The Enlightened Caveman


Panicky Smurf In The McDonald’s Happy Meal – WTF?
August 29, 2011, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society | Tags: , ,

There are times when I come walking through a room and notice a new plastic figurine (mainly because I step on it or kick it), and I know instantly that it is the toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  Like a lot of other people I know, I probably eat less McDonald’s now than ever before, but I can still spot a Happy Meal toy, and the most recent one has me puzzled.

Here’s Panicky Smurf…

No, I’m not making that up.  It’s written on his foot, in a rather elegant (for a Smurf) script.

Panicky is one of 105 known Smurfs.  It is rumored that there are others, but they are no longer in SAG and have been excised from both Wikipedia and IMDB.  In other words, there are only 105 Smurfs.

The thing that has me so puzzled is this: how did Panicky Smurf land a role as one of the 16 Collectible Smurfs from McDonalds, a plastic ambassador for the new Smurf movie?

Let’s just start with the foundation of this situation – the Happy Meal – that evergreen promotional tool that always needs a new gimmick, a new way to charge a toll on those who would ride the pop culture super-highway.  The Smurf movie is a big hit; kids love it.  They beg mom and dad to take them for a Happy Meal so they can get their own Smurf.  And whamo, the Happy Meal delivers again.

(Let me just step aside here for a moment and throw out a disclaimer – Don’t take this as a criticism of McDonalds and their ilk.  If anyone deserves blame, it is we parents who foolishly accept the illogical premise that the only way to get Junior to shut up about the Smurfs is to buy him a Happy Meal.  I bet I could order one from Zappos, and it’d be here before I finish this sentence, and it would come with a Starbucks Gift Card that would exceed the cost of the Smurf itself, and I could have chosen from all 105 Smurfs, customized my Smurf’s get up, and posted it all to Facebook in less than two minutes.  We live in the future, yet we accept a stupid economic premise without question.  Anyway, we also deserve blame for not standing up to kids who use pestering as means of acquiring what they want.  We’re all guilty at times, but I believe a default position of NO for acquiring new toys is good for a person’s character.  It’s also the only way to have any sort of feng shui in your joint.)

Back to the curiosity du jour – evil or not, the Happy Meal has to operate within an ever more strict set of guidelines.  Most of them flow from fear of litigation.  The legal teams for big companies have a lot to say about what gets printed on boxes, published online and in literature, and made out of plastic and painted blue.  Don’t break a law, overstate a point, or offend anyone.  I’m guessing they have a checklist they use to review new stuff – it has to be organic, cage-free, free range, and without lead, nitrites, and BPA at the very least.  And then you’d assume that the political correctness whiners would weigh in.  So, for the life of me, how did PANICKY SMURF make it through?

I mean, it’s a Happy Meal!  With all of their environmentally-conscious and health conscious PR, how could this slip through?  What’s happy about a Smurf who would normally be whiling away the years in bliss but for his panicky disposition?  Not that Panicky doesn’t deserve our sympathy and encouragement…he does.  But are there really not 16 other Smurfs who would perhaps more appropriately reflect the values and feelings normally associated with the Happy Meal?

If you’ve got a few minutes to kill, go read all of the Smurfs and their descriptions off Wikipedia.  It’s awesome.

You’ll immediately notice famous and beloved Smurfs such as (descriptions directly from Wikipedia):

  • Vanity Smurf – Vanity Smurf is the epitome of a Narcissist. He has a flower in his hat, and he often holds a hand mirror, staring into his own reflection, which he kisses often. In the Hanna Barbera cartoon series, Vanity speaks in an effeminate voice.
  • Natural Smurf – Originally a full grown Smurf known as Natural Smurf, he had his age reversed, becoming a Smurfling, and then went by “Nat”. He wears light brown overalls, a straw hat, and goes barefoot. Nat can talk to animals and loves all things related to nature and the environment.
  • Alchemist Smurf – A Smurf with an unusual interest in doing his own chemical and magical experiments.
  • Finance Smurf – Finance Smurf is notable in Smurf comics for introducing the currency to his peers, after being fascinated by its use in the human world. It was abandoned after a while since using currency created poverty and corruption among them.

Now these are some upbeat Smurfs.  How could Panicky – bless his little blue heart – get picked over these standouts?  The media would eat each of these up in turn.  Can’t you just see Natural Smurf in a Levis ad?  And Vanity Smurf hanging with Paris Hilton on TMZ.  And Finance Smurf carousing with the Donald.  This all makes sense.  This all fits with how shit works these days.  And there are plenty of other Smurfs who are ready to go.  Blue bloods, one after the other, literally.  But Panicky?  It doesn’t add up…unless…

McDonalds is having an attack of conscience.

Maybe it’s just a sign of the times that even the Happy Meal needs to take it down a notch from time to time.  Maybe it’s time to put crassness aside and look around.  Take a good hard look and recognize that there are Panicky Smurfs everywhere, and they deserve to be in a Happy Meal just as much as Pretentious Smurf (who lives on the Upper East Side) and King Smurf (who lives on an island in the Bahamas).  Not everyone can have the carefree life of Lazy Smurf (He spends almost all his time sleeping, either in his bed, a hammock, on the grass, or anywhere, anytime, day or night.)

I guess that’s it.  This is just a subtle way for McDonalds to let us know they care about all of us.  Well, I for one would just like to stand up and say “Bravo! McD…”

But wait…if this is for real, seems like they’d have chosen Dabbler Smurf:

  • Dabbler is the most introverted and sentimental Smurf. He is constantly tormented by an inherent sadness, which stems from the inability of his friends and family to understand him. Dabbler’s life is a never-ending quest for love and to be understood. In what appears to be a positive turn, Dabbler eventually becomes Doctor Smurf when Papa Smurf leaves the village to visit Homnibus. Sadly, it comes to light that Dabbler has started dabbling in heroin, which he obtains as Doctor Smurf.  He finally dies of an overdose, with a painting of his redemption only half-finished by his side.

I guess I’m still confused.



October 20, 2010, 1:34 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy

I just happened upon this great post over at Tim Ferriss’ blog. You know I’m all about looking inward and working with what we have. This is a guest article written by Ryan Holiday, someone heretofore new to me, and it drills directly into something that underlies everything in this blog – we really do need to take the time to understand who we are and what we want if we stand any chance at all of finding sustained peace and happiness.

A quote…

Montaigne once used the analogy of a man with a bow and arrow to illustrate the importance of meditation and analysis. You have to know what you’re aiming for before it is even worth bothering with the process of preparing the bow, nocking the arrow and letting go. Our projects, he said, “go astray because they are not addressed to a target.” The idea is that an intimate knowledge of ourselves makes it possible (and easier!) to know what we need to do on a daily basis. He advised us to meditate on our lives in general, in order to properly arrange our day to day actions.

Good stuff.  Helps to remind us to focus on what matters.  Thanks to Ryan and Tim for that.



Jack White, the Rat Race, and the Rejection of Easy

Last night, I watched the recent documentary called, It Might Get Loud, which revolves around a meeting of three electric guitar virtuosos, each from a different generation.  The elder statesman is none other than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.  The mature, but still in his prime, slot is held by U2’s The Edge, and the younger generation is represented by one of my absolute favorite musicians, Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and Dead Weather).  It’s a terrific film from a lot of different perspectives, but the ethic espoused by Jack White really hit on something I’ve been dwelling on for quite some time.  Right at the beginning, he comes out with this…

Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth. Opportunity doesn’t do anything for creativity.  Yeah, it makes it easier, and you can get home sooner.  But it doesn’t make you a more creative person.

White expands on this idea again and again by talking about his need to struggle as a musician.  He purposefully strips things down to make it harder to create something emotionally meaningful.  He uses guitars that are cheap and won’t stay in tune.  He arranges the instruments on stage in a way that is inconvenient, so even the act of getting to the organ after playing the guitar is difficult.  The idea is that pushing through the hardship is what leads to creativity and emotional truth.  When it’s too easy, finding truth and beauty is too hard.  It seems paradoxical, but I think Jack White is on to something that can be generalized way beyond creating art.

The processes for obtaining the things we want and need are so streamlined these days that I wonder if we aren’t slowly optimizing all of the beauty and joy out of our lives.  Before I go any further, let me just say that my focus here is not on technology as an evil; this is not a Luddite’s lament.  What I want to talk about is what we’re using all of this technology for.  I think I know.

We want everything to be easy.  But why?  In theory, when something is easy, it takes less time to accomplish.  Okay, so we want more time.  I’m onboard with that.  But for what?  So we can work more? Come again?

It sounds crazy, but I’ve been noodling on this for a long time, and that’s the best I can come up with. It seems that those who are the best at optimizing every little thing in their lives also tend to be the people who work the most.  At least that’s the world I live in.  So the next question is why work so much?  I’m assuming that work for work’s sake isn’t the goal.  So what is?

This is where the caveman thing comes into play.  If we’re not paying attention, we simply fall into the norms of our social group.  We adopt the goals of those we interact with the most.  At my stage in life, my social surroundings are other thirty-somethings (some with kids, some not), all focused on achievement.  It’s trite to say they’re after the brass ring, but it’s not far off.  Bust your ass now so you can get the promotion, which requires you to bust your ass even more to get the next promotion. The distant hope is that the brass ring brings a level of happiness and contentment – and ease – that makes it all worthwhile.

