterest is far from patriotic.

[2] [It is] as liberal as you can get.

[3a][Liberals are not patriotic.]

[3b][liberalism and patriotism are mutually exclusive.]

Diagram: As I see it, there are two ways to diagram this argument, depending on whether or not you wish to spell out the assumption that liberals are not patriotic.

Without the missing assumption: the diagram is as follows:

2 -> 1.

With the missing assumption added, the diagram is as follows:

2+[3(a or b)] -> 1.

Discussion: This argument presents the following themes; False Alternatives, Micro-Reasoning, and/or Missing Assertion.

False Alternatives: The assumption that liberalism and patriotism are mutually exclusive political views is questionable at best. This could be viewed as a form of false alternatives, though that is a bit unusual. Most accounts of the False Alternatives treat it as narrowing the range of relevant possibilities to 2 when other options exist. In this case, the problem is the unwarranted assumption that the two categories cannot go together (i.e. that someone cannot be both a liberal and a patriot). We could see this as forcing a choice between two options or as excluding at least one 3rd option (i.e. the choice to blend them). Either way, we end up seeing the options assumed by Mary in this argument as unwarranted.

It’s probably best to restrict the application of a false alternatives in this argument to the first version of the diagram as it would then apply to the inference from 2 to 1. If we are looking at the second diagram, the same problem manifests itself in the form of a false premise [3 (a or b)].

Micro-Reasoning: This is a really brief exchange, so we get all the usual problems that go with trying to evaluate an argument made short-hand. That said, this kind of reasoning was common long before the net, and Pinterest certainly allows more text than either of these two used. It does not appear that Mary was struggling to fit her message into a small medium. Most likely, she said what she had to say in those two statements.

Missing Assertions: What got me interested in this example was the unstated (though hopefully clear) assumption that liberals are not patriotic. There are several ways to spell out this assumption. I have provided two, but it really doesn’t change the argument much either way. Any way that one cares to formulate the missing assumption, we end up with an unsupported (and likely false) assumption. In any event, this is a good example of an unstated assumption.

Evaluation: The argument is unsound by either model presented above (and most likely any reasonable model one could provide). If one does not spell out the unstated assumption, then the argument commits the fallacy of false alternatives. If one does spell it out, then the argument simply proceeds from a false assumption.

Final Thoughts: This is hardly a difficult judgement call, but it is an extraordinarily common form of reasoning.

A Meme of Race

ctzeorzw8aqoujcIntroduction: This meme uses an observation about three black men to make an argument about the relative significance of race and personal decisions in determining success or failure in life.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: “3 men in 3 different positions. In America, color doesn’t define your future. Your choices do.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: I don’t know anything in particular about the history of this meme, or about the specific circumstances of those men pictured in it. It’s probably fair to think of this as one round in the culture wars. The absence of context is of course one of the characteristics of argumentation-by-meme. In effect, this lack of context serves to encourage readers to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions about the issues in question.

Statements: The components of the argument are represented below. Two possible missing assumptions have been added (in blue).

[1] 3 men in 3 different positions.

[2] In America, color doesn’t define your future.

[3] Your choices do [define your future in America].

[4a][Success or failure is best explained in terms of a single cause.]

[4b][If race determined the success or failure in a person’s life, we would expect all three of the black men in this picture to occupy similar roles in life.]

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; false alternatives, micro-reasoning, missing assumptions, Modus Tollens.

False Alternatives: There are a few ways to model the reasoning in this argument, but it’s tough to get around the presentation of two (mutually exclusive) options as the total universe of possible explanations for success or failure in life.

Micro-Reasoning: As with most memes, this argument reduces a complex issue to an extraordinarily small text.

Missing Assertions: It may be helpful to think of this argument as resting on a missing assumption. I have supplied two different variations of this missing assumption. When either assumption is added, the inference is perhaps a bit more cogent, but the truth value of the assumption is questionable at best. So, adding these assumptions doesn’t improve the soundness of the argument too much, though it may help to clarify the nature of the issues in question.

Modus Tollens: Using Missing assumption 4b as a major premise, statement 1 appears to deny the consequent. Statement 2 could then be construed as a denial of the antecedent. It would take a little rewording to make everything match up, but the essential idea is there.

