My good friend Tim F has already FJM'ed this particular... piece, so it falls to me to play Logical Fallacies: The Game, now with Added Right-Wing Insanity! I will refer you to his post in order to find out how Barbara Kay is wrong about the issue of this school-for-poor-children that may be built in this area; I shall simply illustrate how she is fallacious. Logic does not guarantee that you will end up with a solid conclusion, of course, it merely guarantees that if your premises are correct, your conclusion will be also. However, if you abandon logic, then you will only be correct by coincidence, even if your premises are true.
Don’t we already have a whole bunch of examples of such public schools in underprivileged areas?... Aren’t these exactly the places where parents are fighting like mad to get a voucher for a charter school so their kids don’t have to stay there?Factual error! Ontario does not have any kind of school voucher system.
But there is nothing immutable in the essential composition of children from low-income homes, nor is the absence of a parent’s higher education qualifiable as an influence on the child’s life. My grandparents came to this country from a poor village in Poland. They lived in poverty here, but raised nine children, one of whom went to university on a scholarship. The others couldn’t afford to go. My father was the youngest of those nine children. He had to drop out of high school to help his father sell junk in a horse-drawn cart, just like in the movie, Lies My Father Told Me. My mother finished high school, but had to earn her own living, so she became a secretary.
Misleading vividness! A dramatic example is offered as proof that the overwhelming majority of statistical evidence is false. The experiences of one person, no matter how dramatic, have no statistical bearing on the outcomes for an entire population.
Biased sample! Your single sample which contradicts the generally accepted sociological position has been cherry-picked to support your position. I could cherry-pick a great white shark and tell everyone how I have found that the average fish weighs two tons and is a killing machine with gills, therefore, fishing is an incredibly dangerous sport and should be banned.
It’s about the culture, not the income.
False dilemma! It could be about both. It could also be about neither. It is not necessarily an either/or case, but making it out to be one will subtly discourage your audience from contemplating any third cause.
I once read a peer-reviewed study of what immigrant groups succeed educationally. I don’t need to tell you who they are.
Appeal to authority! The authority of this source has not been established since it was not cited, so we cannot know if it is a genuine authority or not. Using a literal definition of "peer-reviewed," Wikipedia is peer-reviewed, since the peers of the authors can review it. Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source, even by its creator.
The study noted the curious and very specific statistical probability that whether a Korean child is put in a lousy public school or a good public school or a private school, whether he or she is with other Korean children or all alone, that child is highly likely to go on to higher education and succeed in life.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc! Just because being Korean is associated with higher education and success does not mean that being Korean is the cause of higher education and success. One could make exactly the same error with the statement that being able to speak Korean is correlated with education and success (which must be as true as Kay's statement), therefore, the secret to academic success is learning Korean. This argument has exactly the same validity as Kay's.
Only social theorists living in ivory towers
Ad hominem! Only the Childlike Empress lives in an ivory tower. An accusation of arrogance or elitism does not mean the purported arrogant elitist is wrong.
and labouring under the Marxist delusion
Appeal to ridicule! Labelling Marxism, or an aspect thereof, a "delusion" does not make it delusional.
What low-income children need most in their lives is ambition, inspiration and encouragement.
Appeal to emotion! We like words like "ambition," "inspiration" and "encouragement." They make us feel good. This good feeling is then leveraged into support for a position that has not been demonstrated or proven in any way. For example, I might say, "If we are dedicated, loyal and honourable, we can all fly to the Moon!" We all like dedication, loyalty and honour. It's a rousing appeal. It will never help us fly to the Moon.
This scheme is more than stupid.
Appeal to ridicule! If it is more than stupid, it does not need to be said. You can merely demonstrate it through your arguments, and your audience will know that it is more than stupid. Putting the "stupid" label on it encourages your audience to think that way about it, without actually proving it.
It wasn’t the state’s public schools that made successful Canadians who started out in poverty: It was self-respect, civic pride and a profound sense of responsibility toward their children.
Inductive argument! If poor people had these attributes, and then succeeded from an impoverished start, it does not follow that these attributes caused that success. I submit to you that no amount of self-respect, civic pride and profound sense of responsibility toward children will help Somali or Congolese children grow up to be wealthy, successful and educated in Somalia or the DRC. Therefore, it is obvious that more than these attributes is required.
I know a young woman who teaches school in a low-income area of Ontario – no point in being more specific than that – and she told me about the difficulties of dealing with low ambitions and low discipline.... She said none of the parents of her kids ever show up for them [parent-teacher interviews]. There’s your problem.
Appeal to authority! Just because this young woman is a teacher in a low-income area does not mean she is infallible on the subject of the causes of low academic performance in poor children. A person with a broken leg is not an expert in orthopedics.
