Thursday, May 31, 2012

You Aren't Stupid

So, I know it's been a while, but here I am again, putting my two cents in.  I've been through an awful lot of change since the last time I posted--and although these changes are stressful they are also really, really positive.  I've started a new ministry with a new church in the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ. This new ministry led us to secure a mortgage and buy a house near Gettysburg—and move myself, my wife, and Samantha J Guinea Pig along with all of our things into the house, of course!
This means that this is the first post to my blog since I've started up my new ministry.  It's been a long time coming, I know, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the blog has to come after the bulletin, the sermon, all the visitations, the newsletter, the... well, you get the picture.  For many weeks now, there has been no more time after the rest of my work was done—I have to eat and sleep sometime, otherwise I would starve and go mad. And then the blog would simply be gibberish, wouldn't it?

The second reason is that I've been struggling to find the right topic.  After all, with a new ministry comes (I hope) a new audience—one I haven't quite figured out just yet. And to be honest, the things floating around the internet and in the news lately have been just as horrific as they have been divisive. I feel like I should get my feet underneath me before trying to jump into the fray and so I've simply been at a loss as to what to talk about.

And I guess there's a third reason, too, now that I'm getting into it.  Maybe it's fed a little by the slight culture shock I'm undergoing, but I find myself more and more frustrated with politics, the media, humanity...  Someone close to me is so frustrated that she's about ready to argue that you ought to be able to pass an intelligence test to be eligible to vote—despite our country's history with literacy tests following the Civil War.

Here's the thing: more and more I've been noticing how rampent logical fallicies have become.

PhotobucketLet me explain, a fallicy is a misleading or unsound argument. And they're everywhere. It used to be that the easiest place to find a fallacy was in advertising—for example, McDonalds used to keep track of how many billions of costomers they've served. Now their signs simply say, "billions and billions served," but the point is the same—billions and billions of customers can't be wrong! Sure they can. Billions of people used to think the world was flat, too, but that doesn't make it so. This falacy even has a name, Ad Populum or "Appeal to Popularity." The other place where it has always been easy to find falacies, of course, is politics. And blogs. Oooh, and political blogs, those are ripe with... well, here, let me show you. I Googled the phrase "fallacies in politics 2010" and immediately ran across a piece on Real Clear Politics accusing Barak Obama of the fallacy known as Appeal to Novelty, which basically points out that "new" and "improved" are actually two different things. The author opens her argument this way:
Speaking to students at a Maryland community college, President Obama indulged one of the left's favorite vanities -- the claim to represent "the future." His topic was energy. The president warned against Republicans who want "an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past." He compared today's Republicans who are less enthusiastic than he about government subsidies for "wind, solar and biofuels," to the "flat earth society" and to President Rutherford B. Hayes, who supposedly disdained the telephone.
Hey, that does sound like an Appeal to Novelty. But I figured that most politicans speak for more than a paragraph, so I went digging. I went to The White House website and did a search for "an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past," because that was the longest direct quote in the whole blog entry—and lo and behold I found a transcript of the whole speech! Now, over the course of the speech he does mention Prince George's Community College, where he was speaking, even more times than Mick Foley at a wrestling event, which could possibly be taken as the fallacy of Appeal to Emotion—if he were using that emotion as proof for his argument. In all honesty, though, the logical arguments he makes seem pretty sound overall. He asserts that election year after election year politicians vow to reduce gas prices. He asserts that usually when asked what their plan to do that is, the response is "more drilling." He futher asserts that during his administration, "We've quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high." He finally asserts that "America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country... we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves... We’re using 20; we have 2." He concludes that "So if we don’t develop other sources of energy, if we don’t develop the technology to use less energy to make our economy more energy-efficient, then we will always be dependent on foreign countries for our energy needs." Those assertions are actually verifialbe facts, although the first assertion could technically be false on this election year. And if those assertions are correct, the conclusion would actually be true. That's a sound argument.

Then he goes on to ridicule his opponents with the language quoted in the Real Clear Politics piece. That section really is a fallacy, but not the one Real Clear Politics says it is. In this case, Obama is refuting their argument by personally attacking them—the fallacy of Ad Hominem.

On the other hand, the author of the Real Clear Politics piece refutes Barak Obama's sound argument by asserting that Obama doesn't know his history (Ad Hominem), and that several Eurpean countries are abandoning their alternative energy programs (Ad Populum), and that "As Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Free University of Berlin told the Post, 'Everybody knows we can't go the way we've been going ... It'll break the bank.'" (Ad Populum and possibly Appeal to Authority if Miranda Schreurs isn't a legitimate authority on US energy policies.)

My point isn't political, however. My point is that more and more I see people simply pasting pieces like the one from Real Clear Politics into Facebook and then Sharing it all over the place without doing any kind of research or fact checking or simple reasoning. I know that I threw a lot of proper and fancy terms at you, but it doesn't take genius to wonder what Obama really said instead of taking the oppostions word for it. It doesn't take much for you to say to yourself, "wait a minute... does this argument have anything to do with facts? Does it make sense?"

My point is, think for yourselves. Watch out for wrong and misleading arguments and recognize them for what they are. Because what they are is an assumption that you're too stupid to know the difference.

And I know that you aren't stupid.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh 053112

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