Marjorie Taylor Greene Almost Has a Thought About the Vegas Shooter

Introduction: Marjorie Taylor Greene is a a U.S. Representative for Georgia District 14. She is also a known advocate of several conspiracy theories, and an advocate of Second Amendment rights. At some point in time, she posted this video explaining her views on a mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. (Note: This appears to be a re-post by someone else; I still haven’t tracked down the original.) At some point, she also published this article republished by the Way Back Machine, in which she provides more detail (though not much more in the way of evidence) on her views about the subject.

Key Facts: The shooting in question occurred on October 1st, 2017. It was carried out by Stephen Paddock. He fired over a thousand rounds of ammunition into a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 60 people and wounding 867 others before killing himself. (I’m just going by Wiki here.) Although some sources have made assertions about the subject, at present, police have drawn no substantial conclusions about his motives for the shooting.

Text: Here is the full text of the video clip. Obviously, some of the text below is not part of the actual argument.

“Hey Friends, I’ve got a question for you. How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation? How do you do that? Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is very likely to be conservative, very likely to vote Republican, very likely to be Trump supporters, very likely to be pro-Second Amendment, and very likely to own guns. You make them scared, you make them victims, and you change their mindset, and then possibly you can pass anti-gun legislation. Is that what happened in Las Vegas? Is that why, um, the country music festival was targeted? Because those would be the people, that would be the ones that we would relate to? Are they trying to terrorize our mindset, and change our minds on the Second Amendment? Is that what’s going on here? I have a lot of questions about that. I don’t believe Steven Paddock was a lone wolf. I don’t believe that he pulled this off all by himself, and I know most of you don’t either. So, I am really wondering if there is a, there’s a bigger motive there, and does it have to do with the Second Amendment, because what’s the best way to control the people? You have to take away their guns. So, that’s just my question today. This is Marjorie Greene with American Truth Seekers.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: What makes this argument interesting is the constant hedging. Greene is doing her best to put forward ideas without taking responsibility for them. The end result is quite a study of rhetorical manipulation and general evasiveness.

Statements: I found it really hard to dissect the statements in this argument, mainly because Greene is waffling her way through it. It’s normal to rephrase a rhetorical question as a statement for argument analysis, but it isn’t normal to deal with an argument that is so thoroughly saturated with them (along with other forms of innuendo). It seems somewhat unfair to Greene to just pretend her questions are statements, but it’s also unduly generous to pretend they are just questions. She is riding the fence line on just how much she wants to assert, and that poses a problem for how to interpret her approach to this.

I wanted to preserve some elements of the contextualization strategies here as I do think they are critical to the argument.

I am designating some the contextual information Greene presents with capital letters in place of numbers. Note also, that a rather large portion of this argument consists of rhetorical questions. I have added square brackets to the periods I used to replace what would normally be question marks to indicate which statements were originally phrased as questions.

[A] Hey Friends, I’ve got a question for you.

[B1] How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation?

[B2] How do you do that?

[1] Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is very likely to be conservative.

[2] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to vote Republican.

[3] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to be Trump supporters.

[4] Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] very likely to be pro-Second Amendment.

[5] [Maybe, you accomplish that by performing a mass shooting into a crowd that is] and very likely to own guns.

[6] You make them scared.

[7] you make them victims.

[8] you change their mindset.

[9] [if you do this,] then possibly you can pass anti-gun legislation.

[10] [That is] what happened in Las Vegas[.]

[11] [That is] why, um, the country music festival was targeted[.]

Because

[11] Those would be the people, that would be the ones that we would relate to[.]

[12] [They are] trying to terrorize our mindset, and change our minds on the Second Amendment[.]

[11 and 12] [That is] what’s going on here[.]

[C] I have a lot of questions about that.

[13] I don’t believe Steven Paddock was a lone wolf.

[14] I don’t believe that he pulled this off all by himself.

[15] I know most of you don’t either.

So

[D] I am really wondering if there is a

[16] there’s a bigger motive there.

[17] [It has] to do with the Second Amendment.

[18] because what’s the best way to control the people[.]

[19] You have to take away their guns.

[E] So, that’s just my question today.

[F] This is Marjorie Greene with American Truth Seekers.”

Diagram: This took a lot more judgement calls than I like making, but here is the diagram.

Green’s Argument

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes: Accusatory Question, Anaphoric Pronouns, Argument from Incredulity, Burden of Proof, Double Negation, Gish Gallop, Hedges, Innuendo, Passive Voice, Provincialism, Redundant Assertions, Rhetorical Question, Straw Man, Unsupported Assertion.

