Archive for the ‘Modern Issues’ Category

One of the most frustrating examples of the sad fact that we no longer learn logic in schools is the “debate” that’s been going on for the last few years about homosexuality.

Of course “debate” is used very generously here, as we have seen very few non-fallacious arguments put forth on this subject, on either side. I’ve talked a little bit about how “’cause the Bible said so” is a fallacy called “appeal to authority,” and requires some further premise (such as “the Bible is inerrant”) in order to succeed.

But what has the pro gay marriage camp got to say? Not a whole lot that isn’t strictly fallacious.

Here is an excellent article I stumbledupon earlier today.

The discussion we should be having about homosexuality involves what I’ll call its relatively “moral-ness”, for lack of a better word, that is to say, discussion over whether or not it is moral.

Let’s break down each of the points presented in this article and see if we can uncover any arguments about that question.

Point 1: “Blame yourself.”

Step 1: Blame yourself.

There may be other arguments to support the idea of blaming yourself, but the picture presented here presents an obvious fallacy by assuming heterosexual couples are intentionally causing the orientation of their children. Even if that were true, its not much of an argument, and tells us nothing about the issue.

Point 2: “Realize gay marriage is inevitable. Statistics show people’s views rapidly changing on the subject.”

Step 2: Realize gay marriage is inevitable. Statistics show people's views are rapidly changing on the issue.

This argument may be phrased as a peer-pressure fallacy: “The majority of people think that A is moral. Therefore A is moral.” This is obviously fallacious.

It could also be phrased as, “Behavior A will inevitably be sanctioned by the government. Therefore behavior A ought to be sanctioned by the government.” This is fallacious because it attempts to jump from how something IS to how something ought to be, a jump that requires additional premises.

Point 3: “Imagine how stupid you’ll look in 40 years.”

Step 3: Imagine how stupid you'll look in 40 years.

This argument is also twofold. First it makes the following argument: “Cause A is morally equivalent to cause B.” Why is this so? They are similar situations, yes, but are the morally interchangeable? This is a different question.

This point also tries to appeal to “looking stupid” as a normative force for action. I think we all know better than that.

Point 4: “Listen to Louise CK.”

Step 4: Listen to Louis CK.

Louise CK presents an argument (and a rather convoluted one) stating the usual argument that if things don’t affect you, you shouldn’t have any input on them. But the real argument that he’s making is deeper: he’s essentially asserting that there are no objective moral values and that therefore the only things that matter to people are the things that affect them directly. Well, I would like to see some arguments about why or how he thinks that there are no objective moral values. Indeed, that is the argument that needs to be had first, before we start talking about what is and what is not moral.

Point 5: “Let go of the idea that same-sex marriage is ruining the sanctity of marriage argument.”

Step 5: Let go of the idea that same-sex marriage is ruining the sanctity of marriage argument.

This one is the most obviously fallacious. It states that “Because A is ruining the sanctity of marriage, B is not.” It essentially creates a false dichotomy.

Point 6: “Take a closer look at the Bible.”

Step 6: Take a closer look at the Bible.

There are three problems with this point. The first picture makes a very poor argument based on the (Protestant) idea that the entire text of the Bible is authoritative in the same way and with the same weight. Also because there is no citation there, I am able only to guess, but I believe he is referencing the Levitical code, which applied only to Levites. If that is the case, that would be irrelevant on top of being fallacious.

The second imagine makes the opposite mistake of the first. The first was rested under the assumption that the entire Bible was one long rule-book wherein each rule needed to be obeyed to the letter. The second makes the assumption that only the specific words of Jesus are authoritative. Such a reading of the Bible would be quite unhelpful.

Thirdly, both arguments miss the far more relevant passages. 1 Corinthians 6:9 is sort of hard to work around:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…”

Point 7: “Read their story and watch their video. Try not to cry.”

Step 7: Read their story and watch their video. Try not to cry.This whole point is an irrelevant and dismissible Appeal to Emotions. Now, dismissing such an appeal does not mean that I, or anyone else, is apathetic to the real sufferings of human beings; what it means is that appeals to emotion are not valid arguments, and amount to anecdotal evidence.