And what of technology?  Well technology makes it possible to dispense with the mundane so you can focus on work.  Why go to the store twice a week when you can go to Costco once a month?  Why visit the local library when the Internet is a click away?  Why call when you can text?  You get the idea.

But what if all of this ease, which just gives us more time to pursue the goals most present in our social groups, is eroding the possibility of finding real satisfaction in life.  After all, it’s called the rat race because it is an endless, pointless pursuit – a constant footrace on a wheel that never stops turning.  With every perceived success, we take on another goal, which invariably takes up more of our time.  How do we get off?  For this, we go back to Jack White.

What happens when we try to reject easy?  What happens when we purposefully place the coffee maker in the laundry room?  I’ll admit, I’m not good at this.  There’s an old saying, “Leave it to the lazy man to find the easiest way.”  That’s me.  But it’s acute laziness, not chronic laziness that afflicts people like me.  I want this or that little task to be easy because I want to devote my efforts to “bigger” things that really matter to me.  But maybe that’s the problem.

What if this quest to optimize all of the little things is causing me to completely lose sight of the good economist’s favorite axiom – life is about tradeoffs?  More and more, I’m finding that what’s really happening is that we’ve collectively bought into this idea that we can have it all.  By optimizing here, I can have something else there.  In the end, when I would previously have had to choose between two wants, I now can have both.  Is this good for me?  Jack White would say no, and I’m really beginning to think he’s right.

This is an illusion, this notion that we can have it all.  By buying songs one at a time, I’m missing the songs on records that I’d love ten times more than the hits.  Tradeoffs never go away; we just lose the ability to spot what we’re giving up.

So is that it?  Reject easy?  Manufacture hardship?  There are consequences, though.  Putting aside the obvious changes in terms of “productivity” that come with rejecting easy, what about the social implications?  What about that nagging feeling that we’re not keeping up?  It’s genetic, ya know, so it will reveal itself one way or another.

Honestly, I don’t know how do this.  I just have a feeling that it is the right thing to do.  I’m going to start by picking one easy thing every day and doing it the hard way.  Who knows.  Maybe in a week I’ll realize that this is the dumbest idea I’ve had in a while.  But I want to try.  It just feels wrong to race to the table at every meal so I can be spoon-fed a huge helping of easy.  What am I giving up?  I need to find out.

I’ll keep you posted.



Notes from Intellectuals and Society

In case the radio thing isn’t your bag, here are my takeaways from Thomas Sowell’s latest (and perhaps most important) book – Intellectuals and Society.  Most is paraphrasing what I took to be important points from the book, but some of my own interpretations are mixed in, as well.

1.  Intellectuals are defined by Sowell as people who make their living off ideas.  So this would be someone like a historian or sociologist, not a brain surgeon or engineer.  This is key because the circumstances associated with being supported monetarily by the production of abstractions lead directly to many of the problems that are discussed in this book.

2.  Intellectuals generally have very little likelihood of achieving mass acclaim by succeeding at their chosen area of expertise.  For example, it is unlikely that a historian who is an expert on the Civil War will ever be famous for that expertise.  Yes, he or she may be well-known among Civil War buffs, but that’s about it.

3.  There are normally no external criteria for determining the success or failure of an intellectual’s ideas.  Whereas an engineer who builds a bridge has objective external evidence of success or failure – the bridge stands safely for an extended period of time – intellectuals need nothing more than the approval of other intellectuals to succeed.  For example, one intellectual is granted tenure by a group of other intellectuals.

4.  Intellectuals find themselves in an emotionally unsettling place after they “arrive” in intellectual circles.  Far from being the smartest person around – as most no doubt are as they are growing up – being a tenured PhD in a sea of other tenured PhDs leaves little room for distinction.  In other words, the status engine that was stoked all through life is suddenly sputtering and choking.  (This is my addition – connecting the book to the Enlightened Caveman concept.)

5.  To assuage this emotionally unsettled feeling, many intellectuals venture thoughts and opinions in areas for which they have no expertise.  For example, Naom Chomsky, the esteemed linguist, fancies himself a political affairs and history expert, so he holds forth ad nauseum about politics and foreign policy.  Truthfully, he has no more expertise in these topics than the typical above-average college-educated person.

6.  The reason an intellectual ventures beyond his or her expertise is due to perceived status.  (Again, my interpretation.)  That is, many, if not most, intellectuals think themselves cognitively superior to the masses – mainly because they have been treated as such for most of their lives.   They “get it,” while the rest of us do not.

7.  When intellectuals venture beyond their expertise, they almost always do so in an iconoclastic way.  In other words, they say the opposite of what most people believe.  (Yet again, I’m extending Sowell’s thesis based upon my own observations in the context of the Enlightened Caveman concept.)  This only makes sense because an intellectual holding forth about something everyone already believes would have little, if any chance, of getting mass attention.

8.  Mass attention, by the way, is always available to intellectuals who stray beyond their expertise to alert the masses of how wrong they are about this and that.  This is because of what Sowell calls The Intelligencia – “…individuals would include those teachers, journalists, social activists, political aides, judges’ clerks, and others who base their beliefs or actions on the ideas of intellectuals.”  The Intelligencia loves intellectuals because, by peddling their ideas, the halo of superiority of rubs off on them.  They, too, can think themselves cognitively more advanced than the average rural dolt, since they can both recognize “the truth” when they see it and they have the job of delivering that truth as far and wide as possible.  This, incidentally, stokes their status engines, which is why the distribution of nonsense is so pervasive.

9.  By being insulated from reality, intellectuals are free to see the world as they would like it to be (versus as it really is).  They, therefore, reject the constrained vision, which suggests that man is deeply flawed by nature, and that no institution or understanding is going to change that.  Instead, they prefer to see mankind as unconstrained – that is, humans are perfectible if only the broken institutions and culture surrounding them are fixed.  This unconstrained vision underlies the ideas that emerge when most intellectuals stray beyond their areas of expertise.  (Examples – capitalism is bad, poverty is responsible for crime, etc.)

10.  Sowell distinguishes between what he calls special knowledge and mundane knowledge.  Special knowledge is what intellectuals have – it is very narrow in scope, but deep and comprehensive in understanding.  Mundane knowledge, however, is very wide in scope and often is very simple.  Intellectuals naturally think of special knowledge (which they alone have) as far more important than mundane knowledge, which is distributed haphazardly among the masses.  In other words, knowing about the mating habits of the Kalahari in Africa is much more important than knowing how to frame a house.

11.  This disregard for the critical importance of mundane knowledge in the day to day affairs of most people leads intellectuals to conclude that their special knowledge (confined as it may be to a particular area of expertise) gives them the right, nay, obligation to direct the social and economic affairs of society.

12.  Intellectuals, therefore, frequently weigh in on matters for which they have very little knowledge, no stake, and no consequences for being wrong.  For example, rent control.  Intellectuals assert that rent should be affordable to poor people, so rent prices should be controlled.  However, they know nothing about the role of the price of rent in conveying the realities of real estate scarcity in a particular area.  They have no stake in the property they seek to control – that is, they lose nothing by not being able to charge enough for rent to cover the mortgage.  And there are no consequences if the objective – providing affordable rent to poor people – is not achieved.

13.  In fact, success for an intellectual pursuing a policy is the enactment of that policy, not the results of the policy.  Intellectuals do not go back to see if the policy and/or program they advocated actually led to what they wanted to happen.  And if the results of those policies turn out to be the opposite of what they asserted, they will either attack the person bringing the results as biased with an axe to grind, or they will suggest that the policy was not executed properly.  In no case will they admit that either the vision – affordable housing for all poor people – was flawed (i.e. not possible) or the means by which they chose to achieve it – rent control – was intractable.  Again, there are no consequences for being wrong when you’re an intellectual.

14.  Intellectuals, though they claim to be the purveyors of reason and intellect, rarely engage in logical, dispassionate discussions with people who disagree with their assertions.  This, in my opinion, is directly tied to their perceived status.  How dare we, the inferior masses, question them?  Instead, they resort to personal attacks as to the moral (or rather, immoral) driver behind the criticism.  If you’re against rent control, they accuse you of wanting poor people to freeze to death.  They rarely, if ever, actually discuss the pros and cons of whether rent control actually helps poor people.  (Here’s a hint – it doesn’t.)

15.  In summary, in conjunction with a willing Intelligencia, intellectuals are ruining our Republic at a breakneck pace.  No doubt, they occasionally help push us forward when the grip on the status quo has long since been unnecessary (i.e. legalizing gay marriage).  However, on the whole, the damage they do far outweighs the good.

16.  To counter this, we need only return to reliance on the principles of logic in our public discourse.  Obviously, we need intellectuals in society, but we need them to stick to what they know, and we need a society that knows when they venture too far afield.  For example, if a person offers an assertion, he or she must be willing to be met with a counter-assertion and must be willing to defend the first assertion on logical grounds, if possible.  When this does not happen – because the critic is attacked or there are no logical grounds – we must reject immediately the original assertion.  Next, we must cease conferring credibility on experts in one field when they hold forth in another for which they have no expertise at all.  And when the media is a party to this intellectual shell game, we need only change the channel or stop reading.

