Saturday, November 08, 2014

If you don't like something, don't try to couch your position with self-contradictory statements and self-rationalization

So I saw this:

The logic employed by the second person seems to either contradictory or highly selfish. His position seems to be that: On the one hand, he doesn't get it and he thinks it's offensive (and he thinks that a lot of other people would find it offensive, too), but on the other hand, if it saves the lives of even a couple people, okay, but then to go back to his first position, it's offensive to him, so no.

First, off, let's recognize that his initial position is couched as in the false logic of argumentum ad populum.
"I just find it offensive, and a lot of other people would as well."
First, this is a relative statement. How many - exactly - constitutes "a lot of other people"? A majority of a population? Well, no. After all, if - in a city the size of Sydney (5.6 million) - you gathered 1,000 people to actively congregate in front of the pink-condom-covered pillar, that could easily be considered to be "a lot of people," despite it being a mere 0.00018% of the city's population. Conversely, if you were considering a tiny town of only 100 residents, "a lot of people" might well mean something approaching the majority (which could never approach anything more than a mere 10% of the hypothetical crowd of 1,000 around the condom-covered Sydney statue). So the phrasing, "and a lot of other people would [agree with me] as well," is a false argument in that it doesn't work to designate an objective measure, but merely refers (in a purely arm-waving fashion, since the person makes no attempt to bracket his statement) to an unknown quantity of people (likely merely presumed to exist by the speaker) that is implied to be of significant numbers (but - as we might argue in the case of 1,000 people gathered in a square in Sydney to be - not necessarily anything close to 1% of a city's population).

Second, even while there is truth in the statement that - in a city of 5.6 million people - you will probably find a large number (say >1,000) of people who are against covering a statue with a large pink condom, it does not mean much more than that in a city the size (and with the diversity) of Sydney, there will be many people who support almost any position that you propose. For example, if you did a poll on the number of people who believe that all English tourists should pay a 100 Australian Dollar tourist tax, there would likely be more than 1,000 Sydney residents who would agree with that decision. However, the fact that you can find 1,000 people in a city of 5,600,000 people means next to nothing. This leads us to the next point.

Third, while one might well find "a lot of people" who find a pink-condom-covered column to be offensive, it does not automatically follow that there aren't "a lot of people" who find a pink-condom-covered column to be affirmative. (And the first person in the clip is one who fits this camp; likely she, too, has "a lot of people" who support her position.) Furthermore, it does not automatically follow that there aren't "a lot of people" who don't give two shits either way. (The numbers of voters showing up to vote in elections where voting is not mandatory is an indication of the number of people who can't really be bothered to vote on their own futures - for whatever reason.)

Fourth, this appeal to the people is not what modern democracies are based upon. The tyranny of the majority is something that many Western democracies, including Australia (and the UK, where the second individual appears to be from), have structured their governments to try and avoid. Under modern democracies, the presence of a constitution that provides rights to all citizens cannot (in theory and in principle) be superseded by the mere will of the voting majority. It is from this that we get the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of minority groups, etc. In this case, the point of covering a column with a pink condom was to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. HIV/AIDS affects a minority of the Australian population, with 85% of transmission occurring being MSM, and 63% of the cases being among those practicing MSM, which makes it roughly 0.001% of the national population who has HIV/AIDS. This population is a diminishingly small minority of the country, and one for whom protections against the tyranny of the majority ought to be considered. In short, to base public decisions that affect minority populations upon the actions deemed appropriate by a voting majority runs counter to one of the fundamental bases of Western democracies, to which (I imagine) this individual would likely state his personal support.

In sum, the mere fact that you have "a lot of people" who agree with you doesn't mean that your group is of significant size (see point one), it doesn't mean that it's representative (see point two), it doesn't mean that other groups aren't as big or bigger (see point three), and it's not the sole form of decision-making in Western democracies, especially when the protections of minorities are in question (see point four). What it does mean is that you've employed a fundamentally flawed argument.

But these are just four points that undercut the first part of his argumentation. The next thing he says is:
"If it stops a couple of people from getting HIV... brilliant."
This seems to contradict his previous point, since it appears that he is saying here that he does support the pink-condom-covered pillar. But in his next statement, he jumps back to stating that he's against it:
"[pointing to statute] No. That is so... wrong."
So, if he is a person who wants to save the lives of others, then his logic is self-contradictory, since his final stance - that he's against it - runs counter to his position that it could save lives. However, the fact that his final position is to be against it because it is offense to his sensibilities - despite his recognition that it could save lives - then he's saying that he places his personal sensitivities ahead of the lives that could be saved.

To me, it seems like he added his apparently self-contradictory statement as a means of saying, "I'm not really that bad of a guy." It's another example of the "But I'm not a bigot" mentality that I wrote about back in 2010 (and also discussed back in 2012):
In their recently published paper "But I'm no Bigot: How Prejudiced White Americans Maintain Unprejudiced Self-Images", Laurie O'Brien, Christian Crandall, April Horstman-Reser, and Ruth Warner delve into the means by which white Americans can harbor racial prejudice while still viewing themselves as "unprejudiced".
That the case here is of an Englishman in Sydney commenting on a monument covered over with a pink condom to raise awareness about a disease that overwhelmingly affects homosexual men, who (as a population of infected individuals) comprise a vanishingly small population within Australia, makes it slightly different in the performance of the individual's rationalization the he's not a bigot, that he's not prejudiced, etc. However, the same processes are effectively taking place. Putting in phrases like, "If it stops a couple of people from getting HIV... brilliant," appears (to me) to be evidence that this man understands that HIV/AIDS primarily is a disease that affects a group of people that are accorded minority protections (and - by many - special consideration), and this man appears (to me) to be using his phrase as stating that he's not there to be a bad guy. Even though his overall position is to remove the item that he finds so offensive that - even "if it stops a couple of people from getting HIV" - he's against it.

So, in sum, the second individual uses two flawed arguments to state his position that he's against a pink-condom-covered column (in a city and country in which he's not a citizen). I don't know whether he understands why his arguments are logically so flawed, but in my opinion, his position would have been far more logically consistent and - at least to me - valid if he had simply stated, "I find it offensive. [pointing to statute] No. That is so... wrong." All the other false justifications and attempts at self-rationalization merely serve to undercut his entire position. At least in my eyes.

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