Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Argumentum ad populum fallacy, or How to Not Be Cool at Parties.

                Among the most regularly appealed to and obnoxious fallacies used in popular culture today when evaluating or discussing practically anything at all is the “argumentum ad populum” fallacy, better known as the Appeal to Popularity Fallacy. For the sake of this essay, let’s define this particular logical fallacy as follows: any argument that concludes that a proposition is true because many, most or perhaps even all people believe it to be true.
                Perhaps in today’s countercultural zeitgeist (the term “hipster” alone has metamorphosed from churlish, teasing pejorative to a loving term of endearment, happily employed by anyone who’s even momentarily glanced at The Smith’s VEVO page) affecting especially the college demographic (i.e., everyone part of this blog!), maybe the notion that “things are good because lots of people like them” seems a bit less legitimate. But trust me: it’s a pervasive and toxic mindset that continues to weasel its way into every day discourse.
                Take, for example, the $200 million dollar blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, an utterly tiring space opera/comic book mash-up that none the less smashed box-office records to pieces and topped many critics “best junk food movies of the year.” Pretty much every single conversation that begins, “Gosh, I can’t really say Guardians of the Galaxy struck me as a particularly good film…” will almost instantly be struck down with the argumentum ad populum fallacy.
But thankfully, now that you’ve read this you’ll be better prepared to sling back, “That, good madame/sir, is a popularity fallacy! The notion that something has inherent worth based purely on the fact others—however many—like it is a wholly fallacious one!” I mean, sure, you’re probably not going to score any cool points or top any ‘deepest thinkers of the year’ list just for complaining about whatever popcorn flick is invading Hollywood War of the Worlds-style at the moment, but at least you’ll have your guns and you’ll be sticking to them. And if Hollywood is to impel you to believe anything at all, isn’t it that it’s always good to have your guns handy? I mean, just look at Guardians of the Galaxy...

Fallacy of Rugged Individualism

The Fallacy of Rugged Individualism

I am lonely.  You are lonely.  Each individual is lonely.  To a certain point, this occurrence is inevitable.  Since we all have different biological genes, we are individualistic.  Differing interpretations of the same event makeup our varying identities, how each example is dissimilar.  Although we experience the same emotion, we react to it differently as individuals.  No matter how close one may think they are in comparison to another, none of us are exactly the same.  We are all born into different environments under different conditions and experience these life events contrarily to someone else.  Not one person has experienced the same exact situation as another, that’s what makes us individuals. 

The main theory that highlights these concepts is the fallacy of rugged individualism.  This belief states that each individual should be self-sufficient by helping himself or herself out. This sufficiency is based off our knowledge, either learned by experience or taught to us growing up.  Rugged individualism has many aspects and various interpretations of the definition that you can pull from.  One viewpoint is that regardless of our attempts to be individuals, every person needs the interaction of another human being.  This relationship seems to give us more life and make us more wholesome than solely living our life.  In a way, it relates to agape, the love of everyone; wanting to live through them instead of living our own lives individually, we become a part of someone else’s life as we seemingly live through their lives.  Individualism has a connection to our hearts that relates us to community and others.  This connection links us to another person or multiple people blurring the fine line of “individualism”.

Carl Jung coined the principle of individuation, consisting of the manner where things are identified distinguishable from others. Individuation expresses the idea that something is identified as an individual thing that “is not something else”, including how a person is held to be distinct from other worldly elements and distinct from other people.  Additionally, the process of human development is becoming fully individual (ourselves).  Jung highlights the aspect of rugged individualism through individuation in that each person is distinct and different from another.  Similarly related to the ethos of extraordinary, using both arête, in that you distinguish yourself above or from others and kleos, making your distinguishability it known within the broad community.

Potential problems that arise from rugged individualism are the constant need to be associated with another person, not fully embracing our own lives.  This leads to heavily relying on others to sustain our life, essentially belittling humankind saying we constantly need other people to survive because we can’t do it on our own.  Another negative would be how we were raised and believing “that’s how things are”, creating a shield and narrowed vision of the world we live in.  Rugged individuality pushes us to fake it, hiding the background and our struggles; coercing us to make it seem that our lives are perfectly fine even when that’s not the case.  These actions present the question of a “soft” individualism; sharing the struggles we have in common with others furthering a better understanding of each other collectively.  This approach isn’t as harsh as rugged but allows individualism to be more permeable and community-based.

