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Lists of Fallacies Have an Important Shortcoming

I missed this discussion of the tu quoque fallacy here on Ordinary Times the first, second, third, and fourth times around, not counting The Facebook Incident.

This is an oversimplification of what has gone on here, but to me the argument seems to boil down to Sam Wilkinson’s intuitions on one side and the collective force of formal deductive logic on the other. I find myself siding with the former.

My defense of Wilkinson will fall far short of an academic take-down of the tu quoque fallacy, so lower your expectations accordingly. I learned my epistemology on the street, so I lack the requisite tools for that.

Learning formal deductive logic the way it is typically taught has consequences that aren’t readily apparent to the student. I have my copy of the tenth edition to “Introduction to Logic” by Irving M. Copi and Carl Cohen in front of me right now, and five minutes of perusal illuminates how painful they find it to address the topic of probability. “Fallacies” are prominent and the subject of chapter 6, which begins on page 160.

The very last chapter of the book is when probability is first addressed. This single chapter spans less than 30 pages, and then the book is done.

Missing (based on my very brief scan) is any indication that information can influence the probability that a given claim is true without actually proving the claim.

In the world of formal deductive logic, a proposition like “All Eskimos like fish” is not proven until you have assessed the position of every last Eskimo (or survey everyone who doesn’t like fish and find that none of them are Eskimos). If there are 1,000 Eskimos, and you haven’t asked any of them, your claim has the same standing as someone who has asked 999 of them. (That last person might be the one Eskimo who objects to your naked stereotyping.)

Of course, I know that the authors in particular and logicians in general are smart people—smarter than me. I do not mean to say they are ignorant of the fact that information can act as evidence for a claim but fall short of proof. Instead, my claim is that those of us who consume these frameworks and make a habit of identifying logical fallacies sometimes lose sight of this fact because it isn’t part of the framework.

Take a look at an example of the “argument from authority” fallacy from Wikipedia.

A is an expert on a particular topic
A says says something about that topic
A is probably correct

Note that this is a “fallacy” only if you hold yourself to the high standards of deductive logic, which is unfortunately a standard so strict as to be powerless to prove even really obvious stuff.

Consider the claim “Schindler’s List was a movie.” How can we prove that?

You remember seeing it? That’s a good start, but we then also need to show that all movies you remember seeing were actually movies. You could have a false memory.

It has an IMDB page? OK, are all IMDB pages for movies? Are all movie IMDB pages actually for movies? Those are questions that require exhaustive analysis of each IMDB page to answer.

Deduction works great if you need to know what happens when you bisect an equilateral triangle. And it will even work to show that Schindler’s List is a movie if you make big assumptions like there are no falsely remembered movies, which seems like an obviously false assumption. Surely there are people who misremember movies. It says something when you have to assume something that is probably false to prove something that you already knew was true.

Here in real life, almost all non-mathematical claims need to have probabilities attached to them. Even silly claims like “Jews conspired with Satan to rule the world” have vanishingly low probabilities assigned to them rather than simply being false:

I don’t think you could get up to 99.99% confidence for assertions like “53 is a prime number”. Yes, it seems likely, but by the time you tried to set up protocols that would let you assert 10,000 independent statements of this sort—that is, not just a set of statements about prime numbers, but a new protocol each time—you would fail more than once.

When nothing can be proven with rigorous certainty, you deal with evidence. Certain evidence increase or decrease the probability of a claim being true. My understanding is that it takes philosophy majors a while to get to coursework that actually grapples with this.

There is a reason for this. Aristotle is from the negative fourth century. The idea that probability could be studied is a recent innovation of the 17th century. Before that, probability was regarded as something outside of reality and therefore totally beyond analysis. This blind spot lasted two millennia, and it is a mistake whose impact lingers in the logician’s curriculum today.

In real life, claims are not assigned by all-knowing teachers. They come from people. The fact that they believe them is (weak) evidence in support of the claim. If the claim is in the person’s area of expertise, the evidence should be given greater weight. At no point does evidence rise to the standard of a deductive proof, but that doesn’t mean it lacks any value as evidence.

You wouldn’t know this if you looked up logical fallacies somewhere. Many of the fallacies listed are only fallacies by the standards of formal deductive logic and would serve real-world truth seekers poorly because they throw out evidence.

