Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Winning Hearts and Minds: How WWII Was Won By Words Before It Was Won By Bombs

In August 2016, lifelong Republican voter and former CIA spy Evan McMullin threw his hat into the ring as presidential candidate to oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When asked why he opposed Trump, he answered that Donald Trump posed a greater long-term risk to the US than ISIS because he would undermine the goodwill for the US around the world. And this goodwill was an essential asset the US could not do without.

So this seems like a rather strong claim. Is there a precedent for this? Yes, plenty of them, and none is more telling than WWII, where I would claim that the US won primarily because the right people wanted to go there, and because those same right people wanted to leave Germany.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler instituted a racial purge of the universities and other institutions of higher learning and research in Germany to "get out the Jews." As a result, there was a massive brain drain of some of the leading minds in physics, chemistry, and other areas of learning. Here is an incomplete list of physicists who left Germany and Italy because of Hitler and Mussolini:

- Leo Szilard (filed the first patent for an atomic bomb, instrumental in creating the first atomic reactor and in convincing president Roosevelt to start up the Manhattan Project).
- Edward Teller (father of the hydrogen bomb and radical anti-Communist)
- John von Neumann (father of the modern computer, essential contributor to the development of both the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb).
- Rudolf Peierls and Otto R. Frisch (discovered the first workable cross-section for an atomic bomb and wrote the Frisch-Peierls memorandum which convinced the UK and US to develop the atomic bomb)
- Albert Einstein (developed the theory of relativity and convinced president Roosevelt to invest money into making the atomic bomb).
- Theodore von Karman (father of modern aviation physics and jet propulsion).
- Hans Bethe (Nobel laureate and instrumental member at Los Alamos)
- Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel laureate and father of quantum theory)
- Niels Bohr (father of quantum physics)
- Joseph Rotblat (founder of the Pugwash Conference and Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
- Emilio Segre (Nobel laureate)
- Enrico Fermi (Nobel laureate)
- Lise Meitner (discovered fission)
- Max Born (Nobel laureate)
- James Franck (Nobel laureate)
- Eugene Wigner (Nobel laureate)

In total, Germany and Italy lost more than 25% of its physicists, 11 Nobel Prize laureates, and a total of more than 2,500 scientists. Most of these chose to join the allies and made crucial contributions to the development of the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and other crucial inventions, such as the radar, which contributed to the Allies ultimately winning the war against the Axis powers, and also led to an American advantage in science, technology, and industry which the US has maintained ever since.

But why did all these physicists choose to join forces with the US, why did they choose to give their loyalty and all of their considerable knowledge and scientific effort to a foreign country? These numbers are the aggregate of thousands of individual decisions, a different algorithm of choices and consequences in these individuals' lives, and in most cases the US became the choice. Why?

The US in the 30s and 40s were not without a blemish in the eyes of these physicists. There were strong anti-Semitic forces in the US too, and the Roosevelt government was enforcing a strict quota on Jewish immigration which kept many refugees from Europe out of the country. Boats were turned back, and Jews were sent back to a continent in flames to meet their deaths in the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Some Jewish scientists feared to go to the US because of this, but they were also attracted to Roosevelts rhetoric in defense of freedom and democracy. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was unattractive because of the many purges instigated by Stalin and the lack of freedom of expression. Some scientists still chose to join the Soviet Union, or to spy for them in the US, like Klaus Fuchs did, but for most the Soviet Union seemed neither safe nor attractive. Stalin was his own worst enemy, and he set the technological power of the USSR back many years because of his mass executions and deportations.

In Turing's Cathedral: The Origin of the Digital Universe, we get a glimpse into the decision-making process for one of the most important of all of these scientists who did more than perhaps any other to give the US an advantage in science and technology for the next 60 years: John von Neumann.

It says: "Von Neumann left Europe with an unforgiving hatred for the Nazis, a growing distrust of the Russians, and a determination never again to let the free world fall into a position of military weakness that would force the compromises that had been made with Hitler while the German war machine was gaining strength. He replaced the loss with a passion for America and everything its open frontiers came to represent" (181).

However, he nearly didn't make it to America. For himself, as a world famous scientist, it was easy enough to gain employment and an exception from the immigration quotas, but for his fiance and soon to be wife it was not so easy. Would he have stayed in Europe or even chosen the USSR out of desperation if his wife would not have been granted immigration to the US? What would the world have looked like then?

