William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Culture (page 1 of 175)

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

We Don’t Know Anything

Degrees for everybody.

Degrees for everybody.

The Appeal to Authority is not a formal fallacy, but an “informal” one, a fancy way of admitting that arguments in the form of “Because I said so” are often valid and sound. If these arguments were always a fallacy, there’d be no use asking potential employees for their resumes, no point in asking, “What are my chances, doc?”, really no reason to ask anybody anything about which you are uncertain.

On the other hand, the argument becomes a fallacy routinely in the hands of the media and politicians. Surf over to Slate (I won’t link), tune in to NPR, or listen to Debbie Wasserman Schultz speak on nearly any subject for examples.

So much is common knowledge. And I think fallacious instances of “Because I said so” are on the increase. This is because of many reasons—the usual suspects: scientism, ideology, political correctness, privilege, insularity, etc.—but one occasion for sin, a certain form of the fallacy, is not well known.

This is the form “We now know…”, usually put in service of some sociological, educational, psychological, or other loose science, like the effects of deadly rampant out-of-control tipping-point global warming.

Just like its father, the “We now know…” form of the argument from authority is sometimes valid and sound. A journalist might write, “We now know the neutrino has mass…” and cite some press release put out by some university. The journalist will be right, because in this case (you’ll have to trust me) the claim is true. But the “we” part is risible. The problem is not just that the reporter himself boasts indirectly of an expertise he does not have and has not earned, but that he encourages the same flippant behavior in his audience. And the audience, duly flattered, makes itself part of the “we”. “We now know” is then on everybody’s lips.

For many propositions from the hard sciences, as said, this is mostly harmless, because the “We now know…” won’t be fallacious. The problem is that the knowledge comes cheap and is thus subject to easy misinterpretation and incorrect extrapolation. This is because complex scientific propositions are usually highly conditional, filled with technical premises and other presuppositions, and these rarely make it to the popular level. People go off half cocked, as it were.

Actual hard scientists, in their own fields of competence, rarely fall into the trap, not taking anybody’s word for anything which they can prove for themselves. And so knowledge in the fields manned by rigorous technicians increases. But since nobody bats 1.000 and not every claim can be personally checked, the occasional error slips by.

No, the real problem, as usual, comes from fields which make fewer demands on their practitioners, and fewer still to none on their popular audiences. It’s going to be a man of some mental training who bothers to seek out and to read anything about neutrinos. But sociological claims and the like are available to one and all. Indeed, they are hard to escape, like (bad) music in restaurants.

The problem starts at the “top”. Here’s a typical example, the paper “Taking a Long View on What We Now Know about Social and Environmental Accountability and Reporting” in the Electronic Journal of Radical Organisation Theory. The paper is filled with “We now know…” propositions which are at best only sketchily supported, and others that are only wild surmises. Results from papers like this are fed to students and the public, and those who take joy in that most vague of notions “sustainability”, will uncritically add the propositions to the list of things “We now know…”

You can’t really blame the students, the dears, at least not fully. The serious fault is with inexpert experts, a large and growing class, a growth given impetus by the swelling of higher education. More people earning a “degree” means more professors, and since the gifts of intelligence are varied, this means a necessary expansion in “degrees” which require less effort (from both parties). It is in these fields the “We now know…” is mainly found. Compounding the problem is that the students who carry these “We now knows…” feel that their beliefs have been certified by their degrees.

The solution would thus appear to be a return to (or increase in, since it still partially exists) some idea of educational elitism, the idea that some forms of knowledge are better or more important than others. But give our insatiable craving for Equality, I don’t see it happening.

Strangers In A Strange Land: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput 2014 Erasmus Lecture


Just as did the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. CAP., Archbishop of Philadelphia, I am addressing my comments to the remnant. All are welcome to listen, but there will be much I won’t explain.

Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered the First Things Erasmus lecture last night, at the stately Union League Club on Park Avenue. Your intrepid reporter was there. I’m delighted that jack and tie were required; jeans were forbidden. The speech is on line, so instead of relating what his excellency said, what follows is a discussion of his main points.

The title, chosen for its topical relevance and because Chaput is a science fiction fan (I wonder if he knows our Mike Flynn?), describes us. In the world, but not of the world. I can’t quite agree. To me, it feels rather like barbarians have stormed the gates, which were left unlocked and unguarded. It’s our fault they’re here. Well, it used to be a free country. I only wish our guests would be better behaved.