Point 8: “Take a look at the people in your own life. How many couples do you know that have stayed together as long as these couples?”

Step 8: Take a look at the people in your own life. How many couples do you know that have stayed together as long as these couples?This too is irrelevant to the discussion at hand: “staying together” and the implication of fidelity and true love, is not an argument! Least of all is it an argument about the moral value of such actions.

Point 9: “Imagine their wedding.”

No argument here is really offered, so I’ll skip it.

Point 10: “Look how happy these people are.”

Step 10: Look how happy these people are.This too is an appeal to emotion, but its argumentative content might look something like this: “Whatever makes people happy is morally right.” Such an argument is not a priori true, and needs many, many premises to have any sort of intellectual weight.

Point 11: “Ask yourself if you could say no to these kids?”

Step 11: Ask yourself if you could say no to these kids?This too is an appeal to emotion and carries little to no cognitive weight.

Point 12: “As yourself if you could say no to Neil Patrick Harris?”

Step 12: Ask yourself if you could say no to Neil Patrick Harris?This is just point 11 redressed in a different and cognitively indistinguishable manner.

Point 13: “Look at the consequences.”

Step 13: Look at the consequences.

The reason this isn’t fair is its use of hyperbole. Here’s a possible consequence: “A culture endorses a morally reprehensible behavior.” Now, if it turns out that homosexuality is is in fact morally reprehensible, that would be a consequence. But we haven’t had that discussion yet, so this “pie chart” is running on assumed premises.

Point 14: “Imagine the alternatives.”

Step 14: Imagine the alternatives.

I’m not really sure what sort of argument this is putting forth. If someone else is, please let me know.

——————————————————————————————————————–

So, did you detect any real arguments in that article? Neither did I!

If you support gay marriage and think you can do better, please feel free to post your arguments in the comments, but please make sure they are real arguments, they are not fallacies, and they are related to the actual question posed above.

Until then, happy logic-ing!

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Education expert Sir Ken Robinson gave a talk that was animated in this video, on the problems with the current system of education.

Dorothy Sayers, author, translator, Inkling, and all-around fascinating woman, wrote this essay, in which she elaborated on a proposal for a return to a model of education based on the Medieval Trivium.

Both are well worth consuming and talking about.

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From time to time I have been accused of over-reacting to certain things, and with a recent entry titled “Amazon’s Kindle and the End of Freedom such a reaction is not surprising.

However, the villainy which I warned of has not arrived cloaked in the hazy fog of some eventual future, but instead has arisen under our very noses!

Amazon did precisely what was predicted: delete books off people’s Kindles. Oh, they gave a digital refund, but that’s not the point. The point is that the consumers made purchases which they thought were final, because they thought they owned their books. Funny.

No, not really funny. It gets less and less funny when you hear which two books they pulled.

Can you guess?

George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

Wow.

Just dwell on that one, people.

You can read lots about it from MSNBC, Mashable.com, and the Kindle Community Page itself.

Of course, the CEO of Amazon all but grovels in his apology, and Amazon is bending over backwards to assure the consumer base that things of this nature will never happen again, but it’s all talk. There’s a whole bunch of words surrounding the incident and the apology, but if you zoom out and look at the big picture, the bottom line is pretty clear:

Amazon took your books. Those books were Orwell books.

The irony is so thick you could drown in it. And maybe one day soon, we all will.

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By now I imagine most of you have heard about Amazon’s new exercise in absurdity, The Kindle.

I introduced and condemned the little piece of hardware in the more introductory article that ran in the April issue of the Viewpoints, which you can read on their website. What you are reading now is the article I intended to write.

At any rate, all you really need to know for now is that the Kindle 2 is an e-book reader, allowing you to store up to 1,500 digital books and read at your leisure.

