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Posted by on Jan 22, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics, What's Left | 17 comments

Trump’s War on Logic

 

 

The first course I ever took at the University of Texas was logic.

It wasn’t by design that I signed up for “Logic 101.”  It was by accident, really.  Logic sounded like an interesting subject and besides, the classtime fit perfectly into my schedule.  Thankfully, that unintended course taught me more about how to think than any other endeavor.  Being exposed to the rigorous practice, that’s to say the trial and error of how to properly test and discuss an idea set the tone for the remainder of my college years, and for my personal and professional life.

Taking Logic 101 also provided me with a clearer understanding of how and why science isn’t merely one subject of many, to be segregated into a separate classroom on its own aside math or literature.  Science was actually was the nitty-gritty all-inclusive machinery, of both means and methods, the gateway to every question in the entire universe — including what we (think we) know and what we’ve yet to discover.  Science is the handy toolbox allowing us to unlock all human curiosities.

All students everywhere should be required to take logic as a prerequisite for graduation.  If someone isn’t able to think critically, what’s the point of getting an education?  Without logic, whatever else follows is like constructing a skyscraper on top of quicksand.  The foundation collapses.  No amount of subject knowledge later on can compensate for a lack of understanding of how logic works, in other words — thinking logically.

When one speaks of logic, what this really means is thinking critically.  One must always be open to new ideas, even ideas which might initially seem strange or be objectionable, even repulsive.  Otherwise, there’s no opportunity to learn and evolve.  I’m terribly troubled where I hear someone say their mind can’t be changed on any given subject.  That’s not just close-minded.  It’s inherently self-destructive to the betterment of the body, mind, and soul.  Virtually all of us, anyone who is human, has changed an opinion on one subject or other — based either on personal experiences or when confronted with a preponderance of evidence.  That’s critical thinking.  That’s logic in practice, or at least the ideal reaction to logic.

Sadly, logic has become decreasingly relevant in modern society, particularly on social media, and even more so in today’s toxic political environment.  Logic is almost to the point of extinction.  Compelling evidence suggests that logic no longer matters, at all.  Hence, to be thoroughly logical (and trustworthy) with my readers, what I wrote in the previous paragraph isn’t quite true.  Yes, the sad fact is — you can build a house on quicksand.  Indeed, someone can be both successful, very successful, and illogical.  The new President of the United States is the perfect example.

President Trump and many of his most outspoken supporters often engage in illogical tactics.  A certain level of rhetoric is to be expected, of course.  But this is something quite different, something historically unprecedented.  The Trump Campaign, which has now morphed into the Trump Administration clearly intends to continue the same tactics used over the past two years, which is to deflect, to confuse, to frustrate, and ultimately to wipe out far more logical counterarguments.  This is entirely willful and premeditated.  The Trump camp knows precisely what they’re doing.  Unfortunately, it works.  Dark is the new light.

On what is the first full day of the new Trump Administration, today’s poisonous basket of outrageous, demonstrably false statements — made repeatedly by both President Trump (at CIA Headquarters) and a scumbag named Sean Spicer (at the White House Press Briefing) — prove beyond a shadow of any doubt that the new Administration intends to invent its own data, squash any conflicting facts, and then go on the attack all those who’s job it is to actually seek information and tell the truth in the public interest.  This isn’t just annoying, it’s absolutely terrifying.  Even Trump supporters should be alarmed when on the second day of the job, both the President and the Press Secretary tell bold face lies to cameras, particularly on an issue with most would consider to be trivial.

A minor issue which should have been yesterday’s news and largely forgotten was reignited by President Trump himself (not the media), who on the solemn occasion of supposedly honoring the hard-working professionals within the intelligence community, instead launched into a petty Dr. Strangelove-like tirade on one of the most irrelevant topics of any Day One presidency in the history of the United States.  Upright in front of the wall of honor, a marble memorial which pays tribute to the men and women of the CIA who gave the ultimate sacrifice (their lives), President Trump mocked the occasion and flipped into another campaign speech and then, much to the astonishment of the former CIA Director who was watching, used the awkward occasion to behave like a bratty thin-skinned kindergartner, bickering with his fellow schoolboys over who gets to play with the ball.  Several minutes were wasted arguing over the most trivial subject (the number of attendees at Trump’s inauguration), which had been settled already with proven facts by just about every media outlet in the world, with ample photographic and statistical evidence.