I think that’s a little more organized version of what I took away from Sowell’s book.  (More organized than the hour-long radio rant.)  As I said, it’s an important book, and nothing would please me more than the general recognition of the doom that is being brought upon our society by these alphabet soup children who know nothing of reality and who are clamoring to be important at any cost.



Relationships 101 – Part 4 – Quantitative Concurrence
May 13, 2008, 12:53 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Relationships

This is a series about
relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep
them. There will be several parts. This is the fourth – it focuses on
quantifying the quality and/or depth of your relationships. Previous parts
include:

  • identifying the target; (click here)
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)

It’s fitting that I can simply pick up where I left off more than two years ago when I was writing almost daily. That means these ideas have some durability – at least with me. In any case, it’s time to finally make good on the conclusion of this series.

Here’s a question. Is it possible to quantify the value of a given relationship? I think it is – at least in a relative sense. It comes down to concurrence. It’s about those moments when we’re on the same wavelength with another person. Though I have no evidence whatsoever to support it, I have long had a sense that we are designed to pursue these events with one another. It doesn’t matter if I’m right. You can think of this as a thought experiment, if you like.

I believe it is moments of concurrence that forge human connections. (That notion alone would catch natural selection’s eye, no?) And the more heightened the emotional state, the deeper the connection. A lightweight version of concurrence, one with only so much emotional gravitas, occurs when we agree with someone about something we like or don’t like – such as a band or a book. A deeply emotional moment of concurrence, however, occurs when we share something like the birth of a child or a crisis situation. If we think of every relationship as having something like a concurrence account, we can say that the former example adds a little to the account while the latter adds a lot.

With that conceptual model in place, we can quantify the value of any given relationship by simply doing the math. And when we do, we can envision a progression of sorts to situate specific relationships in the context of other specific relationships in terms of value.

We should say that a basic acquaintance relationship – such as that between co-workers who don’t know each other very well – is on the low end of the value hierarchy. (Yes, I said hierarchy. Those of you with an allergy to hierarchies should abandon now. Save yourself. Go on without me.) Above that, we could place new and/or infrequent friendships – the key being that the parties involved have not shared any truly emotional moments of concurrence. These are people who perhaps enjoy spending time with one another, but there’s really no depth there. Going farther, we might find relationships where mildly emotional moments of concurrence have been shared – such as being on the same winning team or being in the same peacetime military unit. Still higher, we get into real relationships, the ones that hurt when we lose them.

Here’s where emotionally-based moments of concurrence earn their stripes. Events of this kind boost the concurrence account to levels that are difficult to achieve with non-emotional concurrences. A year’s worth of non-emotional moments of concurrence can be eclipsed instantly by a single, deeply-emotional shared experience. This is where good friend relationships and new romances are situated. (Anyone who has been in a requited love relationship can attest to the strong emotional experience associated with those early realizations that both parties are in love.) We might call this the second-tier of human relationships – ones that are defined by their basis in emotional concurrence events.

Beyond just the entry-level second-tier relationship, we get into the kinds of relationships that usually accompany long-term circumstantial or commitment-based proximity – family and partner relationships, to be precise. The concurrence account is loaded with non-emotional moments of concurrence – enjoying the same dinner, laughing at the same TV shows, grooving to the same music, getting frustrated on the same vacations, etc. Peppered throughout those everyday experiences are the emotional moments of concurrence that push the account into the stratosphere. Births, deaths, graduations, first loves, breakups, and so on. (Incidentally, here we find yet another way to justify the old saw – blood is thicker than water. ) The bottom line is that this upper level of human relationships is, in my view, the pinnacle of value.

Now, after all that, there’s the topic at hand – Relationships 101 – which implies that there’s a lesson here. The notion of quantifying value is highly instructive for one very important reason. At each level, there are appropriate and inappropriate approaches to human interaction. If we can objectively assess our relationships in terms of concurrence, we can place them on the hierarchy, thus gaining insight into how we should conduct ourselves. For example, don’t marry someone with whom you have no emotionally-based concurrence.

And here, we end up right back where we started in part 1 – what do we want? We want healthy second-tier relationships, as many as we can manage (not have, manage). Assessing the ones we have allows us to see if we’re there, or if we have work to do (and we almost always do have work to do). It prevents us from rushing things, and it prevents us from misjudging what we have, which happens when we mistake emotionally-charged moments for concurrent emotionally charged moments. The former adds nothing to the account, while the latter is a big deposit.

So there you have it.

I should note that there’s at least one logical fallacy in this post. Can you spot it?



Carbon Credits? Is that Your Final Answer?
March 4, 2007, 4:05 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Science

Standing in the mall somewhat in a daze with a TV in front of me.

The TV:   “Blah, blah, blah…carbon credits…blah blah blah.”

Me (to no one in particular): “What the hell are they are talking about?”

A Foolish By-Stander: “Oh yeah, Al Gore and a lot of other high-profile environmentalists are buying them to offset their carbon emissions.  It’s really cool of them.”

Me: “Offset? How?”

Foolish By-Stander: “Well they buy credits that equal how much CO2 they emit so they aren’t contributing to global warming.”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Oh really?  So you can buy a “credit” (full on air quotes for this) that just eliminates the physical presence of the CO2 you’ve pumped into the atmosphere?  Isn’t that just convenient?  (Now looking this guy straight in the eye.)  So you’re buying this dribble, huh?”

Foolish By-Stander Beginning to Realize He’s Made An Error In Speaking to Me: “Well at least they’re doing their part.”

Me: “Doing their part for what?  Oh that’s right – they’re doing their part to drag us all back into the Dark Ages where facts and reason are nowhere to be found; Yes, they’re awesome.”

(Buh-bye foolish bystander.)

Honestly, I’m a pretty nice person, but this carbon credits thing has me almost foaming at the mouth.  Not because of any partisan thing – I hate both sides equally – but because I fear that the general acceptance of this idea is much more of a crisis than any of the worst global warming projections.  It means we’ve officially reached the tipping point of irrevocable mass stupidity.

We’re once again faced with the perennial question – which is worse, the boldness of the hypocritical environmentalists in explaining away their hypocrisy or the thickness of the dolts who buy those explanations?  But carbon credits strains even the most basic reasoning, so I’m apt to blame the receivers more than the senders on this one.

Let’s break it down a bit, shall we?  I did a smidge of research and came up with this explanation of this heretofore unknown (at least to me) method for overcoming seemingly insurmountable environmental barriers.  It comes from a site called Save The Planet.  They’re Kiwis – I wanted to cite an international authority. (I’m nothing if not in fashion.)

What emerged from the Kyoto meeting is that as each country produces CO2, it must be able to contain that CO2 by tree-planting or other processes that can absorb it, such as sequestration and changing farming methods. Or it can reduce the CO2 it produces in the first place. If that country produces more CO2 than it can absorb, it must purchase an ‘absorption ability’ from another nation. The Carbon Credit is this new currency and one Carbon Credit is equal to one Tonne of CO2 and is called a CO2e (CO2 equivalent). A nation might have a shortfall in absorbing 500,000T of CO2 and according to the Kyoto agreement it must seek to purchase those from another nation that has been planting trees for such a consideration. Costs are between US (ironically) $10 – 40 per credit.

It’s pretty simple really in theory. All growing things absorb carbon which ultimately ends up in the soil. Planting trees reduces the carbon in the atmosphere but not if they are then cut down and burnt and crops that are planted and harvested will not actually store carbon within them. Long term plans are needed. Crops can be farmed in such a way that the soils are not ploughed to let the stored carbon escape. Weeds and borders to fields can be encouraged. Forests can be left to stand. Fuel usage can be cut and power generation can be more efficient and all this reduced consumption of carbon will mean that less carbon credits will have to be purchased.

The money that purchases carbon credits will ultimately be used to give grants to further carbon saving schemes.

Wow.  Really.  Just wow.  The audacity of such vacuous explanations is dazzling to the point of nearly taking my sight.  Now let’s translate this into real world language.

1.  The key to this is the idea that we need some sort of zero-sum CO2 policy – you gotta absorb what you produce.  As always, the wackos have built their cause on a house of cards.  No one, I repeat no one, has ever proved a predictable correlation between CO2 concentration and climate change.  (Remember, this is science – to matter, the things we learn have to provide some predictive value – Click HERE for evidence that corroborates my statement.) But let’s accept this premise – just for fun.

2.  The Carbon Credit buys you the ability to help out with CO2 concentrations somewhere other than where you live.  That’s what it’s saying, right?  If, as an American – no, as Al Gore – I heat my 20-room mansion and put out more CO2 than I absorb (with my acres of beautifully landscaped land), I can pay money to some place (like say, Thailand) that absorbs more than it takes emits.  A thing of beauty is this thing called globalization, no?  But wait a second – how exactly is this changing the carbon concentrations here in the US?  I mean this is a CRISIS, right?  Won’t a few extra trees being planted in Thailand have absolutely no effect on the problem here at home?  Won’t global warming have played itself out and done us all in by the time the trees I paid for are mature enough to suck up the CO2 I emitted by heating my 14-person hot-tub for Saturday night’s “I’m everyone’s new environmental hero party”?

