A Truthity Gaffitation?

Introduction: On October 13, 2022, Minnesota Representative Angie Craig debated Tyler Kistner as part of her bid for re-election. During the course of this debate, she said; “I will never stop standing up for Big Pharma and standing against my constituents!” This was likely a mistake, but was this a mere misstatement or an instance of saying the quiet part out loud, so to speak? Breitbart News produced the argument in question in an effort to convince its readers that Craig’s comments were in fact a telling moment in which she revealed her true agenda

Key Facts:

Text: These paragraphs can be found in the middle of the article in question.

“In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) noted that Craig’s slip of the tongue shows the truth, which is that she always stands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“Angie Craig accidentally admitted the truth: she always stands with Pelosi and against the interests of Minnesota families,” said NRCC spokesman Mike Berg.

The congresswoman has voted with the Speaker 100 percent of the time in the current Congress and 99 percent in the last Congress. Additionally, during President Joe Biden’s time in office, she has voted with him 100 percent of the time.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: It might be interesting to actually break down the statistical information on votes relating to the pharmaceutical industry in more detail, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

Statements: The argument includes a few complex statements which have broken up into their individual components. This in turn has left us with a couple instances of redundant statements. Some of this is reported speech, but the credibility of the source does not appear to be critical to the argument, so the source citation is treated here as a contextualization cue [a]. While Statement 1 is clearly the conclusion of the argument, as stated, it seems clear that the real point is to suggest that Craig really believes what she says in this instance, so a final unstated conclusion [5] has been spelled out here.

[1a] In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) noted that Craig’s slip of the tongue shows the truth,

[2a] [Angie Craig] always stands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

[1b] “Angie Craig accidentally admitted the truth:

[2b] she always stands with Pelosi and

[3] [Angie Craig always stands] against the interests of Minnesota families,”

[a] said NRCC spokesman Mike Berg.

[4] The congresswoman has voted with the Speaker 100 percent of the time in the current Congress and 99 percent in the last Congress. Additionally, during President Joe Biden’s time in office, she has voted with him 100 percent of the time.

[5] [Angie Craig actively supports big pharma against the interests of her own constituents.]

[6] Nancy Pelosi consistently represents big pharma in Congress.

Diagram: The following seems to represent the reasoning of the argument, with statement 4 offering a statistical summary of Craig’s history of voting with Nancy Pelosi as evidence for a generalization that she always votes with Pelosi. This then is added to an unsupported side comment about how she stands against her constituents to argue for the notion that her statement was an accurate reflection of her actual politics, all of which is meant to show that she really does stand up for big pharma and against the interests of her own constituents.

Discussion: This argument raises the following issues; Ad Hominem, Contextualization, Indexicality, Interactional Eclipse, Meta-Reasoning, Misstatement, Red Herring, Tell, Semantics, Statistical Reasoning, Unsupported Claims.

Ad Hominem: Insofar as this argument takes Craig’s summary statement as an indication of her real stance on big pharma, it provides an excuse to ignore the rest of her commentary on the topic at hand. In effect, this an ad hominem (circumstantial), in which an accusation about Craig’s real interest in the subject is used to dismiss the rest of her arguments on the subject.

Contextualization: Insofar as this argument turns on a question about the intent of a speaker (Craig), it is explicitly focused on context-specific information.

Indexicality: The Breitbart article rests a great of its case on the notion that Craig’s statement reflects a pattern actually present in her voting behavior. In effect, they are telling us that her voting pattern matches the significance of the statement in question, making it a truthful claim rather than a mere misstatement. They are thus treating her statement as a kind of indexical icon reflecting her actual politics. Whether or not voting in concert with Nancy Pelosi really constitutes a pattern of support for big pharma is another question, but the folks at Breitbart clearly think it does.

Interactional Eclipse: The real work of this article probably has less to do with the effort to convince people that Craig meant what she said than the effort to reinforce the framing of the issue. While readers may or may not come away thinking that Craig really means to support big pharma, the presupposition that Nancy Pelosi is uniquely supportive of big pharma is provided as an absolute given for this argument. In effect, the author is replacing questions about actual votes on actual issues related to medicine, which were the substance of Craig’s own arguments on the topic, with a simple rubric in which any association with Nancy Pelosi is taken to be evidence of support for big pharma. This impression is not contingent on accepting the conclusion of the argument, and it will have far more lasting impact than anything at stake in this particular argument. The long-term game for the author’s of this argument may have less to do with Craig or the election in question than the effort to poison the well for Democratic leadership. Likely, the normal value of an argument, as am effort to prove the truth of its conclusion is neither the practical goal nor the practical effect of this particular argument.

Meta-Reasoning: Insofar as this is an argument about an argument, the one made by Craig, this is an example of meta-reasoning, specifically it is an argument in which a statement completely out of line with the rest of her comments on the topic at hand may be taken as her real stance on the issue while setting aside anything else she has to say about the subject.

