Sometimes you Argue the Bear

Introduction: My wife sent me this yesterday morning. She was down in Anchorage, but she wanted me to know about the bear, which reminds me that I really need to get active 911 on my own phone.

Key Facts: We get a few bear sightings a year in and around town here in Barrow.

Wildlife normally keeps an eye on bears near town, makes an effort to keep them out of town, and, when necessary puts down bears it deems a threat to the community.

‘Quyanaq’ means ‘thank you’ in Iñupiaq, the local indigenous language.

Text: “Please use extreme caution as a polar bear was spotted earlier this morning in the Browerville and Cakeeater area. Please be aware of your surroundings when outside. Wildlife was notified and has responded. If you spot a polar bear, please call the NSB Police Department at XXX XXX-XXXX to report the sighting. Quyanaq.”


Comments: This is kind of an interesting example of practical reasoning.

Statements: Much of the text above would not really constitute reasoning, so it can be left out. The argument is as follows:

[1] Please use extreme caution.

[a] as

[2] a polar bear was spotted earlier this morning in the Browerville and Cakeeater area.

[3] Please be aware of your surroundings when outside.

Diagram: It’s a simple serial argument. 2 ->1 -> 3.

We get one inference indicator [a], but no further explicit reasoning markers in the text. Statement 3 can be read as a more specific version of statement one, hence it seems to be the final conclusion of the argument.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Hyperbole, Interactional Eclipse.

Hyperbole: The phrase “extreme caution” might seem a little excessive in light of the actual precautions to be taken when bears are present in and around town. Folks might refrain from walking the beach and/or look around a bit more when going outside, but that is probably about it. In fact, this does appear to be what the notice is meant to engender. This is caution; it’s probably not ‘extreme’ caution.

If this is hyperbole, however, it’s pretty harmless. Those new to the area might stress over its implications, but those who have been here awhile will easily read the suggestion in light of moderate precautions.

Interactional Eclipse: Although the notice is meant to engender caution, and it contains an argument urging caution upon people, it is as likely to bring people out with cameras looking for the bear as it is to trigger any extra caution. So, the content of the argument may to be some degree overwhelmed by the social realities of life on Instagram.

Evaluation: The argument itself strikes me as sound. I don’t know about the sighting, but I have no reason to doubt it, and hyperbole aside, both the genral call for caution and the specific suggestions about awareness are warranted by the sighting.

Final Thoughts: I took my camera out for a quick drive, but I didn’t see any bear. …dammit!

Scratch A Hasty Handler

Introduction: On March 30th, 2020, Dave Rubin whose talk show, The Rubin Report appears on BlazeTV tweeted the message here in response to tweet by comedian, Chelsea Handler.

Key Facts: Handler is commenting on the trial of Dereck Chauvin, a police officer accused the murder of George Floyd during an arrest in May, 2020. A video of Chauvin pressing his knee onto Floyd’s neck for roughly 9 minutes during the incident went viral shortly thereafter, putting this case in the national spotlight.

BlazeTV the channel which features Dave Rubin’s show was created by Glenn Beck. It is generally considered to be a conservative operation.

Chelsea Handler had her own television show from 2017 to 2015, Chelsea Lately, on the E-Network. Her politics is generally considered liberal to progressive.


Handler: “So pathetic that there is a trial to prove that Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd when there is video of him doing so.”

Rubin: “Scratch a progressive, find a fascist.”


Comments: It is entirely possible that either or both of these individuals are engaging in outrage farming.

Statements: As Rubin is using Handler’s comment as evidence for his own comment about progressive politics, the issue is how best represent that argument. We would frame it as an unspoken assumption Rubin, thus spelling out the entire argument as a representation of his own reasoning or we could frame it as a kind Dialectic in which Rubin is responding to Handler.

A second question relates to the significance of Rubin’s conclusion. It seems reasonable to suggest that the terms of the phrasing imply an “if, then” construction, hence option 2b. It also seems reasonable to take Rubin as advancing a general statement about progressive politics, hence 2c. Both of these require some rewriting, raising questions about how accurate the paraphrasing might be.

[1a] “So pathetic that there is a trial to prove that Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd when there is video of him doing so.”

[1b] [Chelsea Handler said] “So pathetic that there is a trial to prove that Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd when there is video of him doing so.”

[2a] Scratch a progressive, find a fascist.

[2b] [If you] scratch a progressive, [you] find a fascist.

[2c] [Deep down, progressives are fascists.]

Diagram: Each statement comes in different versions, but the diagram looks the same either way.

1 -> 2

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes; Ad Hominem, Dialectic, Hasty Generalization, Hyperbole, Micro-Reasoning, Missing Assertions, Outrage Farming.

Ad Hominem: Insofar as Rubin responds to Handler, by using her evidence as grounds for a generalization about progressive politics, his comment is certainly a personal attack, albeit one against a collective target. As he does not appear to be using this as a means of refuting her own claim so much as a means of attacking progressive politics, it seems unlikely that this would qualify as an ad hominem fallacy.

Dialectic: As this argument plays out in an exchange between two different people, it seems reasonable to think of it as a form of dialectic, albeit not a very profound one.

Hasty Generalization: I think, this is the heart of the argument. Rubin is using a single comment from a single progressive celebrity as the basis for a comment about progressives in general. To say that this is a hasty generalization is putting it mildly. There may also be a question about whether or not Handler’s comment, objectionable as it may be, really amounts to fascism, but the inference remains a hasty generalization in any event.

Hyperbole: It seems unlikely that Dave Rubin really thinks Handler’s comment shows us that progressives are fascists, though that is the literal import of his own comment. So, it is probably best to think of this argument as hyperbolic.

Micro-Reasoning: Both Handler’s and Rubin’s posts are single comments. Although there is reasoning here, it is extremely brief, making it hard to assess the actual nature of the reasoning.

Missing Assertions: If we try to represent the entire argument as coming from Rubin, then we have to construct a sentence that represents handler’s own comment as a fact in his own argument. It’s a simple matter of translating the quote function in twitter into the form of a statement containing a quote. This is statement 1b.

Outrage Farming: While I am focusing on Rubin’s argument here, Handler’s own comments are hardly helpful. Many regard Chauvin’s guilt as obvious, but denying someone their day in court is problematic to say the least, and Handler too may be engaging in hyperbole here. It seems likely that both of these figures are engaging in rhetorical brinkmanship with the intention of riling up their critics as well as their fans. In this case, the anger some may feel at Handler for taking an extreme position may be the point. The same may be true of Rubin’s comments.

Evaluation: The argument is unsound as it is a hasty generalization.

Final Thoughts: Twitter does not seem to encourage moderation. Then again, neither do the careers of pundits or political comedians.