Part of Chaput’s family hails from Quebec, which in 1950 saw 90% of the population attending weekly mass. Now it’s 6%. Sacré bleu no more. Now preaching that homosexual acts are a sin is a hate crime. Hate? Progressives hate being told they’re wrong. They won’t stand for it and they will punish you. No creature on earth has a thinner skin.

Anti-Catholic prejudice in these once United States historically ranged from virulent to mild to practically nonexistent. Chaput predicts its return. Chaput sets the “tipping point” as this past 6 October, when the Supreme Court punted on same sex “marriage”, a non-event which was

the dismemberment of privileged voice that Biblical faith once had in public square…The most disturbing thing about the debate around gay marriage is the destruction of public reason that it has accomplished. Emotion and sloganeering drove the argument. And the hatred that infected the conversation came far less from the so-called homophobes than from the many gay-issue activists themselves. People who uphold a traditional moral architecture for sexuality—marriage and sexuality—have gone in the space of just twenty years from mainstream conviction to the media equivalent or racists and bigots. Now this is impressive. It’s also profoundly dishonest. And evil.”

Remember when stores used to have signs which read “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”?

You bigot. Now even some of those who call themselves libertarian insist no one has that right. Not when the customer is a member of an officially designated victim group. Christian bakers must bake cakes for same-sex “weddings”, and must even attend reeducation camps for having the temerity to believe their religious convictions trump the “right” of people to pastry on demand.

Remember when we were told that nobody would ever force Christian ministers to perform a same sex “marriage”?

You fool. Two ministers have been threatened with jail for refusing to perform same sex “weddings”. Read about the Secular Inquisition here and here and here. Remember Brandon Eich (here and here)?

It’s always fun to put to progressives questions like, “So if the local KKK went to a black sign maker asking that business to print anti-black messages, then that owner does not have the right to refuse? Or if the Westboro Baptist Church sauntered into a restaurant in San Francisco’s Castro district, a restaurant run by LBGT owners and which often rents itself out to private groups, and demanded to hold their annual anti-homosexual meeting there, those owners have no right to refuse?”

It’s fun because you will find suddenly that the libertarian or progressive has an appointment he can’t miss; or you will hear the Distraction Fallacy. “Priests abused kids!” Like Chaput said. Emotion and sloganeering. Reasoned argument no longer has a place.

We need a better word for the enemies of Christianity. I suggest the old standby pagan. Chaput himself called the fallen Catholics of Canada “baptized pagans.” It is an apt word. It describes the coming world well. A self-infatuated oligarchy lording over a mass of self-infatuated people who eschew religion but embrace “spirituality”. Yoga, anyone? “Religion,” Chaput said, “is [now] just another form of self medicating.”

Democracy guarantees this outcome (this is me, not Chaput). This isn’t the place for a complete explanation, but here is a sketch. When the populace more-or-less agreed on Christian fundamentals, voting made sense; consensus was possible. But now that Christianity is ebbing, it must be replaced by something else. People do not vote based on nothing. We’re split now, a Civil Culture War, but the pagans will surely win.

What these earnest intolerant people don’t understand is that many of their notions are still Christian. As Chaput said, it was only twenty years ago that most pagans held the traditional Christian view of sexuality. That’s gone. But the pagans still hold the Christian view of the sanctity of life—for those who escape the womb—and of the family, and they have yet an instinctive respect for learning, ideas, and reasonable disputes. These are going.

Emotion and sensuality (Chaput’s word) will rule individuals. The intelligent, which increasingly means the rich, know how to manipulate emotions. People will vote cheerfully for their own demise and enslavement. The only possible escape I see is some crisis in which the classic Strong Man emerges, and either dictatorship or kingship arises.

Chaput’s solution? Well, what’s our goal? You already know. Thus prayer and joy and hope. Worship. Eliminate clericalism in clerics and the laity. Eliminate laziness in the laity and their instructors. We all also already know the principles by which we should live. Live them and don’t try and fit in.

As Tiny Tim said, God bless us, everyone!

Update We’ve heard from some of our non-Christian (but post-Christian) friends, but none so far have chosen to answer the KKK-Westboro hypotheticals. Of course, it’s a better question to put to progressives.

