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July 13, 2016 | 14 Comments

The Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy

Perry trying to impose a curious view.
Perry trying to impose a curious view.

I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 13 October 2014.

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, 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.

July 12, 2016 | 19 Comments

The Apes Do It So It’s Fine For Us Fallacy

I'm doing five to ten for apeslaughter.
I’m doing five to ten for apeslaughter.
< I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 22 December 2013.

People are happy to discover any argument which supports a position they favor. So pleased are they to find any corroboration (however weak) that the argument is embraced even if it is fallacious. This series (Genetic, Hypocrisy) examines fallacies beloved by today’s dominant culture.

Caution: because an argument for a conclusion has been shown fallacious, this does not prove that all arguments for that conclusion are fallacious, merely that the argument in question should be abandoned. But also keep in mind that if the fallacious argument was all the conclusion had going for it, yet you still hold that it is true, your sole justification is your desire, a dangerous situation.

An argument for legalizing prostitution:

Whether it is legal or not, there is seemingly no place in the world where it doesn’t exist. Indeed, it’s even been found to exist among primates who have been taught how to use money. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

This is easily seen to be fallacious in a parallel argument.

It is the case that chimpanzees and apes, which is to say primates, like men, from time to time kill fellow conspecifics, usually while in sour moods or in disputes over money or other resources. The practice has long been observed and in many places; indeed, there is seemingly no place in the world where these animals (chimps, apes, men) are found where these killings do not exist. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

Arguments pointing to the behavior of non-human animals are often used to justify human actions. Sexual promiscuity is the most common: for example, the (so we are told) ever-randy bonobo has had much drool—sorry, ink—spilt recommending its amorous activities for the masses. From which we learn there are many lonely academics.

From the Friends of the Bonobo society here is an example of the Apes-Do-It fallacy. The argument is only implicit here, but to give them a pass on that account would be like forgiving a television comedian his political asininities as long as he ducks behind his status. “I’m only a comedian!” Besides, there are plenty of places where arguments similar to this are explicit.

But when you get to know bonobos, you’ll see they couldn’t be more different. Like humans, chimpanzees have war. The males are in charge, and they can occasionally be very violent. Sometimes they even kill each other.

Bonobos do not kill each other. The females are in charge of the group and they seem to keep everyone’s temper under control with sexual activity. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you’re male or female — if you’re a bonobo, sex plays a big part in living together peacefully.

The text acknowledges that humans and chimps are a murderous bunch, a well known truth. But the implicit argument that if female humans were “in charge” as female bonobos (seemingly) are, then human males, sated with sex doled out at regular intervals would cease knocking each other on the head is clearly silly.

Would there be a government bureaucracy devoted to this new welfare? The authors have also forgotten sexual dimorphism (perhaps female humans are meeker because their mates are so much larger and stronger?), procreation (who takes care of the inevitable issue promiscuity brings?), and—the worst sin—the Andrea “All Sex Is Rape” Dworkins of the world (who can imagine a feminist supporting this program?).

Strangely, we rarely hear calls to emulate dung beetles or blow files.

July 11, 2016 | 29 Comments

The So’s-Your-Old-Man Fallacy


I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 4 June 2014.

“Melvin Smedgrass, you stand accused of robbing the Fifth-Third Bank of Waters, Michigan, on November the third, last of $837 in cash. How do you plead?”

“Your honor, just last week in Troy a man robbed a bank and got away with more than $15,000.”

“Is that so? Then I guess you didn’t rob a bank. You are free to go. Bailiff, release the prisoner.”

If you find Smedgrass’s argument convincing, you’re qualified to comment on Internet blogs, or for a position on the staff of the editorial division of any major newspaper.

For as soon as somebody makes the claim “Mr Obama did X”, the paper would respond, “Mr Bush did Y”, with the implication that the proposition “Mr Obama did X” is false or unworthy of discussion. When, in fact and is obvious and is logical, whether the proposition “Mr Bush did Y” is true, false, or somewhere in between has no bearing whatsoever on whether the proposition “Mr Obama did X” is true.