The following video is off the Kindle 2 main page, and is good for some laughs. Where they dragged these people from, I don’t know, but they seem to have come from some alternative universe where books are actually carved into stone, with pages that require minutes of sweated straining to turn, and with writing that is cryptic and requires hours of studying to decipher. Nor do I know how much they paid them to say the kinds of things they do. Note their word choices and the way in which they articulate the difference between the Kindle 2 and “regular old books”; namely, they don’t (special, imaginative kudos to the wonderful argument made by the lady whose sole contribution consists in repeating the words, “it’s better than a book.”)

And don’t feel like you have to finish the video, or anything. It’s painful.

Tycho and Gabriel, mercifully, delivered the only suitable antidote (click to enlarge):

Anyway, as we move into the real heart of the issue, what’s important to note about the Kindle 2 is that it is not Wi-Fi powered, but rather is always connected Wirelessly to Amazon, in much the same way as a phone. You can’t disconnect it from the Amazon network, it’s always there. Keep that in mind.

Moving over to an an interview with the Washington Post, Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer remarked that, “there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.”

And this is a serious problem. Physical books enjoy certain conveniences unique to physical matter: You can lend, borrow or give them away. This is due to the fact that when you buy a book, you own it. It is yours to lend to friends, give to your children, donate to a library, take anywhere and read as often as you like. This is not true of Kindle books, which you do not actually own in any form, physical or digital. David W. Boles, a blogger at Urbansemiotic.com and Kindle 2 owner, noted that in the original model of the Kindle, there was an SD card slot, but this produced problems with Amazon’s ability to control content:

“The control issue I discovered,” Boles writes, “was if you moved a book to your SD card, Amazon could not remove the book from your Kindle. They could remove the book from your online storage and from the Kindle’s active memory, but if your content was on the SD card, Amazon could see it on your Kindle, but they could not remove or edit the content.”

This “problem” has since been corrected on the newer model of the Kindle, giving Amazon complete control over the books which were supposedly owned by the consumer.

Make no mistake about it,” Boles writes. “You do not own the content on your Kindle. Amazon does.

Meanwhile, on the Kindle homepage, Amazon states, “This is just the beginning. Our vision is to have every book ever printed, in any language, all available in under 60 seconds on Kindle. We won’t stop until we get there.” And when that happens, there won’t be any more books. If Ballmer is right in predicting the death of print, there will easily come a time, very soon, when all books, all newspapers, and all information rests, not in individual or even in public libraries, but in the hands of one or two companies. Imagine a world where everyone owns a Kindle, or equivalent, and there are no books at all. None. No newspapers. No magazines. Fascinated by their new portable library, consumers will give away their old books and magazines. No one will save newspapers anymore. Print will die, and all information will be in the hands of Amazon and its competitors.

And so we return to the ownership issue. With a company owning basically all printed information, and with no way to disconnect your Kindle from the Amazon network, the information can be changed and edited at will. If the company decides a book should not be available, out it goes. If some minority group decides that a particular author is racist, the text can be changed, updating it with more politically correct jargon. Upon realizing this I had flashbacks to the whole “controversial” issue surrounding the use of authentic dialogue in such authors as Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad (how would you like to crack open Huck Finn and see the words “African American?”). But aside from the disemboweling of great literature, the really disturbing point is that the Kindle also supports all major newspapers (and many, many more), magazines, and famous blogs. This is supposed to be convenient, but I don’t find anything convenient about the fact that this information is always at the mercy of the e-book distributors. Further, that changes to the content on your Kindle is untraceable. Why? Because you, the customer, do not own this material. You are paying Amazon to lease it.

Now, of course Amazon will deny all of this, because at the moment, they have no reason to control the world of information (that I can see of, anyway). They will point to all of these things as conveniences for the consumer, or else as necessities so people don’t cheat the company. Apparently, on the first Kindle, people could buy books, transfer them to their computers, and then ask for refunds, thus grabbing copies of e-books for free. I see and respect that as a concern for a company, so I’m not saying that Amazon is evil or setting out to conquer the world. But I believe what Ballmer said. It is very probable that print will die in the next ten years, and when that happens, whether intentional or not, the way of the future seems to put world information in the hands of e-book companies, and whoever might pull on their strings.

