A few thousand words of unreason
This posting is actually a comment I posted recently on someone's blog. It is highly contextual. If you are new to the blog-oh-ohsphere, please read these posts before you read my long comment:
Real Victims of Mandal - Dalits by Gaurav Sabnis
Facts on the Reservations Issue by Dhoomketu
Alarmists, Anti-Mandalites, Middle Class, Upper Castes by Shivam
The case for by Dilip
It's the thought that counts, right? by Amit Varma
"I'd like to have an argument please" by Amit Varma
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff by Gaurav Sabnis
Two stories, then? by Dhoomketu
This last post - Two stories, then? - is what I am chiefly responding to. That is where I first posted it. This is a slightly revised version - minus the errors, you know.
Dear Dhoomketu -
Welcome to the blog-oh-ohsphere!
The problem with logical fallacies is that they reduce an argument to something akin a mathematical equation and divert from the issue. If a statement has been proved to be a logical fallacy, it becomes just that, an example of a logical fallacy. The number of entries in the logical fallacies page is so large that I would not be surprised if all arguments in the world were reduced to logical fallacies. I mean, there’s even a logical fallacy called Argumentum ad Google!
You don't add value to the debate by resorting to 'logical fallacies', you don't inform it with further questions and facts, you don't enlighten the subject at hand. You just read a sentence and compute which logical fallacy it is.
You may not believe this, but the best writing in both fiction and non-fiction always has a sense of ambiguity about it, coupled like a tightrope walk with a clear narrative voice. This subconscious sense of ambiguity in expression is important especially when one has to be objective: in a truly honest argument both sides must be ‘objective’ otherwise they will never concede a fair point made by the opponent. An argument is like a negotiation: you concede some, the other person concedes some. The most important thing about a debate is not that someone will win it but that it will end up shedding light on all perspectives of the issue. In a debate about the existence of God/god, who wins? The atheist or the believer? Both positions, in fact, are rationale: may be G/god exists may be H/he does not. But when you bring in logical fallacies, especially the way you are using them in your post, you do great injustice to the amorphousness and subjectivity of arguments. More importantly, you foreclose the argument now that you have mathematically proven, in a X Is Not Equal to Y manner, that the other person’s argument is false. The word fallacy shares its meaning with ‘fallacious’ and ‘false’: just because you demonstrate that a sentence or two of an argument is one fallacy or another, the argument itself does not become completely untrue. It may still have some merit in it.
See this: "You have to be careful with fallacies. The reason things are fallacies is because they're an invalid form of what's usually a valid argument. So it's not always clear whether something is a fallacy or not. In addition, some fallacies are only fallacies given certain other assumptions ."
(1) Anecdotal evidence:
Let’s begin with the anecdotes. Shivam quotes an anecdote to make a point and Dhoomketu proves it to be logically fallacious for the simple reason that it is anecdotal evidence, and you can't use anecdotal evidence to argue your case. Now, does that mean that Shivam's anecdote is not true? Or Dhoomketu's? Instead of reducing it to a 'logical fallacy', let's analyse both anecdotes and see what conclusion we come to. Shivam says that some quota students in his college are doing better than he is, despite him being a general category student. Dhoomketu says that in the same college some years ago, all the "toppers" were general category students. The conclusion we come to is that while quota students may not be toppers, they may sometimes excel general category students. What can this prove? That the issue of merit is fluid and more complex than saying that it is facetious (as Shivam does) or that it is going to 'destroy' the IITs and IIMs as many have been saying.
See, by doing this much thought-analysis we have added some value to the argument. You can still say that these are anecdotes and we probably need a scientific survey to establish such generalisations. Neither side would deny the need of a scientific survey and the issue would end maturely, in a civil manner, without name-calling.
(2) Important point missing in your anecdote
By the way, in your story #1, are you saying that all those slow-trackers and those who didn't get placement were SC/ST quota students? If not all, how many were? The answer may shed some factual light in the absence of scientific studies. But when you say it's anecdotal evidence, you have 'won' the 'argument' on the basis of that branch of the subject of Logic, 'logical fallacies'. It does show that you may have studied Philosophy well in college.