Accusatory Question: Several of Greene’s questions effectively make an accusation for which she presents no evidence. By treating these as rhetorical question, as above, they are transformed into statements for which the evidence is questionable at best, but the rhetorical strategy is worth keeping track of in itself. Statements 10, 11, and 12 are the more obvious examples of this gambit.

Anaphoric Pronouns: A couple of sections of this argument turn on the use of anaphoric pronouns (i.e. pronouns that refer to a previously named entity. At least a couple of these are free-floating anaphors, i.e. pronouns used without a clearly established referent. We have a generalized “you’ in statements 1-9, for example, which seems to suggest that these are tactics anyone could use to manipulate others, but she is probably suggesting that someone in government (or more likely, an abstract government entity) is actually doing this. The ‘they’ in statement 12 would refer to the participants in some unspecified conspiracy, but once again Greene avoids telling us who it is that she is talking about. The “You” in statement 15 would of course refer to Greene’s friends (as mentioned in A), which in this case probably means something more like her fans and/or those who agree with her on this and similar topics. “Them” in statements 6-8 clearly refers to the conservative crowd referenced in statements 1-5.

On a side note: The demonstrative ‘that’ in “[11 and 12] [That is] what’s going on here[.]” is a bit ambiguous. I take it to refer to events as described in both statements 11 and 12, though it could refer to either one individually.

Argument from Incredulity: Statements 13 and 14 both present refusal to believe a proposition (the notion that Paddock acted alone) as evidence for its opposite. This is the argument from incredulity. As, Greene is actually suggesting a lot more specific than that he had help, this raises other problems as well (straw man concerns and burdens of proof).

Burden of Proof: Taylor uses double negation to assert a few unspecified assertions about possible conspiracies (e.g. statements 13 and 14). In effect, saying that paddock did not act alone is what she offers in place of a clear theory as to who helped him and what evidence she has for this. Significantly, this is one of the few areas where Greene does not disguise her assertions as question, but she still gives herself cover by hiding a specific assertion in the negation of its opposite. Arguably, it would be on her to spell out the assertion she means to make and provide evidence for it. Instead she merely uses the argument from incredulity to deny the negation of her unspecified accusations.

Double Negation: As mentioned above (in Burden of proof), Greene denies that Paddock acted alone in order to suggest that he had help. This helps her evade the need to make specific assertions as to what help he had, but to the point at hand, her argument turns on double negation.

Gish Gallop: For a short clip, Majorie Taylor Greene does incude an awful lot of objectionable material in here. I think it would be fair to call this a Gish Gallop.

Hedges: Greene uses words like “Maybe” (statements 1-5) and “possibly” (in statement 9) to avoid committing to her assertions. She tells us that she is “wondering” about this. Like her use of rhetorical questions and her use of double negation, these hedges enables her to evade responsibility for anything she gets wrong. If her accusations are clearly disproven, then she may of course say that she was only raising the possibility. In effect, she is using this language to avoid taking responsibility for the argument she is making.

Innuendo: This isn’t the most technical term, but all this adds up to an argument that works by innuendo. Greene implies a great deal more than she asserts.

Passive Voice: One of the advantages of passive voice is that you can use it without a ‘by-clause’, thus avoiding the need to specify who is actually carrying out the action in question. You see this in statement 11, talking about why the country music festival “was targeted” without saying by whom. Clearly, Greene does not mean Paddock alone, but she never tells us who else might be involved. Along with all the other hedges, her use of passive voice here enables her to skip that piece of information.

Provincialism: Greene’s statement 16 could be viewed as a appeal to provincialism. (Alternatively, it could be an appeal to popularity – i.e. the Bandwagon fallacy – but if I had to make a call, I would say that it’s bandwagon.) She appears to be trying to generate the impression that people in her own circles would certainly share her views on this topic.

Redundant Assertions: There are a few redundant assertions here, some such as statements 11 and 12 which appear to be repeated with different wording, and some (statements 1-5) which occur which several different propositions within one whole statement are spelled out individually. None of this is a problem with Greene’s reasoning, but it could trip up someone doing an argument analysis (fingers crossed).

Rhetorical Questions: As noted repeatedly above, Greene uses a lot of rhetorical questions. Statements 9-12 in the list above were actually phrased as questions. She begins with a question, repeated twice, and ends by saying that she is raising questions. Somewhere in the middle, Greene suggests that she is actually raising questions. It seems best to treat this as acknowledging some level of doubt, but Greene is in effect making an argument here. She is suggesting that the scenarios (or something like them) she raises are actually the case. Combined with her use of double-negation to affirm some unspecified scenario other than the prospect that Paddock acted alone, her use of rhetorical questions adds up to an argument in favor of some unspecific conspiracy theory.