For now, though, they’ll keep bragging that they want every book ever printed and the utmost convenience for the consumer. But don’t expect that to last. No, one day when there are no more hard copies, odd things will start happening. Changes will take place. And when that happens, there will be nothing anyone can do about it.

So please, for the love of all that is holy, save your books, don’t purchase the Kindle, and spread the word.

EDIT: You may also enjoy reading the very concise point Cory Doctorow makes in his article, here.

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For whatever kinds of quasi-Marxism I tend to spiral into when nursing a drink into the thoughtful hours of the night, I have always believed in the power of competition. I mean, it’s a good formula: the kind of intuitive, commonsense idea that you can retreat to in comfort when the rest of the world stops making sense. Hence, the idea of a free market in a capitalist world was never something I disagreed with, contrary to the little group of people who have no doubt quietly labeled me a “commie.” Further, many people (I imagine, most people) have come to accept capitalism as the means to increase efficiency to maximum, like some sort of beatific reversal of Murphy’s Law. And with that, I cannot help but agree.

To a point, that is.

Increasing profit to maximum turns out to be a double-edged sword: pursuit of profit more often than not generates the useful byproduct of increased efficiency, but the problem is that this is only a byproduct. With the pursuit of profit as the primary focus, a company is not required to think of the good of the consumer or, far less, the good of society. The tobacco industry is the usual example for this sort of thing.

But as society moves unblinkingly into the new century, a disturbing trend begins to form in producer/consumer relationship, namely, a trend away from ownership.

In days of yore, when you bought a product, it was yours. You did whatever you wanted with it because you owned it. Now, however, it becomes increasingly more common to merely lease a product’s services for a monthly fee.

I first noticed this with games like World of Warcraft, with their monthly subscriber’s fee, something I ignored when I was mired in the game. But now, with almost six months between me and my last login, I look back with a disquieting feeling in my stomach, and think of how quickly $14.99 a month added up, and further, that I never really owned the game. When I stopped paying my virtual parking meter, the flowing realms of Azeroth sealed their doors to me. Of course it is easy to argue that this is common practice for the whole genre of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, it becomes disconcerting to look around at the rest of the world and see it invading the rest of the industry. Xbox LIVE, somewhere around the same time, tried to add this element to many games which, arguably, did not need them, and all to tempt players into signing up for a monthly fee.

But it’s not just video games, either. Cell phones have always required monthly fees, not much different than landlines, but this became more noticeable as the evolution of the phone resulted in the bizarre species of all-in-one digital Swiss Armies Knives with greater and greater monthly fees. The result is the same as with World of Warcraft: when I stop paying the subscription fee, my phone no longer serves its primary function.

Netflix is another company that only gives the consumers a product as long as the subscription is being paid; cancel it, and you are left with no tangible product whatsoever. Gamefly, being the video game equivalent, operates in like fashion.

Zune recently put out a new deal that offers unlimited downloads per month, so long as the subscription is met. While it is true that you are allowed to “keep” 10 of those songs per month, the haunting power of Digital Rights Management reduces such claims to mere rhetoric, reminding us yet again that though you purchase something, it is not really yours.

Last and most insidious is Amazon’s Kindle, whose diabolical agenda I detailed thoroughly in my article for Viewpoints a while back (an article which, by the by, is going to be re-written and posted here without the restrictions that were placed on me by the newspaper). In sum, while the Kindle has no monthly subscription rate, anything you buy is merely leased; you don’t own the books on your Kindle, Amazon does.

The point of all this is centered around the value of ownership. People who own things have power: they can re-sell, modify, or lend their possessions, given them total control over the thing they paid for. Whoever owns something has control over it, plain and simple. If the populace dishes out money but ultimately has no control, then we have a problem. One almost cannot help but be reminded of serfdom, in which peasants toiled on lands they did not own.