Update Chip convinced me about some libertarians, so I’ve modified above to “some”.

Humanae Vitae & The Synod: Theories And Predictions

Selfish genes theory does not predict these.

This originally ran 14 May 2014, but since this weekend is Number Six’s big show, I thought it well to have another look. The title is New & Improved! See the Update at the bottom.

Old predictions

Theories are useful to explain and to predict. Any theory can explain, but only true or likely true theories can skillfully predict.

For instance, Uncle Bob explains that your car won’t start because of Gremlins. His theory, which he drags out on all State occasions, does explain. But it is, as I hope is obvious, a theory which is useless to make predictions.

Two obvious examples. If you say the sun will peek above the horizon at 6:32:17 AM because gravitational theory says it will, and the sun does its duty, your theory has something going for it, especially if the theory makes lots of accurate predictions. And if you say, and say each year for two decades, that the planet’s global average temperature will soar to “unprecedented” heights, yet the temperature misbehaves and stays put, you’re theory is likely false.

Now how about these predictions, made in 1968, on what would happen were contraception to be embraced (which, of course, it has been). This embracement will:

  1. “[O]pen wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards”. Nailed it.
  2. Especially in the young, “[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman”. Nailed it.
  3. He will “reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires”. Hooked-up nailed it.
  4. He will “no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Nailed it.
  5. “Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty?” Oh my, oh my, is that one nailed.
  6. “Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective?” None, that’s who: another hit.
  7. “Should [the government] regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” HHS mandate, anybody? Nailed it again.
  8. “It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” Smack! Pow! Wow! Capital-N ailed it.

Who is this guy, this prescient sage, who, drawing from some theory, foretold the world of 2014 so accurately? Well, his name was Paul, and as he came from a long line of Pauls in the same Institution to which he was appointed Leader, he called himself Number 6. One thing we know, given his batting average, we should accord the theory which created these predictions pretty high weight.


Number 6’s theory also explains the popularity of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and the rise in the belief of individuals’ “unlimited dominion” over “his specifically sexual faculties.” Number 6 didn’t actually specify these as predictions, though, taking them “as read.”


Now the most fascinating thing about these predictions is how they came to be made. What happened was this. Number 6’s predecessor called on a Commission of experts, who met and deliberated from 1963 to 1966 (Number 6 boosted Commission membership halfway through), giving a report to Number 6 two years before he made his predictions. Nobody was in any rush.

The Commission was loaded with sober academics and had the support of a good portion of the leadership of Number 6’s Institution. Word leaked out, as word always leaks out, about the Commission’s efforts and opinions, and this excited popular and media support. The Commission, not wanting to be on the wrong side of history, favored contraception. After all, this was a different world than that world which came before this world: or something.

After several years of glowing expectations, most expected Number 6 to endorse the Commission’s report. He did not.

Boy!, did tempers flare. To say the free-for-all crowd were displeased is a massive understatement. Number 6 and his Institution were ridiculed in the press and in academia and, indeed, by some leaders in Number 6’s Institution. One academic member of the Commission called Number 6’s predictions “that horrible document.” A prominent leader in Number 6’s Institution publicly charged Number 6 with “an anti-collegial act”. Ouch.

That fellow was far from alone. Many other leaders and groups of leaders castigated Number 6 openly. These dissidents went so far as to tell the common folk to ignore Number 6 and do what they please. And they did. And where they did do as they pleased, it was found that the Institution lost members.

Of course, it is not often remembered, perhaps willfully, that Number 6’s theory made stunningly accurate predictions, whereas his enemies’ theories made inaccurate ones.

The reason for that digression is important because again Number 6’s Institution will meet to discuss matters pertaining to human sexuality and the family. The meeting will go for at least two years. Experts will be confided in. Reports will be written.

As before, the press and a sizable chunk of leadership is on the side of liberalization; they particularly favor giving the nod to divorce but also to so-called same-sex marriage and perhaps even abortion. The world has changed, these people say, and therefore the Institution must also change—to become something that is not the Institution.

The Institution’s new leader Francis is being groomed by the liberalizers as the man with the plan, as somebody who is willing to set aside the old truths for new ones. These new dissidents are in the habit of parsing every public word of Francis’s to find in them support for their new truths. So adept are they at this that almost before Francis is done speaking, a news item or blog post is up saying, “Change we can believe in is coming!”