The world of minds, from Sergej Brin at Google to John von Neumann who invented the first computer, is distributed all over the world in every nation and language. The US will only be able to keep its edge in all fields if it is open to these people and if these people actually want to go there or support what the US and the West is trying to do around the world. This is why the actions of Donald Trump's presidency may in the long-term be more fatal to the US than ISIS. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Arguments to Establish a Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part IV

Of all the types of argument that have been explored so far, these are the only ones that do not rely on a previous structure of reality in order to work....or do they?

Quasi-logical arguments rely on essential patterns of thought that we use to reason about any issue, such as, "if there is a thing that is distinct from another thing then there must be a border that defines the extent of this first thing." Such as the first distinction a child learns between "me" and "not-me" or "mine" and "not-mine," or "momma" and "not-the-momma" (as illustrated by this cute dinosaur baby).

Arguments based on the structure of reality require habits of thought that give us some kind of expectation based on a pattern of thinking that we have accepted. Both these two types of argument have no guarantee of validity, only consistency. It is a quasi-logical argument of consistency that undergirds both types of argument. One type requires the arguer to be consistent with essential patterns of thought and logic, whereas another type requires the arguer to be consistent with learned patterns of thought. This distinction may be artificial (all patterns of thought may be learned), but they are still real in the sense that these two types have different status with the quasi-logical being seen as more logical and fundamental, and less culture-dependent. 

Arguments to establish a structure of reality is maybe best understood as a counterpart to arguments based on the structure of reality. Whereas the second uses general patterns of thought to prove or explain one specific case, the first type of arguments works from specific to general, a kind of induction. You use an accumulation of specific examples to prove or indicate a more general principle, pattern, or law in operation. This is the general preferred method of the empiricists and positivists, and they claim that induction is the method whereby one can prevent just spinning in logical circles and actually have scientific progress. A ball falls to the ground one time, and that is recorded. In the same way, it falls to the ground the second time, and that is recorded. One continues to do so until the mass of specific events and instances seems consistent enough to be indicative of a general law that "a ball with mass will always fall to the earth instead of falling upward into the sky." This proposition is problematic, but it has so far worked as the basis for the hegemony of science and its privileged status in the realm of academic fields. A repetition of events that is predictable creates a pattern that indicates that some greater law or principle can be found to determine these events. The same type of argument works in our everyday life and in politics. Here are some of the categories that belong to this type of argument:

1.       Example
In The Realm of Rhetoric. Perelman writes: “To argue by example is to presuppose the existence of certain regularities of which the examples provides a concretization” (106). Whether in science, politics, religion, or any other field, a concrete example is often the most vivid and memorable evidence for a more general rule or principle. The atomic bomb is the most vivid evidence of the neutron and its capabilities, the Churchill/Chamberlain experience has forever made "appeasement" a dirty word, and the atonement of Christ stands for Christians as the great example of Gods love for mankind. Of course, in civic debate, an example shares the weakness of empirical results as a basis for science: It can always be contested. A scientific theory is never proven. Not a single scientific theory or result is forever proven and accepted. If the ball falls up just one out of 700,000,000 times, it still invalidates the argument that the previous events were indicative of a general rule. Whereas, if an example is used to invalidate a case then, by itself, it can require the rejection of a rule to which it is opposed. Just a single counterexample can destroy the effectiveness and validity of the example.

2.       Illustration, unlike example, is not used to establish a new rule but rather to give it presence and make it more understandable and applicable. An illustration has a rule that has already been justified or agreed upon, and the illustration simply serves to make it more vivid or clear. Illustrations are commonly used for pedagogical reasons, but they are also used to emphasize points and give them greater emotional appeal. An illustration of this, is the illustrations that are used at memorials, festschrifts, and other festive occasions that celebrate someone's life. The people in the audience probably already agree that this person is great, and all the examples that show the person's greatness are not meant as points that cannot be rebutted, but rather as illustrations to make more vivid and present something that is already accepted by the audience.

3.       Model and Anti-Model are set up as examples of preference. More than just understanding, model and anti-model are meant to be followed or shunned. For example: physics is the most precise science and should be the model for sciences and all human knowledge (claim of the positivists). "Alchemy is the exact model of what chemistry and science should NOT be like." Jesus and the devil are models and anti-models. Einstein and Bohr are models for scientists.  The Athenian democracy, despite its faults, has been accepted generally as a model for modern democracies. The model seeks that which is the best representation of what a good scientists, philosopher, Christian, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Conservative, Progressive, man, woman, or child should be. The anti-model is the warning, the distortion, the thing to be shunned. The object used as a model obviously needs to be well established beforehand, but using the object as a model for what one should follow or be can be an inductive invention. 

4.       Analogy Similar to an equation in mathematics, except that it does not posit the equality of two relations but rather affirms a similitude. 