20161216_173528-copyDiagram: I can think of a several different ways to model the reasoning in this argument. I am presenting 3 of them here:

Option alpha: This approach leaves out the addition of a missing assumption. Statement 1 is thus taken to prove two separate claims, all on it’s own.

Option beta: In this example, missing assumption 4a is added to statement 1. The two together are taken to prove both statement 2 and statement 3. The additional assumption helps to explain why statement 1 might lead to statements 2 and 3, but as this assumption is of dubious truth value this simply transforms the problem from questions about the cogency of the inference to one about the truth value of one of its premises.

Option boo: In this version, statement 1 is combined with missing assumption 4b. The two together are taken to prove the truth of statement 2 (by Modus Tollens) which is then taken to prove the truth of statement 3.

Note: The reason statements 2 and 3 are represented here in the form of a serial argument rather than separate conclusions in a divergent argument is that the missing assumption focuses attention on statement 2 without contributing directly to statement 3. The notion that statement 2 would then provide evidence for statement 3 seems the best way to proceed from there.

Evaluation: No version of this argument comes out sound, because the argument turns on false alternatives no matter how you look at it. In option alpha, the false alternatives leaves conclusion 2 and 3 unsupported by assumption 1, so the inferences are neither valid nor cogent. In option beta, the false alternatives have been expressed directly in terms of a missing assumption, but that assumption is likely false. In option boo, the missing assumption has been articulated in terms of a conditional statement, but that statement too is clearly false. No matter how we set this argument up, it turns on an unrealistically narrow set of possibilities.

Why does every version of this argument turn on false assumptions? Because it addresses the question of what makes the difference in the lives of these men as though a single causative factor will account for the difference rather than a combination of different factors. The notion, for example, that race might make some outcomes more or less likely than others without totally determining the outcome is simply not considered in the text of this meme. So, whether race is construed as a direct biological cause (as overt racists would have it) or a social construction and the impact of social stigmas attached to racial identity (as those interested in social justice might suggest), the meme sets aside any efforts to consider how racial factors could interact with other issues such as class, religion, family background, or personal resilience to produce an account of these different life trajectories.

Final Thoughts: In addition to the sloppy argument, it’s tempting to suggest there is something prurient about this meme. It invites all of us to entertain questions about what makes the difference between success and failure for black men. For most of us, that is a question about someone else, a chance to dwell on the reasons for someone else’s failure. This doesn’t really pose active questions for its intended audience, not about their own lives.

Just for someone else.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Political Priorities

Introduction: Dawn Ennis conducted an interview with Caitlyn Jenner which was published in The Advocate on March 2nd. In a brief discussion of election politics Jenner expressed her preference for a Presidential candidate, providing a brief argument on the topic in question

Key Facts: Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) is transgendered. Her high-profile transition from male to female identity gained significant attention in the media. Its relevance to her choice of candidates provides an explicit feature of the argument in question.

Text: Here are the relevant comments (with the argument in bold):

It was also contentious when the conversations aboard that bus turned to politics, which Jenner says they often did. “It got heated! Especially with poor little me, who’s the lone Republican conservative against all the liberal Democrats.” So heated, Boylan can be seen shouting “That is a lie!” at Jenner, at one point even swatting her head with a rolled-up newspaper.

And drama is sure to ensue when Jenner meets Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. The only candidates she spoke about with The Advocate, however, were Republicans.

“That’s just political B.S.” she says of Donald Trump’s recent inability to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. So who does she support for the nomination? I ask.Discussion: The argument raises the following issues:

“I like Ted Cruz,” she declares. “I think he’s very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man. I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that. But I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.” 

“I get it. The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues. I understand that.” So why support Republicans? “Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues. We need jobs. We need a vibrant economy. I want every trans person to have a job. With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have. Eventually, it’s going to end. And I don’t want to see that. Socialism did not build this country. Capitalism did. Free enterprise. The people built it. And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.”

Jenner reveals she met Cruz prior to her transition, more than a year ago, “and he was very nice.” 

“Wouldn’t it be great, let’s say he goes on to be president,” she tells me in relating a conversation on the tour bus. “And I have all my girls on a trans issues board to advise him on making decisions when it comes to trans issues. Isn’t that a good idea?”

“You’re going to be Ted Cruz’s trans ambassador?” I respond.

“Yes, trans ambassador to the president of the United States, so we can say, ‘Ted, love what you’re doing but here’s what’s going on.’”

She wasn’t joking.

