Monday, September 28, 2009

Weak Tea: A Side Show

My brother sent me a link to the following video, with a note that it "speaks for itself."

This is outrageous!  I mean, what a terrible, terrible song!

If I were Mr. Obama, I'd be mortified.

But that, of course, was not my brother's intention in sending me the link, nor is it how tea partiers and other critics of the administration have responded to the video.  To them, it means that Obama really is a crypto-socialist-fascist dictator-in-the-making, and that the indoctrination of schoolchildren has begun.

I responded to my brother:
Well, since our email exchange, I've been engaged in actual critical thought, not just sending links to videos of people doing stupid things that reflect only on themselves. Now, had there been actual government agents in the room supervising the reeducation of children, or evidence of an Executive Order demanding that every school hold a pageant offering uncritical praise to the President, then you might have something.
 He wrote back:
Again you missed the point! Sing praise to whomever you want (1st Amendment), don't use tax money in public school. If they were singing praise of Reagan or Bush what would be on your blog? I can tell you I would be opposed to it.
I responded to my brother, agreeing with him . . . up to a point.  It was a stupid and inappropriate thing for a teacher to do, about as stupid as having kids sing Christian hymns at school assemblies.

But, again, it is not a sign of rising socialist-fascist totalitarianism, as many who share my brother's outlook seem to think.  Just look at the comments posted on YouTube in response to the video, if you have the stomach for such things.

I went on, in my reply to my brother, to play the logic card.  People who see this sort of thing as the sign of rising socialist-fascism seem to be reasoning as follows:
1. Mao Zedong was a totalitarian communist leader, and he had a cult of personality.
2. Hitler was a totalitarian fascist leader, and he had a cult of personality.
So, 3. Totalitarian leaders sometimes have a cult of personality.
4. A lot of people think Obama is a really great guy and they're very happy he's president.
So, 5. Obama has a cult of personality.
Therefore, 6. Obama is a totalitarian leader.
Claims 1 and 2 are matters of historical fact.  It's somewhat disturbing that, in Russia, there now seem to be some efforts aimed at reviving the Stalin cult.

Claim 5 is supposed to follow from claim 4, but it does so by no valid logical inference I can discern.  People may be excused, I think, for being really excited to have an intelligent and articulate man in the Oval Office.  People may be excused for being really excited that one of the great hurdles in the long struggle for civil rights has been surmounted.  It does not follow that Mr. Obama can do no wrong.  It does not even follow that most Americans think Mr. Obama can do no wrong.

Claim 6 is supposed to follow from claims 3 and 5, but the inference is an instance either of the fallacy of the undistributed middle or the fallacy of affirming the consequent, depending how you formalize the argument.

Consider the above argument stripped down to its essence, granting, only for the sake of argument, that Obama's popularity really amounts to a cult of personality:
All socialist-fascist totalitarian dictators are leaders with a cult of personality.
Obama is a leader with a cult of personality.
Therefore, Obama is a socialist-fascist totalitarian dictator.
This has precisely the same form as the following argument, in which will be proven that Mr. Obama is, in fact, a whale:
All whales are mammals.
Obama is a mammal.
Therefore, Obama is a whale.
Behold, the mighty work you can do with the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

Much the same can be done with the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  Consider:
If Obama is a socialist-fascist totalitarian dictator, then Obama has a cult of personality.
Obama has a cult of personality.
Therefore, Obama is a socialist-fascist totalitarian dictator.
And again, using the same form:
If Obama is a whale, then Obama breathes air.
Obama breathes air.
Therefore, Obama is a whale.
I hasten to point out that there is one, very significant difference between whales and socialist-fascist totalitarian dictators, to wit: whales actually exist.  A socialist-fascist totalitarian dictator is all but a logical impossibility.  Socialism and fascism are deeply incompatible ideologies, even if their historical instantiations have had some features in common.

As it happens, conflating or equating the two on the basis of those common features is yet another instance of the undistributed middle . . .


Doc Nagel said...

Obama is a whale?!?!

Then the birthers are right - whales can't be citizens!

Robert Kirkman said...

Ah, but he was born in territorial waters around Hawai'i, so it's all right.

Foxwood said...

What is being taught in your school?
Do you care?
Maybe your the problem.

Robert Kirkman said...

Well, that's telling me!

I don't know what it's telling me, but it's telling me.

Jake Squid said...

What a small world this is. Foxwood is new to my world and here he or she is for the second time in a couple of months.

I've had the same reaction to Foxwood's "responses."