The Sad, Sorry State of Argument in the Social Media/Activist Journalism/SJW Era
This morning I saw a Twitter post claiming that James Damore, the now-infamous Google Memo Guy, is just like the KKK. Here’s the post:
Wu’s “argument” is an example of analogical reasoning, or argument by analogy. X is similar to (or, in this example, identical to) Y. It’s also an example of an informal fallacy known as a false analogy, or faulty analogical reasoning.
One of the major impacts of the media and other ideological monocultures like academia and Silicon Valley dominating the world of ideas is a disturbing lack of basic argumentative knowlege. The media, like Google and Facebook, makes money through advertising, and a well thought out, well-reasoned deductive argument is hardly going to get those advertising dollar clicks. Exaggeration, false claims, hyperbole, fomenting hysteria, and Chicken Little rhetoric are what gets those advertising dollar clicks.
Also, most journalists studied journalism. Someone once said that a journalist is someone who knows nothing and isn’t afraid to write about it. Come to think of it, it might have been me. Or not. In any case, we have all these journalists with little or no knowledge of politics, science, economics, logic, statistics, etcetera, telling us what to think about politics, science and economics, etcetera. Just check the bios of these folks sometime.
Also, because of the lack of viewpoint diversity in most media citadels (like the lack of viewpoint diversity in academia, or Silicon Valley) reporting the news has now become “my” opinion on the news and why the story should be about “me.” Every Jim Acosta out there thinks they are a Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe, without the personality or talent of a Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe.
What’s a consumer of information to do?
What follows is a basic guide to argument, to help those of you whose freshman critical thinking instructor pushed their SJW ideology in class instead of teaching you the basics of logic and critical reasoning skills. It will also help you to identify what Nassim Taleb calls “bullshit practitioners” (see his recent Twitter/Medium dustup with scholar Mary Beard and the ideological lockstep UK media on the “diversity” of Ancient Rome), to develop what Hemingway called his built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector.
Forget Ethos, Pathos, Logos
The call of the freshman writing instructor: Ethos, pathos, logos! Ethos (ethical), pathos (emotional) and logos (rational) are the “proofs” of persuasion, what Aristotle in his Rhetoric calls the three artistic proofs, “the available means of persuasion” (unfortunately, many university writing teachers have little or no training in rhetoric). Persuasion is an attempt to get an audience to believe an idea or take an action using ethical, emotional and rational appeals. Journalism should not be the attempt to get an audience to believe an idea or take an action. Come to think of it, neither should education.
Note: much media these days, especially opinion media and social media, is simply pathos mixed with ad hominum attacks on a person’s character, color, religion, sexuality, class or hair. You orange deplorable you, you’re ruining everything!
Remember Inductive, Deductive, Causal, Analogic
There are several kinds of logic, but for the purposes of argument there are four ways to argue: inductive, deductive, causal, and analogical (which we saw an example of above).
Inductive reasoning is most common in science writing (and least common in media). For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution starts with an inductive argument (drawing a conclusion from a serious of examples or facts):
· There are a variety of species [fact]
· All resources are limited [fact]
· Therefore, this will entail a struggle for resources, for survival [conclusion]
· All swans observed so far are white [fact]
· Therefore, all swans are white [conclusion]
Inductive arguments are either strong or weak arguments. Darwin is an example of a strong inductive argument; white swans is an example of a weak argument (one black swan destroys the argument).
Deductive reasoning is the most common form of argument in social sciences and the humanities. Based on syllogistic logic (valid major premise + valid minor premise = valid conclusion), deductive arguments have a premise and a conclusion: Because of X, we can argue Y (Aristotle called this an enthymeme, the rhetorical equivalent of a syllogism. No quiz, I promise).
Unlike inductive arguments, deductive arguments are either valid or not valid, based on the validity of the premise. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is a perfect example of a deductive argument:
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state [premise], the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed [conclusion].”
The easiest way to identify the premise of an argument is simply to put “because” in front of it. “Because a well-regulated militia,” or “Because several scientists have manipulated or falsified data, the science of climate change is not settled [as if science is ever settled].
Note: One of the reasons arguments against the Second Amendment fail is because opponents always attack the conclusion of the argument. Clue: you have to show that the premise of a deductive argument, not the conclusion is not valid (one of the four forms of refutation). Good luck trying to show that a well-regulated militia (or military) is not necessary to the security of a free state.
Another example: F.A. Hayek’s argument for the economic benefits of income inequality and against the redistribution of existing wealth in The Constitution of Liberty (see the chapter called “The Common Sense of Progress”). Don’t see many SJWs moving to Venezuela, which has the highest level of income equality in the world at the moment.
Causal reasoning is where the premise of an argument examines the causal relationship between two or more events. A causal argument examines things such as contributing factors, causal chains, and causal webs. The media is full of shoddy causal reasoning, especially in those stories of the kind where a study of 153 grad students at Ivy League U show/suggests you shouldn’t drink coffee after 3pm or you’ll grow scales and turn into a fire-breathing dragon. Just remember, causation is notoriously difficult to prove; correlation is not causation, something that should be tattooed on the forehead of every journalist.
Analogical reasoning: well, we already covered that.
Don’t Forget Classical, Toulmin, Rogerian
There are also three basic forms of argument: Classical (Aristotle et alia), Toulmin (based on the ideas of Stephen Toulmin. His book The Uses of Argument is awesome, btw) and Rogerian (aka conciliatory argument, based on the ideas of Carl Rogers).
Quickly, classical we basically discussed above, Toulmin is a six-step modified version of classical argument (Toulmin added a focus on the unstated or assumed premise of an argument, among other things) and Rogerian is a four-step argument focused on showing respect for the opposition, seeking common ground and showing how the opponent would benefit from adopting your position. Not very popular these days, for obvious reasons.
The deductive standard is validity. The inductive standard is strength. For the most part, the arguments of the Social Justice Warrior cult on race, class, gender, inequality, etcetera are based on invalid premises, supported with shoddy studies, surveys, statistics “expert” opinions and anecdotes (a favorite of The New York Times: this happened to a neighbor and/or acquaintance of the reporter so it’s a universal trend! As the now-cliché goes, the plural of anecdote is not evidence).
Speaking of the kinds of support for deductive arguments, as well as what your writing teacher wrongly called logical fallacies (they’re informal fallacies, folks, not fallacies of logic) well, perhaps another time. I’ve tried your patience enough for one post. Happy arguing!