The So’s-Your-Old-Man fallacy belongs on the playground, where it originated. It is only the child who thinks “You’re a big meanie!” is refuted by “So’s your old man!” The So’s-Your-Old-Man fallacy is also called the Sez-You! fallacy, which is the transliteration of the Latin non sequitur.

On the blog I often critique the failed philosophy of probability called frequentism. I say, “Frequentism is false because X”. Directly somebody comments, “I don’t like Bayesian priors” and considers she has given a knockdown rebuttal. Now it may be that every alternative to frequentism you or I can imagine is also false or is worse than frequentism. But in no way is this frequentism’s salvation if “because X” is valid. In order to participate soundly, you must attack X or remain silent.

Last week on Twitter I linked to an excellent, must-read article by the unfortunately “soul-patched” Dominic Selwood entitled, “How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation.

Gist: Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce and a son coupled with Thomas Cromwell’s greed and his lust of the wealth of Catholic monasteries led the elite in England to pillage and purge and prevaricate until Catholics became as lepers. To not fall prey to today’s fallacy, be sure to read Selwood’s article before commenting on the particulars, which are anyway beside the point, and would in fact, if you were to comment in an effort to evade today’s main point, be a meta-instance of the fallacy.

My tweet prompted from a follower this in response: “Consider that the scientific revolution was very much build [sic] on the ideas that Protestants had laid.”

Now it may be true that “Protests laid the foundations of the scientific revolution”, or again it might be false, but whatever it is, it is utterly irrelevant to whether Thomas Cromwell was a no-good son-of-a-bitch glorified pompous thief.

Raw animal instinct is often the reason for the appearance of the So’s-Your-Old-Man. Your opponent has heard your claim, fears its truth, dreads the consequences of that truth, and lashes out with the first thing that comes to mind, usually something chosen to wound. We’ve all (me too) given in to the temptation. Even Bertie Wooster recorded an instance where he employed the fallacy: “‘Tinkety Tonk!'” he retorted to an argument. He admitted, “And I meant it to sting.”

As a debating tactic, the SYOM fallacy is hard to beat. The late Christopher Hitchens swore by it and was its master. I can’t recall an instance where he used it and his opponent wasn’t immediately distracted. As said above, the SYOM thrives like a cultivated weed on blogs, on television talk shows, and press conferences.

You are either on the giving or receiving side of “because X”. If receiving, just because you don’t have a retort in mind does not mean one does not exist. One may. If somebody says “because X”, and you think it invalid, your clear intellectual duty is to search out the invalidity without offering distractions. If you cannot discover a retort, and indeed agree the premises of “because X” are true, the argument itself valid and its conclusion sound, your sole duty is to accept the argument, even if you fear the sequelae.

If you are on the giving end and your opponent has opted for the SYOM, you may highlight it but that’s all. Then reissue “because X.” Be tenacious. Do not be distracted. Arguments are not feelings, though you must retain yours. Say, “You have forgotten to answer why not X. Here is why X in different words.” Ignore everything which is not a direct reply. Move on.

Update I originally had “So’s-Your-Brother” instead of “So’s-Your-Old-Man”, but Scotian below has convinced me this new version is better, more euphonious, and better aligned with history.

July 10, 2016 | 32 Comments

The Wrong-Side-Of-History Fallacy

Ride 'em, cowboys!
Ride ’em, cowboys!

I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 5 March 2014.

If there’s one fallacy the Enlightened love more than any other, it’s this one. Invoking it is a pure self-esteem boost; it jolts the system like a small shot of espresso. Says to the utter to himself, “Boy, are you something: how far above the others you are!”