The basic structure of this argument is that “a is to b, as c is to d.” The role is to clarify the theme (meta) through the phoros or “explain an unknown relationship through another more familiar one.” One example is: "Old age is the evening of life." This is a metaphor. Perelman called a metaphor "a condensed analogy" that leaves some parts unsaid. The full structure (implied and explicit) is that "As the evening is to the day, so is old age to a whole life." One uses something that everyone experiences every day (an evening) to explain something that others (younger people) have not experienced. We do this all the time and have become so used to it that we can shorten the structure without confusing others. We can say "at the dying of the day" or "a new day is born" or "Abide with me, behold t'is eventide" and understand the relationship between life and a day. A new metaphor creates a new understanding and a new connection between ideas that were formerly understood only separately. In this sense, this kind of argument creates a new structure of reality.

All these arguments are "progressive" in the sense that they create or attempt to create new structures of thought and perceived reality. However, they by themselves require some larger implicit ideas in order to be valid. Empirical results require some kind of empiricist philosophy of science. Unless there is the concept of laws of nature, there is nothing which the ball falling to the earth can prove or be indicative of. And unless there is first a theory or hypothesis, no scientist would know where to look to find proof. These theories and concepts however are not essential structures of thought but rather learned or habitual structures of thought, and these give no guarantee for validity (as the vast false structures of learned and habitual thought have proven). However, seen from the perspective of argumentation we can still say that these arguments are "effective," and currently the arguments to establish structures of reality (inductive arguments) are the most effective of all. They have a higher standing. But is this just because we live in a progressive society that values progress and movement over stability?  

Friday, 22 April 2016

Why Trump is a Tyrant

One of the lessons the Classics teach us is that freedom is fragile. They show people an age where humanity flourished during systems of government that, for all their faults, guaranteed some basic rights and the chance for people to speak up against injustice and to dethrone tyrants. And then these free systems were destroyed from within. Frustrations with partisan bickering and selfishness led people to look for a "strongman" to set things right. For the Greek city states it was Philip of Macedon, and for the Romans it was Julius Caesar and thereafter Caeasar Augustus. For the Romans a nightmare of despots followed, with the likes of Nero and Caligula displaying some of the most depraved behavior ever shown by tyrants. Then, except for sporadic glimpses, there was no real widespread freedom over all the Western world for over 1700 years. The first democracies and republics were not killed: they committed suicide. This is what made John Adams warn: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." This was the lesson John Adams took from the Classics.

Yet these societies did not go ignorantly into the long dark night of tyranny; nor, to their credit, did they do so without a fight. Demosthenes warned the Athenians and other Greek city states about Philip, and his Philipics are treasured today as masterpieces of rhetoric. The Athenians listened, although first when it was already too late, and took a brave last stance against the onset of tyranny. Similarly Cicero, in Rome, argued in his thirteen Philipics (inspired by Demosthenes) against Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his speeches survived and helped fuel the flame of liberty throughout generations until freedom could rise again with the American revolution. Cicero and Demosthenes were major influences for the American and French revolutionaries. I am not sure the concept of a democracy or a republic would have survived without them.

So what lesson can we learn from them now that we see tyranny and autocracy rearing its ugly head once more in Western democracies? Only this: "Beware of the tyrant!" Do not let your partisan bickering jeapordize the fragile freedoms you have. Do not let your short-sighted and selfish goals imperil the liberty of this and all future generations. Do not sell your vote and influence in order to let "our tyrant" win over "their tyrant." If there was one painful lesson the Romans had to learn, it was the "equality" of oppression and fear experienced by rich and poor under the terrible reign of the tyrants.

On this blog, I have sometimes lamented the erosion of both morality and liberties in Western societies, and yet the present moment makes me more indignant and troubled than I have ever been before about the state of particularly the constitutional republic of the United States of America. In Donald Trump, a large portion of their populace seem to outdo the Roman republic in selfishness and short-sightedness. Instead of settling for a Caesar Augustus after years of civil war they skip right to a Nero in times of peace!

The Roman emperors were not the high-culture snobs they are sometimes depicted as. A great many of them were base buffons, displaying and indulging in behavior that would shock even Hollywood, using their power to break every written and unwritten law, and take depravity to such absurd lengths that no honest man or woman could bear it. Nero was Donald Trump + power. If power can corrupt even good people, what will it do for someone who already brags about affairs with married women, runs strip-clubs, encourages violence, and promises he will commit war crimes and silence anyone who opposes him by changing the law? Tyranny, for the Greeks and Romans was not a form of government. Tyranny was a disease of the mind, a madness. The Roman historian Tacitus writes, "How truly the wisest of men used to assert that the souls of despots, if revealed, would show wounds and mutilations - weals left on the spirit, like lash-marks on a body, by cruelty, lust, and malevolence" (The Histories 202).