(3) Desipundit plug
As for the Desipundit plug, they on their part may simply be willing to bring some objectivity in their coverage, which is a good idea for a site like that. Desipundit is after all not a cartel member and does not have the burden of propagating libertarianism. You have to see the way Desipundit links to Gaurav Sabnis' rather ordinary posts every now and then, calling them excellent each time until someone embarrassed them by pointing out the back scratching bias that Gaurav Sabnis' friend Saket was indulging in.
The 'pro-reservation in higher education' bloggers who I have read till now, basically try to argue using ad hominen [sic] and other fallacious arguments
Are you using the logical fallacy of generalisation here?
(5) Ad hominem - but which one?
"Lastly, all those opposing “Mandal II” should tell us whether they are non-OBC. Upper castes are no doubt meritocratic (which is why sons inherit fathers’ businesses), and they are no doubt oblivious to caste (just see the matrimonial pages), but there is the hint of vested interest here. And if you are opposing reservations because admissions will become tougher for you, you won’t get the point of affirmative action anyway."It is no doubt ad hominem. And thus a logical fallacy. But which type of ad hominem is it? It is “ad hominem circumstantial”. Now the following excerpt in Italics is from the Wikipedia page on ad hominem.
It is like saying, "All those who oppose drug trafficking should tell us whether they have ever had a friend who used to do drugs. For then you obviously have vested interests and are..." In fact not only is it a clear ad hominen argument, it also is ambiguous.
Ad hominem circumstantial
Ad hominem circumstantial involves pointing out that someone is in circumstances such that he is disposed to take a particular position. Essentially, circumstantial ad hominem constitutes an attack on the bias of a person. The reason that this is fallacious is that it simply does not make one's opponent's arguments, from a logical point of view, any less credible to point out that one's opponent is disposed to argue that way. Such arguments are not necessarily irrational, but are not correct in strict logic. This illustrates one of the differences between rationality and logic.
"Tobacco company representatives are wrong when they say smoking doesn't seriously affect your health, because they're just defending their own multi-million-dollar financial interests."
"He's physically addicted to nicotine. Of course he defends smoking!”
In the following example Jennifer's comment is ad hominem circumstantial attack against Chris's statement:
Chris: "Women should be able to be topless everywhere men can be."
Jennifer: "You're just saying that because you want to see women's breasts."
But now that you have labelled it ad hominem, I suppoose you've won the argument and there's no more room for debate.
Wait, it could be another fallacy: the logical fallacy of appealing to motives!
I have heard so many people say, "Reservations se saari seat yeh log le jaatey hain, hamara kya hoga?" (These people take away all our seats; what will happen to us?) That is a civil-service-aspirant friend's chief argument against reservations. Then again there was a photograph in the papers of a girl standing in an anti-Mandal II protest in Delhi, saying "Disowned by my own country". She is merely expressing what she feels. Could Shivam be responding to such widespread reactions by saying, "And if you are opposing reservations because admissions will become tougher for you, you won’t get the point of affirmative action anyway"? If Shivam were to say this to that girl or that civils aspirant, wouldn't it make a lot of sense?
Or would you rather have Shivam read up Wikipedia and identify a logical fallacy in the girl's statement?
(6) Strawman in the absence of the burden of proof
Secondly, they assume that just because some bloggers are opposing the reservations in higher education, they also must be against affirmative
I don't see Dilip or Shivam having said this in so many words. Quote them. If your argument does not bear the burden of proof, you are putting words into their mouths. Now which logical fallacy would this be? You are probably building a strawman here but more importantly it is intellectually dishonest to attribute things to your opponent that your opponent never said.
As for Falstaff's post on affirmative action, Dilip and Shivam don't seem to have said anything about it in the posts that you link to. If your intention (see, appeal to motive! ) was not malafide, you were probably committing the fallacy of hasty generalization.