New predictions

My guess, working within Number 6’s theory, is whichever leader is in charge after the family synod is over will support tradition. The ban on contraception will be upheld. Marriage will be, as it can only be, declared to be between one man and one woman. Sodomy will still be a sin. Divorce will still be forbidden and not supported in the Institution’s activities. Abortion, if mentioned, will still be condemned.

The howling which will greet the announcement that there cannot be new truths, but only Truth, will be wondrous to behold, especially since, as before, liberalizers expect the vote to go with them. New dissidents will arise who, again as before, will tell people to ignore official proclamations and do what they want.

What will happen to rebellious families is obvious: more of what Number 6 said, a decrease in interest in marriage, increased state control over all things sexual, recognition that children belong to the state and not “parents”, and because of the dissolution of the family, an increase in support of euthanasia.

And people, even seeing the accuracy of these predictions, will still largely disbelieve the theory.

Update 14 May. It’s coincidence day at WMBriggs.com: Are Our Relationships Threatening The State?

Update 18 October 2014. Not that I want to brag, but it looks like the Truth Theory is still holding strong. But what a week!

The question is whether, after the conclusion of next year’s synod, Pope Francis will emulate his brother Number 6, or will he seek more worldly pastures?

I predict the former, in the following sense. I say Tradition holds, whether Pope Francis wants it to or not. It won’t matter what he or what anybody else wants, sin will still be sin. Doctrine will remain unchanged. Now, how will this Great Continuance happen? I have no idea. But I am reminded of the tale of Arius, a bishop who led one of the Church’s earliest heresies, a man whose power of convincing other Church fathers waxed and waned, but which never deserted him, and who, on his way to a final crucial meeting where he might have convinced others of his fallacy, had this happen to him:

It was then Saturday, and Arius was expecting to assemble with the church on the day following: but divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities. For going out of the imperial palace, attended by a crowd of Eusebian partisans like guards, he paraded proudly through the midst of the city, attracting the notice of all the people. As he approached the place called Constantine’s Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine’s Forum, he hastened thither. Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died. The scene of this catastrophe still is shown at Constantinople, as I have said, behind the shambles in the colonnade: and by persons going by pointing the finger at the place, there is a perpetual remembrance preserved of this extraordinary kind of death.

The answer thus comes via Peter Kreeft, who is fond of quoting a Southern Baptist minister who managed to sum up the lessons of the Bible in four words. “I’m God. You’re not.”

That Curious Synod Relatio

The officiala seala.

The officiala seala.

The extraordinary Synod released into the wild Monday its draft relatio which caused a lot of emotions to soar. The Left cheered, “This is the beginning!”, while the Right said, “This is the end!” (Both could be correct, of course.) Look for a spike in both champagne and whiskey sales as giddiness takes over.

One paragraph (#50) in particular captured the imagination of the world:

Pedophiles have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

No, wait. Something wrong with the keyboard. My bad. It actually read:

Adulterers have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community…accepting and valuing their sexual orientation…

Darn it. This new WordPress dynamic editor kills me. Try again:

Murderers have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community…accepting and valuing their furious raging temptations…

That’s not it either. Never mind. Since I can’t seem to get the editor to work, meanwhile you can link over the original, uncorrupted text.

Anyway, I don’t see why all the steam. Of course pedophiles, adulterers, and murderers are people, too! So are tax cheats, arsonists, and members of Congress. Listen, sisters and brothers, we’re all sinners needing the Grace of God, a grace we should beg with fear and trembling. That’s all the paragraph is trying to say.

This is no earthquake. There really isn’t anything to see here. Move along.

Does seem a bit unfair to all the other sinners to highlight the “gifts and qualities” of just one group, though. People are going to feel left out. Right now some little old lady is sitting in the back of the pews thinking, “All I do is gossip about my family members, which I know is sinful and hurtful, and I don’t even get one lousy paragraph?” The only answer we can give her is: Whoever said life was fair?

Just a moment. I think I have it…yes. The editor is fully functional again. Here’s #21.

The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.

Reactionary groups charged that the bishops cribbed this from the inside of a “Just Because” greeting card bought at a ₤100 store back in 1999, and reportedly found earlier this week between the seat cushions of a couch in Cardinal Wuerl’s hotel room. In answer to these serious allegations, Catholic blog watchdog Team Patheos said, “Reactionaries are poopy heads.”

