William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Small Things

Have a bit of a bug, so only a few small things today.

Red State

A reliable, though not infallible, mark of a bad argument is the level of self-congratulation of its author. The more times a man pats himself on the back, the greater the chance he’s spouting nonsense. The braver he thinks he is, and the more he boasts of his stoutheartedness, the higher the probability of a fallacy.

Exhibit one, the intentionally provocative piece in Red State supportive of same-sex “marriage” by a gentleman who ceaselessly tells us how Christian and how courageous he is and who resorts to “sentences” like this “I. Do. Not. Care.” That one, incidentally, was his way of avoiding answering a rhetorical question he asked of himself. Yeesh.

Now whatever arguments you have in favor of same-sex “marriage” (and I’m still waiting for any reader to submit a guest post on the topic), that you dare to defy your compatriots in support is not an argument, though the author sure thinks it is. It’s only one of several fallacies.

He worries SSM debates are “tearing this country apart culturally” and concludes therefore not that the debates should be tempered, but that they should be surrendered. Brave.

Then comes ‘equality.’ Arguments for SSM which feature ‘equality’ as a premise are always circular, and are therefore invalid. Whether two (and not three, four, etc.) should be treated ‘equally’ regards to marriage is what we are seeking to show, which is why it can’t be assumed.

There’s more but I’m too tired to go on.

Planned Parenthood

This video from the Florida legislature questioning “Alisa LaPolt Snow, the lobbyist representing the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates” is amusing, if your taste in humor runs to black comedy.

Poor Snow found she could not bring herself to support saving the life of a baby born from a botched abortion. Which is to say, the baby is born alive. This small human being is alive and outside the body of the mother (whereas a few minutes previously this small human being was alive and inside the body of the mother, and therefore subject to arbitrary death). Snow figured the doctor and the mother could decide whether to perform the ‘Kermit Gosnell‘ procedure on the poor kid.


Recommended article: Aristotle, Newman, and the Cosmic Gentleman.


Government Health Care Simply Explained

It’s for your own good!

There is bigger news today (none larger), but since most of you are disinclined to believe it, we’ll pass on to less important matters. Here, though, is other news tangential to the Good News.

Your neighbor, whom you do not like, is a friend of Government. So he traveled to Washington and asked the Powers there if he could collect from you $200 every month. He put his finger aside his nose and winked to hint that he would be generous with the largess, that a portion of his new income (a kickback) would find its way into the reelection coffers of the Powers.

The Powers naturally went for it.

You now have to give your crony neighbor $300 every month. Yes: well it would have been $200, but your neighbor opened his spreadsheet and discovered that the act of collecting money from you would cause him to incur certain costs, which he must defer by charging you more. But don’t worry, he first asked the Powers and they said OK. That made it legal.

Now it’s not like you don’t get anything for your money. Why, every time you go to a doctor, chosen from a small list prepared by your neighbor, and the doctor (say) cauterizes your mental wounds (caused by pondering your diminishing bank account), you get to hand your doctor another $20 or so.

The doctor will then fill out a piece of paper and give it to your neighbor telling him that it costs $150 to supply the current for your electroshock therapy (part of this includes costs for the time he must spend filling out the ponderous form). Your neighbor will look at his spreadsheet and see that he has agreed with the Powers that he will reimburse the doctor only $100 for this procedure. After deducting a $25 fee for allowing the doctor to be on the list, your neighbor writes the doctor a check.

In this way you are said to have received “free” health “insurance.”

You might not think this state of affairs kosher, but that’s where you’re wrong. See, the neighbor on your other side (your good neighbor) also was made to pay your bad neighbor. Your good neighbor, being made of stronger stuff than you, was incensed and he traveled to Washington to complain. There he was scolded and told by robed Powers that the money he must pay his neighbor was a “tax”, even though all agreed that it was not, and the Powers have no limit on what taxes they might levy.

A “tax”, incidentally, is money paid to a government. Money you’re forced to give to non-governmental third parties used to be called “extortion.” This just shows that language evolves and words mean what the Powers say they do. (See, inter alia, “marriage“.)