(7) Strawman again, by putting words into your opponent's mouths
This is clearly another fallacy of composition. This is in fact the most common fallacy in these blogs. Just because I am against a part of something, I must be against the whole. "You are against reservations, then you must be against the the increase in opportunities to the poor".Again, prove this with links, quotes. Where have Dilip and Shivam made an with-us-or-them statement? Quote it. Where have they said, ""You are against reservations, then you must be against the increase in opportunities to the poor""? By putting quotation marks on a statement made up by you, you are only furthering Strawman. Those who don't care about logical fallacies call it intellectual dishonesty or such like.
(8) The Fallacy of Juxtaposition and the Fallacy of Ridicule
Thirdly, as I have stated before, they only offer anecdotal evidence.
You've made the point in the beginning of the post. Repetition may not be a logical fallacy but it is Bad Writing. Wait, it may be a logical fallacy as well! “This logical fallacy is commonly used as a form of rhetoric by politicians, and it is one of the mechanisms of reinforcing urban legends. In its extreme form, it can also be a form of brainwashing.”
(9) The Fallacy of Juxtaposition and the Fallacy of Ridicule - again!
"In my college 22 or so per sent seats are reserved for Christian students. Fair enough: the college was established by Christian missionaries and wishes to preserve its Christian character. As a result I have Christian classmates who got much less marks in their Class 12 exams than I did. But many of them are performing much better in their academics than I am. Quotas and the issue ofYou could also be committing the fallacy of juxtaposition over here.
merit is much more complicated than what it is being made out to be. Quota
doesn’t mean that an absolute nutcase is going to sit in an engineering class.
It means that a student with 65% marks could be studying in a class with a
student who got 95%. To say that the two can’t co-exist is absurd."
Yes, and "in my college, a monkey used to destroy the windows in our bathrooms. As a result, we had to shave without mirrors. Monkeys and mirrors are a much more complicated issue that what it is being made to be. Unshaved doesn't mean that I am careless about my bearing. It means that I might not have shaved well, because a monkey destroyed my mirror. To say that the it can't be generally true is absurd." By the way, the monkey story is true.
Once again, all you do is cite the fallacy and give an analogy. By this time your post has begun to degenerate into a mudslinging match. By bringing this monkey business you are also making a mockery of Shivam's argument - not the best way to engage in an argument or conversation even if it produces humour or amuses bystanders. In this case and other sentences in your post, could you be committing the informal logical fallacy of appealing to ridicule? But look at Shivam's argument: he's saying that quotas don't mean that a 'nutcase' will be given the seat but someone with lesser marks. In some of the anti-reservation coverage in the media it has indeed been made out that a quota student will be as good as illiterate: haven't you heard the clichéd anti-reservations question, "Will you go to a doctor who got his seat through quota?" (Incidentally, Shivam and others answer it here.)
Now you could say this does not prove that merit is not compromised by reservations; it just proves that quota students do not necessarily fail; or that they are not necessarily unemployable; but it does not prove that merit is not compromised, or that the guy with 95% would not have performed better. To this Shivam would have typically responded that some compromise with merit is okay for the larger social good. To which you could have responded: how much compromise? 50%? Is there such a thing as larger social good? Isn't the compromise with merit a value loss and is it adequately made up by the value addition in quota students?
And so we could have seen a broader discussion on the ideas of India. But for you it all ended at logical fallacies and anecdotal evidence and ad hominems and monkey business.
And what do you mean when you say he's probably not working as hard as you did in college? Assumption? Ad hominem? Red herring?
(10) The Fallacy of Juxtaposition and the Fallacy of Ridicule - again!
Fourthly, they appeal to the gallery and exhibit a special case of arguing
"I wish we lived in a world where there was no need for reservations. This wish informs the way I react to them. But of course, I know we don't live in such a world, nor do I think we will get to such a world any time soon. (I honestly wish, too, that I am wrong there). Therefore, all things considered, I think reservations are the best answer -- or the least bad answer -- to a thorny problem."
This is like saying, "I wish we live in a world where India will win every cricket match. But of course, we don't live in such a world, nor do I think we will get to such a world anytime soon. (I honestly wish, too that I am wrong there). (Loud applause at this moment)
Therefore, all things considered, I think playing all matches against Zimbabwe
is the best answer -- or the least bad answer -- to a thorny problem." If I
don't have any other solution, refuse to think, then this must be the correct
answer. All that is left is shifting the burden of proof.
