X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore ! X

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Clark

Clark is an anarchocapitalist, a reader, and a man of mystery. He's not a neoreactionary, but he is Nrx-curious 'til graduation. All he wants for Christmas is for everyone involved in the police state to get a fair trial and a free hanging. Follow him at @clarkhat

41 Responses

  1. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Mazower is certainly guilty of committing politically correct claptrap disguised as theory. But Diamond is also falling for an old one; it is a common fallacy to attribute direction to evolution. Evolution is not a steady progression from the primitive to the sophisticated. A lot of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries is tied up in the popularity of the common misunderstanding of Darwin's theory. Hell, Marx tried to make his political construct (and what a Frankenstein's Monster IT was!) appear "scientific" by appropriating the term "evolution" and applying it to political systems.

    So; Mazower and his colleagues want to force the evidence to support the idea of the Noble Primitive. Diamond wants to force the evidence to support the idea of the primitive savage. Both sides appear to be pre-judging the facts.

  2. Clark says:

    > Mazower is certainly guilty of committing politically correct claptrap disguised as theory. But Diamond is also falling for an old one; it is a common fallacy to attribute direction to evolution.

    100% agreed.

    Mazower doesn't want the truth, because it would mean that his noble savages are savages. Diamond doesn't want the truth, because it would mean that this top-down powerful welfare state government isn't the teleological perfect end goal of mankind.

    It's like watching Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, or Scalzi and Vox Day; just sit back, eat your popcorn, and think of England.

  3. Anonamoose says:

    “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” Tom Baker, Doctor Who

  4. Windypundit says:

    Usually that sort of fallacy isn't so explicit. It's more of an "X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore I will unfairly denigrate X." Climate change is a good example, with an awful lot of people arguing against anthropogenic global warming because doing something about it would hurt businesses. Of course, some advocates of global warming desperately want it to be right because they hate capitalist industrialization. It's rare to see the argument come out explicitly, however, as in your examples.

  5. rxc says:

    I think this particular case is a variation of a standard progressive technique, where they don't like some of the consequences of a particular activity, at least in some cases, so they think the only way to deal with it is to ban the activity. Prohibition, the war on drugs, and political correctness are the best examples.

    Because some people do not tolerate drink well, or destroy themselves with drugs, no one should be allowed to use either. No one should be allowed to say anything that could cause "offense". A collective punishment is imposed on all of society to deal with a small number of deviants (or people who speak that which must remain unspoken).

  6. Arclight says:

    This line of thinking would also seem to apply to much of the gun control debate. There are numerous studies showing that an increase in the number of citizens that lawfully carry weapons correlates to a decrease in violent crime. People that want gun control tend to declare all these studies poorly conducted, irrelevant or outright false. I personally have yet to see them produce their own studies showing that an increase in legal gun ownership causes an increase in violent crime, they just claim the other studies are wrong because they don't like the implication.

  7. Paul Baxter says:

    Just a couple of impressions:
    First, I don't understand how Diamond comes to the position that central governments prevent warfare. He isn't an idiot. Surely he's familiar with both the development of central governments in Europe AND the basic outlines of the major European wars. I suppose it would be a good exercise for anyone interested in history to look at what forces actually DO reduce violence. (I recommend looking at Rene Girard as a starting point)

    Second, I read Diamond's Collapse a couple of years ago and, just based upon that, don't understand quite why he attracts so much negative attention. Diamond is not particularly political. His thesis, that sometimes societies can permanently reduce or destroy their resource base, strikes me as both obvious on its face and well attested through history. One might disagree with a detail here or there, but overall his work strikes me as valuable.

  8. Richard says:

    If the situation is dire enough and imminent enough1

    I can't seem to find the footnote that goes with that "1" (maybe a snarky commentary on drone strike memos?).

    As far as the article goes, I agree. A politician like Mazower should not be critiquing an anthropological study – he should let the anthropologists (who are also tearing this thing apart) do that. And if he is an anthropologist, he should know better – you can critique a study on many things, but "I don't like the result" is not one of them.