3.  I love this part – “It’s pretty simple really in theory.”  So is nuclear fusion.  It’s almost like the environmentalist movement is really just a “stupidest person in the universe” contest.  The good news is that even if you don’t win, you still might snag a “Most Self-Important” or “Most Illogical” award.  Go get em, greenies.

But seriously, this so-called solution is nothing more than a scheme to allow environmentalist activists the ability to preach one thing but do another.  If we believe that greenhouse gasses are a CRISIS (which I don’t), then there’s only one option – reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.  There are two ways to do that, which the Kyoto folks rightly recognize – either absorb more or emit less.  Simple.  Carbon credits do neither.

Though global warming fans love to talk about the problem (nay, CRISIS) being a global problem, that doesn’t mean that you can change something in one place and keep the status quo everywhere else and expect the “globe” to respond as you would like.  This is especially true given the pesky aspect of the word crisis that implies the need for immediate, decisive action.  Now, putting aside the obviously conceited idea that we somehow are going to make a big difference on our big, blue marble rolling through space, I keep wondering what happened to the age-old lefty phrase – “think globally, act locally”.  I guess we can now change that to – “think globally, do whatever you want locally, but send some money somewhere.”  Nice.

In the end, I always find that the best way to dismantle a stupid idea is to take it to its logical (and usually absurd) conclusion.  I have therefore decided to remove all mufflers from my vehicles, to go back to coal stoves, to run my heat and AC continuously, and to generally introduce CO2 into the atmosphere as fast and in as much volume as I can possibly manage.  On the surface, this may seem a little silly.  But not to worry, I’ll be purchasing Carbon Credits a plenty.  In fact, I have an offer down on an island in the Caribbean where I’ll be planting trees so that I can buy Carbon Credits from myself.  A double-dip, anyone?  It gets better.  Ever the innovator, I’ll be offering my environmentally responsible customers volume discounts from the get-go.  That’s right – it’s BOGO if you buy 1000 or more.  So what’s with all the long-faces?  You’ve got cash, right?  (No?  No problem.  I take credit.)  Anyway, don’t bother cramping your lifestyle – just buy some of my carbon credits.  I’ll even send you pics of your trees as they grow up.  It’ll be like the “buy a hungry kid in africa” thing – except you’ll never have to worry about your trees showing up at your doorstep – unless of course you buy one of my new wooden hybrid cars.  Talk about renewable.  I’m on the case.



Advice For New College Grads
June 25, 2006, 4:16 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Parenting

I have a keen interest in what young people in this country are up to – mainly because you are a window into the future – and right now, as I peer through that window, I can’t help but be alarmed.  It goes without saying that most teens and young adults are not interested in heavy topics like politics and philosophy.  That doesn’t concern me since it has pretty much always been so, at least in prosperous western countries.  What does concern me is the generally unrealistic worldview that held by so many American youth – the idea that good things just happen and that when they don’t, it’s someone else’s fault.

It is an endless source of humor for my friends that I watch more MTV than anyone I know over 30. Lately, I’ve been watching, “The Hills” and some of those “Super Sweet 16” shows.  I’m blown away at the fantasy world that these people live in.  Yes, I know that MTV doesn’t offer a very diverse study of how young people think, but I also know that TV is a prime shaper of attitudes about life and how to live it.  From those shows and my own occasional interactions with young people, I think have a pretty good idea of where many (if not most) of you are coming from.  That said, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice to counter what goes for cool these days.

1.  The amount of happiness you experience in life is inversely proportional to how much frustration you experience, and frustration is all about unmet expectations.  In other words, if you expect things to turn out a certain way and they don’t, you’ll end up frustrated.  And if this happens enough, you’ll end up unhappy.  Therefore, it is essential that you learn to set your expectations about life realistically.  Whenever you find yourself dissatisfied with a particular circumstance, ask yourself what you expected.  Then ask yourself why you expected what you did.  You’ll usually find that were not aware of the following reality of our world.

2.  The good things in life take work – that goes for everything from careers to relationships.  Though you will always see examples of people who have it all and did seemingly nothing to get it, be mindful that these are the exceptions not the rule.  So, adhering to point number one, be careful not to expect that getting to the good life will be easy.

3.  Rethink what you really want.  Most young people want to be rich.  That’s fine.  I do, too.  But the real question is why.  Do you want to be rich because it impresses people?  If so, getting rich will never make you happy – there will always be someone else to impress.  Do you want to be rich so you won’t have to work?  Again, this is a bad idea.  Work, in itself, is a glorious thing…provided you’re working on things that you’re passionate about.  To wish for a life without work is to wish for boredom, which is the root of many ills in life.  The best reason to want to be rich is to obtain what I call the option – the have a life consumed with “want-to-dos” versus “have-to-dos.”  Like I said, this doesn’t mean you won’t work.  It just means you’ll decide what you work on, as well as when and how you’ll do it.  But beyond riches, the ultimate goal in this life is meaningful relationships.  As Bertrand Russell, the early 20th century British philosopher put it – the good life is a life inspired by love and guided by knowledge.  Corny as it may sound, pursue love doggedly in this life, and if you do it right (more on that in a moment), yours will be a happy life.

4.  When it comes to careers, be aware that the world today is vastly different than it was when your parents started working.  Gone are the days of working for the same company for your entire career.  As the current bestseller tells us, the world is indeed flat.  That means you have limitless opportunities to get to the option.  However, coming out of school, it is highly unlikely that you have the skills to make it happen right away.  So you need a game plan.

The first thing to realize is that the 9-5 grind and the option are almost totally incompatible.  What I mean is that you may have to work the grind for a while as you’re getting yourself set up, but the goal should always be to abandon the grind as soon as you can get what you need financially without it.  Don’t fall into the trap of taking the first corporate job that falls out of the sky simply because you’ll be making real money for the first time.  Many a listless and unsatisfied middle-ager was created by starting in corporate America with grand dreams only to be trapped by financial responsibilities that precluded the ability to take a risk when the time was right.  It’s so easy to get sucked in, start spending more than you make, and then be shackled to the corporate ladder forever more.  Be responsible with your money right now (more on that later).

Am I saying that you shouldn’t take a job in corporate America?  Not at all.  I’m saying that you should be wise about it.  For one thing, never work for a company unless you understand very clearly how the company makes money, and make sure the company makes money (as in, makes a profit).  This may seem strange to say, but there are so many companies out there that are built around the idea that, with the right amount of investment, one day they’ll turn a corner and start making boatloads of cash.  Some do, but most don’t.  Wait until later in your career to spend time in organizations that are not yet profitable.  You first need to learn how profitable businesses operate.  Then, your skills are not based on a dream, but are based upon a reality.  Very important.

You then need to be mindful of the opportunities for advancement in your chosen company.  If they can’t tell you where you can go if you kick ass, walk away.  And when there is opportunity for advancement, do your homework on whether or not you’d benefit from advancing.  The way to tell if a prospective job is worth doing is to do Monster.com (and other career site) searches on your boss’ job title.  Are there lots of those jobs available?  If so, do they pay well?  If not, why not?  It may be a good thing.  It may be that you could learn a job that is in high demand.  If so, that’s great – dig in.  Also look at the skills required to do the jobs that are listed.  Will you be learning those skills in your new job?  If not, think twice.

The bottom line is that your objective in taking a job out of college is to prepare yourself to get a better one as soon as you can – either within the same company or elsewhere.  If you’re not constantly thinking about this, then you’ll find yourself working in the same place years from now, with little to show for it.  Of course, I know that the perfect job isn’t just out there waiting for you to choose it.  You may have to suck up a shitty job until you can find what you want.  The stark and unpleasant reality of being young and inexperienced is that work, for you, is likely to be less than pleasant.  The good news is that most of your contemporaries will bitch and moan about it, rather than planning their next move.  This gives the forward thinker the leg up.  Be willing to pay your dues, but only in pursuit of your dreams and not the dreams of your boss or some faceless corporation.

5.  Time is to be spent and invested wisely.  This is the most precious of resources, and the good news is that you get lots of it for nothing when you start out.  A standard problem with young people is the desire to live in the moment.  This is nothing new.  However, the key to getting to the good life is balancing how much time you spend on the moment and how much time you spend on the future, and it is truly a balance.  He who spends all his time thinking about today is doomed when tomorrow comes around.  Conversely, he who spends all his time worrying about tomorrow misses life entirely.  Here’s a good rule of thumb.  Assuming you sleep 8 hours a night, you have 16 hours left.  Spend 12 on the future and 4 on today – roughly a 3 to 1 ratio.  Presumably, your job counts as time spent on the future (at least it should).  If you work 8-10 hours a day, you still need to spend a few hours on the future.  That leaves a solid chunk of time to just play, and you need that.