Which gallery, by the way?
Now again, you are committing the fallacy of juxtaposition.
But also, a fundamental problem in your analogy, regardless of which fallacy it is. ‘Playing all matches against Zimbabwe’ (that is, not playing with any other country) is an absolute. The analogy would have held if Dilip were saying that all seats at the IIMs and IITs should be given to SCs, STs and OBCs. He’s not arguing something irrational as that. He is just saying that reservations are bad in an ideal situation but that we are not in an ideal situation.
This is like saying that despite all its faults, democracy is the best system of running a country. Or that despite all their demerits, unregulated free markets are the best possible mechanism for an economy. Now, to these two statements, try saying, “If I don't have any other solution, refuse to think, then this must be the correct answer.”
(As for the burden of proof, where is the burden of proof when people claim that reservations have not helped? Not that this justifies any lack of evidence in Dilip's claims – if I said it did I would be committing the fallcy of Tu quoque. In simple English, non-cartellians ("normal human beings") refer to it as saying two wrongs don’t make a right.
(11) On Red Herrings:
Fifthly, the blogs introduce red herrings in the argument to confuse us. Two examples:
"...How long should we carry on with reservations? This is a prickly issue, and I don't have a good answer. My feeling is -- maybe this is wishful thinking -- that when reservations have benefited some critical mass of people, they will hemselves call for an end to them..."
"Lastly, as an aside, will you believe me that I have met Mandal? No,
not Justice BP Mandal but Ashok Mandal. He is a rickshaw puller in Delhi
University and hails from Murho in Madhepura. Just where Justice Mandal came
Largely irrelevant, just as irrelevant if I was to tell you suddenly (in between why reservations in higher education is not needed) that my mother tutored two kids of my maid-servant and she's paying for one of them's education. They are poor, but not a SC/ ST or OBC.
In the second one, Shivam himself says it’s an “aside”, but that’s not important for you. He’s just telling an anecdote about the serendipity of meeting someone from Mandal’s village with the same surname. But you must subject it to the logical fallacies test, thereby proving that his case for reservations is bogus.
(12) On Strawman or Strawwoman -
Sixthly (!), these blogs are guilty of the straw man fallacy. They will misrepresent someone else's position so that it can be attacked more easily, knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished.
"Merit is left to rot. Maybe so, but for one thing, how much have we truly valued merit anyway? Why should we assume that those who benefit from quota admissions, say, will all automatically be poor students?... There's rampant abuse. But any system will be abused. But that some people take advantage of a scheme is not, by itself, reason to throw out that scheme...."
Yes, as also, if I assume that two wrongs will not make a right, then your entire argument fails. "Two wrongs never make a right. Hitler's holocaust to protest against centuries of alleged oppression by Jews and the Babri Masjid demolition to protest against alleged temple demolition being cases in point. Hence, no two wrongs will make a right. Hence, there is no reason to introduce another wrong (reservation) to set the wrong of Dalit oppression right." Makes sense, no?
Firstly, what do you mean by that bracketed exclamation mark after Sixthly in the opening sentence?
Secondly, when you say these blogs are guilty of strawman, you are making a generalisation. It gives the impression that all their arguments are Strawmen, but you prove only one argument to be so.
Fourthly, Dilip’s argument that “some people take advantage of a scheme is not, by itself, reason to throw out that scheme...." makes perfect sense to me. He’s just saying that you don’t cut off your head if you have a headache. His question about merit is an important one even if it is ‘logically fallacious’. For instance, why is there no merit-based outcry when students are able to buy medical seats by paying huge capitation fees or by paying huge fees under NRI quotas?