Misstatement: Given the argument Angie Craig was making before uttering the statement in question, it seems quite obvious that she misstated the point she meant to make. Whether this was an honest mistake or something akin to a liar’s tell or even a Freudian slip would seem to be the point of the argument Breitbart makes. Absent any good reason to believe this statement reflected her real views, however, it seems best to think of this as merely a misstatement and nothing more.

Red Herring: The notion that association with Nancy Pelosi constitutes support for Big Pharma is a red herring. The Breitbart piece makes no effort to establish its relevance. Still, Pelosi has taken donations from big pharmaceutical companies and one can find many articles from both the left and right taking her to task for their influence on her politics. Just how much this differs from Mitch McConnell and countless other Congressmen on both sides of the aisle is another question, but the issue here is not whether or not Pelosi handles the issue well; it is whether or not Craig does. An abstract comparison of Craig’s voting behavior to that of Pelosi works only if Pelosi is uniquely supportive, and really only if Craig can be shown to have been similarly supportive in key votes wherein the interests of big pharma actually diverge from those of the public. But of course anyone prepared to make such a case would hardly need to reference Pelosi in order to do so; they could just attack Craig’s votes directly.

Another red herring in this argument arises when you consider the fact that Craig’s record of voting with Nancy Pelosi includes votes on a vast range of different topics, many of which have nothing to do with big pharma. Breitbart’s use in this argument effectively converts a record of unrelated votes into evidence of support for big pharma. This is quite deceptive.

Finally, the very notion that one should take Craig’s statement as indicative of her stance on the issue while ignoring her comments about actual legislation (including her criticism of Kistner) constitutes another red herring. It is an effort to treat a mistaken wording as the answer to a substantive problem.

Semantics: What counts as “big pharma” remains largely unspecified throughout this entire discussion. Craig herself does not address that, nor do her detractors. It’s tempting to think of the phrase as a free-floating signifier in this debate insofar as all interested parties seem to be against it without necessarily needed any specific reason to do so, or even any significant sense of what it is that they are supposed to be against.

Another issue buried in the question about what is or isn’t big pharma would be a question about whether or not all things that benefit big pharma are necessarily bad for the American people. Craig seems to take it as a forgone conclusion that opposition to big pharma is a good thing, and her detractors sloppy statistical arguments carry forward that same assumption. This side-steps any questions about the value of any particular view and the possibility that while the interests of big pharmaceutical companies may sometimes diverge from those of the public, they may also sometimes coincide. Treating the issue as an abstract case of being for or against big pharma thus obscures legitimate questions about the pros and cons of particular votes.

Statistical Reasoning: The Breitbart article tells us that Craig votes with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. In support of this, it links its readers to a post on Pro-Publica summarizing Craig’s votes in comparison to Pelosi’s for the years 21-22. The article does not break down the votes by topic. A point of clarification on the page reads as follows: “Correction (Nov. 15, 2019): This page originally included all votes on passage of a bill under the ‘Major Votes’ category. It now only includes votes designated as major by ProPublica.” The article concludes that the two voted in agreement 100% of the time.

A few significant questions could be raised about the statistical comparison, some of which have been mentioned elsewhere. If the difference between the results for ‘major bills’ and the total voting record I am unaware of it. How many of these bills are actually representative if issues affecting big pharma is another question. Whether or not any of them presented any significant difference between the interests of big pharma and those of the American people (or even those in Craig’s district) is yet another question altogether. And of course, none of this addresses the legislative process and any efforts made by either party to shape the legislation in question in support of or opposition to big pharma. The statistical argument made in Breitbart thus elides a number of important questions about the actual politics at issue.

Tell: The notion that someone could tell the truth, by accident so to speak, is often rooted in the notion that there may be some underlying psychological reason for the misstatement in question. Whether treating it as a kind Freudian slip or a liar’s tell (or that of a poker player), it is common to suppose that some deep-seated tension is leading to the unintended expression. Breitbart does not present an explicit claim to that effect, though some of the online commenters have. Their own strategy seems to have been to convince readers that the claim is true regardless of Craig’s reasons for saying it.

Unsupported Claims: The notion that Nancy Pelosi can be treated as a stand-in for big pharma remains entirely without support in this argument. Even if one grants that she supports big pharma, it would be reasonable to ask whether or not her support for the industry distinguished her from other members of Congress, include that if the Republican Party, or for that matter the candidate, Tyler Kistner. Absent evidence to that effect, the decision to treat Pelosi as a proxy for big pharma remains arbitrary. It is likely the argument rests on little more than a general sense of contempt that can be expected from Republican voters whenever Pelosi’s name comes up.

Evaluation: At the end of the day, this is little more than a red herring offered in support of a red herring. Craig misspoke and the Republican Party wants us to believe her gaff matters more than her explicit arguments on the topic. Toward that end, they remind us that she votes like Pelosi. this is irrelevancy piled on top of irrelevancy.

Final thoughts: I spent way too much time on this.

A Just So Militia

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

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

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

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

[a] I’m going to say it again.

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

[b] Because

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

[2] That’s it.

[3] They don’t want to take power.

[4] They don’t want to be governors.

[5] They don’t want to be presidents.

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

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

6] That’s why the militias are there.

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

[c] and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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