Time invested in the future could be anything from working out (your health is your future), reading (gaining knowledge for the future), engaging in artistic endeavors (your emotional outlets are tied to your mental health and sometimes to your financial future), and working on projects of all types.  Your “in the moment” time is your release.  Party.  Have fun.  Socialize.  It’s okay to spend time doing things that seemingly have no long-term value, for many of them often end up having long-term value after all.  For example, I have always been a social kind of person.  I like to go out get my swerve on as much as anyone, and through that I’ve met all of the people with whom I have close relationships today (family excluded, of course).  Furthermore, I’ve learned a lot about my fellow man by interacting on a regular basis, which leads me to the next point.

6.  Focus on your people skills.  I once held a job as a consultant in a company that only hired Ivy Leaguers.  I was the exception, mainly because I talked my way into the job.  Anyhow, while my colleagues were all very intelligent and very committed to their work, most of them were socially inept.  They had spent so much time nose down in the school books that they hadn’t developed their social skills.  What became obvious in very short order was that I was far and away better at my job than they were – not because I knew more (I didn’t) or was smarter (I wasn’t), but because business is conducted between human beings, and I am better at dealing with humans than eggheads from Harvard.  The point is that social education is every bit as important as scholarly education.  Try to understand what motivates people and why.  That means ask questions and learn to listen.  Be interested in people because you can learn something from anyone, and I mean anyone.  Be mindful of how people perceive you – you’ll often learn that your impression of yourself is distinctly different from how others see you.  This doesn’t mean you become a jellyfish conformist.  It just means that you become aware of what’s going on in the minds of other people.  This skill, above all others, I would say has led to whatever success I have achieved in life.  And, get this, it’s the most fun one to develop.  Also – a little axiom to carry around with you is this – expect more from yourself and less from other people.  Trust me on that.

7.  As for money, the most important thing I can tell you is to learn to say no to your desires.  Avoid debt at all costs, and if you’re like most young people and you already have some, set a course to get rid of it as fast as possible.  The good life is simply impossible when you’re carrying financial debt.  Of course, there are things like mortgages that most everyone carries.  However, if your philosophy is to avoid debt as much as possible, you’ll go far.  For example, it is common to get a new job and immediately run out and buy a nice new car.  Resist that.  Buy a car that is a few years old and doesn’t cost a fortune.  Your instincts toward impressing your contemporaries coupled with the lures of easy credit will tempt you in the other direction.  Always remember that nothing is more impressive than being able to do what you want, when you want, for as long as you want.  You’re not there yet, and buying an expensive car is a good way to ensure that you’ll never get there.  Why?  Because it’s all about money out versus money in.

You want to maximize your income and minimize your expenses.  This is the part about saying no to yourself.  Your expenses will go up and up if you can’t say no to that new outfit or that cool vacation.  The idea is that you are a little company unto yourself.  You want to make a profit right away, and then you want to increase your profits until such time that your profits allow you to eliminate your job all together.  For more on this, I highly recommend reading, Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  It’s a virtual road map to financial independence.

The bottom line with money is that your lifestyle as a young person should not reflect how much money you make now.  It should reflect your desire to have vast riches later.  You can take comfort in knowing that your buddies driving BMWs with $500/month lease notes will be green with envy in a few years when you can buy a car and pay cash for it.  Living poor now to get rich before you’re forty is the new cool.  Trust me on that.

8.  Lastly, let’s talk about love.  As they say, here be dragons.  Love is wonderful – nothing feels better – but it is also extremely dangerous.  Your ancient animal mind is very tuned to love, and will urge you to pursue it all costs.  Fortunately, however, you have a rational mind that is capable of reigning in your animal mind.  Use it.  Think about what you want out of love – you want it to last, and you want it to make you better, not worse.  That means you are discerning about who you fall in love with.  They say that you don’t get to pick who you fall in love with.  I think that’s BS.  While it may be true that the feeling of love is largely outside of our control, it is also true that we are in control of whether we are in situations where love may emerge.

Think about it like this.  Every person you encounter could be a potential love relationship – some more likely than others.  When the possibility is more likely (as in, you meet someone around your age to whom you’re romantically attracted), your first order of business is determine if this is the kind of person to be in love with.  You’re putting people through a selection process.  Those who indicate that they may not be long-termers (as in, he or she has a history of cheating on boyfriends/girlfriends), then your best bet is to limit time spent with that person.  Similarly, if the person engages in dangerous, criminal, or unhealthy behaviors, best keep your distance.  The key is that you get to know people from a distance before you get intimate with them.  I know this is not en vogue these days, but trust me, it’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get.  And girls, that means you withhold sex (of any kind) until you have some feel for who you’re dealing with.  The good partners will stick around; the bad ones won’t.  This is old school stuff, but it’s the difference between getting into positive love relationships and negative love relationships that bring you down emotionally and hinder your quest for the good life.

(Just to preempt my critics – I say this to girls and not boys because girls, more often than not, have a tendency to equate sex with love, whereas boys generally have no problem detaching the two.  Like it or not, this is the reality of our species.)

So there you have it.  A short course on how to get what you want out of life.  The best thing is that you live in a country where anything is possible.  You just have to be smart enough to filter out the crap that is handed to you on MTV and then disciplined enough to work hard and say no to yourself when prudence requires it.



Children Learn What They Live
April 24, 2006, 4:12 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Parenting

This poem was written in a gothic typeface on a piece of laminated crap board hanging by a big-looped brass chain in the hallway of my childhood home.  I must have read it a bazillion times growing up, but I recently stumbled on it and am amazed at how poignant it still is.

Of course, I’m older now and have a child of my own, so I can’t buy everything, especially in light of Judith Rich Harris’ latest book.  However, I thought someone might find it interesting.

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

The Harris modification would be thus –
And then, despite everything they’ve learned, if they get ostracized or are otherwise socially unsuccessful once they leave the home, it won’t matter much what was taught before then.



Logical Fallacies Cheat Sheet
April 4, 2006, 4:10 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Philosophy

Print this out and carry it around with you.  Any time someone expresses a belief that seems a bit off, run through the list.  I’ll bet that in most every case, they’re falling prey to one or more of the fallacies listed here.  And, if you dare, reflect on your own beliefs.  I bet a fallacy or two will reveal itself.  Then what?

Are you going to throw the list away and forget about the whole thing?  No judgements here.  Just keep in mind that denying reality doesn’t make it go away.  It never lets up, so you will see it again.  Hopefully, it won’t hurt too bad.

(BTW – I got these from the website of a small college in Tennessee called Carson-Newman. )

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are basically four kinds of logical fallacies – fallacies of
relevance, component fallacies, fallacies of ambiguity, and fallacies
of omission.  The list is organized accordingly.

FALLACIES OF RELEVANCE: These fallacies appeal to evidence or examples that are not relevant to the argument at hand.

Appeal to Force (Argumentum Ad Baculum or the “Might-Makes-Right” Fallacy): This argument uses force, the threat of force, or some other unpleasant backlash to make the audience accept a conclusion. It commonly appears as a last resort when evidence or rational arguments fail to convince a reader. If the debate is about whether or not 2+2=4, an opponent’s argument that he will smash your nose in if you don’t agree with his claim doesn’t change the truth of an issue. Logically, this consideration has nothing to do with the points under consideration. The fallacy is not limited to threats of violence, however. The fallacy includes threats of any unpleasant backlash–financial, professional, and so on. Example: “Superintendent, you should cut the school budget by $16,000. I need not remind you that past school boards have fired superintendents who cannot keep down costs.” While intimidation may force the superintendent to conform, it does not convince him that the choice to cut the budget was the most beneficial for the school or community. Lobbyists use this method when they remind legislators that they represent so many thousand votes in the legislators’ constituencies and threaten to throw the politician out of office if he doesn’t vote the way they want. Teachers use this method if they state that students should hold the same political or philosophical position as the teachers or risk failing the class. Note that it is isn’t a logical fallacy, however, to assert that students must fulfill certain requirements in the course or risk failing the class!

Genetic Fallacy: The genetic fallacy is the claim that an idea, product, or person must be untrustworthy because of its racial, geographic, or ethnic origin. “That car can’t possibly be any good! It was made in Japan!” Or, “Why should I listen to her argument? She comes from California, and we all know those people are flakes.” Or, “Ha! I’m not reading that book. It was published in Tennessee, and we know all Tennessee folk are hillbillies and rednecks!” This type of fallacy is closely related to the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem or personal attack, appearing immediately below.

Personal Attack (Argumentum Ad Hominem, literally, “argument toward the man.” Also called “Poisoning the Well”): Attacking or praising the people who make an argument, rather than discussing the argument itself. This practice is fallacious because the personal character of an individual is logically irrelevant to the truth or falseness of the argument itself. The statement “2+2=4” is true regardless if is stated by criminals, congressmen, or pastors. There are two subcategories:

(1) Abusive: To argue that proposals, assertions, or arguments must be false or dangerous because they originate with atheists, Christians, Communists, capitalists, the John Birch Society, Catholics, anti-Catholics, racists, anti-racists, feminists, misogynists (or any other group) is fallacious. This persuasion comes from irrational psychological transference rather than from an appeal to evidence or logic concerning the issue at hand. This is similar to the genetic fallacy, and only an anti-intellectual would argue otherwise.