The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Media Attention

Brian Williams has always been respected as a journalist, news anchor and broadcaster in his career, but just one mistake can jeopardize a great reputation.  As the great Warren Buffett quoted, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”  Brian Williams got everyone’s attention on February 7th, 2015, when he admitted that he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  According to reports, he has been claiming that he was in a helicopter that got shot at for many years, but now he is admitting it was false claim.  Williams said he had misremembered the events and just kept with the original story.  NBC, his employer, has since suspended Williams for 6 months after an investigation from that started when he admitted the false claims.

            In class we’ve been talking about attention and the average audience doesn’t pay attention to media.  In the case of Williams’s story, once this report came about everyone’s attention was caught in awe because of Williams’s reputation.  In my opinion, if he would’ve reported that he made a mistake right after the incident happened, I believe no suspension would have come about or a loss of reputation for Williams’s. 

            NBC did not want to suspend him at first, but they needed to keep their integrity about them.  They made the right choice because now in the future all journalist and news broadcaster will know what happened to Brian Williams and that journalist will not make the same mistake. – Zach Hastreiter

Are We the New Sophists?

Around 350 BC, the Agora in Greece was bustling with people discussing different topics that they enjoyed, topics that pained them, or topics that intrigued them. 

The Agora  was a place a Grecian could go to talk about these topics with another or multiple people. Among the bustling of discussion, there were people called sophists. These sophists believed you should discuss a topic so thoroughly that you could turn a weak argument into a strong one. In the sophist's mind, being able to discuss topics through and through was powerful. They wanted to know all sides to an argument or topic in order to fully understand what they were discussing. Topics were sometimes petty and other times profound. Take Protagoras for example...

Protagoras was a man who questioned things and attempted to seek truths even if they were difficult to find. In his search for truths and discussions, religion would of course arise. In fact, Protagoras is known as being one of the first agnostics in the world saying, "concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life." This was an incredible belief for the time because Grecians had always been so strongly religious. Everything they didn't understand they accredited to the gods, but through discussion and trying to understand the truth Protagoras realized that maybe the gods they looked up to didn't exist and that there was no way of knowing. 

Through time, the word agnostic or atheist have had negative connotations; it has always been negative to question religion because you would, in turn, be questioning authority. But are the millennials the new sophists? We as a generation are more willing to discuss and search for answers. We are more willing to speak our mind and openly question authority, because or our desire to know more and discuss more, could this be the dawn of the new-age sophists?

A study done by the PewReasearchCenter states, "one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” This compares with less than one-fifth of people in their 30s (19%), 15% of those in their 40s, 14% of those in their 50s and 10% or less among those 60 and older. About two-thirds of young people (68%) say they are members of a Christian denomination and 43% describe themselves as Protestants, compared with 81% of adults ages 30 and older who associate with Christian faiths and 53% who are Protestants."
This is astounding. Why is this the case though? Why is the younger generation more agnostic or unaffiliated? I believe it is because we have more of and open forum. With the new age of technology and blogs, and forums, and other means of discussion, religion is talked (typed) about more. I myself have seen people go to college and within their first year question religion, my girlfriend being one of those people. She was more open to discuss religion when she was out of her parent's house. I believe a lot of other's may feel this way too. We as millenials may be more independent than our older counterparts and more willing to question things that used to be more known as fact. In my mind, that makes me feel as though we are a new era of sophists. As long as we keep discussing and trying to find truths, the sophist spirit will live on.

