Saturday, October 18, 2014

the outgroup is the ingroup? impossible! (revised)

Dichotomous strawman post, visualized. Already found a problem. The translation process should be shown filtering through the inner two circles, which should be understood as automatic, heuristic, unconscious processing:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

is this the best islamophobes have to offer?

(Sometimes when I post youtube videos here, they show up as empty space on various mobile devices. So, link:
Here's a very serious progressive defense of Sam Harris and Bill Maher that seems to have made one or two laps around the internet. These guys must have done something right, then. Maybe they address the methodological inadequacies and complete lack of evidence coming from the "Islam is uniquely awful" camp. Let's have a look.

The guest in the video, one Gad Saad, has four things to say:

1. Progressives say it's OK to criticize some religions, not others.

--I wouldn't call myself a progressive but, as a non-Islamaphobe, I find myself among the accused. So, do I think it's OK to criticize some religions (say, Christianity) but not others (say, Islam)? My last post was titled "no, no, i hypothetically love it when sam harris criticizes bad ideas," where bad ideas meant any bad ideas of any relgion. (Amazingly, I came across this video when someone posted it as response to that post). There, and in another recent post titled "islamaphobe challenge," I explicitly asked for criticisms of Islam. The problem is that I added an awkward caveat. I asked that criticism of Islam be methodologically sound. "Don't criticize Islam because I don't like it when people criticize Islam and other stupid reasons" is mostly the same strawman I addressed in the "no, no..." post, where Harris claimed that some people are just plain opposed to entertaining criticism of bad ideas.

Saad's target is perhaps not yours truly, it's "progressives," so it's fair to wonder if the charge might apply in some cases. Well, who knows? He only calls out one particular progressive, Ben Affleck. Does the charge fit? Well, where does Affleck say or imply that "you can't criticize Islam"? Nowhere in the now infamous Maher kerfuffle. And Affleck clearly expresses disgust at the idea of putting apostates to death. Hence, he accepts criticism of actual terrible actions by individuals who are members of the group being attacked as a monolith. What he doesn't accept is the baseless tribalist claim
that Islam is like, the worst thing ever. Or something. I dunno. Harris, Maher, and Saad don't really say. Sometimes they'll say "Islam is 'the motherlode of bad ideas'" (Harris) or some other version of uniquely violent; other times they'll claim they're just trying to point out that Islam has negative consequences. If the latter, well, no shit. Being an irrational atheist asshat like Sam Harris has negative consequences too. "Group X is uniquely evil" is an entirely different argument than "some beliefs accurately attributed to self-described members of group X have negative consequences." In R. Scott Bakker's lingo, that's called "gaming ambiguities." Critique the baseless "uniquely evil" charge and get a defense of a mundane, uncontroversial charge that Islam helps cause some bad things. They don't see the switcheroo and many of their critics don't catch it either.

2. Attacks on Islam can't be racist because Islam is not a race.
--This is correct, arguably, though it's the sort of thing only an apologist would say. A non-apologist would advise the use of a better term to describe the same problem and note that the complaint is merely semantic. For my part, I haven't used the term racism to describe Islamaphobia because I find tribalism more useful. I see racism as a subset of the category "tribalism" -- the principles are the same. You set up a monolithic other by projecting the opposite of all you'd label "good" on it, then you attack the strawman you've created.

3. Saad claims that progressive attitudes toward Muslims are based on anecdotal evidence; implies his case is statistically sound.
--So, my "no, no..." post, again, is a challenge to any defender of the idea that Islam is uniquely prone to violence to prove it with, you know, data. So this is the part where one might hope Saad would do just that. Nope. Just psychologizes about how his a priori mistaken adversaries must be basing their cases on anecdotes. Those silly kids.

Before getting to #4, the host repeats Saad's strawman with a slick addition. He says that progressives think "people shouldn't criticize Islam for fear it would be offensive." Can't speak for others but personally I'm not one to pull punches for fear of offending people. I offend people, quite intentionally, where I think they hold baseless beliefs that are harmful to others. I'll eagerly offend Muslims on exactly the same grounds. Unless shown otherwise (e.g., some quotes), this is just more strawman material.

I would, however, defend the "feelings" of Muslims to the extent that they're targets of unfounded tribalist hate, which is altogether different. I'm also concerned about the material consequences of Islamaphobia. There are real consequences to being baselessly targeted as part of a monolith. (Ask, I dunno, Black people.) For example, someone might use that Muslim caricature as part of an effort to, say, launch an aggressive war against your country, kill your family and such. Muslim Americans (and others who just look like they could be) are victims of violent, so-called hate crimes (statistically!) at a greater rate than say, white people, thanks in large part to the tribalist Muslim caricature. Kind of a big deal. Not a "being offensive" issue.

Around the 6:00 mark, Saad repeats the strawman.

4. Saad offers an anecdote about someone he talked to who just didn't get it. Ha.

The end.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no, no, i hypothetically love it when sam harris criticizes bad ideas

"We have to be able to criticize bad ideas..." Interesting point, Sam, but it seems like an issue that needs to be settled between you and that non-existent group of people who openly oppose criticizing bad ideas, you strawman-dependent asshat.

"Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas." OK, so that's your claim. Your thesis, if you will. A bit imprecise, but whatever. Maybe you can back it up? This link suggests it's an absolutely baseless claim against a large non-monolithic group of people that carries terrible real-world consequences for its targets. If true, that would mean that anyone who says you're being irrational or wrong is correct and that anyone who says you're being a bigot is also correct.