(2) Circumstantial: To argue that an opponent should accept an argument because of circumstances in his or her life. If one’s adversary is a clergyman, suggesting that he should accept a particular argument because not to do so would be incompatible with the scriptures is such a fallacy. To argue that, because the reader is a Republican or Democrat, she must vote for a specific measure is likewise a circumstantial fallacy. The opponent’s special circumstances have no control over the truth of a specific contention. This is also similar to the genetic fallacy in some ways. If you are a college student who wants to learn rational thought, you simply must avoid circumstantial fallacies.

Argumentum ad Populum (Literally “Argument to the People): Using an appeal to popular assent, often by arousing the feelings and enthusiasm of the multitude rather than building an argument. It is a favorite device with the propagandist, the demagogue, and the advertiser. An example of this type of argument is Shakespeare’s version of Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar. There are three basic approaches:

(1) Bandwagon Approach: “Everybody is doing it.” This argumentum ad populum asserts that, since the majority of people believes an argument or chooses a particular course of action, the argument must be true, or the course of action must be followed, or the decision must be the best choice. For instance, “85% of consumers purchase IBM computers rather than Macintosh; all those people can’t be wrong. IBM must make the best computers.” Popular acceptance of any argument does not prove it to be valid, nor does popular use of any product necessarily prove it is the best one. After all, 85% of people may once have thought planet earth was flat, but that majority’s belief didn’t mean the earth really was flat when they believed it! Keep this in mind, and remember that everybody should avoid this type of logical fallacy.

(2) Patriotic Approach: “Draping oneself in the flag.” This argument asserts that a certain stance is true or correct because it is somehow patriotic, and that those who disagree are unpatriotic. It overlaps with pathos and argumentum ad hominem to a certain extent. The best way to spot it is to look for emotionally charged terms like Americanism, rugged individualism, motherhood, patriotism, godless communism, etc. A true American would never use this approach. And a truly free man will exercise his American right to drink beer, since beer belongs in this great country of ours.

(3) Snob Approach: This type of argumentum ad populum doesn’t assert “everybody is doing it,” but rather that “all the best people are doing it.” For instance, “Any true intellectual would recognize the necessity for studying logical fallacies.” The implication is that anyone who fails to recognize the truth of the author’s assertion is not an intellectual, and thus the reader had best recognize that necessity.

In all three of these examples, the rhetorician does not supply evidence that an argument is true; he merely makes assertions about people who agree or disagree with the argument.

Appeal to Tradition (Argumentum Ad Traditio): This line of thought asserts that a premise must be true because people have always believed it or done it. Alternatively, it may conclude that the premise has always worked in the past and will thus always work in the future: “Jefferson City has kept its urban growth boundary at six miles for the past thirty years. That has been good enough for thirty years, so why should we change it now? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Such an argument is appealing in that it seems to be common sense, but it ignores important questions. Might an alternative policy work even better than the old one? Are there drawbacks to that long-standing policy? Are circumstances changing from the way they were thirty years ago?

Appeal to Improper Authority (Argumentum Ad Verecundium, literally “argument from that which is improper”): An appeal to an improper authority, such as a famous person or a source that may not be reliable. This fallacy attempts to capitalize upon feelings of respect or familiarity with a famous individual. It is not fallacious to refer to an admitted authority if the individual’s expertise is within a strict field of knowledge. On the other hand, to cite Einstein to settle an argument about education or economics is fallacious. To cite Darwin, an authority on biology, on religious matters is fallacious. To cite Cardinal Spellman on legal problems is fallacious. The worst offenders usually involve movie stars and psychic hotlines. A subcategory is the Appeal to Biased Authority. In this sort of appeal, the authority is one who actually is knowledgeable on the matter, but one who may have professional or personal motivations that render his professional judgment suspect: for instance, “To determine whether fraternities are beneficial to this campus, we interviewed all the frat presidents.” Or again, “To find out whether or not sludge-mining really is endangering the Tuskogee salamander’s breeding grounds, we interviewed the supervisors of the sludge-mines, who declared there is no problem.” Indeed, it is important to get “both viewpoints” on an argument, but basing a substantial part of your argument on a source that has personal, professional, or financial interests at stake may lead to biased arguments.

Appeal to Emotion (Argumentum Ad Misericordiam, literally, “argument from pity”): An emotional appeal concerning what should be a logical issue during a debate. While pathos generally works to reinforce a reader’s sense of duty or outrage at some abuse, if a writer tries to use emotion merely for the sake of getting the reader to accept what should be a logical conclusion, the argument is a fallacy. For example, in the 1880s, prosecutors in a Virginia court presented overwhelming proof that a boy was guilty of murdering his parents with an ax. The defense presented a “not-guilty” plea for on the grounds that the boy was now an orphan, with no one to look after his interests if the court was not lenient. This appeal to emotion obviously seems misplaced, and the argument is irrelevant to the question of whether or not he did the crime.

COMPONENT FALLACIES: Component fallacies are errors in inductive and deductive reasoning or in syllogistic terms that fail to overlap.

Begging the Question (also called Petitio Principii, this term is sometimes used interchangeably with Circular Reasoning): If writers assume as evidence for their argument the very conclusion they are attempting to prove, they engage in the fallacy of begging the question. The most common form of this fallacy is when the first claim is initially loaded with the very conclusion one has yet to prove. For instance, suppose a particular student group states, “Useless courses like English 101 should be dropped from the college’s curriculum.” The members of the student group then immediately move on in the argument, illustrating that spending money on a useless course is something nobody wants. Yes, we all agree that spending money on useless courses is a bad thing. However, those students never did prove that English 101 was itself a useless course–they merely “begged the question” and moved on to the next “safe” part of the argument, skipping over the part that’s the real controversy, the heart of the matter, the most important component. Begging the question if often hidden in the form of a complex question (see below).

Circular Reasoning is closely related to begging the question. Often the writers using this fallacy takes one idea and phrases it in two statements. The assertions differ sufficiently to obscure the fact that that the same proposition occurs as both a premise and a conclusion. The speaker or author then tries to “prove” his or her assertion by merely repeating it in different words. Richard Whately wrote in Elements of Logic (London 1826): “To allow every man unbounded freedom of speech must always be on the whole, advantageous to the state; for it is highly conducive to the interest of the community that each individual should enjoy a liberty perfectly unlimited of expressing his sentiments.” Obviously the premise is not logically irrelevant to the conclusion, for if the premise is true the conclusion must also be true. It is, however, logically irrelevant in proving the conclusion. In the example, the author is repeating the same point in different words, and then attempting to “prove” the first assertion with the second one. A more complex but equally fallacious type of circular reasoning is to create a circular chain of reasoning like this one: “God exists.” “How do you know that God exists?” “The Bible says so.” “Why should I believe the Bible?” “Because it’s the inspired word of God.” If we draw this out as a chart, it looks like this:

The so-called “final proof” relies on unproven evidence set forth initially as the subject of debate. Basically, the argument goes in an endless circle, with each step of the argument relying on a previous one, which in turn relies on the first argument yet to be proven. Surely God deserves a more intelligible argument than the circular reasoning proposed in this example!

Hasty Generalization (Dicto Simpliciter, also called “Jumping to Conclusions,” “Converse Accident”): Mistaken use of inductive reasoning when there are too few samples to prove a point. Example: “Susan failed Biology 101. Herman failed Biology 101. Egbert failed Biology 101. I therefore conclude that most students who take Biology 101 will fail it.” In understanding and characterizing general situations, a logician cannot normally examine every single example. However, the examples used in inductive reasoning should be typical of the problem or situation at hand. Maybe Susan, Herman, and Egbert are exceptionally poor students. Maybe they were sick and missed too many lectures that term to pass. If a logician wants to make the case that most students will fail Biology 101, she should (a) get a very large sample–at least one larger than three–or (b) if that isn’t possible, she will need to go out of his way to prove to the reader that her three samples are somehow representative of the norm. If a logician considers only exceptional or dramatic cases and generalizes a rule that fits these alone, the author commits the fallacy of hasty generalization.

One common type of hasty generalization is the Fallacy of Accident. This error occurs when one applies a general rule to a particular case when accidental circumstances render the general rule inapplicable. For example, in Plato’s Republic, Plato finds an exception to the general rule that one should return what one has borrowed: “Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and asks for them when he is not in his right mind. Ought I to give the weapons back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so. . . .” What is true in general may not be true universally and without qualification. So remember, generalizations are bad. All of them. Every single last one. Except, of course, for those that are not.

Another common example of this fallacy is the misleading statistic. Suppose an individual argues that women must be incompetent drivers, and he points out that last Tuesday at the Department of Motor Vehicles, 50% of the women who took the driving test failed. That would seem to be compelling evidence from the way the statistic is set forth. However, if only two women took the test that day, the results would be far less clear-cut. Incidentally, the cartoon Dilbert makes much of an incompetent manager who cannot perceive misleading statistics. He does a statistical study of when employees call in sick and cannot come to work during the five-day work week. He becomes furious to learn that 40% of office “sick-days” occur on Mondays (20%) and Fridays (20%)–just in time to create a three-day weekend. Suspecting fraud, he decides to punish his workers. The irony, of course, is that these two days compose 40% of a five day work week, so the numbers are completely average. Similar nonsense emerges when parents or teachers complain that “50% of students perform at or below the national average on standardized tests in mathematics and verbal aptitude.” Of course they do! The very nature of an average implies that!