ANALYSIS

Comments: Jenner explicitly acknowledges the value of one point against her choice. It’s one of the more interesting features of this argument. This theme (expressed in statements 6 and 7 below) is accordingly flagged with a minus sign to indicate its status as a counterpoint to Jenner’s overall position. I have also supplied two missing assumptions (22 and 23). Assumption 22 seems to help summarize some of Jenner’s specific points on the economy and provide an intermediate conclusion in her argument. Assumption 23 helps to clarify the counterpoint Jenner is trying to overcome through much of the argument.

Statements: The relevant statements have been reproduced and numbered below. Several comments have been deleted as they do not contribute to the argument. Any rewritten sections have been placed in square brackets.

[1] I like Ted Cruz.

[2] I think he’s very conservative.

[3] [He is] a great constitutionalist.

[4] [He is] a very articulate man.

[5] I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian.

[-6] [He is] probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.

[-7] The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues.

[8] [I am willing to support Republicans anyway.]

[9] Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues.

[10] We need jobs.

[11] We need a vibrant economy.

[12] I want every trans person to have a job.

[13] With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have.

[14] Eventually, it’s going to end.

[15] I don’t want to see that.

[16] Socialism did not build this country.

[17] Capitalism did.

[18] Free enterprise [did].

[19] The people built it.

[20] And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.

[21] [when Jenner met Cruz prior to her transition, more than a year ago] he was very nice.

[[22]] [Republicans will handle the American economy better than Democrats do.]

[[23]] [Concerns about transgendered issues do not support a vote for Cruz.]

Discussion: The argument raises the following Issues: causation, counterpoints, false alternatives, lost in translation, missing statements, and qualification.

Causation: It isn’t really clear whether the the relationship between 5 and -6 is best represented as an inference or a cause and effect relationship, and it seems unlikely to me that Jenner herself made up her mind which she meant to assert at the time. In effect, this would mean that Jenner simply sought to explain or otherwise elaborate Cruz’ position on the subject of transgendered issues. It is at least possible that she mean to use 5 as evidence for -6, which is what the diagram suggests. I’ve elected to use this the latter approach. If this overall argument were an effort to discredit Cruz, I would be more concerned about representing this as an inference, but as  Jenner is actually making an effort to support Cruz, I don’t believe the overall soundness of her argument hinges on this decision one way or another.

Counterpoints: Jenner explicitly acknowledges that Democrats will handle transgender issues better than Cruz would. Much of the rest of her argument is aimed at explaining why she would vote for Cruz (or perhaps some other Republican) anyway.

False Alternatives: Jenner’s comparison between socialism and capitalism suggest a universe of precisely two competing economic theories, neither of which is spelled out in precise terms. Not only does this leave out alternatives, it rather caricaturizes the range of possibilities within each of these options. It’s hard to escape a sense that the choice she presents is misleading.

Lost in Translation: There are a number of things about this diagram that make me uncomfortable.

It isn’t entirely clear how Jenner’s thoughts about communism color her specific concerns about the economy. She hasn’t spelled that out in the argument above. So, the current diagram groups up her comments on the subject into a few larger themes, and that’s as far as I have taken it. This is a little bit arbitrary and it doesn’t provide us with a means of assessing how Jenner (or those reading her argument) might entextualize the relationship between these sub-themes. I am concerned that the argument might be improved if I formulated an intermediate conclusion for each sub-theme and then presented statement 22 as a conclusion drawn from an argument linking each of these conclusions. Simply put, that’s more rewriting than I think one really ought to do for an argument.

A second point relates to the scope of concerns Jenner may have about transgender issues. We don’t really learn what specific issues she may think fall under this heading or what impact she thinks Cruz may have on these issues. It might also be that Jenner has a broad range of concerns about social justice issues comparable to those of transgendered people. No specific concerns have been articulated in at least this version of the argument, however, so they aren’t on the table. This is one instance in which sticking to the argument as stated does seem to narrow the range of issues the author may have had in mind. It certainly leaves us with a more narrow vision of the subject than it deserves.

Missing Assertions: Both of the missing statements provided in this argument reflect an attempt to spell out intermediate conclusions Jenner appears to be drawing and provide a transition from her more detailed arguments toward her final conclusion.