Christopher Hitchens and Free Speech

            On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee. On January 7, 2015, two Islamic terrorists attacked the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and killed 11 people. On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of net neutrality. What do these events have in common? At the heart of these events is the concept of free speech. The idea of free speech is ever-present in our class and, indeed, our society, yet every day we face challenges to our freedom of speech.
            One of the greatest defenders of free speech in recent times was the late polemicist and contrarian, Christopher Hitchens. On January 7, 2007, at the University of Toronto he debated that the freedom of speech does indeed include the freedom to hate. In April 2011, the talented author wrote an article defending free speech for Reader’s Digest. (I have provided links to both the article and his speech below, and both are very eloquent.) In essence, he argues that the right to speak freely is also the right to hear different views discussed. So when one attempts to silence the speech of another, he or she is essentially restricting the right of everyone else to hear. Of course, free expression is crucial to democracy and our society’s well-being. Our founding fathers knew this and the freedom of speech is guaranteed in the foremost amendment to our Constitution, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…” Look at the most tyrannical regimes in history and in the world and you will find that they all share one thing in common; they limit expression.
            So when we face calls for limiting speech, remember that it is also your right to listen that is under attack. And although people may take advantage of this freedom and may be extremely ill-mannered, there is much more at stake than offending someone when you limit the freedom of speech. I believe we are perfectly capable of handling offensive material, but I don’t know anyone capable of deciding what we can see or hear or read or watch. --Nick Gilbert

Three Men Make a Tiger

In today's world people are most likely going to believe something more frequently if it is has confirmation by others. "Three Men and a Tiger" is a perfect example of this. Pang Cong was a minister in the Wei court. He grew worrisome over the tasks that had been appointed to him so he laid out a series of questions to the king before he left. He simply stated "If a man says there is a tiger in the marketplace, would you believe it?" The king then answered "No". He then asked if two men had said there was a tiger in the marketplace, would you believe it? The king then said "I would be suspicious of it." Finally, he asked if three men said there was a tiger in the marketplace, would you believe them? The king then answered sternly, "Yes, I would".

It is natural instinct to be suspicious of something without knowing there is any sort of credible source of information behind it. This is directly correlated to the idea of Public Relations and the impact it has on a society. It is the power of skepticism and confirmation. If "three" people can persuade someone to believe a rumor or an allegation, then can you imagine the power of a widespread of people. It is a fallacious type of argument that explains that if you get enough people, anyone can be persuaded.

For example, if you get told you look overweight by your best friend there could be some doubt in your mind as to if he/she was joking. However, if you start getting more and more people realizing that you are out of shape, then you are more inclined to start believing that you are. Therefore, the more people that mention something about it, the better the chances are that you will go to the gym and start working out. It's the thought of, "oh not only does my best friend notice, but people I'm not as close to notice as well".

Enhancing your Ethos and Public Relations

Ethos is all about how a person is able to fit in with a group a people and fit into the expectations that the group has.  Ethos varies for all types of groups. One example that I like, is church vs. bar. When you go to church or interact with the people that you know from their you are going to act a certain way. You will try to uphold yourself as a good *insert religion here* man/woman. If your religion frowns upon birth control you aren't going to purchase it at the store where you often run into those people. You want to ensure that that specific group sees you as a certain way, the way they view as right. If you go to a bar or club, you aren't going to act the same way you would if you were at church. The bar has a different set of expectations than that of the church. Ethos is all about fitting in.

Public Relations is a huge industry today, with so many public figures trying to create the best impression on the public that they can it is no surprise. Public Relations ties in with rhetoric and media so much. Particularly when it comes to ethos, or even more specifically enhancing them. Public relations and enhancing your ethos are practically the same. Perhaps the Greeks use of enhancing ethos was the world's first form of PR. The basic strategies that one can use in order to enhance their ethos include practical wisdom, personal sacrifice or a reluctant conclusion. Public Relations is all about controlling the spread of information, and this can also be tied to the " Three Men make A Tiger" fallacy. What PR and Ethos have in common is that they both aim to control the argument by only letting people see what they want them to see.