  9. Dan Weber says:

    I've seen this logic enough on the abortion debate. On both "my" side and the other side. I'll refrain from examples because I don't feel like being dragged into that tar pit this morning.

  10. En Passant says:

    Clark wrote Feb 7, 2013 @6:50 am:

    Diamond doesn't want the truth, because it would mean that this top-down powerful welfare state government isn't the teleological perfect end goal of mankind.

    I'm far from expert on Diamond's arguments, but I get the sense his arguments are more limited than that.

    The sense I get from Diamond is that, for example: the modes of food and shelter production that make survival of hunter-gatherer societies flourish are different from those that make agrarian and trading societies flourish. Therefore the social arrangements in those different types of societies can be to some extent attributed to the differing modes of food and shelter production.

    Put another way, different social arrangements make different modes of food and shelter production successful. Hunter/gatherers need to organize hunting parties. Farmers and traders need to organize land use and markets.

    Or maybe I'm just particularly dense today.

  11. Grifter says:

    Man, I love pieces like this; presentation a certain element of formal logic in an entertaining way.

    With reading about logic, often it seems the choices are either not formalized, or dry as a bone.

  12. Conrad says:

    Oddly X → Y ; Y therefore X is the. formal fallacy Affirming the consequent

    However X → Y ; !Y therefore !X is logically valid rule of inference called modus tollens.

    For example

    let X be its raining in the morning
    and
    Y be I take an umbrella to work.

    Taking an umbrella to work doesn't make it rain. But if I didn't take a umbrella to work it means it didn't rain.

    I think the problem with X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore ! X in your example is that relationship between X and Y needs be proven, which can be difficult in cultural anthropology since experiments are difficult and not liking Y doesn't change anything.

  13. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Somewhere in here belongs the similarity between the know-it-all Christian missionaries of the 10th Century and the know-it-all secular/progressivist missionaries of the 20th Century. Naturally, both sets of missionaries would deny any similarity at all, but objectively I'm not at all sure you can tell the players without a scorecard.

  14. Richard says:

    I think the problem with X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore ! X in your example is that relationship between X and Y needs be proven, which can be difficult in cultural anthropology since experiments are difficult and not liking Y doesn't change anything.

    I disagree.

    I think the problem is "I don't like Y" does not imply "!Y" – a distate for an idea does not make the idea false.

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Sorry; for 10th Century, please read 19th.

  16. From the quoted bits, what I get Mazower as saying is "Diamond says X. I assert !X, and assert !X strongly and in public because X being seen to be accepted and unchallenged would have undesirable consequence Y. X is not proven because …"

    Now, you can take issue with his glossing from "X is not proven" to "!X", but that's a different issue. He is not saying "X isn't true because X -> Y, Y undesirable", but rather "a general belief in X will cause Y, Y undesirable, and therefore X must be held to a stricter standard of proof". (Note that "X" and "the public generally believes X" are two distinct statements whose truth values are only loosely correlated.)

    This principle if applied too broadly could also be a logical fallacy, but it is distinct from the one called out in the post.

  17. Lizard says:

    I suppose one can charitably read Mazower's first quoted paragraph as "This (Jared's) idea is objectively false, and it cannot be ignored as just another false idea because this false idea has been used to justify harmful and immoral policies." IOW, given the uncounted wrong ideas out there, it's probably best to focus time and attention on ideas not just wrong, but harmful. (To use a variant on your Nazi example, one could note that the idea that the Jews control a vast global conspiracy is untrue, and also that it needs to be debunked more vigorously than, say, moon landing hoax conspiracies, because the former has been used to justify atrocities and the latter is just garden variety stupidity.)

    However, his second quoted paragraph guts this charitable reading, and shows he is purely arguing from consequences.