For example, if you'd said "people with purple hair are the motherlode of Ebola transmitters (and although this conclusion will lead to negative consequences for them, those consequences will be worth it...for somebody)," you'd be an irrational bigot if you didn't come up with some compelling evidence. And if your claims about purple-haired people had been debunked again and again, and if it were shown that there's not even a goddamn correlation between purple haired-ness and Ebola, you'd be some kind of next-level irrational bigot, I guess. Or, it would just be more obvious.

As for what a rational case against Muslims (or purple-haired people) might look like, I covered that here. In short, you'd need to make at least one unambiguous, falsifiable claim set up such that we might apply the same yardstick consistently to all members of the set in question; make a strong case, or at least give some reason to believe that there's a correlation between Islam and, well, nevermind. If you can't do the first two, and you can't, just stop.

"My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences...". Nope, it's a bunch of jello.

"...but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people ." Stop talking about how people don't understand your jello and make the case. See above.

(This post feels like it's missing something. Well, I haven't actually debunked any specific claims. Because he didn't make any here. As for what he's said elsewhere, check the jello link.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

the strawmen are coming and they look just like you

Let's play a game of name that fallacy:

A: That guy over there is being rude to the waiter.
B: Yeah, looks like he's being a prick. I can't stand people like that.
A: When he leaves, I'm gonna follow him home and go all Dexter on him.
B: Don't do that.
A: Why are you defending him?!

When B says "don't do that (kill him)," is she implying "because he's a fine human being"? Is she defending him? No and yes. She's defending him, verbally at least, from being killed on absurd grounds. She's not defending his character. So there's equivocation on the oft-used apologist favorite "defend." 

For a while I've been calling this fallacy the false dichotomy-strawman combo. 

It's a false dichotomy in that it posits only these two choices: guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him.

It's a strawman because it's not just perfectly possible but simply an everyday feature of many people's lives to negativ
ely appraise behavior without experiencing death wishes or other extremely dehumanizing thoughts. The person who says "don't kill him" is simply not saying "...because I'm totally OK with his behavior."

But now it seems to me that all false dichotomies create strawmen, and more interestingly still, are at the foundation of the distorted view of the other that is the hallmark of tribalism. 

First the strawman creation issue. Take that famous false dichotomy, "have you stopped beating your wife?". If it's known that the man had been beating his wife, it's neither a false dichotomy nor a strawman. If it's not known whether he'd been beating his wife (or if he even has a wife, etc.), the question is both a false dichotomy and a de facto strawman. Either he was beating his wife and stopped or he was beating his wife and still is. Either way, he's being attacked on phony grounds (as it's not yet known). 

The false dichotomy builds the strawman, which can then be attacked with relative ease. The false dichotomy happens without the perpetrator's awareness. You might become aware after the fact, secondarily/metacognitively, but it's already there. You're looking at the strawman but blind to its creation. Anyone who has ever had the feeling of self-righteousness (i.e., everyone) has been comparing themselves to a strawman. And yet they weren't aware of it.

I think everything is a kind of strawman, finally -- this entire human experience, that is, existence as perceived, the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave, qualia, the results of neurons modeling environments to control them.

But for now, back to the maybe slightly less complicated issue of tribalism and how the false dichotomy creates the other. Here's the giveaway --
guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him. The second option, the only one (apart from his own position) made available to B, by A, connects two propositions that are entirely unrelated in B's more nuanced (and less murdery) perspective. The other, from the vantage point of the tribalist, is simply the mirror image of his own position. The inside of any distinction is the definition of good, its opposite the definition of bad, and so as long as the line is held, tribalism is untouchable. Not based on a rational assessment of the other's position, which would be death (non-repetition) for the tribalist position, it's always going to be a strawman produced by a false dichotomy created independently of consciousness. It has to be a strawman in consciousness. This is how it survives. Its false dichotomous creation has to be inaccessible to consciousness. This is how it survives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

islamophobe challenge

Something I posted on fbook (I can go snarkfree when I put my mind to it):
I'm committed to abandoning bad ideas when they're exposed as such, in theory, at least. Surely, as a human, I do it imperfectly. But if you're talking to someone and there's nothing that can dissuade them, you're talking to that person about their religion. I'm not talking about my religion.

With that in mind, here's what it would take to convince me that Islam is particularly likely to bring about negative outcomes:

1) Show there's a good reason to believe there's a correlation between self-identified Muslims and negative outcomes. State clearly what your idea of a negative outcome is -- homicide rate, suicide rate, number of aggressive wars launched, legal rights of women, terrorist attacks. Use the largest sample sizes, please -- the worldwide population, going as far back historically as reliable data allows. Define your terms clearly and apply equally to the entire set of phenomena under analysis. No moving yardsticks.
 2) Establish correlation between Islam and negative outcomes in such a way that it would make sense to say Islam plays a causal role. Explain where geopolitical, economic, and other factors fail to explain what you think Islam explains in terms of causation.  For example, imperialism correlates consistently with poor economic outcomes for the imperialized, to the extent it makes sense to say imperialism generally brings about poor economic outcomes.
If you're among those who thinks Islam causes relatively terrible things to happen, what would it take to convince you otherwise?