And that will do. Hopefully I have shown how flawed the logic in this opinion piece is, and thus, how very questionable her conclusions are.
I am a white, Anglophone, straight, able-bodied male. In virtually every way, I am a member of the most privileged groups in our society, if not the world. By virtue of birth and immigration, I have the right to reside and work in most of the world's developed, industrial democracies. I am a native speaker of the world's most widely spoken language. I am a member of the "default" (BIG scare quotes) sexual orientation and of a gender to whom no doors are closed. From such a position, I realize it would be enormously stupid and patronizing of me to say to a racialized person, or a woman, or a LGBTQI person, or a disabled person, that I understand what they are going through. I don't. I really can't. There's just no way I can experience either the difficulties that their status entails, or the emotional and mental trauma that goes along with said difficulties.
So for one thing, it bothers me when people pretend that they can. I shall give a specific example. On campus last week, I noticed a bunch of students riding in wheelchairs and wearing blindfolds "learning what it's like to be disabled." They were learning nothing of the sort. They were learning what it is like to ride in a wheelchair or wear a blindfold for a few hours. Here's the crucial aspect they missed: if you are blind or paraplegic, it is forever. Not only do you have to deal with the everyday problems of your condition, you have to deal with the mental burden of knowing that you will never again use your eyes or your legs. You have been closed off from entire worlds, forever. My guess is that that would be a horrible thing to have to come to terms with, that it must be extremely difficult, and that such a coming-to-terms is almost certainly more difficult than the technical problems involved in navigating the world physically. But these students knew, all along, that they would take off the blindfold or get out of the wheelchair soon and everything would be great again.
It also bothers me that a bunch of privileged white kids on campus simulate being homeless every year by camping outside the campus bookstore for a few days. That is not being homeless. Being homeless is being ostracized and shunned, being denied even common courtesy by self-proclaimed regular folk, being a regular victim of crime, being a second-class citizen, not knowing when you'll next get to eat or where you'll sleep tonight, and so on. Sleeping in a tent on campus under the protection of campus security is not the same thing. Not at all.
Nor is walking in shoes marketed to women for a bit the same thing as being a woman. Maybe they're uncomfortable. A lot of women's shoes look uncomfortable, but is that the be-all and end-all of being a woman: foot pain? Of course not, but that might be the impression you would get if you are self-congratulatory enough to go on one of these walks and pretend that you now know something about being a woman. I know that this is not the mission of the organization, but a lot of people are going to take it this way. In fact, I think most are.
Look at it this way: when people have a disability, or a terrible disease, or suffer from discrimination, or when they have a child that does, they will often become a strong advocate for the rights of others with that same problem and the remedying of the problem. It's evidently a life-changing experience, such that it can totally rearrange your life's goals, and shove something you never even considered right to the forefront of your existence. How many people undergo such a revelation after one of these awareness-raising jigs?
I'm a member of every privileged group except the rich. Now, I'm not poor; I'm pretty well-off compared to my cohort and compared to the rest of the world, I'm rich. But there are a great many people in my society who are far richer than I am, and this is my second point: it chafes me on a regular basis to see them taking things that I will have to work very hard for or which I will never, ever be able to have. It irritates me no end to see people who have done nothing to earn their own way in life with wardrobes that cost more than my lifetime earnings will amount to. Why should they have these things? Are they smarter than I? No. Are they more hard-working? Certainly not. They certainly don't seem more mentally stable. There's no basis that I can find which dictates that they should justly be millions of times more wealthy than I (see previous post). But yet they have more than I ever will, and no matter how hard I might care to try, it is a near-certainty that I will never join them.
In this way, I can sort-of understand the anger of feminists, the LGBTQI community, racialized people, and so forth. I can imagine that anger and frustration extended not just to the rich, but to whites, to men, to the cisgendered, to Anglophones, and so forth. In all cases, they must see people who enjoy far more than they do and yet have done nothing to deserve it. In fact, just as I have, they may see that privilege has made these people into ingrates and boors, so that not only have they done nothing to deserve privilege, but in many ways it may seem that they deserve it even less than those who are underprivileged and marginalized.
Sometimes I like to talk about topical things, but at others I like to merely regurgitate whatever thought happened to have popped into my brain this morning. Today it is the latter kind of time, and the particular thought that did the popping has to do with the justifications for social inequality. We all know that there is a great deal of social and wealth inequality in our society, and indeed, in the world. At the risk of oversimplification, it is fair to say that those on the Left generally see this as being a problem that needs addressing, while those on the Right generally accept that some wealth inequality is just, whether of the current kind or not. That is to say, although current inequalities might or might not be just, there should always be some degree of inequality and there probably always will be.
