Logic, schmogic

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday September 20, 2012 05:01 PM

We're taught to evaluate an argument based on its internal logic. I'm starting to think this is a mistake. We should also consider where it leaves us, and whether we want to be there. If we end up in a place where we don't want to be, we should start looking for a counter-argument, or a flaw in the original argument. If we can't find either, then in extremis we ought to discard the original argument: assume a can opener!

This by way of further rumination on the familiar lesser-evil argument. The impeccable soundness of its logic was vindicated in an earlier post here. But where does it leave us? Helpless, passive, able only to sign off, year after year, on an increasingly evil lesser evil, and try to persuade ourselves that we feel good about it. It's hard to believe that we received the divine gift of reason solely in order to forge our own chains.

My daughter and I went to see The Master yesterday. It's long and slow but worth it. One of the things that struck me was The Master's insistence that people are different from animals, or ought to be. I was thinking that maybe we might have something to learn from the animals.

You'll never se a squirrel trapped by a syllogism. He might be cornered by a dog, or swept up for breakfast by a hawk, but he won't have talked himself into his predicament.

Comments (12)

Brian M:

Micheal...Just have to say I loved this post! Wonderful analogies!

Despite the propensity (sometimes) for sideways excursions in the comments, Stop Me remains one of my favorite political blogs! Even if it doesn't provide "an answer" always.


I agree. I don't want to end there.

I don't, by admitting that I can't actually tell which evil is lesser.

If I really thought I was able to determine that one of the evils was with great certainty going to be measurably "lesser" I would probably feel compelled to "choose" it, however.


"Measurably" is certainly one of the operative words. A thing may be measurable without being consequential.

The other operative word is 'choose'. If they called me up and said it was my choice whether Obie or Willard would be the next murderer-in-chief, well then I might give the matter a half hour's thought.

But in fact we don't in any meaningful sense get to choose the next MIC. The only choice we have is whether to participate -- whether to embrace the charade or not.

Merkin in Montreal:

On this wonderful occasion today when the new Quebec government nullified both the tuition increase and Law 78, I have to chime in with, “There are elections and then there are elections.”


Yes comrades, we won or at least, we won for now! The new PQ government was sworn in yesterday and today on their first day in power, they nullified both offenses done by the previous regime through the use of an “executive order”. Yes, it’s a minority government and as such, they don’t have the majority to pass any laws by the parliamentary vote but Madame Marois, bless her balls, nullified both laws by decree. Mind you, PQ is not even a leftist party and at best, it can only be categorized as a centrist party with leftist pedigree. Nevertheless, they came through on their campaign promises. Even though the issues are far from settled and we expect government cuts and tuition hikes to resurface again next year, at least we got a reprieve.

Regarding Brian M.’s comments in response to my comments on the previous post, I think MJS responded quite eloquently and no need to beat a dead horse. I do need to add two more things though:
“To a gay male, these minor issues are a lot more important than your dismissal suggests. Or, perhaps, to a religious minority, or even a woman.”

Hence my point about priorities.

“The theocratic insanity behind much of the current Republican resurgence is pretty terrifying to some of us. And its even impacting Canada, now.”

I don’t know about Canada but not in Quebec brother!

Merkin in Montreal:

Comrade Smith, since you brought up the subject of the Master movie, I thought I'd ask: has anyone seen the Carlos movie or movies done by Olivier Assayas? I saw the first half last Saturday night on our local TV and am eagerly awaiting the second half, which will be broadcasted this Saturday.


I haven't, alas. Anybody?


One point

Not voting lesser evil accomplishes what ?
Besides removing ones personal aiding and abetting

Even if the SMBIVA movement or a third party movement produces some crucial defeats

Think gore Florida

And the strategy gets persisted in over and over

Will the lesser evil disintegrate ?
Will a real alternative emerge ?

If simple ballot box defeat is unavailing
Then Yes effort real effort
has to go into an alternative party
destruction from within the party
of the dembot head of orthrus must occur

Neither of these is about registering a preference for one head or other
Once for half an hour
every year or so

Lower turn out won't work
And strings of defeat may either not work or simply double down
the orthrian bet on cloaked us too ism

The attempt to drive the two together in substance may only increase the elaboration of the brand distinctions that make no difference

My contention

Consider two party run for the roses elections as they exist

They are spectacle that yes implicates the people in the up and running
System of exploitation and oppression

But surely you all didn't expect voting might bring that system down did you

To modify it progressively requires boots on the street and asses on the shop floor

Either way

Peter Ward:

Merkin: "Carlos" as in Carlos the Jackal? I've seen the longer miniseries version that's on Netflix. I don't trust biopics: but Carlos was an amazing person,--with at the necessary qualification about abhorring violence and so on--so far as the miniseries portrayed him. Although--spoiler alert!--it concludes ambiguously with the suggestion he was really a mercenary all along, contra the beginning where as far as one can tell he was a single-minded, zealous militant.

Peter Ward:

Regarding logic: I don't think lesser-evilists are really out there trying to refute Goedel. They're commitment is extra-ration--or prerational, if you like. But they will use whatever arguments they can muster in support of that commitment. In the same way the faith of the Catholic church wasn't preceded by or even hinged on the latest philosophical insights; but it was sure nice having Tom and other folks there churning out logical proofs all the same.*

*Until Hume had to be an asshole and point out we can't know anything for certain, including God's existence. (I suspect the lesson the Church learned from philosophy turning against it may explain why they've wisely stayed out of the Creationism debate.)

Solar Hero:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

anne shew:

solar .. , part of .. ,quoting myself - " .. . as i've said to mr. now wading , of dogs .. you don't know what is going on in their lovely minds very different from your own ,.. that led to io z putting his sub titling up "

Merkin in Montreal:

Back to the movie subject, the husband made us watch the Canadian Bacon last night because he had just found out that the whole movie was posted on You Tube. Of course, it was the latest comments by the State Department’s spokesperson that reminded him of the movie to begin with:

“U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked about a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa—a meeting that was not open to the press—and whether it was a secret agreement, possibly to invade Canada. The spokeswoman replied that an invasion of Canada was not discussed during the Secretary's meeting. Her answer was met with laughs in the press room.”

Anyway, this movie which was made back in 95 was so eerily close to reality. Neither one of us remembered the movie as a great political satire back when it first came out but watching it again last night gave me a new found appreciation for it.

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