You may say I am exhaggerating and that Trump could never become Nero because he is bound by the Constitution and checked by the Supreme Court and Congress. Besides, there is the public that voted for him and public opinion to keep him in check. I ask you, "What bonds can control a man that cannot even control himself?" He is a slave to his whims and desires, do you think such a person will be bound by law, morality, or bonds of trust? He who bought the Plaza Hotel to move his wife into its penthouse just so he could free up the penthouse of his casino for his mistress? The only limits that can check him are the limits of possibility, and I fear that a Trump presidency will reveal for everyone just how much power the Executive Branch of government has amassed in the past hundred years. The constitutional limits on the presidency were made to limit the damage a "Trump" could do, but for the past fifty years at least those limits have been loosened to better fit a president with the character of a saint. For all their excesses, neither Bush nor Obama have aspired to become tyrants. Pushed by their constituents they have strained the constitutional limits of presidential power, but they have never sought to consolidate that power.

Here is a brief list of what Trump the Tyrant could and possibly would do as president:
- Replace any leader of the military and any government agencies with stooges that are blindly loyal to Trump and do not hesitate to break any law to do his will. The CIA, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and other departments as they currently run are impervious to oversight by Congress. Trump will then have a 3 million person strong army to do his bidding and punish his critics and enemies. If you thought the Obama IRS overstepped its authority, just wait for the Trump IRS, CIA, and Department of Justice.
- Threaten Supreme Court Judges to rule in his favor whenever he is challenged on executive overreach. His campaign is already threatening to put out the names and room numbers of Republican delegates at Cleveland who could possibly oppose his nomination to his rabid supporters who are not afraid of using violence. What would a "hint" like that do against the Supreme Court Judges? "Gee, Justice Thomas sure has a nice house. Would be a shame if anything were to happen to it." Especially when anyone who committed a crime in doing so would have the protection of the White House. Trump already offered to cover the legal bills for anyone who committed assault against protesters at his rallies.
- Threaten to use the power of his NSA spies against senators or representatives who oppose his legislative agenda. He has already threatened Speaker Ryan that "we'll get along, otherwise he'll have a price to pay." Speaker Ryan should, according to the Constitution, be almost as powerful as the president. The current situation and status of the Speaker just shows how far the US has fallen from that ideal.
- Wage war (against ANYONE he wants!) for 90 days. 90 days!!! Any liberal who felt smug about Eric Holder's unconstitutional defense of Obama's Drone War should choke on that grin as he realizes what potential powers he has helped bestow on a President Trump. And any conservative who has not bowed down to the altar of Trumpism and wants to maintain any right to voice a protest about potential abuses by the president should feel the call to act now. These powers mean that once Trump hits the White House EVERY single man, woman, and child on this planet is a potential target. American citizens are not exempt, because Holder made that legal. Children are not exempt, for Trump specifically said he would force the military to torture and kill the children of his enemies. For someone who takes every ounce of opposition to his will as a personal insult, that category of "enemies" and "terrorists" could expand to just about anyone. (Ask Michelle Fields, whom he has accused of being a potential terrorist)

He is someone who sees every power and authority as his leverage to crush those who oppose him, His Dad's Army of lawyers have sheltered him from the law his entire life. Imagine what he will do with the Department of Justice at his disposal. If you elect him, you just gave him the world's ultimate leverage. Nothing will then be able to stop him from doing whatever he pleases with whomever he pleases.

So, with the world open to his desires, the question would become: "What are the desires of this man?" His supporters freely admit and even applaud the fact that he would and could do all these things, but they justify it with statements such as this one by Twitter user @larrysr19701: "Ive survived Obama's Tyranny, so far. Im sure Trump wont disappoint." I don't care how right-wing you are: If you believe Obama is the worst tyrant to have walked the Earth then you need to read a history book. Trump supporters seem to believe there is some kind of moral quality to this man that would somehow make up for the immorality he has bathed in throughout his almost 70 year long life. Let's look at some of the personality traits he has shown:

It is incredible how uncertain of himself this guy is. He has the confidence of a schoolyard bully who acts tough to hide the fact that he gets beaten at home. The protesters at his rallies, they are a personal danger to him, and encouraging his supporters to beat them up is just self-defense. He sees every opposition to him as evidence of a conspiracy; he sees every loss as evidence of fraud. Name one single state that Trump has graciously conceeded to an opponent. Iowa? "It must be fraud, that's why I didn't win." Utah? "Romney stabbed my back and Cruz cheated." Wisconsin? "The establishment and Cruz are in this together." Everyone is out to get Trump according to him. He is nasty to everyone and acts all surprised and innocent when there is any kind of response. But of course, as Trump is fond of saying, he's just a "counterpuncher." Someone else hits him, and he hits back twice as hard. Except, Cruz had no hand in the ad that caused Trump to attack Heidi Cruz and accuse Ted Cruz of adultery (without any evidence). Trump is likely to respond to a terrorist plot hatched in a Muslim suburb of Brussels with a nuclear strike against Belgium. And this guy takes ANY criticism as a veiled personal attack. Megyn Kelly asks a critical question, he goes after her personally. Michelle Fields asks for an apology from his campaign manager, and he labels her a liar and a terrorist. Any news outlet opposes his policies, and he labels them corrupt. This guy thinks he is so brilliant that any critic cannot be acting out of anything but bias and animosity. If in his young years his Dad's army of lawyers shielded him from accountability, now his army of devotees are shielding him from sanity. Imagine an army of intelligence agencies and soldiers shielding him from scrutiny, dedicated to take down his enemies.

From the beginning Trump never had any substance on policy or solutions. His main reason for running was an ego trip. To be able to have the bragging rights of "almost" becoming the most powerful man on Earth. His main argument for electing him continues to be his massive ego. Just read one of his tweets: "News tells of massive foreign criminal gangs in our largest cities. Only I can solve!" It doesn't matter what his policies or preferences are, as long as HE is in charge the decisions are bound to be good. He'll solve a 700 billion gap in Medicare and Social Security payments by clamping down on 3bn worth of "waste, fraud, and abuse." He'll make a gigantic wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. He'll solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by "making a good deal." Any problem in the world, just sprinkle som magic "Trump" dust on it and the problem will fix itself. If ever there was a man who claimed to be a god.... Oh, he can get these things done, no mistake. But his cures will be worse than the original problem. He can make up the 700bn by labelling, at random, half of all Medicare and Social Security payments as "waste, fraud, and abuse." He can make Mexico pay for the wall by threatening war and annexing Baja California until they pay the wall as a ransom. He can solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by killing off 1/4 of Gaza, including the entire leadership of Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority with all their families and extended families and "collateral damage." It really is amazing what you can get done if you don't let morals get in the way. Nazi Germany were particularly good at these kind of solutions. This is the kind of scorched-earth tactics Trump has lived by his entire business life. He has not studied up on any of the issues and gets his information from cable news (by his own admission). The fact that he can still consider himself fit for the hardest job on Earth tells volumes about the arrogance of this man.

Cruelty and savagery
Politics and real-estate business are blood sports, there is no doubt about it, but even in those venues Trump has earned a reputation for ruthlessness. As a business practice he breaks contracts and pays contractors just 90% of the sum agreed upon in the contract, hoping they will just take that sum and not sue, since that will cost them more. When anyone accuses him of fraud or abuse he responds by trying to destroy their lives. He even sued an author for 5 billion dollars for stating that Trump's fortune was worth 3 billion, instead of the 10 billion Trump claims it's worth. He is suing those who were defrauded by him in the Trump University scam for complaining. As a candidate, in the "job interview" stage of the process where people try to be their best, he has encouraged violence against protesters and Republican delegates, maligned non-rivals such as Megyn Kelly, Michelle Fields, Heidi Cruz, and a disabled reporter, and taken every cheap shot and ad hominem argument imaginable. In his personal life he cut vital medical care to a family member, a little boy with a dangerous neurological disease, because the boy's parents were in a dispute with him about his father's inheritance. The parents sued successfully, and the medical insurance was reinstated, but this clearly shows that no holds are barred against Trump's enemies. As a president he has already said he would torture and kill the wives and children of terrorists. He has applauded the tactics used by Putin to stifle dissent and the actions of the Chinese government during the Tianmen Square Massacre. If there is a low-road insult, a threat, or any use of force Trump can apply to impose his will and get away with it, he has demonstrated time and again that he can and will use it. Lord help us all if this man is ever given executive power and the sovereign immunity of a president.

