Thursday, February 09, 2006

Faulty Causality

Okay – I promised a blog entry some weeks back on rhetorical devices that are meant deceive, particularly the commonly used device know as “faulty causality.” I would have gotten to this earlier, but I’ve been so depressed over the terrible referring during the SuperBowl that I’ve been avoiding all responsible behavior for several days since.

However, with the Winter Olympics just around the bend, promising lots of theater and beautiful visual images, I’m starting to be able to get my mind around the things that really matter again. I slept well last night, ate well today, and managed to say a few words to my wife, so recovery is sight.

So I will try to focus what few brain cells survived and recovered from last Sunday night’s debacle on the issue at hand, which is how cause and effect arguments can easily be deceptive misleading, and worse. I would particularly like to point to an article by James K. Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute that ran recently in the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette under the headline, “Tinker with Bush policy at our own risk.” Aside from the fact that the AEP can be counted on to publish self-serving interviews with its own people purporting to show plenty of “progress” in Iraq, the article is a fun read because it argues very simply that President Bush is obviously on the right tract because there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Glassman even goes on to claim that efforts by Congress to change the way we interrogate prisoners, not to mention the way we eavesdrop on American citizens without court ordered warrants, should not be tampered with nor even questioned, since these tactics are clearly working so well.

That’s a nifty argument, but it is also a dishonest argument because it is based on a faulty premise – that the cause claimed in the argument indeed is the one that created the effect.

To illustrate, let’s try this: snap your fingers. What happened? I claim, and you can not really disagree, that when you snapped your fingers, no elephants appeared. Now snap your fingers again. What happened? Again, no elephants appeared.

So if I claim snapping your fingers keeps the elephants away, who is to argue?

I rest my case.


At 4:22 PM, Blogger Lesli said...

I couldn't find the Glassman article you refer to, but I couldn't stop myself from reading the utter nonsense he had written about the much-debated Danish cartoons. The argument that being offended by something is the fault of the offended party for not "choosing" to ignore it is utterly ridiculous.

He first argues that no one should be upset because no one knows what Muhammad looks like; I challenge him to accept satirical cartoons depicting Jesus with such equanamity.

His second point is to equate one of his high school mishaps to this situation: "Walking through the main lobby, I stepped on a representation of the [rival] school's crest on the floor and was immediately and sharply reprimanded by several of 'them.' There was a 'rule,' albeit an unwritten one, against stepping on that symbol, and I had been caught in an offense. Even though I didn't give it, they took it, and they enjoyed the taking." How, by any stretch of the imagination these two events balance out is beyond me.

Elephants, indeed.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Worth Weller said...

Exactly Lesli - the Christian far rightists in this country would explode if the NYT or WaPo started publishing caricatures of Jesus.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger J. M. Cornett said...

Then again, Mr. Weller, one could argue that such movies as "Dogma" would be exactly like these cartoons--trashing on and poking fun at a faith millions of people believe strongly in. Yet how often do we hear of these people standing up for Christianity?

I'm almost to the point where I think Christians need to step up and say "Okay, enough with the Jesus Juice jokes and the Devil references. You're taking our faith WAY out of context." But then that, much like the Muslims have done, would incur normally peaceful people to cause a violent outcry, further solidifying the very stereotypes that have caused Christians to be the butt of many a joke.

Either way you look at it, someone's gonna be offended by anything another person does.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger thePotandKettle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger thePotandKettle said...

People have published cartoon characters of Jesus and most recently Kanye West posed as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Good point about movies poking fun at Jesus, not to mention all of the comedians that "Christian Bash" and Jesus on the Simpson’s and Southpark is always portrayed as an idiot or pot-head.

Now I agree that Christians would, do and should find it offensive and that is their right as it is the Muslim community. I disagree at some of the tactics that are used to make a wrong thing right.

I agree, Glassman is doing a fine job of twisting un-factual information to make an argument and he writes well which makes his argument all the more believable.


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