Statistical proof of the fallacy’s standing comes from New York‘s “‘Wrong Side of History’ Seems to Be on the Right Side of It”, which showed the phrase appeared over 1,800 times in bien pensant organs in 2013, up from 500 in 2006. The magazine calls the fallacy “the soft bullet of utter dismissiveness” and that “[p]rogressives have made it their mark of Zorro.” (Also showing explosive growth is the logically equivalent “The right side of history”.)


Our dear leader, perhaps fatigued from delaying Obamacare one more time, said of Vladimir Putin’s entry into Crimea that the Russian ruler was “on the wrong side of history“. Mr Obama meant that it was politically and morally wrong for Putin to have done this because on this side of history, these actions are wrong.

If that’s so, then there was a date at which invasions like this were not wrong, and not wrong is right, or at least acceptable. Before (say) 1789, mankind was in darkness, brutish, ignorant, and in agreement that territorial expansion was the bees knees. Then, somehow—nobody knows how, perhaps a miracle—the light appeared! Mankind (womankind, too!) stepped into the blazing sun of truth and, aided by the guillotine, expunged the blackness.

Unfortunately, guillotines dull, the hangman’s rope wears, and the axeman’s arm tires. So there are still a few unenlightened wandering to and fro, literally mired in the wrong-side-of-history. What these folks need is a stern “dialoging”, they need their “awareness raised”, they need “exposure” to new ideas. Then the world will glow.

Or Mr Obama’s statement might imply not an Enlightenment but a gradual shift. After some date (say) 2000, sufficient numbers of mankind voted against incursions. This carries the idea that if sufficient numbers hadn’t, then incursions would till be dandy. In other words, moral and political truths are defined by votes. A lovely and clear, but appallingly frightening idea. Any demagogue with a pretty tongue can make “truth.”

Whoopi “It Wasn’t Rape-Rape” Goldberg lectured Nigerian and Ugandan presidents Goodluck Jonathan (I adore his name) and Yoweri Museveni on their countries’ adoption of laws to discourage man-on-man sex. “People,” she said, “Would face up to seven years in jail for promoting equality.” “Wrong side of history,” she said. There is no logical difference between Goldberg’s and Obama’s arguments, except that Goldberg was careful to say “My opinion” several times.

Notice, and notice with all your might, that neither Obama nor Goldberg nor anybody who uses this fallacy offer as argument anything but the fallacy. Mr Obama did not say why Mr Putin’s actions were wrong other than they were on the “wrong side of history.” Obama may have had other arguments but he assumed everybody knew them and, a fortiori, that everybody accepted them, even Mr Putin. Since Mr Putin obviously did not accept them, as anybody exposed to these missing-but-tacit arguments obviously should have, then something is wrong with Putin. Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested a weak form of mental illness, and others are eagerly believing this.

Goldberg, and the Goldberg inside all progressives, acted identically. The arguments which purport to show man-on-man sex is moral and that marriage should be redefined are never stated, they are assumed. “Equality” as Goldberg used the word is like an incantation, meant to be all the proof needed.

Longtime reader Luís Dias contributed this last example, which shows the “wrong side” isn’t always a fallacy. Suppose you and a friend witness a guy clonking another on the head with a portable plastic newspaper kiosk and your friend says to you, “How medieval.” Your friend is clearly not saying the action is wrong because a preferred method of dispatching enemies in the eleventh century was conking, only that that method was then popular.

But people often use “It’s medieval” fallaciously, particularly with regard to cultural institutions like the Catholic Church, calling its rules “medieval” and therefore wrong. Of course, the Church got its start well before the medieval period, so not only do people argue badly, their grasp of history is like a drunken ninety-year-old arthritic’s who lost two fingers in a hunting accident.

Update Apropos from George Will:

…Secretary of State John Kerry: “It’s a 19th-century act in the 21st century. It really puts at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G8.”

Although this “19th-century act” resembles many 20th century (and 16th, 17th and 18th century) acts, it is, the flabbergasted Kerry thinks, astonishing in the 21st century, which he evidently supposes to be entirely unlike any other. What is more disconcerting—that Kerry believes this?…