A defence of the current system of inequality is generally mounted by the less thoughtful elements of the Right, and there are an awful lot of them. There have also been a great many smart and well-reasoned thinkers on the Right, such as Locke, Hayek, von Mises, or Nozick, and while they would not defend the current system, they would agree that inequality can be justified.
An argument for this that attempts to ground itself in ethics and justice, rather than in expediency and gross economic performance, is that people are inherently unequal. Some people are smarter, more charismatic, stronger, more persistent, braver, etc. than others, and this is why there will and should be inequalities. To force equality on everyone is to artificially drag the talented down to the level of the talentless, and this is one reason why, it is argued, socialist societies fail. Excellence is essentially punished, mediocrity and incompetence are rewarded (theoretically).
One objection to this is that it ignores the socioeconomic causes of these inequalities. I'm not going to dwell upon it, as it is not the main thrust of my argument, but I should mention it because it is such a strong objection. It's a fact that the biggest single determinant of wealth is the wealth of your parents, and if the children of the wealthy are smarter, perhaps that is because they went to better private schools and had expensive tutors; if they are more popular, perhaps they developed self-assurance and confidence from a childhood spent in material plenty and without financial insecurity; if they're stronger, maybe it's because their parents could afford expensive after-school sports programs and a diet rich in fresh produce and lean protein.
But let us leave that aside. Give the Right the benefit of the doubt and assume that there are genetic causes for intelligence, strength, popularity, etc. that would be the same across all socioeconomic groups, and that the cream will rise to the top through any social stratification. It seems plain to me that such an argument is silly on the face of it (what genius could be born into an inner-city ghetto that could not be stamped out by terrible inner-city schools and rampant inner-city crime?), but let's just take it as read. In this scenario, surely some people will be richer and more successful as they transform their superior gifts into superior results.
But how much smarter, stronger or generally 'better' would one have to be to justify such inequalities as we see? Let's assume that the less thoughtful of the right-wingers are correct, that we really do live in a meritocracy, and that intelligence corresponds to income. The lowest quintile of IQs falls somewhere under 85, and the highest over 115. That's an increase of 35%. The lowest quintile of income earners in the USA earn under $18,000 a year, and the highest earns over $84,000. That's an increase of 366%. Does that difference of IQ not seem, hmm, magnified just a bit?
Let's draw another picture. The median US income is around $42,000. Median IQ is 100 (by definition). Hedge fund legend George Soros earned $3.3 billion from his fund in 2009. For Soros' income to be justified by his IQ, he would have to have a score of over 78,000. That's seventy-eight thousand. Stephen Hawking's is 160. George Soros would have to be almost 500 times smarter than the man who developed Einstein's relativity theory to figure out the existence of gravitational singularities in space-time. Yes, nearly 500 times smarter than someone who improved on the work of Albert Einstein.
There are all sorts of problems with the methodology I'm using here. IQ tests aren't a good measure of "intelligence," which is a nebulous concept in and of itself, there are other factors beside intelligence involved, and so on. However, ask yourself if the sum of George Soros' talent - any or all talent - is over 780 times as great as that of the average man. He would
figuratively literally be a god amongst men. People could probably be cured of cancer from basking in his aura.
If there is any basis for the argument that humans are inherently unequal and therefore we must be socially unequal, I don't think that can in any way justify the levels of inequality we have. In fact, if that argument holds any water I honestly don't see how it could be used to justify a level of inequality in which anyone had more than two or three times the average, at most.
Everyone else has been talking about this, and I would probably be remiss if I did not. However, I shall try and think of something original to say on the matter. Anyone who reads the news has undoubtedly become aware of the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; if not, just Google it, you'll learn all you need to.
Ed at Gin and Tacos remarks that there is a serious deficit of "what the hell is wrong with you" in US politics; basically, people get away with nonsense like comparing Obama to Hitler, or painting crosshairs on a map to represent Democratic officials in favour of public healthcare (Sarah Palin actually did this, in case you didn't know). In response to these sorts of things there should be a large body of people to say, "What the hell is wrong with you?" There is not, and this is a problem.
Now I can't remember where I read this, but the violent rhetoric is almost exclusively from the US right-wing, and we should watch out for those in the coming weeks who will say, "obviously the shooting was a terrible thing, but" and after "but" will come some sort of justification, which is alarming. If you believe that the assassination of a democratically elected official can be justified, then you don't really believe in democracy.
That brings me to what I want to say on this matter. I am going to indulge in Reductio ad Hitlerum, but bear with me; I think it is justified in this case. Albert Speer was one of the smartest, if not the smartest, men at the top of the Third Reich. He was Hitler's architect and later, his Minister of Armaments and War Production. Not only was he nowhere near as incompetent as most of Hitler's staff, he was actually a spectacular success and achieved amazing feats in his official capacities. He was university-educated, back when that was rare and when it meant something, and came from an educated, well-to-do family. Obviously he was a clever man, and yet he fell hook, line and sinker for Adolf Hitler's political rhetoric. Think about that.