Yet, this behavior wasn’t anything unusual for a man and the movement which scares the hell out of many sane people who are more used to a Commander in Chief with which we have a common baseline for decision-making, despite past partisan differences.  Even those who hated LBJ or Ford or Carter or Bush knew there would be basic agreement on a set of easily verifiable facts.  If The Trump Administration can’t even accept basic factual evidence on something as meaningless as mall attendance at his inauguration, what happens at 2 am in the Oval Office when some kind of real executive decision needs to be made about North Korea firing a nuke or ISIS launching another terrorist attack?  What will the new President do in the not so distant future when bad inevitably things happen and we need strong and steady leadership which takes facts and evidence into account?

Well, it appears that the zebra never changes its stripes.  Self-delusion has been the modus operandi of Donald Trump his supporters, not just from the moment Dear Leader first announced his reality television show-brand driven candidacy, but from the very foundation of the ultra-reactionary Tea Party movement, which took fertile root in the rich dung of division and hate, then sterioded by a frantic obsession to destroy absolutely everything associated with the Black guy living in the White House with the Muslim-sounding name.  Logic be damned, even when the Obama Administration unquestionably saved the nation from plunging into a Great Depression, cut unemployment by 40 percent, saved the auto industry from total collapse, withdrew troops from two unwinnable foreign wars, or even tripled the grotesque profits of greedy Wall Street, which is something conservatives should have been rejoicing.  Had Republican posted President Obama’s identical record, conservatives would be lobbying for another face carved into Mount Rushmore.  The trouble was — the Republican hardliners couldn’t take any credit for all the good stuff this time.  So, when the facts weren’t political convenient, they made up their own.  And that’s exactly what President Trump and his supporters have done, and continue to do.  Nothing, it seems, will change.

Writer/pollster Nate Silver coined the term “the Spread,” which best describes the popular tactic used by Trump and his supporters, particularly on social media.  I’m told this term stems from his days as a high school debater.  The dubious tactic goes like this:  When losing an argument, respond aggressively by slinging lots of outrageous charges and counter-arguments, really fast.  Being bombarded with an abundance of nonsense often succeeds because it buries the more logical argument with confusion.  The solid fact-based argument eventually gets forgotten.  The more thoughtful fact-based debater is snowed under by an avalanche of misinformation.

From pivoting to different topics, to ad hominem attacks, to constructing false straw men, the Trump Administration has mastered one thing, at least, and it’s both dubious and destructive.  Telling a bold lie over and over and over again until it’s finally believed is an old tactic that was once used so effectively that it eventually led to one of the worst periods of human history.  Indeed, that’s all it took.  A few lies were repeated often enough and were by a charismatic leader that enough people believed them, and then they shut off their brains and abandoned logic.

If history repeats itself as some have suggested, we are living in dangerous times.

 

17 Comments

  1. That debating tactic which you named (after Nate Silver) the “Spread” has been known is the skeptic community for some time as the “Gish Gallop.” According to an entry in the RationalWiki, some are now also calling it the “Trump Tirade.” There is nothing new under the sun.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

    • NOLAN REPLIES:

      Thanks Martin. Odd that I’ve subscribed to Skeptic for years and even attended conferences, but had (until now) never heard the term applied to logic. Appreciate the background.

      — ND

  2. Such a great beginning.

    And then:

    “I’m terribly troubled where I hear someone say their mind can’t be changed on any given subject. That’s not just close-minded. It’s inherently self-destructive to the betterment of the body, mind, and soul.”

    And then a growling tirade of closed-minded-ness …

    And then a Godwin’s Law finish.

    Congratulations are in order.

    • NOLAN REPLIES:

      Actually, I am the ideal example of open-mindedness. Back in 1985, I worked for the Republican National Senatorial Committee. I voted for Reagan — twice. Then, Jack Kemp in 1988. If anyone is an example of being open to new ideas, my political life and opinions are solid evidence. Moreover, I continue to evolve, hopefully.

      By contrast, I wonder how many issues YOU have changed your opinion about? Or, were you fortunate to have been born into the perfect political philosophy and religious upbringing where you don’t need to question yourself? I’m not trying to make this personal, but I’ll put my story as someone who changed his views based on (1) experience and (2) evidence up against just about anyone.

      Thanks for contributing.

      — ND

      • I agree, Nolan, that you have every right to your opinion just like I have for mine on any issue at all. The above blog comment above started one way and went astray in the middle and ended in a Godwin’s Law penalty.

        Six paragraphs of excellent advice and then what appears to me to be straight opinion violating the premise originally considered … review the language used … the assumptions presented as fact … the lack of comparison or straight dismissal of any contrary opinion that might be considered outright.