    This is true for many on the left, and also for many on the right. I can't tell the number of times I've heard Christians say that evolution inspired Naziism, or makes people criminals, or whatever — and think this is a meaningful critique. I have said to them, many times, "Even if this WERE true — it's not, but let's pretend — even if it WERE true that evolution leads to evil ideas or acts, that in no way shows that it's WRONG. The consequences of a fact do not have any bearing on the validity of that fact." The looks of blank incomprehension (or, if online, inchoate scrawls that are even less logical than most creationist writing) are priceless.

    On a tangent related to other topics covered here, consider how in America, truth is an absolute defense against libel/slander — but in England, possibly other parts of Europe, the law is more concerned with how much harm is done, with the truth of the statement being of less concern. Speaking a harmful truth is a crime.

  18. AersolBurns says:

    As I read the article, Mazower isn't making the argument Clark claims Mazower is making. Mazower says that Diamond is wrong, and that Diamond's argument could cause a lot of harm to tribal groups, but he doesn't say that Diamond's argument is wrong BECAUSE it causes harm to tribal groups. So, Mazower says X and says Y, but does not necessarily propose a relationship between X and Y.

    Mazower also explains briefly why he thinks Diamond is wrong: "Diamond has constructed his argument using a small minority of anthropologists and using statistics in a way that is misleading and manipulative." That seems to me a plausible and logical reason to reject Diamond's argument.

  19. Conrad says:

    @Richard

    I agree with you in principle which is what I meant by not liking Y doesn't change anything. For example if you have the proposition "if it rains I'll get wet" not wanting to get wet doesn't change the weather.

    However I think the proposition presented here isn't straight forward. Its "If X is believed to be true then Y will happen" I don't want Y so X must not be believed.

    How exactly do we know that Y will happen as a direct result in the belief in X? How would one experimentally prove this?

  20. a_random_guy says:

    Conrad and Richard are having the right discussion, but I think Conrad gives people too much credit. Causality is irrelevant to many people, because many people do not really understand it. It suffices to see Y being asserts, to dislike it, and then to attack anything (and anyone) seen to be supporting Y.

    Here's an example: We do not live in Lake Wobegon – a lot of children are of below average intelligence. This is pretty obvious from the definition of "average", and there are all sorts of analyses showing just how big the difference can be. Children at different points on the intelligence scale need very different types of education.

    If we seriously believe in education, we must objectively assess children's abilities, and have a multi-track school system that educates different types of children according to their needs.

    Causality is irrelevant. Truth is irrelevant. No one wants to accept that around 30% of all children are not very bright. So they deny this simple, obvious fact and instead attack anything that even remotely reveals differences in children's aptitudes.

    We may not be able to change the truth, but we can deny and suppress it.

  21. Anon says:

    I'm not entirely sure what's going on here is a logical fallacy so much as assuming there isn't even a debate. I don't think they're saying "X => Y, Y is bad, therefore not X" – I think they're saying "Clearly not X, X => Y, Y is bad, therefore people arguing X are bad".

    I'll take Watson as an example, since it was cited as a comparable situation. My reaction on hearing about that was:

    1. It is absolutely settled, scientifically, that people of colour are no more or less intrinsically intelligent than white people.

    2. Therefore, the only people who would argue otherwise despite both being aware of all the evidence and having the background to understand it are massive racists.

    3. Walker is a geneticist, so he satisfies both of these conditions.

    4. Shout at the massive racist.

    I'd assume point 1 is something that very few people – scientists and general public alike – would dispute, so if I were talking to someone about the subject I'd just take it as read and skip to step 2. Certainly if I were writing an article I'd assume the majority of the audience didn't need convincing of the idea rather than spending half my space linking to studies.

    The major difference here is that whether or not the question of tribal violence is settled among anthropologists, it's a sufficiently minor issue that it hasn't filtered into general knowledge. So while it might (or might not) be acceptable to skip Mazower's equivalent of point 1 when talking to an anthropologist, it certainly isn't when writing an article for a national newspaper.

    I wrote all the above assuming that the blog summarised the original article accurately, which was silly of me. Taking a look, Mazower actually does go on to give a more detailed argument to support his second statement.