False Cause: This fallacy establishes a cause/effect relationship that does not exist. There are various Latin names for various analyses of the fallacy. The two most common include these types:

(1) Non Causa Pro Causa (Literally, “Not the cause for a cause”): A general, catch-all category for mistaking a false cause of an event for the real cause.

(2) Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (Literally: “After this, therefore because of this”): This type of false cause occurs when the writer mistakenly assumes that, because the first event preceded the second event, it must mean the first event caused the later one. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. It is the honest writer’s job to establish clearly that connection rather than merely assert it exists. Example: “A black cat crossed my path at noon. An hour later, my mother had a heart-attack. Because the first event occurred earlier, it must have caused the bad luck later.” This is how superstitions begin.

The most common examples are arguments that viewing a particular movie or show, or listening to a particular type of music “caused” the listener to perform an antisocial act–to snort coke, shoot classmates, or take up a life of crime. These may be potential suspects for the cause, but the mere fact that an individual did these acts and subsequently behaved in a certain way does not yet conclusively rule out other causes. Perhaps the listener had an abusive home-life or school-life, suffered from a chemical imbalance leading to depression and paranoia, or made a bad choice in his companions. Other potential causes must be examined before asserting that only one event or circumstance alone earlier in time caused a event or behavior later. For more information, see correlation and causation.

Irrelevant Conclusion (Ignorantio Elenchi): This fallacy occurs when a rhetorician adapts an argument purporting to establish a particular conclusion and directs it to prove a different conclusion. For example, when a particular proposal for housing legislation is under consideration, a legislator may argue that decent housing for all people is desirable. Everyone, presumably, will agree. However, the question at hand concerns a particular measure. The question really isn’t, “Is it good to have decent housing?” The question really is, “Will this particular measure actually provide it or is there a better alternative?” This type of fallacy is a common one in student papers when students use a shared assumption–such as the fact that decent housing is a desirable thing to have–and then spend the bulk of their essays focused on that fact rather than the real question at issue. It’s similar to begging the question, above.

One of the most common forms of Ignorantio Elenchi is the “Red Herring.” A red herring is a deliberate attempt to change the subject or divert the argument from the real question at issue to some side-point; for instance, “Senator Jones should not be held accountable for cheating on his income tax. After all, there are other senators who have done far worse things.” Another example: “I should not pay a fine for reckless driving. There are many other people on the street who are dangerous criminals and rapists, and the police should be chasing them, not harassing a decent tax-paying citizen like me.” Certainly, worse criminals do exist, but that it is another issue! The questions at hand are (1) did the speaker drive recklessly and (2) should he pay a fine for it?

Another similar example of the red herring is the fallacy known as Tu Quoque (Latin for “And you too!”), which asserts that the advice or argument must be false simply because the person presenting the advice doesn’t follow it herself. For instance, “Reverend Jeremias claims that theft is wrong, but how can theft be wrong if Jeremias himself admits he stole objects when he was a child?”

Straw Man Argument: A subtype of the red herring, this fallacy includes any lame attempt to “prove” an argument by overstating, exaggerating, or over-simplifying the arguments of the opposing side. Such an approach is building a straw man argument. The name comes from the idea of a boxer or fighter who meticulously fashions a false opponent out of straw, like a scarecrow, and then easily knocks it over in the ring before his admiring audience. His “victory” is a hollow mockery, of course, because the straw-stuffed opponent is incapable of fighting back. When a writer makes a cartoon-like caricature of the opposing argument, ignoring the real or subtle points of contention, and then proceeds to knock down each “fake” point one-by-one, he has created a straw man argument.

For instance, one speaker might be engaged in a debate concerning welfare. The opponent argues, “Tennessee should increase funding to unemployed single mothers during the first year after childbirth because they need sufficient money to provide medical care for their newborn children.” The second speaker retorts, “My opponent believes that some parasites who don’t work should get a free ride from the tax money of hard-working honest citizens. I’ll show you why he’s wrong . . .” In this example, the second speaker is engaging in a straw man strategy, distorting the opposition’s statement about medical care for newborn children into an oversimplified form so he can more easily appear to “win.” However, the second speaker is only defeating a dummy-argument rather than honestly engaging in the real nuances of the debate.

Non Sequitur (literally, “It does not follow”): A non sequitur is any argument that does not follow from the previous statements. Usually what happened is that the writer leaped from A to B and then jumped to D, leaving out step C of an argument she thought through in her head, but did not put down on paper. The phrase is applicable in general to any type of logical fallacy, but logicians use the term particularly in reference to syllogistic errors such as the undistributed middle term, non causa pro causa, and ignorantio elenchi. A common example would be an argument along these lines: “Giving up our nuclear arsenal in the 1980’s weakened the United States’ military. Giving up nuclear weaponry also weakened China in the 1990s. For this reason, it is wrong to try to outlaw pistols and rifles in the United States today.” There’s obviously a step or two missing here.

The “Slippery Slope” Fallacy (also called “The Camel’s Nose Fallacy”) is a non sequitur in which the speaker argues that, once the first step is undertaken, a second or third step will inevitably follow, much like the way one step on a slippery incline will cause a person to fall and slide all the way to the bottom. It is also called “the Camel’s Nose Fallacy” because of the image of a sheik who let his camel stick its nose into his tent on a cold night. The idea is that the sheik is afraid to let the camel stick its nose into the tent because once the beast sticks in its nose, it will inevitably stick in its head, and then its neck, and eventually its whole body. However, this sort of thinking does not allow for any possibility of stopping the process. It simply assumes that, once the nose is in, the rest must follow–that the sheik can’t stop the progression once it has begun–and thus the argument is a logical fallacy. For instance, if one were to argue, “If we allow the government to infringe upon our right to privacy on the Internet, it will then feel free to infringe upon our privacy on the telephone. After that, FBI agents will be reading our mail. Then they will be placing cameras in our houses. We must not let any governmental agency interfere with our Internet communications, or privacy will completely vanish in the United States.” Such thinking is fallacious; no logical proof has been provided yet that infringement in one area will necessarily lead to infringement in another, no more than a person buying a single can of Coca-Cola in a grocery store would indicate the person will inevitably go on to buy every item available in the store, helpless to stop herself. So remember to avoid the slippery slope fallacy; once you use one, you may find yourself using more and more logical fallacies.

Either/Or Fallacy (also called “the Black-and-White Fallacy” and “False Dilemma”): This fallacy occurs when a writer builds an argument upon the assumption that there are only two choices or possible outcomes when actually there are several. Outcomes are seldom so simple. This fallacy most frequently appears in connection to sweeping generalizations: “Either we must ban X or the American way of life will collapse.” “We go to war with Canada, or else Canada will eventually grow in population and overwhelm the United States.” “Either you drink Burpsy Cola, or you will have no friends and no social life.” Either you must avoid either/or fallacies, or everyone will think you are foolish.

Faulty Analogy: Relying only on comparisons to prove a point rather than arguing deductively and inductively. For example, “education is like cake; a small amount tastes sweet, but eat too much and your teeth will rot out. Likewise, more than two years of education is bad for a student.” The analogy is only acceptable to the degree a reader thinks that education is similar to cake. As you can see, faulty analogies are like flimsy wood, and just as no carpenter would build a house out of flimsy wood, no writer should ever construct an argument out of flimsy material.

Undistributed Middle Term: A specific type of error in deductive reasoning in which the minor premise and the major premise of a syllogism might or might not overlap. Consider these two examples: (1) “All reptiles are cold-blooded. All snakes are reptiles. All snakes are cold-blooded.” In the first example, the middle term “snakes” fits in the categories of both “reptile” and “things-that-are-cold-blooded.” It is what logicians call a “distributed middle term.” (2) “All snails are cold-blooded. All snakes are cold-blooded. All snails are snakes.” In the second example, the middle term of “snakes” does not fit into the categories of both “things-that-are-cold-blooded” and “snails.” It is an undistributed middle term. Sometimes, equivocation (see below) leads to an undistributed middle term.

FALLACIES OF AMBIGUITY: These errors occur with ambiguous words or phrases, the meanings of which shift and change in the course of discussion. Such more or less subtle changes can render arguments fallacious.

Equivocation: Using a word in a different way than the author used it in the original premise, or changing definitions halfway through a discussion. When we use the same word or phrase in different senses within one line of argument, we commit the fallacy of equivocation. Consider this example: “Plato says the end of a thing is its perfection; I say that death is the end of life; hence, death is the perfection of life.” Here the word end means “goal” in Plato’s usage, but it means “last event” or “termination” in the author’s second usage. Clearly, the speaker is twisting Plato’s meaning of the word to draw a very different conclusion. Compare with amphiboly, below.

Amphiboly (from the Greek word “indeterminate”): This fallacy is similar to equivocation. Here, the ambiguity results from grammatical construction. A statement may be true according to one interpretation of how each word functions in a sentence and false according to another. When a premise works with an interpretation that is true, but the conclusion uses the secondary “false” interpretation, we have the fallacy of amphiboly on our hands. In the command, “Save soap and waste paper,” the amphibolous use of “waste” results in the problem of determining whether “waste” functions as a verb or as an adjective.