Make no mistake about it, paying a monthly subscription rate for a product that you never give the consumer is brilliant business; in the same way that renting a house indefinitely is better in the long-term than selling it for one-time gain. In the latter instance, you have to keep selling houses to continue making money; in the former instance, your product is essentially used over and over, with no expenditure on the company’s part.  If this is an apt metaphor, then it seems we are rapidly approaching a world in which all the houses are for rent and none of them can be bought. The power goes out of the hands of the consumers and into the hands of the companies.

I mean, it’s just good business.

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It was a quiet morning in the newsroom when I jokingly inquired if my next story could be called, “College is a scam.” My page editor and my editor-in-chief were in the room, and both, after a little prompting, actually agreed to the idea.

Shocked and amazed, I felt volumes of arguments and tens of thousands of words swell up inside of me, but alas, we only had room for just under a thousand.

Presented here is a very condensed version of my thoughts on the matter of the American school system, and even then, merely those on college.

No doubt there is enough criticism to go around for every level of our school system, but this will have to do for now.

Consider it a prelude.

(For the record, this is in part a reply to Ivy’s question from Question Month, and yes, I’m getting back to all of those; they will be answered!)

—–

College is a cultural scam, so says Zachary Porcu

If you’re a student going to college, it’s probably because your parents told you that in order to succeed in life, you needed an education.
Of course, it probably wasn’t just your parents; it was probably all of your teachers up through high school, too.

Further more, this message was probably communicated to you in a number of ways: through media, movies, television programs, and magazines.

The message that college will be enriching and beneficial to every young student is a belief foisted upon the unsuspecting youth from many directions.

Unfortunately, this belief is false. Contrary to this culturally ingrained idea, college is not for everyone, despite what the entirety of our culture tells us.

College is a business like any other, and a very lucrative one at that. But more diabolical still, it is a business that has, through culture and societal norms, become almost mandatory in regards to job security. And on top of this, it is a business that takes your money and most of the time gives you none of what it promised you in return.

First, however, let’s not dismiss the obvious. If one consults the National Center for Education Statistics, one will note that there is a significant financial advantage to possessing a bachelor’s degree.
Studies show that since 2000, the average median annual income for full-timers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was around $50,000 for men and $41,000 for women, compared to the $30,000 and $24,000, respectively, earned by those with only a high school diploma or GED.

This is well and good, but one has to remember that this category is applicable only to those who have actually earned their bachelor’s degrees, and college dropouts don’t fall into this category.
But who drops out of college, you may ask?

The Department of Education tells us that 30 percent of students drop out after the first year, and that a baffling 50 percent never graduate.

Gayla Martindale at State University writes, “It is estimated that 40 percent of college students will leave higher education without getting a degree, with 75 percent of these students leaving within their first two years of college.”

So yes, a graduate in possession of a bachelor’s degree will earn considerably more, but this will happen only to half of the population, at best.

The other half is pumping significant amounts of money into a business from which they will get nothing.
But wait a minute, why are we expecting everyone to go to college and get their bachelor’s degree? Why is our culture rewarding this kind of behavior?

What about the large portion of the population who is not academically-minded at all? What about the people who are good with their hands, who can solve problems quickly and intuitively, and have a talent for interacting with people, or who have a knack for a particular trade?

It turns out these people don’t necessarily need to be in college at all. But again, college is a business, and businesses want to make money.

While it is true that trade schools and vocational schools exist, much of the time there is still a tremendous push towards getting that “little piece of paper.”

The result of this is to pressure those who are not academically-minded into an academic setting instead of allowing them to hone their natural talents.

On the flip side, those who are in fact academically-minded and who actually do need to be in college can’t focus on what they need to be doing because they find themselves in a classroom full of people who don’t care, people who are there only because they are trying to ensure their job security.

And so we return to the wage difference. Why do graduates get paid more than others?

It turns out to be a matter of convention. Do they know how to do their job any better than another? Not necessarily.

It would be one thing if a bachelor’s-level degree actually constituted a set of knowledge or experience that one could utilize immediately.

True, students with a particular major know a little more about that subject, but only more than the layman. They don’t know as much as the experts and they certainly don’t know enough to make them competitive.

