William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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 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.

13 Comments

  1. Not to mention the tie phallusy.

  2. Briggs

    October 13, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Gary,

    You were beat to it by about six minutes:

    https://twitter.com/stephensenn/status/521656629964853248

  3. Sander van der Wal

    October 13, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Sigh. He’s an Englishman. Don’t they have Straight, White, Upper-Class men running things over there? Within a few years there will even be one of them sitting on a real Throne.

    Missing an opportunity, if you ask me.

  4. Sander: Yes, that is true that straight, white , upper-class men run things in England, but they CARE. They don’t get down on sexual preferences (probably because they seem to prefer multiple women over a single one), they are definately pro-green (their lights will stay on no matter what, of course) and so forth. There may be a bit of consternation this winter if some die of fuel poverty, but I’m sure these men will be out there proclaiming their concern. That’s all that counts.

  5. Fred said it just about as well as it can be said. Eloquent. Oh, wait, while males can also be eloquent? What a concept!

  6. “Incidentally, it was only after reading up on Perry’s background and noting his obsession with the sexual”

    Obviously not only Perry! Which percentage of blogposts here is about sexuality?

  7. Briggs

    October 13, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Hans,

    Precisely zero, in Perry’s sense.

    It’s odd. But when the culture increasingly sexualizes itself, and somebody says “Leave me out of it!”, the complainer is the one accused of being obsessed by sex. Sheesh.

  8. Briggs,

    Sex that other people are having. There’s a difference.

  9. http://bouldertherapist.com/html/humor/MentalHealthHumor/rorschach.html

    A man goes to a Psychologist and says, “Doc I got a real problem, I can’t stop thinking about sex.”

    The Psychologist says, “Well let’s see what we can find out”, and pulls out his ink blots. “What is this a picture of?” he asks.

    The man turns the picture upside down then turns it around and states, “That’s a man and a woman on a bed making love.”

    The Psychologist says, “very interesting,” and shows the next picture. “And what is this a picture of?”

    The man looks and turns it in different directions and says, “That’s a man and a woman on a bed making love.”

    The Psychologists tries again with the third ink blot, and asks the same question,
    “What is this a picture of?”

    The patient again turns it in all directions and replies, “That’s a man and a woman on a bed making love.”

    The Psychologist states, “Well, yes, you do seem to be obsessed with sex.”

    “Me!?” demands the patient. “You’re the one who keeps showing me the dirty pictures!”

  10. In case you hadn’t noticed leftists are obsessed with sex, race and money. Not their own, but other peoples. They even have terms for this obsession like sexism, racism, classism. Naturally they claim their opponents suffer from these mental disorders and call them these names. It is of course projection.

  11. Briggs

    October 16, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    All,

    Ed Feser, not surprisingly, beat us here.

    On ‘Legislating Morality’: The Anti-Conservative Fallacy

  12. Great observations Briggs. However, the real fallacy that I encounter most often in instances such as those you cite is not just the overt condemnation of “the man” imposing his values/will on “the masses”… it’s often more insidious than that. The argument that is most often made is that “the man” is indeed imposing his will and that is of course wrong because as we know, forcing adults or even adolescent children to do anything against “their” will is wrong… but the argument that is made is that by removing the oppressive will of authority, what is left is a vacuum in which complete and utter free will for all exists without consequence. Exposing that the real argument is “my will not yours”, or that “my will is more benign” aka “better to be oppressed by” than your will seems to be required in these cases because otherwise the bedazzled believe that if they can only prevent the Dan Cathy’s of the world from imposing their values on the people working in the businesses they create, the result will be Utopian freedom for all where depravity = wholesomeness and neither have consequences.

  13. Briggs, you don’t seem to understand how work works.

    “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.”

    What does that mean? What are employees in this context? They work, they get things. That’s how it works. Perhaps a more antebellum approach you desire?

    I’m barely kidding.

    I assume, with your take on things here, you are not a fan of the 1964 civil rights act.

    JMJ

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