Qualification: There is a stark contrast between Jenner’s comments on transgendered issues which she speaks of in terms of better or worse polices and those of the economy which she speaks of in very stark terms, alluding to the possibility of a major collapse. In effect, she qualifies one range of issues in measured tones while engaging in rhetorical brinksmanship with the other. As much of her argument rests on a sense of how these issues balance her choice of wording substantially skews the relevant issues, effectively loading up the significance of one topic while minimizing the significance of another.

Diagram: Fortunately, I ordered spaghetti earlier tonight, and it came in a brown paper bag. (Whew!) So I was able to put the full argument into diagram form. Honestly, it’s kind of messy (the diagram I mean), but hopefully, it captures a sense of the major themes in this argument.

Statements 2-4 all attribute positive attributes to Cruz and lay the foundation for her initial approval of the candidate.

Statements 5, -6, -7, and -23 all outline the concern that  Cruz may not be a good candidate for transgendered people.

Statements 10-12 outline a range of concerns about the need for jobs.

Statements 13-15 outline concerns about government debt.

Statements 16-20 present Jenner’s economic concerns in terms of a stark contrast between socialist policies and those of capitalism.

Statements 9, 22, and 8 help to summarize Jenner’s thoughts about the economy and explain how those overcome her concerns about how Cruz will treat transgendered people.

Statement 21 reads like a throw-away comment, but it too seems to be a reason for voting for Cruz. It might even be a rather common one. Jenner met the man and she seems to like him.

jenner.5

?

 

Evaluation: I’m just going to focus on a few key issues in this argument.

Statements 2-4: The truth of each of these statements is debatable (especially 3), as is the wisdom of treating them as assets for the candidate.

The inference from -23+8 to 1: This is perhaps the trickiest sub-theme in Jenner’s argument. Ultimately, the inference boils down to a judgement call about the significance of the concerns pointing Jenner to vote for Republicans versus those raised about transgender issues under a Cruz Presidency. At least in principle, this issue is partly objective. It may well be that economic issues will impact the lives of transgendered people (and of Americans in general) more than the possible mistreatment of transgendered people under a president hostile to them and to their rights, but the reverse could also be true. In effect, this would boil down to the particulars. Will an insensitive President be content to allow religious exemptions for discrimination against transgendered people or will he actively try tojail them? Something in between? Conversely, would poor economic policies slow growth or spark a mild rise in inflation? Or will the crash the whole thing as Caitlyn suggests. In effect, that question is finessed above as a result of Jenner’s language. She speaks of the economy in terms of a worst-case scenario while addressing transgendered issues in terms of a measured scale. She rates Cruz low on that scale, but she doesn’t describe that in the nearly apocalyptic terms she uses for economic issues.

The sub-argument from 16-20 down to 22 is probably the worst element of this argument. It implies a range of judgements about specific policies that may or may not be true. Jenner doesn’t make these judgements explicit, so it is hard to evaluate them, but the language of a comparison between capitalism and communism does more to obscure the issues than to clarify them.

The sub-argument from 13, 14, and 15 down to 22 is probably the most interesting, because it’s potentially the most empirical. Just what sort of policies contribute to the debt and/or its solution is open to debate of course, and Jenner does not provide us with a specific reason to believe the Republican Party will solve these problems, much less a specific reason to believe Democrats would make them worse. Still, if one were to look at a component of this argument that points to genuine factual questions, I would say it’s this one.

Final Thoughts: It does occur to me that my diagram may not help here. It may well be that generating a few more missing conclusions would help to clarify the argument in question and link Jenner’s specific concerns to her ideological commentary. The problem of course is that those conclusions would be unsupported themselves and highly questionable in themselves. I would thus be adding still more statements to the argument only to reject them at face value. This would transform questions about the cogency of an inference into questions about the truth of an unstated position, but it wouldn’t improve the overall argument.

As to the overall value of the argument, I reckon it to be unsound. We could set aside the entire question of communism and just focus on the specific details of questions about debt and the best policies to resolve it, but Jenner doesn’t supply us with a real argument to that effect. So, her comments leave us with little clear reason to support Cruz or any other Republican over a Democrat. Finally, she doesn’t really explain how she weighs the larger judgement call relating the best way to balance transgender issues (or those of social justice in general) against economic concerns. Instead, she finesses the judgement through a biased account of the possibilities. In the end, she hasn’t doe much to show us why one ought to vote for Cruz.

 

 

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.