Composition: This fallacy is a result of reasoning from the properties of the parts of the whole to the properties of the whole itself–it is an inductive error. Such an argument might hold that, because every individual part of a large tractor is lightweight, the entire machine also must be lightweight. This fallacy is similar to Hasty Generalization (see above), but it focuses on parts of a single whole rather than using too few examples to create a categorical generalization. Also compare it with Division (see below).

Division: This fallacy is the reverse of composition. It is the misapplication of deductive reasoning. One fallacy of division argues falsely that what is true of the whole must be true of individual parts. Such an argument notes that, “Microtech is a company with great influence in the California legislature. Egbert Smith works at Microtech. He must have great influence in the California legislature.” This is not necessarily true. Egbert might work as a graveyard shift security guard or as the copy-machine repairman at Microtech–positions requiring little interaction with the California legislature. Another fallacy of division attributes the properties of the whole to the individual member of the whole: “Sunsurf is a company that sells environmentally safe products. Susan Jones is a worker at Sunsurf. She must be an environmentally minded individual.” (Perhaps she is motivated by money alone?)

FALLACIES OF OMISSION: These errors occur because the logician leaves out necessary material in an argument or misdirects others from missing information.

Stacking the Deck: In this fallacy, the speaker “stacks the deck” in her favor by ignoring examples that disprove the point, and listing only those examples that support her case. This fallacy is closely related to hasty generalization, but the term usually implies deliberate deception rather than an accidental logical error. Contrast it with the straw man argument.

Argument from the Negative: Arguing from the negative asserts that, since one position is untenable, the opposite stance must be true. This fallacy is often used interchangeably with Argumentum Ad Ignorantium (listed below) and the either/or fallacy (listed above). For instance, one might mistakenly argue that, since the Newtonian theory of mathematics is not one hundred percent accurate, Einstein’s theory of relativity must be true. Perhaps not. Perhaps the theories of quantum mechanics are more accurate, and Einstein’s theory is flawed. Perhaps they are all wrong. Disproving an opponent’s argument does not necessarily mean your own argument must be true automatically, no more than disproving your opponent’s assertion that 2+2=5 would automatically mean your argument that 2+2=7 must be the correct one.

Appeal to a Lack of Evidence (Argumentum Ad Ignorantium, literally “Argument from Ignorance”): Appealing to a lack of information to prove a point, or arguing that, since the opposition cannot disprove a claim, the opposite stance must be true. An example of such an argument is the assertion that ghosts must exist because no one has been able to prove that they do not exist. Logicians know this is a logical fallacy because no competing argument has yet revealed itself.

Hypothesis Contrary to Fact (Argumentum Ad Speculum): Trying to prove something in the real world by using imaginary examples alone, or asserting that, if hypothetically X had occurred, Y would have been the result. For instance, suppose an individual asserts that Einstein had been aborted in utero, the world would never have learned about relativity, or that if Monet had been trained as a butcher rather than going to college, the impressionistic movement would have never influenced modern art. Such hypotheses are misleading lines of argument because it is often possible that some other individual would have solved the relativistic equations or introduced an impressionistic art style. The speculation might make an interesting thought-experiment, but it is simply useless when it comes to actually proving anything about the real world. A common example is the idea that one “owes” her success to another individual who taught her. For instance, “You owe me part of your increased salary. If I hadn’t taught you how to recognize logical fallacies, you would be flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wages right now instead of taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars as a lawyer.” Perhaps. But perhaps the audience would have learned about logical fallacies elsewhere, so the hypothetical situation described is meaningless.

Complex Question (Also called the “Loaded Question”): Phrasing a question or statement in such as way as to imply another unproven statement is true without evidence or discussion. This fallacy often overlaps with begging the question (above), since it also presupposes a definite answer to a previous, unstated question. For instance, if I were to ask you “Have you stopped taking drugs yet?” my hidden supposition is that you have been taking drugs. Such a question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer. It is not a simple question but consists of several questions rolled into one. In this case the unstated question is, “Have you taken drugs in the past?” followed by, “If you have taken drugs in the past, have you stopped taking them now?” In cross-examination, a lawyer might ask a flustered witness, “Where did you hide the evidence?” or “when did you stop beating your wife?” The intelligent procedure when faced with such a question is to analyze its component parts. If one answers or discusses the prior, implicit question first, the explicit question may dissolve.

Complex questions appear in written argument frequently. A student might write, “Why is private development of resources so much more efficient than any public control?” The rhetorical question leads directly into his next argument. However, an observant reader may disagree, recognizing the prior, implicit question remains unaddressed. That question is, of course, whether private development of resources really is more efficient in all cases, a point which the author is skipping entirely and merely assuming to be true without discussion.

Contradictory Premises: Establishing a premise in such a way that it contradicts another, earlier premise. For instance, “If God can do anything, he can make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it.” The first premise establishes a deity that has the irresistible capacity to move other objects. The second premise establishes an immovable object impervious to any movement. If the first object capable of moving anything exists, by definition, the immovable object cannot exist, and vice-versa.

So there you have them – every major fallacy known to logic.  Now go and think clearly.



The Endangered Ability To Think Logically
April 4, 2006, 4:09 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Philosophy

My fellow Americans, we’re in deep trouble.  Some of it is our fault; some of it isn’t.  It’s our fault because those of us who know better are content in our own little worlds to let things proceed on their current course.  But mostly, the problem that afflicts us today is a manifestation of how our species does business.  Our world has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and our genes are unprepared, to say the least.  The problem I am referring to is the endangered ability to think logically.

As Thomas Sowell tells us in today’s column, which is entitled, “Are Facts Obsolete?“,

Those who are in the business of teaching the young, whether in the  public schools or on college campuses, too often see this not as a responsibility to pass on what is known but as an opportunity to indoctrinate students with their own beliefs. Many “educators” and the gurus who indoctrinated them actively disparage “mere facts,” which they say you can get from an almanac or encyclopedia.

The net result is a student population that does not even know enough to know what needs to be looked up, much less how to analyze facts, so as to test opposing beliefs — as distinguished from how to gather information to support a preconceived notion that happens to be fashionable in the schools and colleges.

Yet people are considered to be “educated” after they have spent so many years in ivy-covered buildings, absorbing the preconceptions that prevail there.

This is a symptom of the larger problem.  Logic does not come pre-installed in the human mind.  If it ever gets installed, it has to be done deliberately.  The default human mind, the one with no foundation in logic, has no preference for facts.  Indeed, the human mind is about expediency, which often sits at odds with reality.  Of course, as we are a social species, so long as “the group” is in on the con, all is well.  That is, until the group runs off a cliff, which we are apt to do if something isn’t done…and soon.

But how to teach logic to people in a soundbite world?  How do you retrain a modern human mind (adult or child) to be skeptical, to begin with premises, and to objectively and properly analyze arguments?  This requires an investment in time, which seems to be the last thing people are willing to give up, especially if doing so might jeopardize the fabricated reality that feels oh-so-good.  There’s TV to be watched.  There are video game bad guys to be blown up.  It was not always so.

Back before the media was ubiquitous, people (at least some people) longed for new things to read.  The rate at which they consumed information was considerably faster than the rate at which they received new material.  So they took the time to read long discussions of various issues, and they read them multiple times.  As they discussed what they read with one another, logic was their best friend.  They could dissect the points made and argue them on their merits (or lack thereof).  Of course, this was around the turn of the 20th century.  A lot has changed.

The sport of argument is almost dead.  It was slain by the that irritating little meme that people have a right not to be offended.  Yes, political correctness has all but killed logical, constructive discourse in this country.  Now you can’t make an argument that affirmative action hurts the people it is supposed to help without being labeled a racist.  This is because some people stand to lose a great deal if you’re right.  I guess it has always been so – the powerful have always been able to muzzle the powerless when their words rang a little too true.

But now, muzzles are easy to come by and are fitted routinely by people whose influence has no discernible justification.  Shouldn’t I be able to mount a logical argument in the marketplace of ideas and not be vilified for the implications of the conclusions I reach?  I should, but that would require the masses to have a foundation in logic.  It would require them to know that there is a right way and a wrong way to come by belief.  It would require them to know that, so long as the argument is not ad hominem (against the man), it should be allowed, even if it isn’t pretty.

I wish I could snap my fingers and live in a world dominated by truly rational thinkers.  I often wonder what that world would be like.  I wonder if I’d be in the majority.  Yes, I think rationally, but I’m not naive enough to believe that I’m rational all the time.  Would I be one of those fringe people who went irrational when things didn’t go his way?  I hope not.  I’d count on my knowledge of logical fallacies to keep myself honest.  Hey, maybe that’s how I can help out with this problem.

Knowing all the major logical fallacies is an excellent way to check your mind against irrationality.  If you pull them out and peruse them in the context of your beliefs, you’ll often find that you’ve bought into something illogically.  Then, knowing that it is almost always best to be on the side of logic, you can begin the process of changing what you believe.  I’ve done this more than a few times over the years.  It’s not always pleasant, but few things worthwhile are.

So, click here for your lesson on logical fallacies.  Don’t say I never gave you anything.