        “illogical tactics” “poisonous basket of outrageous, demonstrably false statements” “bratty thin-skinned kindergartner” “we have a common baseline for decision-making” “the Obama Administration unquestionably saved the nation … (*unquestionable* litany omitted)”

        And then the denouement:

        ” … tactic that was once used so effectively that it eventually led to one of the worst periods of human history … ”

        Assumptions as fact; conclusions become unassailable. It is ony logical.

        As for me changing my world view, it has been a long journey. Born and raised in a strong Roman Catholic family through eight years of parochial school and two years of Jesuit High, I do not think I had an original thought until part way through my engineering degree … to doubt was to sin … at first doubt, the whole house of cards falls … became anti-religious. Children makes one reconsider some things so times … first venture was into the Unitarian Universal Fellowship … you need not believe in GOD for them. A bit too “liberal” for my economic training … by then I had an MBA and was attending law school after my four years in the USAF … the War got over so I had to find a new life.

        Rediscovered an interest in the numinous and eventually had four years of seminary training in the Episcopal church but it really did not stick … tried some of the alternatives (Sufi, Hindu … others) but eventually decided my view guided by all of them forbade me to exclude any of them. Even Islam has some very interesting ideas available for consideration. However, the idea that someone (you or me) knows “the truth” in any meaningful way is anathema to me. I am a searcher for meaning and what might be reasonable truth … or at least workable truth.

        I think it is impossible to separate politics and religion … at least to me. I think a study of religion leads me to the idea that it is really politically motivated in addition to be morally motivated. When either aspect gains too much power … the old adage about absolute power takes over. I immediately react negatively to any comment made as unassailable fact. Include that statement in there … touché.

        So, I am not as absolutely convinced as others that the last eight years were overwhelmingly wonderful nor am I convinced that they were the worst on record. The next few years may change my mind about how the last four years should fit in the overall scheme of things … for me. Fortunately, our government is so incredibly inefficient and ineffective, maybe these years will kick the can slower down the road.

        I think all empires fail … it is just a matter of time. I think God is Love … I think Love is Good … I think Love can move mountains … it just takes a lot of people who *believe* to make it happen. I know what I think does not really matter in the overall scheme of things.

        Right now, my favorite useless thought at the moment is whether our thoughts about “free will” are correct … at least from my study. Really, we can actually make a “free” decision about any act or failure to act? Really … not dictated by everything that we have experienced? “Created” totally independently from everything in our past?

        Some really interesting ideas:
        https://www.wired.com/2016/05/the-end-of-code/

        Reactions:
        https://artandlogic.com/2016/05/software-developers-response-wireds-end-coding-article/

        http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/05/the-end-of-code-is-really-the-end-of-one-guy-in-a-garage.html

        http://www.startcode.net/blog/the-future-of-coding-and-artificial-intelligence

        [I also am still wondering if you push on one end of a stick if the other end moves at *exactly* the same time … that is, are both ends of the stick at the same *place* so both ends can move at the same time without violating all that relativity stuff.]

        • NOLAN REPLIES:

          I appreciate the deconstruction, John. I will spend some time going through this, along with your links. Be advised that the initial column I wrote gave five (mine) categories of illogical tactics. I also tried to go the scientific approach, but also used examples from the political arena. I decided that was a bit too wonkish, so erased all that and went partisan. So, in the interest of being both logical and candid, I agree the later tone of the piece was markedly different than the first.

          — ND

        • “[I also am still wondering if you push on one end of a stick if the other end moves at *exactly* the same time … that is, are both ends of the stick at the same *place* so both ends can move at the same time without violating all that relativity stuff.]”

          It can’t. There is a propagation time as the signal passes through the material. You push on the atoms at one end of stick and they take time to move enough to effect the next set of atoms, and so on. The limitation here isn’t the speed of light, but the speed of sound, the speed at which physical information propagates through a material (which generally much, much faster in a solid than in a liquid or a gas for obvious reasons). However, if you had an infinitely rigid material, you could use your method to violate special relativity, which should be taken as a limitation on the upper bound of the rigidity of a substance. Using logic, it’s actually quite simple to figure out that this has to be the case.

          On the political topic, yours in an example of the illogic of the Trump supporters. I honestly don’t know if you don’t understand the difference or if you do and, like Sean Spicer, you do understand the distinction but are obscuring it intentionally. It doesn’t matter to me.

