Playing the Hitler Card
In the tradition of "The Abortion Holocaust" and "Animal Auschwitz", Thom Hartmann's article "When Democracy Failed" draws a superficial and selective analogy between Adolf Hitler and President Bush. For example, Hartmann says of Hitler:
"His coarse use of languagereflecting his political roots in a southernmost stateand his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well-educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he'd joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones."
Apparently, in this analogy, Bavaria = Texas!
Brian Carnell has pointed out some important differences that the article glosses over, but one that's glaring by its absence is that the roles in terms of antisemitism are reversed! The Nazis murdered Jews, while Iraq shoots Scud missiles into Israel and pays bounties to the families of suicide bombers. Hartmann tries to cover this up by comically referring to "people of Middle Eastern ancestry" throughout the article, and only once referring to Jews.
It's funny but it's sad.
- Brian Carnell, "The Warnings of HistoryDon't Expect the Left to Get It Right", 3/20/2003
- Thom Hartmann, "When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History", Common Dreams Newscenter, 3/16/03
- The Fallacy of Weak Analogy
Eugene Volokh, who has written about the ways in which a slope can be slippery, has an interesting article in Slate magazine arguing that the slippery slope argument against a war with Iraq is fallacious. I'm more suspicious of slippery slopes than Volokh, so I tend to agree.
Sources: Eugene Volokh, "Unprecedented Logic", Slate, 3/18/2003
Julian Baggini's weekly "Bad Moves" column is now available, and he again deals with the issue of black-or-white thinking, this time under the name "false dichotomies".
As I noted in an earlier item, Tim van Gelder has mentioned the prevalence of black-or-white thinking in the current Iraq debate. In particular, the media usually frame the debate as "pro-war" versus "anti-war", though there is a spectrum of positions between these two extremes. Polls show that most Americans are neither "pro-war" nor "anti-war", but pro-war under certain conditions and anti-war under others. There is no logical inconsistency in this, for to be pro-war only under certain conditions is to be anti-war if those conditions are not met. Most people in the "pro-war" camp do not favor war per se, but favor either disarming Iraq or driving Saddam Hussein from power; and if doing that requires war, then so be it. Similarly, most of those in the "anti-war" party consider war a last resort which has not yet been reached. More time and new evidence may lead many in both camps to change sides, without inconsistency or altering their underlying attitudes. Unfortunately, the media tend to portray any public debate in terms of a choice between pro-this or anti-that, and the most extreme voices often get the loudest play.
Resource: Black-or-White Fallacy
I've added one of Julian Baggini's "Bad Moves" columns to the "Resources" for the Post Hoc fallacy.
"[S]cience is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic."
(T.H. Huxley, The Crayfish)
- Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity points out that a "Bushism" is taken out of context.
- Julian Baggini has a new "Bad Moves" column on black-or-white reasoning about child labor.
- Tim van Gelder has a new entry in his "Critical Reflections" weblog on four types of mistake made in thinking about the Iraq problem, including black-or-white reasoning.
Was Hitler an Environmentalist?
Mike Koplow sent in the following example from a New Scientist interview with Betsy Hartmann who claims that environmentalism is moving to the political right:
"[T]he ideas of ecologists about invasive speciesalien species as they are often calledsound similar to anti-immigration rhetoric. Green themes like scarcity and purity and invasion and protection all have right-wing echoes. Hitler's ideas about environmentalism came out of purity, after all."
Here is Mike's analysis of this passage:
"Her analogy is weak. Not only that, but it seems to depend partly on a quirk of language; what if we didn't call them 'alien species'? Finally, there seems to be a strange assumption here. '[S]carcity and purity and invasion and protection all have right-wing echoes.' Well, yeah, that's true as far as it goes, I guess, but these are themes that people of all political stripes use."
In addition, Hartmann's arguments in the interview consist almost entirely of guilt by association, such as the link made in the quote between concern about invasive species and Hitler. She provides no evidence at all that any of the views she criticizes are actually mistaken, other than to link them to the political right. Then she plays the typical "Hitler card" or "argumentum ad Nazium". I've seen this same sort of argument used by conservatives attempting to discredit environmentalism by linking it with Fascism. Does that mean that Hartmann's views should be rejected because some people on the political right might agree with them? According to her own reasoning, it should.
Sources: "The Greening of Hate", New Scientist, 2/20/2003
The New Yorker has an excellent new article by Malcolm Gladwell on the problem of hindsight bias in intelligence analysis. This is an important cognitive bias to allow for when considering whether or where to place blame for catastrophes, such as terrorist attacks or space shuttle accidents.
- Malcolm Gladwell, "Connecting the Dots", The New Yorker, 3/3/2003
- Richards J. Heuer, Jr., "Hindsight Biases in Evaluation of Intelligence Reporting", Chapter 13 of Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, 1999
- "How Not to Connect the Dots"
A student writes in with the following question:
Q: "If a fallacy is a kind of argument, then how come 'complex question' is a kind of fallacy? As a question is not an argument, then a 'complex question', according to your definition of 'fallacy', is not a fallacy."
A: Strictly speaking, you are right that a complex, or loaded, question is not by itself a logical fallacy. Rather, it is what I call a "boobytrap", that is, a linguistic snare that may cause someone to commit a fallacy. For example, suppose that a salesman asks you: "Will that be cash or charge?", and you answer "charge". You may mean only that if you decide to buy the product you will pay with a credit card. If the salesman immediately begins to make out a charge slip, he has fallaciously inferred that you are ready to purchase the product. Of course, this is often done intentionally as a way of pressuring you into buying something. The fallacious argument is not in the question itself, but in the conclusion drawn from the answer to it.
Another way of looking at this is that, because a loaded question is complexthat is, because it is really more than one questionany simple answer to it will be ambiguous. And an ambiguous answer is a boobytrap for a fallacy of ambiguity.
Thanks for the non-complex question!
I've added a couple more Resources to the Slippery Slope Fallacy. Both are articles available online: one of Julian Baggini's previously-mentioned "Bad Moves" columns, and one on ways that slopes can be slippery.
( 1:29 AM )
ABC News has an item on a campaign being launched by the animal rights group PETA which uses the question-begging analogy between the Nazi Holocaust and factory farming which I have used as an example. The article concentrates on people who find this analogy morally offensive, but it's logically offensive, too.
Source: "Jewish Groups Decry PETA's Holocaust Ads", The Associated Press, 3/1/2003
I've added a link to Julian Baggini's excellent weekly column "Bad Moves" to the Sources and Resources page.
Friday's New York Times carried an ad (p. B20) for the new movie "Gods and Generals" which contained the following quote:
"AN AWESOME SENSE OF AUTHENTICITY AND SCOPE."
-KEVIN THOMAS, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Usually, I criticize this kind of selective quote by citing the larger context from which it is torn. This time, I'll just do a little selective quotation of my own from the same review:
"IN DANGER OF TALKING ITSELF TO DEATH BEFORE THE UNION AND THE CONFEDERACY ARE ABLE TO DECIMATE EACH OTHER."
-KEVIN THOMAS, LOS ANGELES TIMES
I don't think that you'll be seeing this blurb in any ad for the movie!
- Kevin Thomas, "'Gods and Generals'", Los Angeles Times, 2/21/2003
- Quoting Out of Context