Indeed, for most academic or scholarly majors, a bachelor’s degree just won’t cut it.
No, college demands even more money in the post-graduate years before actual, useable knowledge is bestowed on the student or, at they very least, marketable knowledge.

But for the majority of students who do not acquire their post-graduate degrees, an undergraduate degree constitutes slip of paper. The joke is that most graduates end up in careers that have little to nothing to do with their major anyway.

This is because most businesses don’t require you to know what you’re doing, only that you wave your little piece of paper saying yes, college validated my parking stub, so now you can pay me.
What kind of culture is this? It is one that tells all students, regardless of their individual talents and

dispositions, to go to college and get degrees.

It is a system that rewards only the academic, but even then, it is merely a bland going-through-the-motions of academia, a sorry parody of actual learning

And so we come to a sad realization: You don’t have to walk out of college understanding anything. You don’t have to know how to do anything. You only have to possess that stamp of approval, a little stamp that costs thousands and thousands of dollars.

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So I was perusing Facebook and ran into a “note” that someone had put up concerning Prop 8. The central premise of the post seems to be something along the lines of, “why should one particular standard be enforced on us [what defines a marriage] when this country is made up of so many different types of people?”

The rant ended with the following yawn-inducing summary:

“Get over yourselves! Public schools belong to everyone, not just one religion, not one type of people and that being the case, you’ll all have to tolerate being educated about the practices, beliefs, and lifestyles of everyone else.”

Now, the unnamed writer of the Facebook note is failing to realize the error that keeps being made in these sorts of arguments, and that error is really just a fallacy of begging the question; an error that stems from this whole absurd myth of the “celebration of diversity.” It’s a mutant sort of liberalism that bears only the slightest and most tenuous relation to Locke, Kant, or any enlightenment thinkers, and which I will refer to as “humanism” in the rest of the post, though only for convenience.

Let’s examine it further. The philosophy’s basic tenant is something along the lines of “people should be allowed to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.” Now, the real danger is the fact that this premise isn’t ever actually challenged. People tend to take this at face value as some sort of given, and I’m mystified as to why. But when I ask, “WHY should be people be allowed to do what they want?” I am met with “Why SHOULDN’T they?”, but this is yet another trap to avoid defending the premise. In fact, it is a fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, and which ultimately does nothing to support the argument.

Getting back to what I said about the argument begging the question, we run into problems when we start trying to pair up this humanist myth with other, competing ideologies. For instance, proponents of this “everyone do what they like” drivel seem to be forgetting that this is not a moral absolute. Why on earth shouldn’t something more state-centered, like fascism, be the method for how we run things? What about something non-consumer, like communism? When this is asked, the proponent of humanism reverts back to his definition, and points out that these systems do not allow people to do whatever they wish, and are therefore wrong. Now, I realize I am setting up a straw-man here to throw my argument against, but this is only because of how simple this modern humanism is:

“People should be able to do what they want to do, because people should be allowed to do what they want, because people should be allowed to do what they want, because people should…

You begin to see the idea? The philosophy – if it is even substantial enough to be called that – is a great big circle of question-begging. And if it gets called on begging the question, it proceeds to shift the burden of proof with a negative voice, “Well, why SHOULDN’T they?”

So the still question stands:

Why should people be allowed to do what they want?

And now the problem needs to be answered within real moral framework; something that gives us a guiding rule based on something, a normative reason for the crucial question, why. Blathering about half-baked pseudo-Lockean ideas is hardly the place to start.

What’s upsetting is the fact that everyone has pretty well accepted that the proponents of Prop 8 are the ones who have to defend themselves, while the opponents of the proposition 8 assume the default position of being right until proven wrong.

And, on a deeper level, the fact that an argument essentially based on one logical fallacy and defended with another is being taken so seriously and by so many people is fairly disturbing. It makes me question the spirit of democracy: if this is the way people argue, why on earth is their opinion counted so highly as to be included in a national vote for what is best for the country?

But that is a topic for another time.

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