Your analogy with Hindutva is again incorrect and misleading. It would have held if Dilip had argued something like: Dalits should be allowed to murder and rape and loot upper castes because for all these years upper castes have done that to Dalits. Then you could have said: do two wrongs make a right? Where has Dilip argued that reservations are Dalits’ way of oppressing upper castes? Now, I’m sure you are committing some logical fallacy or another over here but I won’t bother finding it on Wikipedia. But at the very least you are again committing the fallacy of juxtaposition and also the fallacy of appealing to ridicule.
(13) Busy writing other posts and combating the leftist bloggers - and cherry picking!
I can point out various other fallacies in what some of these reputed blogs
are saying. But I have work to do (alas!). In case you would like to demolish
their (for that matter, my) arguments, go read this.
a) "There are more than enough seats for all higher education students in the
country. Be it engineering or medicine or management or plain old BA courses,
there are more than enough seats in this country. Why then are the anti-reservation alarmists painting a picture that some general category people will go without an education?"
b) "I wonder if Mr Sarma is planning to contest Delhi University Students' Union elections next year. That's what Rajiv Goswami had done after attempting to immolate himself in 1990. Goswami finally succumbed to health problems in 2004. Do you see the irony here: by the time his immolation killed him, Shining India had arrived. The picture they had painted in Mandal I - that 'we' will be left unemployed, uneducated - is the last thing you see today."
c) Why not a purely economic basis for reservations, instead of caste? Actually, the truth about Mandal that should be better known is that it had very little to do with caste, and much to do with various other factors. The economic well-being of a community was one, but other social and educational factors also figured. So on the one hand, it is not true that reservations don't have an economic basis. On the other hand, I think Mandal had it right -- you have to look at more than just economic factors, more than just caste.
Now ignoring points like these amongst your tales of monkeys and fallacious juxtapositions – ignoring important points of the other side’s arguments amounts to a logical fallacy by itself. The fallacy of cherry picking, committed all too often by those who go about winning arguments with the help of logical fallacies.
(14) On Rajiv Goswami
In the end let me point out the supreme statement made by a blogger, in the heat of the moment. "If Aditya Sarma does immolate himself, all those of you igniting this unwarranted frenzy - all the bloggers and editors and the chai-shop gossipers - you will be responsible for it." Huh? How did that happen? Make your own conclusions.
You haven’t quoted the paragraph about Rajiv Goswami above this. To me it seems that Shivam is suggesting that mass hysteria can lead to violence. Is that logically fallacious?
(15) - On Gaurav Sabnis' Logical Fallacies
But before I sign off, some more points.
Everybody, see a post Dhoomketu made just one day before this one. Excerpt:
Gaurav Sabnis asserts that "The OBCs, over the years, have had similar accessSo, Gaurav Sabnis was factually incorrect, right? Now, does Gaurav accept his mistake?
to a livelihood as an average brahmin. They are miles and miles better than the
Dalits who led a sub-human existence." If only he would have done some
In fact, OBCs are closer to Dalits than forward castes, unlike what Gaurav argues. For an informed point of view on this, please read the Economic & Political Weekly article. OBCs and SC/STs are clearly much poorer than forward castes (this does not include only Brahmins, by the way) in the three states surveyed*.
If Shivam can’t use anecdotal evidence why is it fine for Gaurav Sabnis to use anecdotal evidence to make a generalisation as sweeping as, "The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average Brahmin”?
At least Shivam’s anecdotal evidence can be identified as such: my college, my batchmates, my marks In his clarification here Gaurav Sabnis says, “As I said, I drew from my anecdotal evidence which shows that most OBCs in my class were folks with economic backgrounds similar to mine, and frankly, with academic aptitude not much different from mine. Which is why i dont think OBC reservations will lead to a "massive drop in academic levels" or anything, at least at the UG level.”
I see, so OBCs are as well off as Brahmins without any clarification that the Godfather of logical arguments is resorting to the logical fallacy of anecdotal evidence without saying as much. Who will know that the second sentence in this quote (from this post) comes from ‘anecdotal evidence’: "The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average brahmin. They are miles and miles better than the Dalits who led a sub-human existence." Where is the hint of anecdotal evidence?