Consider the “argument from” fallacy “that if an argument for some conclusion is fallacious, then the conclusion itself is false.” This does indeed seem to be a fallacy, but if the smart and well-funded supporter of a conclusion presents you only with only one argument for a conclusion, and that argument is bad, then that is in fact evidence against the conclusion. A smart supporter would ordinarily not present a bad argument if a good one were readily available.

This finally brings us to the tu quoque fallacy “that attempts to discredit the opponent’s position by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with that position”.

Let’s make an example. Imagine you’re at the horse track and someone tells you Red Octopus is going to win big. You hear a long list of convincing reasons why this is likely to happen. You are convinced and are ready to place your own bet. Just as the person is leaving though, you catch sight of their own ticket, which has a large bet placed on Blue Squid.

By deductive logic, the fact that the person made a bet inconsistent with the claims doesn’t reflect on the validity of the claims. If you’re actually using your head though, you won’t put a dime on Red Octopus.

We don’t have the information required to disprove the person’s claims, but we have strong evidence that the person disbelieves them. Strong evidence isn’t proof, but it isn’t nothing either.

But is the fact that a person disbelieves an argument reason to doubt it?

Yes, it is! The reason people ever bother asking questions is because we believe that other people’s beliefs have evidentiary value. It’s the reason when someone answers a question we don’t discount any answer that fails short of a deductive, logical proof.

If you step through a typical list of fallacies, you’ll see this pattern again and again. Drawing a conclusion consistent with the evidence is labeled a “fallacy” only because the evidence falls short of deductive proof. They are a great way for smart people to make themselves stupid.

Image credit: vincent easley

Image credit: vincent easley

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73 thoughts on “Lists of Fallacies Have an Important Shortcoming

  1. This is a good post, and it brings to mind NN Taleb’s discussions of probability in *The Black Swan.* He puts on a dialogue between himself, “Dr. John,” and “Fat Tony”:

    NNT: Assume that a coin is fair, i.e., has an equal probability of coming up heads or tails when flipped. I flip it ninety-nine times and get heads each time. What are the odds of my getting tails on my next throw?
    Dr. John: Trivial question. One half, of course, since you are assuming 50 percent odds for each and independence between draws.
    NNT: What do you say, Tony?
    Fat Tony: I’d say no more than 1 percent, of course.
    NNT: Why so? I gave you the initial assumption of a fair coin, meaning that it was 50 percent either way.
    Fat Tony: You are either full of crap or a pure sucker to buy that “50 pehcent” business. The coin gotta be loaded. It can’t be a fair game. (Translation: It is far more likely that your assumptions about the fair-business are wrong than the coin delivering ninety-nine heads in ninety-nine throws.) (p. 124)

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    • I’m reminded of the fact that I rephrase of Sherlock’s rule. (I used to think this was Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, but I’m suspecting instead it might be Robert Anton Wilson.)

      Sherlock’s rule: One you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth.

      But, this is nonsense. The exact opposite is true.

      At some point, impossible becomes more likely than improbable, or, more specifically, something you have *decided* is ‘impossible’ is more likely than vastly improbably things.

      I.e., I know teleportation is impossible, but then I suddenly find myself in Australia, with no time having passed. So, ‘logically’, I am having a very realistic hallucination, which is merely very improbable, or I have teleported there, which is ‘impossible’. So the ‘logical’ conclusion is I’m hallucinating.

      …except, no, it’s not. Even ignoring the fact that ‘I have gone crazy and started having realistic hallucination’ is never a good conclusion to make(1), it’s not even the most likely. What is the most likely thing is that *I have misjudged the odds of teleportation*.

      This is because there’s no such thing as ‘impossible’ things, and there are a good subset of things we literally have no idea how ‘probable’ they are.

      Also, it’s rather hilarious to see someone talking about how logical fallacies only work in a universe of absolute truths decreed by God, and we should talk about probabilities instead…

      …when most people talking about *probabilities* are doing the same thing, where their thought experiences somehow have probabilities decreed by God, or they have simplified everything to coin flips.

      Claims are not assigned by all-knowing teachers, but *neither are the odds*.