Politicians lie. It's pretty much a fact of life. But there are lies, and big lies. Why is it reasonable to expect people to believe a giant lie, and why do they? Let's examine this.
Lies like, "Read my lips: no new taxes!" or "I did not have sex with that woman!" are small lies. They might be true, they're probably not, the consequences are not grave. It doesn't really matter if the electorate spots them for lies or not, things will carry on much as they are. However, "[Saddam Hussein] is a real and grave threat to our [US] security" or "the personification of... all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew" are big and obvious lies. Not only are they demonstrably false, they don't even need any serious mental investigation to be realized as false. How could they possibly be true? They are nonsensical and idiotic. And yet, people fall from them.
Albert Speer wrote in his memoirs that his family never discussed politics. They were politically very naive, and so were the rest of the Germans. As a whole, they simply did not have the political savvy to identify Hitler as a demagogue, a rabble-rouser, a liar and a charlatan. So they voted for him. Consider that the British Union of Fascists never won a single seat and remained, basically, a political laughing-stock even as Britain went through the wringer of the Great Depression. Admittedly, Germany in the 1920s and 1930s had a lot of problems that Britain did not, but nevertheless, I maintain that it takes a certain kind of political naivete to believe that extremist politics were a good answer to those problems, regardless of how bad they were. I think it's notable that old democracies, with a skeptical electorate, didn't generally fall for extremist politics in that period.
Now, here is where I forecast doom and gloom. It occurs to me that the reason why, as Ed puts it, more people don't ask, "what the hell is wrong with you" is because Americans are politically naive. Think about how Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter et al come out with such absolute nonsense and drivel, and yet they are the darlings of talk radio, and their books become best-sellers (e.g. 10% of all American Muslims are terrorists, Barack Obama is a racist, the purpose of feminism is to empower ugly women, etc). You don't even have to think about these claims. They're just stupid on the face of it, yet millions of people listen to them and believe them. Millions of people voted for Sarah Palin, and in a country with a rational and skeptical electorate, she should have been laughed off the stage at the primaries. I think that a very large number of Americans are exhibiting precisely the kind of naivete that put Hitler in power - the willingness to believe anything, no matter how nonsensical, and either a lack of ability or a lack of inclination to question ridiculous claims and policies.
This naivete is visible in the Giffords shooting, in that people seem genuinely surprised that violent right-wing rhetoric eventually resulted in a violent act from a self-avowed right-winger. More to the point, people accepted and tolerated this violent rhetoric, at least until this horrifying result (although I forecast that the rhetoric will continue, possibly after a brief lull), but it does not take a genius to work out that this is where things would end up. Some people are essentially fomenting violence, and other people are unhinged and have access to firearms. Put two and two together.
Borrowing from Ed again, a lot of what put Hitler in power is present in the USA. There is an economic depression, wrenching social and class divides, horrible ethnic tensions, foreign policy humiliation, being on the losing end of a long and pointless war, hubris and belief in the manifest destiny and exceptionalism of the United States and the American people, and a naive and unquestioning electorate. What's really missing is a charismatic, right-wing leader to step forward and whip people up. So far, it would be a mistake to call anybody involved in American politics "charismatic." Consider that Hitler convinced tens of millions of Germans to follow him to their total destruction. That's charisma.
I'm not saying that the USA is going to turn into a fascist dictatorship. What I am saying is that it is becoming ever-more possible that the USA will start to drift in this direction, and what is really needed is for those Americans who buy these ridiculous bills of goods to start thinking, really thinking, and stop being so politically naive. The greatest friend of the would-be dictator is an uninformed and credulous populace.
The US Department of Justice has ordered Twitter to hand over all the private messages of former Wikileaks volunteer and Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir. I find this very alarming. If Twitter complies without a legal battle - and I believe they will, from the experiences of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Apple, Amazon et al who just threw Wikileaks over without their having been found guilty of anything - then this basically means that a precedent will be set for the government to demand access to anything - private or public - that you've ever done through Twitter, Facebook or anything else.
How comfortable is everybody with the government reading your personal messages? I'm not. It doesn't matter if you've done anything wrong or not, I think there is a certain reasonable expectation of privacy that is being violated here. Without privacy, there can really be no liberty; freedom depends on the existence of a sphere into which the state and the powers that be cannot enter. Also, as Juan Cole notes, it's upsetting that the Obama administration seems determined to break Wikileaks, but those in the Bush administration who ordered torture, like Dick Cheney, have not gotten any harassment from the DoJ at all.