One example of a company attempting to enhance it's public image is Wal-Mart. Recently Wal-Mart announced plans to raise their wages well above minimum wage. According to the company wages will be increased by $2.00 an hour for new employees. They state that this change will bring the average pay of a Wal-Mart employee to above $13 an hour. This company is using a strategy that helps enhance ethos. The company is acting like they are making a personal sacrifice in order to provide a raise for employees. In reality, the company is not making a sacrifice, they are enhancing their image in a world that wants the cheapest product but fights for better conditions, easier jobs and more pay. After much backlash over the years over Wal-Mart's minimum wage pay, the company has lost many customers. By raising wages and acting as if they are making a sacrifice in order to treat their employees better they will gain back the loyal customer base that they one had back.

The Obamacare Fallacy: Bigger is better
We are all used to thinking that bigger is better, in some cases, thats not always the best view to have. The Obamacare fallacy is where Obama had the idea of raising the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour, compared to the current minimum wage which differs from state to state, but Nebraska's minimum wage is 8.00. Although, looking at this idea from far away, it may seem like a very luring position, but sources say that it could cause more harm than good. this may seem to people as fair, and as well deserved, but it isn't about trying to persuade a bunch of people to think it is fair, its about helping people get out of a hard time. Obama said the wage lift was going to help millions out of poverty, and although all of us would wish that to be true, it just is going to have long lasting effects on our daily lives looking at the span of things.
While looking at the stats in the article from the American Thinker, the wage lift is predicted to only raise $100 more dollars in a family budget, how can that lift someone out of poverty? As years go up the number of people in poverty a year goes up, to extraordinary lengths.

The Fallacy of Rugged Individualism

The idea of "Rugged Individualism" is something that all of us as human beings can understand. Its meaning relates to many things we have either been taught or have learned over the course of our lives. From a very young age we are taught to focus on our strengths and abilities to consistently improve ourselves, while at the same time to work on areas in which we are weak. We are taught to be independent, responsible, and to think for ourselves.

Being unique is something that we can all relate to in one way or another. You may not be the type of person who strives to stand out or be different, but at the same time you typically don’t want to be classified or seen by others as being just like everyone else. Rugged individualism also leads us to think about how each of us chase power in our lives in some way. It could be as big as wanting to own a company or as simple as wanting to buy something you find value or pleasure in. The fact that we all have needs and wants that differ from others in itself makes us individual.

The fallacy of rugged individualism is that even the most individualistic person needs others. It only explains half of what we know to be true. While it explains that we possess the need to be unique, our call to power, and the feeling of being whole, it omits the need we have for other people. We base the level of success we have in life on the success of others. We use other people to make us whole, as they fill in the things we lack in our lives.

More importantly, it raises an even bigger problem, one that we have all witnessed in our own lives or in the lives of others. It often times will lead us hide our weaknesses. Rugged individualism in theory can make us pretend that we are “doing just fine” when reality everything around us is falling apart. The other issue it causes is the feeling that we have to try to “uphold an image” that doesn’t allow others to see the truth in what is actually happening in our lives.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Men Make Tiger 三人成虎 (Pinyin: sān rén chéng hǔ)

The link above is a cartoon about the story of “Three Men Make Tiger.”  (Confusion Institute Online)

Three men make a tiger, which is also a Chinese proverb, named 三人成虎 (Pinyin: sān rén chéng hǔ.) It says that if three people in the city all say there is a tiger around, you are inclined to believe that it is so. People used it as a metaphor for the possibility of a rumor becoming credible and accepted as truth if repeated again and again.

 It's also a common social phenomenon. For example, a couple years ago, there was a Japanese actress announced that she would retire; some Chinese fans felt regrettable. So, someone even said that if she retired, it felt like she was dead in his mind. This fan said it for showing his love for the actress, but what he said was spread. At last, people believed the actress who was enjoying her retirement, was dead. That is a typical example of "Three Men Make A Tiger." Because many people say and believe a thing, it becomes real. 

This proverb is based on a type of argument named appealing to people. It's a fallacious argument that explains, "if many people believe so, it is so." This fallacy is sometimes used to convince people that a popular theory (or belief, or thought) is true. That reminds me what my classmates always did when I was in the middle school. Boys like playing tricks. Once boy A said to B that our teacher wanted to meet him because of some serious things he did. But B did not believe him immediately. Then boy C told B the same thing, and some others as well. So B went to meet teacher, our teacher of course said she did not do that. There were many similar things I could tell. But most of them were tricks or were not so serious. Things like that are still happening every day. 