In any event, the questions mentioned above have been rewritten as statements here.

Straw Man Argument: I’m not real sure about this one, but there is at least one sense in which Greene’s argument could be seen as resting on a straw man. Al though it appears that the police treat Paddock as a lone actor, the notion that his actions are not the result of a conspiracy to take away guns from American citizens simply does not rest on the notion that Paddock acted alone. Any number of scenarios involving additional parties would fall far short of the conspiracy Greene is suggesting.

Unsupported Assertion: Greene makes a unsupported assertions in this argument. She provides no evidence, for example, for her assertion that Paddock did not act alone (statements 13 and 14). She also suggests (in the form of rhetorical questions in 10, 11, and 12) that the country music festival was targeted for purposes of undermining gun-owners rights. Phrasing these as questions helps to diffuse the expectation that evidence should follow, and one does. Statements 16 and 17 are also unsupported. All of these assertions are just as controversial as the conclusion of her argument, and at least as questionable as to their truth values. It isn’t simply that these are starting premises; the problem in each of these cases is that the notions Greene puts forth fly in the face of the currently common take on this event, and she makes these assertions without offering any evidence in support of them.

Voicing: In statements 13 and 14, Greene is effectively voicing the stance of her presumed opposition. She does so for the purpose of refuting them, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind that she is conjuring a definite sense of her political opposition for the moment. That opposition is of course present by implication not only in the dialogue over what happened in this shooting, but also in the story itself, as the presumed source of the conspiracy she wants us to believe was behind the attack. In rejecting their views, she is of course also rejecting the politics of the conspiracy. Given her assumptions about the conspiracy, calling it out and rejecting the views of those who deny the conspiracy is performatively fighting against the conspiracy, even against the shooter insofar as she hopes to defeat his presumed goals. She doesn’t hit this theme that hard, but the implication is probably part of the appeal of her position, and part of what makes it so hard to reason with people like Greene.

Evaluation: Hm…

1-5 -> 9: Statements 1-5 each rely on an intuitive sense that an attack on gun owning conservatives might cause them to change their minds on the Second Amendment. I do wonder what social psychologists might say on the subject (particularly as regards dissonance reduction theory), but these statements seem plausible, and I think they do add up a general sense that such an event could (hypothetically) help someone who wants to restrict the rights of gun owners which is the point of statement 9. Push comes, to shove, this sub-theme strikes me as a marginally sound argument.

6-8 -> 9: This is just a more abstract argument about psychological impact. It’s vague, at best. There is a certain intuitive appeal, but its’ not clear how all this works. I don’t find this sub-theme convincing, though my concerns are mild at worst. It just isn’t clear that people would respond to such a traumatic event by changing heir views on gun ownership and gun rights. It is at least as likely that they will respond by adopting conspiracy theories and using those theories to double-down on their defense of gun ownership.

This really isn’t where the real problems in Greene’s argument reside, but if I have to make a call, I’d say this one is unsound.

11 -> 10. Statement 10 is a proposition about what actually happened. Statement 11 is a statement about the affiliation of people targeted. the one does not add up to the other. This is unsound because the inference itself is weak at best.

13+14 -> 10. This one is unsound because 13 and 14 are unsupported. Also, the prospect that Paddock may have had help from someone does not add up to evidence for the kind of conspiracy she is asserting. This argument fails on both the truth value of its premises and the logic of inference. Unsound. Really unsound.

15 -> 10. This is an appeal to provincialism fallacy. Unsound.

16=19 -> 10: Each of the assumptions of this argument is unsupported and unlikely to be true. Hence, the argument is unsound.

9+10 -> 12. If we assume 9 and 10 are true, then 12 logically follows. The problem is of course the fact that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that statement 10 is true. The argument is unsound, which is putting it mildly.

Overall: This argument is about as bad as they get.

Final thoughts: This is how conspiracy theory works in terms of rhetoric and reasoning. It is a great study in the means by which a demagogue (or a wannabe demagogue) makes accusations without taking responsibility for them.

Edna Maclean On Iñupiaq Counting

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

Key Facts: N/A.

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

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

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

(Emphasis in original)

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

[4a] There were 4 groups of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(suggesting that)

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

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

an indication that

[12] one is now counting on the toes.

(Further evidence is found in)

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

(implying)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hopi Comments on American Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

[1] Hopi songs are virtually all about water.

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

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

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

[5] I listen to a lot of American music

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

[7] [Americans need love.]

Discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

[1c] “Yes.”

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

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

Diagram: This is the diagram as I see it.

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

Ouch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

First Woman’s Argument (NSFW?)

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

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

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

Text:

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

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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