Anyway, your good neighbor thought it absurd he should have to give his conniving bad neighbor his own hard-earned wages, so he didn’t. The Powers then came after your good neighbor and said, “If you don’t give your money to our friend, you will be assessed a ‘fine’, which you must give to us. If you do not give us this ‘fine’, you will go to jail.” Your good neighbor, like you, paid.

That’s where we now sit. It is ensconced precedent, the Law Of The Land, that any private citizen can sidle up to the Powers and make clandestine deals (“You have to pass it to see what’s in it”) in which the Powers can make you give your assets to other private citizens. The conclusion (in the form of a bad pun) is that you are powerless to stop it. Leviathan has grown too fat to budge. It will be fun to see what label the next grab is given.

But wait, there’s more! The Powers reasoned that because they forced you to pay your neighbor under the banner of health “care” they (the Powers) could then regulate every aspect of what they perceived to be health. They said, “Unhealthy people will cause increases in the money they must give to our cronies, therefore the people must not be allowed to be unhealthy.” The proscriptions have only just began. It will be amusing to guess what will be banned next. It’s for your own good.

This article is not an analogy, dear readers, but the literal truth. All that is wrong is the bureaucracy is deeper than I indicated and my figures too low.

Life Isn’t Fair: Part III

NoElephantsWe are at the position where somebody thinks a rule, law, or stricture, or the lack of the same, is fair or unfair. The justification for this belief must (eventually) rest on an innate sense of right and wrong. This sense must be innate—or, if you like, instinctual—and not based on calls to, say, the utilitarian or some other external principle. (Totalitarians always argue from the utilitarian premise.)

Suppose a call is made to support “same-sex marriage” based on the argument that homosexuals should be treated “the same as” heterosexuals (they cannot be, obviously; if they were, homosexuals must marry heterosexually). Yet the moral principle that gives rise to this argument is believed to be true by the proponent. Why? If pressed, many will say, “It’s just true,” or “It’s obvious”, or similar words. This shows directly that either the belief is innate or (more likely) adopted without thought.

Incidentally, the argument from “equality” (in same-sex “marriage” or anywhere) also is fallacious because it assumes what it sets out to prove. This fallacy ordinarily would be easy to spot; that it isn’t says something profound—and frightening.

Many moderns, if they are not “outraged” at having to explain themselves when asked “Why?”, will sense that the argument should have some objective basis and will perhaps say, “It’s for the good of society”, or similar utilitarian words (did not Justice Kennedy do this?). The more articulate will give several reasons why this itself is true (“Prejudice hurts us all and here’s why”, etc.). But this merely pushes the problem back one level. Why is it important that society not be hurt by prejudice? Why should I care if anybody is or isn’t hurt? These beliefs, or others still further back, must be innate.

Sensing trouble, an intellectual will seek to push the problem back to what appears to be an unassailable position: showing his opponent that he himself will be harmed or will benefit if the intellectual’s definition of fairness is rejected or accepted. Even if the intellectual’s argument is sound—it may be true that his opponent will benefit in the way explained given the premises—this does not make fairness objective. It merely begs the question why the opponent believes why it is fair that he benefit.

No moral belief can ultimately rest on observations or on empirical evidence of any kind. But a moral principle can be true conditionally, but only given another or other principles that are first assumed true. This chain always leads back to the same starting point. For example, assume that the propriety of “same-sex marriage” follows from the principle “Prejudice is bad”; still, that principle itself had to be innately justified, or it was based upon other principles that were eventually innately justified.

Note very carefully that most of our moral principles and most of our notions of fairness are derived principles, arguments which are only true given that other, deeper beliefs are true. The number of base or bedrock moral principles we hold are actually very few.

All beliefs in fairness are ultimately “groundless” in the modern, scientistic sense, because they must all point back to something deeper, something built in, principles which just “feel right.” These cannot have come from evolution, because then we’d still have to justify the principle that principles based on evolution are moral, etc., an infinite regress. It is true and painful that what feels right to some does not feel right to others, and that these differences have accounted for spectacular events in history. But that does not mean that what felt right to any side was objectively justified.