Immorality and Avarice
One question I and a lot of people have been asking themselves: "Why in the world does Donald Trump want to be president?" He certainly has no desire for public service, as shown by the fact that he has never run for elected office even once. He clearly is uncomfortable discussing foreign policy or any kind of policy for that matter. As far as power and pleasure goes, is there no limit to his appetite for these things? Is there anything more a billionaire could wish for that his current sack of gold does not bestow upon him? If he ever achieves it, what will this guy do with ultimate power? My mind hesitates to go there, but it has to be clear to everyone what the consequences of electing him are likely to be. Bill Clinton was an adulterer, but he at least tried to keep a facade of decency. Contrast this with someone who brags about "sleeping with famous married women" and who runs strip clubs at his casinos. Imagine a mobster family taking over the White House and you would get the idea. He would turn the White House into a brothel. This would be the image portrayed to young men in America and throughout the world. This is the lesson: "Cheat, choose the low road, hit your opponent below the belt, use any advantage you have, and you too can become the leader of the free world some day." Make Chick Hicks the hero of Cars, make Gaston the hero of Beauty and the Beast, forget all that religion, philosophy, and civilization has taught man about morality and justice: "Might is right."

Immorality and avarice. These are the vices which a tyrant can exercise without restraint, and the very ability to do so constitute the lure and reward of tyranny. To have whatever one's eye lusts for, be it property, power, or people, this is the lure for the tyrant. The desire for absolute power would have little meaning for unscrupulous people if that power did not enable one to break all bonds which social position, morality, and laws would otherwise restrain. The Roman emperors would frequently display that power by taking the wives of men they had invited to the palace. Do not be surprised if Trump repeats as president the behavior he has bragged about as a billionaire. Remember the words of one of your Founding Fathers, John Adams:

"Those passions [vanity, pride, selfishness, ambition, and avarice] . . . when unchecked, produce the . . .  effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation." How much harder then for someone who has never resisted such temptations....

Turn around while there still is time! Do not elect "your tyrant" to beat "their tyrant" and recognize tyranny for what it is: madness. A tyrant is in your midst and wants to be at your head. Do not allow it!

The West has lived without tyrannies for so long that they cannot imagine anymore what it is like to live under one. Words like "tyrant" are thrown around and misused as soon as there is any new executive overreach. But tyranny, in its proper sense, has an entirely different scope. There is no private property in a tyranny, nor is anything sacred. There is nothing where anyone can say, "this is mine" or "this is private." What is there then to live or hope for?
As the Athenian Euripides writes:
"Why should one acquire wealth and livelihood
For his children, if the struggle is only to enrich the tyrant further?
Why keep his young daughters virtuously at home,
To be the sweet delight of tyrants?
I'd rather die than have my daughters wed by violence" (First Democracy, Woodruff 63).

 Cicero, who saw the death of the Roman Republic in his time sums it up like this in his The Republic: "As soon as a king takes the first step towards a more unjust regime, he at once becomes a tyrant. And that is the foulest and most repellent creature imaginable, and the most abhorrent to god and man alike. Although he has the outward appearance of a man, he outdoes the wildest beasts in the utter savagery of his behavior" (50).

I fear the American public will discover too late that their watered down public institutions and Constitution are woefully inadequate to meet the challenge of a tyrannical president. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Arguments and the Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part III

Well, this is my penultimate (second to last) post on Perelman's system of argumentation. The remaining are "arguments based on the structure of reality" and "arguments to establish a structure of reality."

Arguments Based on the Structure of Reality

These are different from the quasi-logical arguments in the sense that these do not deal with essential patterns of thought, but rather they deal with habitual patterns of thought. Some of these patterns may just be conventions of Western society and may not always be in operation in other cultures. Perelman describes these patterns as follows: “As soon as elements of reality are associated with each other in a recognized connection, it is possible to use this connection as the basis for an argumentation which allows us to pass from what is accepted to what we wish to have accepted” (81). Essentially, you find structures of reality that are already there (already accepted) and then apply them to a specific situation. As Kenneth Burke points out, these structures may only be "natural" in the sense that a path made through a field is natural. Nevertheless, as soon as that structure or path has been made it is there as a structure that can be used to pass from A to B.

Perelman divides these structures into two groups: liasons of succession and liasons of coexistence.
Liasons of succession show a kind of linear progression on the same level (of the same kind), 

  • whereas liasons of coexistence show relationships across different levels.

      As a matter of interest, these two structures may resemble the different structures of how men and women think. According to this psychologist, men think primarily in liasons of succession whereas women think primarily in liasons of coexistence.

     1. Liasons of succession (cause, effect, fact and consequence)
Perelman writes, “Having accepted the existence of correlations, natural laws, or the principle that the same causes produce the same effects, one is able to construct hypotheses within a given context and verify them with the appropriate inquiries” (82). In other words, as soon as we believe that we have identified a reliable mechanism or relationship between cause and effect, we can use that to make arguments about what causes what and what consequences a certain action would have. One of the most common uses of this is the pragmatic argument, which has become dominant in 21st century capitalism: "If it sells then it is a good product!"