So then Gaurav Sabnis appended this clarification to that post, long after it had disappeared from his blog's homepage:
Update: Dhoomketu has a slightly dissenting viewpoint here. My clarification - I admit that what I have stated about the opportunities for OBCs is largely anecdotal, and based on the experiences I had. There will certainly be a vast number of OBCs who will be very poor economically. What I am saying is that the level of oppression of these was nowhere as close to Dalits whose poverty can be almost exclusively blamed on the caste system. Many OBCs would be poor too, due to various circumstances. But a large number of OBCs are not poor. And the number is large enough to soak up all the benefits of reservations.
Does he realise he is making a sweeping assumption - admittedly based on anecdotal evidence! - about as large a number as 52% of India's population or more than 50 crore people? (50 crore - sounds like a great market size. Sec A or B?)
Then, in his clarification, a red/blue/green/purple herring in the form of anecdotal evidence:
"I went through the 'creamy layer' criteria. When I was applying for engineering, or for IIM, I did not fit in a single of those criteria. i.e if I was born an OBC caste, then with the resources I had, I would be considered a non-creamy-layer candidate. Yet, growing up, I had access to everything needed to place me on equal footing with any other kid vying for an engineering or management seat."
By the way, also compare Gaurav Sabnis’ understanding of the caste system with these links I got from Youthcurry and then match his post, sentence by sentence, with Logical Fallacies.
*16 - A Logical Fallacy that Cartellians love to commit
Some more stuff on logical fallacies, even if it does not have to do with Dhoomketu (I love the name, btw, is it your real name? Now, this is not a red herring, just curious you know!)
There have been times when I have seen libertarians pointing out, in the course of an argument in a comment box here or there, grammatical errors. In doing so they could well be committing the logical fallacy of style over substance.
This long comment here was just to express my disappointment. Disappointment that a blog like yours, known for its clarity of thought*** has gone down the path of cartellians and their childish obsession with logical fallacies to make your case. Posts like this one sometimes become so popular that even Amit Varma of India Uncut (“India’s Instapundit”) plugs you – and not once but twice, the second time bringing people’s attention to even the comments here, some of which are in bad taste.
(If you don’t get it, I am trying to take a dig at your dig on Desipundit, and I don’t know if taking digs are logically fallacious. Dig-diga-dig! )
*18 Finding Logical Fallacies within Logical Fallacies
To demonstrate for the one last time why it is downright stupid to base arguments only on the basis of logical fallacies, compare the Wikipedia definition of the fallacy of doublespeak with the fallacy of appealing to motives. Are the two contradictory? :)
In this post I have myself made enough logical fallacies here to give many of you some work to do. Please point out how my arguments in this rather long post are illogical. I'll be happy to acknowledge them: and I know I have made many even apart from the ones I admit. Amongst other things I am trying to show you that the excess reliance of Logical Fallacies in unsustainable, undesirable and reductive. This is not to say that you cannot use logical fallacies, just that to use them alone to counter an argument is to be unfair not just to your opponents but also to Logical Fallacies.
Arguments, debates, views are many-faceted - so much so, as I have shown, even you guys commit logical fallacies. Just that you should have the humility to accept your own mistakes before embarking on a witch-hunt against those whose views you do not agree with. The prblem with uni-dimensional logical fallacies-based style of arguing is not only that you end up coming across as arrogant, immoderate and smug, but also that you restrict your worldview, as Chetan Kulkarni had writen in his famously long comment:
I had a hearty laugh when Amit linked to the New Yorker book review of Expert Political Judgment by Louis Menand. I just kept laughing at the irony of him linking to that review. I couldn’t think of anyone but the chest thumping Libertarians of the blogosphere and the neocons while reading that review. It was a damning indictment of all theory extenders, who are called the hedgehogs who have one large concept and try to apply it to all areas of life. They are contrasted to Foxes who know a lot of theories and are fine with their incompatible goals and choose their loyalties carefully rather than following any ideological doctrine. According to the book the hedgehogs score the lowest when it comes to predicting where the future is going. They score even lower than rats! And in case you are wondering, libertarian pundits were part of the study too.
*** Beware, I may just have used the logical fallacy of appealing to flattery!