  22. Richard says:

    @Richard

    I agree with you in principle which is what I meant by not liking Y doesn't change anything. For example if you have the proposition "if it rains I'll get wet" not wanting to get wet doesn't change the weather.

    However I think the proposition presented here isn't straight forward. Its "If X is believed to be true then Y will happen" I don't want Y so X must not be believed.

    How exactly do we know that Y will happen as a direct result in the belief in X? How would one experimentally prove this?

    Sorry, I was making a different argument.

    If I read you correctly, you're saying that in this instance, there's no proof that X → Y, therefore you cannot use "X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore !X" to prove !X.

    All I was saying is that "X → Y ; I don't like Y; therefore !X" is never a valid argument to prove !X, because "I don't like Y" is not equivalent to !Y.

    In my opinion, the bigger problem is whether the logic holds, given the initial statement. Your opinion seems to be that the bigger problem is that the initial statement itself has not been proven.

    It really doesn't matter in the long run; either alone would be sufficient to invalidate the proof – for instance, "If it rains, I'll get wet; I don't want to get wet, therefore it won't rain" fails both because it can rain without me getting wet, and because my desire to not get wet will not, by itself, prevent me from getting wet.

  23. a_random_guy says:

    @Anon: Huh? Your point 1 is flatly wrong. By many different tests, racial differences in average intelligence are real. To take a relatively non-controversial example: Asians average around 1/3 sigma higher than Europeans.

    Slight differences between races should not be a surprise. Why are most top sprinters black? Genetics seems to be the best explanation.

    Wikipedia is, in this case, a good reference – precisely because it is allergic to controversy. If references to difference in racial intelligence have survived there, then this would seem to be pretty non-controversial and well-established. From Wikipedia, you can follow references to the scientific literature.

    This isn't racist, any more than observing differences in skin color or eye shape is racist. It's simply a fact, and in any case, only speaks to averages – it says nothing about individuals.

  24. princessartemis says:

    This recalls to mind a stunning thing I once read in a college biology textbook that changed my thinking about…well, everything, ever after. The section title was "Evidence for Evolution". The section contents described the process by which fossils calcify. That's it. That was all. The book went on to other subjects.

    I have frequently failed to live up to the lesson that instance of baldfaced bait and switch taught me, but I've always tried to keep an eye out whenever anyone on any subject tries to pull one. Alas that it was something I had to learn to look out for on my own!

  25. Zack says:

    It'd be nice if logical fallacies manifested themselves as clearly as radiation does, and you could just have your little logical geiger counter out and could detect B.S. just by waving it around, rather than having to debate, digest, and contemplate all these complex issues, evaluate premises and distinguish between fallacies and legitimate arguments that merely facially resemble fallacies.

    Science. I demand you make this happen now. Make me a logic detector. And then a sandwich. Actually, just a sandwich.

    Actually, I'll just make myself a sandwich.

    BRB.

  26. There's a better critique of Diamond's thinking by Wade Davis here if you're interested.

  27. Actually, there's also a more sensible look at gun violence stats and the flaws in the arguments on both sides of that that debate here too…

  28. Clark says:

    @Anonymous:

    I'll take Watson as an example…

    1. It is absolutely settled, scientifically, that people of colour are no more or less intrinsically intelligent than white people.

    Re point 1: no, it is absolutely not settled, scientifically, that people of colour are no more or less intrinsically intelligent than white people.

    In fact, the data shows pretty unamiguously that there are large and persistant differences in average IQ between races.

    It is up for debate whether the causes of this are entirely genetic, partially genetic and partially environmental, or entirely environmental. The theory that parasite load is much higher in the developing world, and fighting off parasites uses up nutritional resources that might otherwise go to building up brain structure is an interesting and persuasive one. I, for one, hope that it's correct, because it means that we as a species could, boost IQs by 5-10 points per person across perhaps three billion people. The benefit of that would be insane, even if it cost trillions…and if it could be done for a few hundred million dollars, it would be the high ROI investment of the millennium.