I frankly don’t see it as a big deal. These bishops are busy guys and they only had a day, day-and-a-half to complete the relatio. They were thus in a position of a college student coming off a Thursday night with a term paper due next morning, and there sits before him Wikipedia in all its tempting glory. Besides, it’s the thought that counts, not the source, right?

The greeting-card crib may not have been the only skullduggery. A highly placed anonymous Source and self-described Zed-Head was able to tell your intrepid reporter that he suspects portions of the relatio were inserted by Chinese hackers who broke into the Vatican computers.

“How else do you explain phrases like paragraph nine’s ‘a greater need is encountered among individuals to take care of themselves, to know their inner being, and to live in greater harmony with their emotions and sentiments, seeking a relational quality in emotional life’ and thirteen’s ‘interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty’?” he asked.

“What have these to do with Catholic teaching and the salvation of souls? There is no way any faithful, conscientious bishop would have written these things. It must be from hackers.”

The Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy

Perry trying to impose a curious view.

Perry trying to impose a curious view.

Here is an example of the Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy (ITBF), taken from the New Republic article “The Straight, White, Middle-Class Man Needs to Be Dethroned” by Grayson Perry, a self-labeled “artist” (the trick these days is to discover who is not an “artist”):

They dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population. With their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks, they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms, and also in the media.

Incidentally, it was only after reading up on Perry’s background and noting his obsession with the sexual, that I figured out that “colourful textile phalluses” meant ties. Skip it.

The fallacy does not lie in the statement itself, because, of course, it is possible, and even common, to impose one’s beliefs, values, and preferences on another. Indeed, it is even necessary that imposing occur. That fallacy thus lies in stating that it should not or could not.

Since some form of imposition is necessary, the presence of the fallacy, then, is always an attempt to impose beliefs, values, and preferences other than the ones being railed against. First a proof of the necessity, then proof that the fallacy wielder really just wants his own way.

Newborn and infants must have beliefs, values, and preferences imposed upon them, or else they will die. Children, too. The State imposes the belief that killing for fun and profit (of those human beings who managed to escape the womb, at any rate) is wrong, and it further imposes its value that those who kill will be punished; and it expresses preferences for the kinds of punishment. You can dispute that the State should do this, but even insisting on anarchy is to impose beliefs, values, and preferences.

If you say to another man, “Do not steal from me” or “Do not slit my daughter’s throat” you have imposed or are seeking to impose. If you ever say “should” or “ought” you are imposing, and the same is true if you use synonyms of these words like “judgmental” and “hateful” and so on.

It doesn’t even matter if, as Hume insisted, there really is a distinction between “is” and “ought” (and that is disputable), any time you approve or disapprove of another’s actions, you have imposed or are seeking to. The only slim possibility of non-imposition is if you are utterly indifferent to not only your own self, but to all others. That indifference includes the absence of love or hate or any other emotion.

Now evidence that the fallacy is always inverted.

At Truth-Out.org, in the article “Meet the Right-Wing Christian Companies Trying to Impose Their Values on Their Workers“, the author echoes the common complaint that employees not being given (government-mandated) free things because they are employees is an imposition. Which, of course, it is. The employees instead want to impose their belief that they should be given whatever it is they want and to not be required to give anything in return for it. Strangely, and in an indication of how far gone our culture is, the ITBF was convincing to Government.

Think Progress carried the article “Catholic Bishops: ‘Religious Liberty’ Includes Right To Discriminate Against Gay People, Impose Values“, which is seeped in the Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy. Many today have forgotten the (what used to be) obvious fact that imposing beliefs is what religions do, and so to complain about this is a marker of insanity, stupidly, or political Machiavellianism. The Think Progress folks instead want to impose their values in the expected way.

These examples can be multiplied indefinitely, so it is easy to lose the wonder you should feel whenever you encounter the fallacy. But do try to be vigilant.

Now this Grayson Perry who supplied our first example of the fallacy goes on to say that straight, middle-class white men is a “group that punches far, far above its weight.” A curious claim given the list of accomplishments by this “tribe” (to include the computer on which Perry wrote his fallacy and the internet which served it up to his readers).

But it is clear which beliefs, values, and preferences Perry wishes to impose on us (for I can reveal Yours Truly is a member of this suspect group). I wonder if he’ll get away with it.

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