          In any case, you’re making a false equivalency here. If one points out that a given line of inquiry doesn’t measure up to minimal logical consistency required to form a logical argument, your tactic is not to disprove but to deflect. As just one example, you quote Nolan saying, “poisonous basket of outrageous, demonstrably false statements” as an indication that one should reject his arguments. That’s deflection. Objectively, Trump’s people repeatedly engage in demonstrably false statements. Nolan does tend to use emotionally charged language that doesn’t always serve his purpose, IMHO, as it opens himself up to this sort of misinformed counter-attack, but that’s about debating tactics, it doesn’t affect the strength of the underlying argument, at least not in this case. Do you disagree with the, albeit emotional, contention that making “objectively false statements” as if they were true is “poisonous”? I’d think that could be accepted by an axiom. So what’s your problem, exactly, with the statement? Deflection.

          I could go on and on repeating this line of argument ad nauseum about your whole post, but I simply don’t have the time. Also, as Nolan points out, it’s easier to make unsupported assertions than it is to logically reject them. Your whole post is a walking caricature of what Nolan was talking about.

          I don’t expect to convince you. I expect you’re a lost cause, whether your brain simply can’t accept this arguments or it chooses not to, I don’t know, and there are other things I need to worry about instead. This response isn’t directed at you, and I really don’t care what you think about it, I’m directing it at the people who might be swayed by your (very poor) arguments. People will use arguments like Pickels’ to rationalize and attempt to normalize the behavior of the Trump administration and the new right. It’s critical that people who believe that the truth and facts matter to resist this and be cognizant of the tactics these people use to distort and resist reality with propaganda. Go ahead and try to tear this apart if you want. Go ahead and try to inject emotion into words like propaganda with precise meanings that are entirely appropriate in this context. But count on any rebuttal not being on the basis of actual logic or facts, even if it seems to have that veneer.

          • So many words for only two thoughts.

            As to the first, I agree that my training in physics supports your reasonable comment about the likely impossibility of a realistically totally *rigid* object. But I a am puzzled by the theoretical thought of a slightly differently posed “elevator” problem. Aren’t all the parts (atoms and all the sub-atom “stuff”) of the elevator all belong held by the gravitational force and If the wire holding the elevator breaks, aren’t all the *parts* of the elevator “released” from bondage at the same time? If not, why not. To me is the sort of thing that confuses me. I am open to experts with the truth.

            As to your second thought, you spend a lot of time and energy saying that you agree with Nolan’s post and your assumptions are the truth and no one should ever question the truth.

            It is only logical to agree with the truth.

    • 1 tirade? not
      2 closed mind? your opinion is not refutation

      3 godwin? hitler had no nuke button

      • 1. Tirade is perhaps too strong … there is no cursing and screaming … correct, “not”.
        2. My comment is not really an opposing opinion, just a comment on what appears, to me, to be an example of someone stating their opinion quite strongly. Did not seem to invite any contrary opinion to the party … YMMV.
        3. I think Nolan is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. He is amazing. I did not know that Godwin’s Law required a nuclear option.

        • a Comment is opinion (websters)
          a verbal or written remark expressing an opinion or reaction

          • comment … opinion … context … remark … reaction

            words

            The word *chair* is not a chair.

            “He who controls the definitions controls the truth.” JP 2017

  3. You nailed it.

  4. Thank you for the interesting article, Nolan Dalla. The two most important thoughts in it, to me, were the ideas about “Logic” and the references to We The People and Our relationship with critical thinking and propaganda.

    You shared: “When one speaks of logic, what this really means is thinking critically. One must always be open to new ideas, even ideas which might initially seem strange or be objectionable, even repulsive.”

    Because of “Logic 101’s” foundation in math, I didn’t do well with it. But “Logic”, as an element of “critical thinking” is very important in the sensible determination of the relationship of the Facts of Truth, that are essential to critical thinking.

    Once the known and proven, facts are discovered and brought logically together with other facts, then a foundation is laid that the speculative and problem solving, aspect of “Critical Thinking” can be started and developed. But be always ready for the surprise fact to come…which could cause changes in the perspectives and conclusions of the matter.

    You also wrote:”All students everywhere should be required to take logic as a prerequisite for graduation.”

    and

    “A few lies were repeated often enough and were by a charismatic leader that enough people believed them, and then they shut off their brains and abandoned logic.”

    I agree and add that “Propaganda Studies” should also be part of this quest to Evolve Ourselves into Better Humans and Citizens. But, sometimes, it is a difficult art, to determine the Facts of Truth in assertions that are lies. It is Our Responsibility to find the Truth in all that We are told, by Our so called leaders, or representatives.

    • NOLAN REPLIES:

      Good post. Thanks for the contribution. One minor error of mine, however: I used logic and critical thought interchangeably. They aren’t quite the same thing. I’d now revise that If I could.

      — ND

      • Excellent contribution to the discussion.

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