    Of course, we can only reap huge rewards like this if we're free to apply the scientific method to the question: propose a theory, gather data, repeat.

    With that in mind, let's review your thoughts on the matter:

    1. It is absolutely settled, scientifically, that people of colour are no more or less intrinsically intelligent than white people.

    4. Shout at the massive racist.

    I'd assume point 1 is something that very few people – scientists and general public alike – would dispute

    To restate:

    1) assert what you want to believe

    2) label, shame, and denigrate anyone who disagrees with your political orthodoxy

    3) hope that by crucifying a few victims you cow the majority into silence

    I think the technical term for this is "terrorism", and, yes, it's a great way to keep a subject population in fear.

    Thanks for being so open about how you punish thoughtcrime.

  29. Christopher says:

    I would find this article more convincing if it wasn't an example of what it condemns. Right now, I'm too tired to track down Manzower's full critique of Diamond, (I'm actually not too clear on whether the article you're quoting has excerpts from a piece Manzower has written, or whether it's a series of quotes from an interview conducted for the piece), but let's look at what he actually wrote:

    "It simply isn’t true. If allowed to go unchallenged … it would do tremendous damage to the movement for tribal people’s rights. Diamond has constructed his argument using a small minority of anthropologists and using statistics in a way that is misleading and manipulative.”

    These are factual arguments, and what Manzower has actually said is that Diamond's arguments are both factually wrong AND morally wrong. From the article you quote, it's impossible to tell to what extent Manzower is able to support the idea that Diamond is factually wrong, but he does make the assertion.

    Of course, he's one of those darn academic pointy-heads, and we all know how obnoxious they are, so he MUST be deriving his assertion that Diamond is factually wrong from the assertion that he is morally wrong, and not vice versa.

  30. James Pollock says:

    "By many different tests, racial differences in average intelligence are real."
    No. By many different tests, racial differences in scoring on tests are real. Intelligence tests don't measure intellegence. (Not sour grapes, either… I tend to score too high on them. That is, I score way higher on tests than is reflected in my everyday life.)
    This is why I'm opposed to standardized testing in schools. It's a waste of time, effort, and money. End of diatribe.

  31. Luke says:

    @Christopher –

    I wouldn't say either of the 2 points you bolded are more quibbling than they are factual arguments. They are also the two most generic arguments against something you disagree with: data set isn't large enough & presentation of statistics. By themselves those can only be used to argue that a theory is inconclusive, not that a theory is wrong.

  32. a_random_guy says:

    James Pollock writes: "By many different tests, racial differences in average intelligence are real." No. By many different tests, racial differences in scoring on tests are real.

    You are correct, of course. However, the point is that many different researchers have tried to develop "neutral" tests. Most of the tests correlate quite strongly with one another. There are also debates about the definition of intelligence. Quite obviously, there are different mental skills. However, again, when we speak of averages over large numbers of people, the correlations are very strong.

    As Clark points out: these correlations say nothing about causes; indeed it is likely that there are various contributing factors. The problem is this: If people refuse to accept that the differences even exist, this automatically precludes any useful analysis, much less any sort of countermeasures.

    Indeed, this excess of political correctness is actually counterproductive, because it leads to policies that damage the very people one would ideally like to help. Just to give you an example from the physical end: I really enjoy sports, but I am terrible at them. I had a coach in high school who was determined to help: He had me training with some of the best, and the other students frankly did their best to support me. All that happened was that I got utterly frustrated, because I was utterly outclassed.

    The same happens when we refuse to acknowledge differences in intelligence: If you put slow students in the same class with fast students, either the fast students will not get the education they need, or you will utterly frustrate the slow students. If you acknowledge differences in intelligence, you can group the students appropriately and address the needs of the different groups. If the groups fall out largely along racial lines? That is reality, and we had best deal with it.

