Inmates Running the Asylum

Tweets are pretty ephemeral little things, but this one from a few weeks ago has stayed with me. What a perfect illustration of the ridiculous insanity today. Three screen shots will demonstrate some highlights (or lowlights), though the whole thread has many more of both. Go read the whole thing if you want to be sad.

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Logical Fallacies and “Asians in the Library”

An excellent teaching moment came my way yesterday.  My English 101 class spends the last half of the semester doing a unit on persuasive writing, and the textbook has a whole section on logical fallacies.  In addition to a dry review of them last night, I ended class with something a little more unique and practical. 

I told my classes about the already-infamous “Asians in the Library” video that a girl at UCLA did a couple of weeks ago, and then showed it to them.  As we watched, we stopped it often so we could identify specifically which logical fallacies she was committing.  It was hilarious, controversial, and really drove the point home–the world is full of people who make stupid arguments, and we have the tools to deflate them. 

On a more serious note, for someone like me who truly believes that racism is a thing of the past, a relic that’s been relegated to only the most extreme fringes of society, no matter how loudly some professional grievance-mongers continue to crow about it, it’s really disturbing to hear something every now and then like this that shows us that there really is still some serious racism out there.  I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t think of any way to view this video with a charitable explanation–this young lady just simply comes across as an ignorant bigot. 

My notes on her logical fallacies are after the jump; see how many you can spot!

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“I Don’t Understand…”

This is a phrase that gets beaten to death in arguments, as in, “I don’t understand why you think…”  People use this phrase as if they’re introducing an accusation, when they’re only stating their ignorance!

Perhaps this is meant to be employed as a rhetorical device, trying to get someone else to draw out a defense of a position that you don’t think they really can defend, thus exposing their weakness.  (“I don’t understand why you believe that the moon is made of green cheese.”  “Well, it’s obvious, actually.  You see…”)

However, that’s not how it seems to be used most of the time.  Whenever I hear someone say this, it’s always delivered in a tone that suggests that the speaker’s confusion is inherent proof that there is no rational explanation behind whatever proposition they haven’t bought into.  But since when is a failure to comprehend on one person’s part somehow evidence against the claims made by someone else? 

Such a reaction as “I don’t understand…,” intended to convey skepticism more than curiosity, strikes me as a singularly solipsistic excuse for an argument: “I have no real rebuttal to your proposition, but I just don’t like it, therefore it’s wrong.”