Fortunately, they did not cause harmful consequences. But what if they did? That is an alarm for us to do communication. For people who create the tiger, they should realize the consequences whether they do it on purpose or unintentional. For people who are told the tiger, they should think carefully before act. Sometimes, if a lie is said again and again, people would not believe it when it really happen.               

Slothful Induction Fallacy

When a person is called as a “sloth”, it means that that person is very unwilling to work or exert himself on doing something. However, in the case of the slothful induction fallacy, it is rarely due to that person being a sloth. Instead, it means that the person fails or refuses to concede, or see, the most likely inference from the evidence. It is also called as “ignoring the evidence”, or the opposite of the hasty generalization fallacy. It is the opposite of hasty generalization fallacy because the hasty generalization fallacy refers to generalizations made by insufficient evidence or proof, while the slothful induction fallacy refers to the failure to make a generalization that is proved by sufficient evidence. This fallacy happens because the person is usually unwilling to understand the evidence and this may seem like that person is being stupid or even dogmatic. In other words, the person does not accept the evidence at all and still strongly believes that it might be due to other factors.

An example of slothful induction fallacy would be a person who tripped at least 10 times a day and said that it was due to bad luck even though there were evidence suggesting that he himself did not look properly when walking. This person may be saying that it was due to bad luck, but he failed to see that he did not look carefully and properly when he walked, which was why he tripped so many times. Yet another example is that an economist would say that the oil prices would increase even though the current situation showed that the oil prices futures were decreasing drastically due to a recession. The economist might be being optimistic, but this did not stop him from committing a fallacy, and refusing to accept the fact that the oil prices futures were decreasing drastically due to a recession.

Todd Akin, a 2012 Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate has actually committed this fallacy once. He believed that abortions should be illegal, and when a reporter asked him what if the woman who got pregnant was a rape victim, he replied that the woman’s body had biological features that could block herself from being pregnant through rape. Instead of accepting that female rape victims would be an exception at first, he believed that the illogical theory that women have a system to shut down when being forced to have sexual intercourse. He clarified later that the rapists would be ones punished if rape victims were pregnant, but the statement he gave had already angered many people due to his ignorance and usage of this fallacy.

However, there are also times where it is actually more appropriate to refuse to concede to the inference of a good argument because there might be other prevailing reasons that might support the other conclusion. Hence, it is only appropriate to refuse a certain inference unless the conclusion or argument is very strong, such as “The Earth revolves around the Sun”, or “There are seven days in a week”.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Three Men Make A Tiger

Three Men Make a Tiger

A Chinese proverb, Three Men Make a Tiger refers to an individuals tendency to believe something absurd as long as they heard it from enough people. An example would include an urban legend to be perceived as true if enough people talked about it. This argument is often known as “appeal to the people”, because if many people believe in something then it alleges to be true. This fallacy is often called argumentum and populum, which I believe means if something is popular then we automatically assume it to be true.

Three Men Make a Tiger is a very old Chinese story of a man named Pang Cong who approached a King and asked him if he would believe if someone said they saw a tiger in the city, the King said no. He then asked if the King would believe him if two people were to say they saw this tiger, he said he would begin to wonder. Pang Cong then asked the King “what if three people claimed to have seen this tiger?” The King said that he would believe it. Seeing a tiger in a busy place is absurd, but when multiple people make that claim the possibilities become real. The man told the King that he was leaving for a while and for the King to not believe things he hears about the man even if he hears them from multiple people, because they're not true. 

The term “Three Men Make a Tiger” was not what I thought it would be. This fallacy makes complete sense to me because I would never think twice about believing something if multiple people were to say that it was true. It makes me wonder what all I have believed that isn’t true at all. I think this fallacy is used every single day throughout all communities. I like the story line because the man tied it into rumors. Just because we may hear things about an individual even from multiple people doesn't mean it is true. It is best to gain accurate knowledge and make your own prediction based on your findings. I have attached an interesting link for you to learn more about this remarkable fallacy!