  33. Patrick says:

    There is a very strong norm in cultural anthropology against expressing negative sentiments about non-Western societies. This is particularly true for very "primitive" groups. There's also a simple reason for this, and it isn't knee-jerk left-liberal-progressive-political-correctness.

    In the 1800s, Anthropology was strongly associated with the idea of "White Man's Burden" and was provided the moral/scientific authority on which groups were "civilized". Typically by forcing them onto plantations where they could be taught the value of hard work and Christianized. The result was the destruction of numerous indigenous cultures and widespread suffering. As values shifted, the result was a huge black eye for Cultural Anthropology, which had to work overtime to repair its image. It's a bit like Germany being especially intolerant of hate groups. Anything that smacks of a return to the "bad old days" where Westerners come in and "civilize" groups "for their own benefit" is therefore highly suspect and often attacked.

    Comes across as a knee-jerk and thoughtless here, but there is a reason the attitude exists.

  34. James Pollock says:

    "The same happens when we refuse to acknowledge differences in intelligence: If you put slow students in the same class with fast students, either the fast students will not get the education they need, or you will utterly frustrate the slow students. If you acknowledge differences in intelligence, you can group the students appropriately and address the needs of the different groups."

    I don't "refuse to acknowledge differences in intelligence". I flatly deny that the differences are measurable in any meaningful way, particularly across groups. Intelligence (or lack thereof) is an INDIVIDUAL characteristic. It isn't even constant in the same individual.

  35. a_random_guy says:

    James writes: "I don't 'refuse…'. I flatly deny".

    I'll be fascinated to hear your explanation of the difference between refusing to acknowledge something and flatly denying that same something.

    Sticking parsley in your ears does not makes the bard's singing any prettier. Denying reality affects you, but it doesn't change reality.

  36. James Pollock says:

    Well, random guy, when you improve your reading comprehension to the point that you can understand what I write, I'll accept your criticism.

    Perhaps an analogy will help.
    One tiny attribute of intelligence is the ability to compose music. Some people are fairly good at it, and some people are not. However, skill at composing music is not measurable in any meaningful way.

    Or, try a thought experiment: Person A is mathematically inclined and can do multi-variable calculus in his head. Person B can diagnose a car for any problem just by hearing the symptoms described. Which one is more intelligent? Now, situationally, we can measure these two different forms of intelligence against each other (do I need to solve a math problem, or do I need to get my car running again?) but that's it… neither one is inherently "more intelligent" than the other. (From there, you can go to the cultural bias argument… the people who design and write intelligence tests value math skills as an indicator of intelligence, and they don't value practical skills, so person B is at a disadvantage taking a standardized intelligence test regardless of his actual intelligence. However, my point is that EVEN IF YOU DID remove cultural bias entirely (which I'm not sure you can do) you're still left with an unresolvable problem… intelligence isn't an "it", intelligence is a "they".)

  37. princessartemis says:

    James, how do you define intelligence? I'm curious, because I feel as I follow along at home that I do not understand how you are using the word, and I would like to understand what you are saying better.

  38. Zubon says:

    Cartoon characters are able to make the intuitive jump from the logical failure to the proper interpretation:
    http://trenchescomic.com/comic/post/recursion

  39. efemmeral says:

    Will Durant summed it up fairly well: "The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds."

    There is a time, mostly when we are young, that most of us ache to know truth and beauty, want to dig deeply, want to learn. Then, one day, you wake up in Dallas, Texas, barely middle-aged, only to discover that nearly everyone around you has stopped trying to find truth, and live only to prove some version they've settled upon.

    I can't imagine the discipline makes any difference. Biology? Civil Engineering? Law? Education? Closed minds are everywhere.

  40. Chris says:

    "Diamond has not yet proved his point that there is one progressive path forward"

    It's been a while since I've read Diamond's books, but I don't think he argues that there is 'one progressive path forward'. This is just Mazower (rather biased) description of Diamond's position.

  1. February 15, 2013

    [...] Standard politicized reasoning. [...]