-          The pragmatic argument = Evaluate a fact by its consequences

Perelman writes, “The pragmatic argument, which seems to reduce the value of a cause to that of its consequences, gives the impression that all values are of the same order. It is thus that the truth of an idea can, in pragmatism, only be judged by its effects, the failure of an enterprise or life likewise serving as a criterion of its irrationality or inauthenticity” (83). We call Steve Jobs a genius because he succeeded, but if he had failed then we may have called him a fool. One example of this argument can be seen below: 

A: This government program has been vindicated and has proven its worth beyond question. Through it, thousands have found employment, the deficit has been reduced, and valuable goods and services have been provided for the citizens of our country. (fact judged by consequences)

-          One can resist the pragmatic argument by questioning its application. A fact cannot always be evaluated by its consequences, and the post-hoc fallacy is an example of taking this too far (post hoc ergo propter hoc means "this followed that, therefore that caused this"). Correlation does not prove causation. As Perelman says, “How do we determine the indefinite chain of consequences that result from an action, and how are we to impute to a single cause the consequences that result most often from the concurrence of several events?” (83)

B: Just because some things happened at the same time does not mean that the one caused the other! Yes, people were hired during that time, but the economy in general had been recovering rapidly for several months before. The reduced deficit is a result of the economy rebounding, not this government program. As far as goods and services go, you have caused several food companies to lay off workers or go out of business because you provided for free what they sold and therefore destroyed their market.

One could use the same method against arguments that "Hitler led to the end of antisemitism, so we should thank him" or "pornography sells, so obviously it must be a good product," or "making drugs illegal has caused a lot of violence, therefore it is a bad idea to have drug laws." 

-          Means/end arguments of waste

Perelman writes that in this argument, “Means have only a relative value because they depend on the value accorded the end, which is considered to be independent” (85). This is a common thread in the "ends justify the means" argument, which is common in rationalizations of unethical behavior. However, on a smaller scale, we all do this: "I am sorry I yelled at you, but I was trying to save you from being hit by the truck!" Some common forms of the means/end argument are the arguments of waste, redundancy, and the decisive.  

Argument of waste: “The existence of an effective means allows us to realize a desire and gives the desire a stability sufficient to transform it into an end . . . To avoid wasting effort in attaining a certain end, a person will continue a project until it is completed . . . The action, which, under the circumstances, can attain its full bearing and should thus not be considered a waste, will thereby gain in value and this militates in favor of its being done” (87). This is a very prominent argument in science and technology, where the potential of a theory or technology provides an almost irresistible argument for pursuing it. The best pop-culture example of this may be Jurassic Park: "It is technically possible to make dinosaurs. Let's do it!"

Similar arguments are leading the development in bioengineering (after the discovery of the CRISPR gene editing technology) and robotics (despite warnings from Stephen Hawking and others about the potential dangers of autonomous warrior robots). 

It is a powerful argument because we as societies are addicted to "progress" and have seen how we have changed our societies and lifestyles by utilizing effective means to the fullest. We all use this kind of argument on a smaller scale. Here are some everyday examples:

“Your brother was never good at school, but how can you who have been blessed with such talent and intelligence not go to college?”

“Your mother and I have worked for twenty years to make it possible for you to go to school, so you better study and take this seriously.”

“How can we leave and give up now when we finally have a good chance to succeed?”

Device of Stages: This is a form of argumentation that leads a person through many intermediate stages from refusing an argument to accepting it. Perelman writes, “When the gap between the theses the audience accepts and those the speaker defends is too great to be overcome all at once, it is advisable to divide the difficulty and arrive at the same result gradually” (87). This of course is common to most education courses, where a student who cannot possibly understand or agree to an abstract or complex principle is gradually "indoctrinated" or learns the steps to do so. It can of course also be abused to make people gradually accept unethical behavior that they initially refuse since it goes against their principles. I think the quote on vice by Alexander Pope is very appropriate here:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This "device of stages" is also found in the EU directives on the process of naturalization, where the goal is to make conservative societies gradually accept homosexuality by saturation and making it the norm rather than the exception. Sales people often use this "trick" to get people to buy what they don't want through gradual assent to smaller propositions leading up to the final assent to the sales proposition.