There is only one solution. And that is if a set of true moral principles exists. These can be “aimed” at and true fairness found. Never mind how these arise or how these are true. Besides, if they are true, it is impossible to explain how they are true. As David Stove often said, you cannot explain how something that is necessarily true can be otherwise.

Don’t fall into the fallacy that because there are many disagreements on principles, that therefore all morality is relative (a self-negating statement). And don’t say that because some choose evil that there is no good (which is self-defeating counter-argument).

Many moderns feel extreme discomfort at asking these questions. They might be inclined to agree that true moral principles exist, but they don’t like where that notion leads.

Part II

Life Isn’t Fair: Part II

No Goats AllowedLast time we explored a small list of items in which fairness in circumstance are impossible. These were sex, place and time of birth, physical location (we all can’t be in the same spot), physicality (we all can’t be the same person, even if all our genes match), and so on.

But there are also possessions (all material objects), which can never be distributed in such a way that all would consider fair. Even if every parcel of land, water, and air could be split in such a way that all agree is fair, the distribution would instantaneously shift (via trading, death, birth, insanity, illegalities, creation of new objects, the change or destruction of objects, etc.) such that the distribution is not fair.

Why is any of this important? Because if a certain thing cannot be, if it is logically impossible for a thing to happen, then wishing for it is useless, and “aiming” towards it is impossible. You cannot approximate what cannot be. You cannot implement a program that aims to get as close as humanly possible to what is impossible because you cannot get close to nothing, nor can you be far from it.

People do, of course, aim for “fairness.” Since this is impossible, the main point of this essay is to show that the goal of these people must be something else.

(An analogy for impossibility is not, incidentally, external life and the existence of God. These are not logical impossibilities. They may be improbable (given certain evidence), but that is nothing. They are possible and can be imagined. They can be “aimed” at.)

But fairness defined in terms of circumstance is not possible. At least, as long as fairness itself is defined in terms of agreement (on principles, rules, etc.). How about fairness with respect to treatment? Well, that’s impossible, too. Not in instances, of course, but universally.

It should be obvious that not all people can be treated identically. We can treat (by some act or non-act) all people identically, but at the disadvantage that this act/non-act will not occur in identical situations for each person, because no situations are ever identical in all aspects, at least with respect to time, location, physicality, and material circumstance. The river flows ever onward.

This nauseating precision is necessary to demonstrate that fairness in treatment, as it usually understood, can only be defined conditionally upon agreed and rigorously defined sets of circumstance and caveats. For example, we might all agree that it is fair for a murderer to be put to (a premature) death. We might augment this agreement with caveats: death shall not be hastened unless the murderer is at least 17, and so forth.

Or we could all agree that car drivers who fail to come to a complete stop at a sign will pay a fine. Or that rental properties shall be let without discrimination based on the tenant’s physical characteristics. These rules are, of course, our laws and other codifications.

But laws are not universally considered fair, nor can they be. Consider that any set of laws over a people were not agreed to by all; they were certainly not agreed to by those not alive at the time of the laws’ adoptions, who nevertheless are born to them and must live under them. There are almost certainly laws, rules, strictures, and so forth that you find unfair now that others say are fair. Note that a specific law can still be unfair even if all agree that the procedure that leads to laws is fair—all might agree on and to be bound by democracy, for example, but some can still find individual laws unfair. (Is it inevitable that democracies must end in Brave New World? Probably.)

There are only two possibilities left. The first is that fairness is defined by agreement (by rules which are themselves agreed to, etc.). But in this way lies madness: consider the body count that resulted from this interpretation in the Twentieth Century. However, this way does indicate that when somebody shouts, “Unfair!” he has in mind a set of conditions and caveats that he feels that all should agree with.

But he usually seeks to bypass mentioning or arguing for these conditions and caveats. The argument is always a moral one, usually with each side (of many) convinced its side is the only correct one. Not just this, but also “obviously correct”, which is why it is felt that the conditions and caveats needn’t be stressed.

The other possibility is that there exists a foundational set of true ethics and morals which we can aim at. About this, more next time.


Original image from this site.

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