Here is an example:
A: I could never kill someone.
B: Ok, I can understand that, you seem like someone with a general good will for people, who would never willingly hurt anyone.
A: I am.
B: Are there some people you care more for than others, somebody that you really love?
A: Yes, of course. My little sister for example.
B: And I assume you would do and have done a lot for her?
A: Yes.
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her? For example, would you donate your blood if she needed it for an operation?
A: Yes, of course.
B: Would you lie if it could save her life?
A: Yes, I would.
B: What if you two were home alone, and someone broke into your house planning to murder your sister? You had a gun and could only stop him by shooting him? Would you pull the trigger?
A: And that would be the only way?
B: Yes, the only way to save her would be to pull that trigger. You already said you would be willing to sacrifice a lot to help her. So what if you have to sacrifice your aversion to killing in order to save her life?
A: Then I guess I would.
B: So what you are saying is that you could conceivably kill someone.
A: I guess….

Argument of direction is a tool one can use to resist the device of stages: Perelman writes that “foreseeing or anticipating future developments, oppose the first step, fearing that it will lead to a ‘slippery slope’ that will allow no stopping and end in total capitulation” (88). 

Here is an example:
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her?
A: Stop, I can see where you are trying to take this. You are going to set it up so I feel selfish for not killing someone because then I am not sacrificing enough for my sister. You know what? I am not going to go there. I refuse to ever kill someone, period. There is always another way out. Your hypothetical scenarios aren’t realistic.

Argument of infinite development: This argument, often used in politics and science, professes to consider each realization in the given field only as a stage in an indefinite progression, usually towards some neverending quest for a utopia. 

Here is an example from the 1937 movie The Shape of Things to Come by H.G.Wells:
“Rest enough for the individual perhaps. Too much and too soon and we call it death. But for man, no rest and no ending. He must go on. Conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its whims and ways, and then all laws of mind and matter that restrain it. Then all the planets that are about it. And at last, out across the immensity of the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”

2.       Liasons of Coexistence (Connects realities on unequal levels)

Act/Person relationship. Do the actions define character or does the character define the action? Whether or not we agree that this is a good argument (sometimes we call it the ad hominem argument) it is always a factor that a person takes with him or her. Aristotle referred to the credibility a person has as his or her ethos
      Ethos: “Past acts contribute to the good or bad reputation of the agent. The good name a person enjoys becomes a form of capital embodied in his person, an asset it is legitimate to use in case of need.” Also, it is in the context formed by the person that people interpret all his acts, attributing to him an intention that conforms to the idea they have of him” (93). One use of this "capital" is the argument from authority. 

Argument from authority: This argument is of interest only in the absence of demonstrable proof. Common criteria for establishing authority today are competence, tradition, antiquity, and universality. When we hear of a new discovery we first ask whether the researcher has competence to make and recognize such a discovery, and we often reject findings that seem to be going against the tradition of science or the established scientific truths. For example, many have rejected the possibility of the EmDrive working because it goes against the law of the conservation of energy. 

Here is an example of the argument from authority, which would work in contexts that accept these authorities:
“As Mother Theresa said, 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them.' We should be so full of Christ’s love that we would not have mind or time to judge other people because of their weaknesses.”

The main question here is the connection between a person and the acts performed by the person. 
-          Techniques to prevent the act from coloring the person or the person from coloring the act are techniques of severance and techniques of restraint.

Restraint: Here one may interpose time, or mention exceptional circumstances, an unusual state of mind, social surroundings, etc. "This was back in his college days," or "this was at a time of national shock," or "that is how everyone he surrounded himself with thought about the issue in those days."

These categories are not exhaustive nor are they always applicable. Perelman writes that “the categories developed in the humanities . . . are constructions of the mind, tied to a distinction between what is essential and what is accessory, accidental, or negligible” (100). It is often said that they are more useful than true, which means that they do not claim universality. 

3.       Double Hierarchies: This is another liason of coexistence. In this argument, the relationship between two terms in one hierarchy are judged by another hierarchy. We often talk of how there is a constitution behind the Constitution or a structure of divine or moral law that directs and gives validity to common law. Many things in our language and in our societies depend on a second hierarchy to give it meaning and legitimacy. This is often used in poetry and fiction. 

For example:
“After the grey, cold, and naked buildings of the industrial district it was refreshing to see the rich colors of the Lake District with its abundance of life and beautiful scenery” (describes scenery in terms of the rich-poor social hierarchy)

“Oh, I know that everyone needs work, clothes, and food and such. But I wish we could talk about other things too, since man does not live by bread and water alone. The spirit or soul of man also needs nourishing you know” (needs discussed in terms of the body/soul hierarchy).

Here is a powerful example from The Great Debaters where James Farmer uses a double hierarchy of divine law/common law to argue that unjust law is no law at all. (6:49-10:00)

As mentioned before, all these arguments rely on habitual structures of the mind, but I believe a good argument could be made that they work so well because they make use of structures that have served us well individually in a lot of decisions that we have made.

PS: Can you figure out which argumentation method I just used?