      1) You should never assume you’re having a fully realistic hallucination, because there is no possible way that you can make better choices with that assumption. If it is true, you’re basically screwed anyway…you might want to talk loudly about what you’re seeing, so others can deal with you, but other than that, behave as if what you’re seeing is true. And, of course, that isn’t even how hallucinations even work.

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  2. Just going to copy my comment from one of those threads into this one:

    I think you’re misunderstanding the dynamic here. There is a very real sense in which, even when we’re considering arguments (and not just practical ones, but all the more with practical ones), their implications for life as demonstrated by the behavior of those who convey the arguments are relevant. If I argue that X will always lead to Y, and so I adopt Z, and I myself always end up at Y, then at least to the extent that avoiding Y is the reason why people tend to pick Z over X, my argument against X in favor of Z is called into question. If everyone who argues against X because Y, and chooses Z instead also ends up at Y, then the argument against X is pretty much out the window, right?

    Since we raised the spectre of Schopenhauer elsewhere in the thread, someone writing of Schopenhauer once said, “I profit from a philosopher only insofar as he can be an example… But this example must be supplied by his outward life and not merely in his books—in the way, that is, in which the philosophers of Greece taught, through their bearing, what they wore and ate, and their morals, rather than by what they said, let alone by what they wrote.” And again, there’s something to be said for this: if one has a philosophy, one should be able to live it, and if one loves it enough to hold it, one should love it enough to live it.

    But none of this reflects the argument that you have made, which is that because certain individuals singled out by you, because they are powerful or visible, have failed to live the sort of moral life they are using to condemn the choices of others can’t be used to judge the arguments they used to condemn the choices of others unless a.) it was the arguments themselves (or the philosophy underlying it) that led them to fail to uphold the very values they claimed to be promoting, and b.) their behavior is representative of the people who share those values and arguments. You’ve shown neither of these things.

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    • But none of this reflects the argument that you have made, which is that because certain individuals singled out by you, because they are powerful or visible, have failed to live the sort of moral life they are using to condemn the choices of others can’t be used to judge the arguments they used to condemn the choices of others unless a.) it was the arguments themselves (or the philosophy underlying it) that led them to fail to uphold the very values they claimed to be promoting, and b.) their behavior is representative of the people who share those values and arguments. You’ve shown neither of these things.

      I tried clearing this up a bit to see if it made sense: [I]ndividuals have failed to live the sort of moral life they are using to condemn the choices of others can’t be used to judge the arguments they used to condemn the choices of others unless the arguments themselves led them to fail to uphold the values they promote or their behavior is representative of people who share those values and arguments.

      There’s a missing thing here; and that’s the consequences prescribed for violating the moral judgments; and failing to admit to and accept those consequences for oneself even as you argue that other should bear them.

      Hypocrisy undermines one’s arguments in much the same way that one bit of wrong information in a news report undermines the entire report, even if all the other facts presented are correct.

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      • Hypocrisy undermines oneself and, to some extent at least, one’s moral credibility. It does not undermine one’s moral positions, unless they are dependent entirely on that credibility.

        If everyone or the majority of the people who oppose gay marriage for “sanctity of marriage” reasons cheat on their spouses or get divorced or what have you, then there may be a case that their reasons are bullshit. If a few high profile proponents of such arguments do so, it just means their advocacy carries no real moral weight.

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        • Personally, I think much of the more strident moralizing flows from people who, in trying to exert control over themselves, instead try to exert it over others, “Don’t do what I do, do what I say,” and so it does suggest that their moral positions lack credibility at a most basic level. It’s not the drum and strang of families and communities seeking moral center, it’s the credibility of leaders who stir that energy; often doing so based on their own shortcomings but without dealing with their shortcomings.

          Newt Gingrich has no moral credibility to discuss family values, he has none.

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      • , you might be right as a purely descriptive matter. Hypocrisy might undermine people’s confidence in the moral judgment of the hypocrite. Nevertheless, there is a separate question as to whether such a belief revision on other’s part is rational. Merely saying that lots of people form beliefs in that way does not make it rational.

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        • I disagree; I think it’s highly rational. We cannot know everything we need to know to make a rational decision about most things, so we rely on symbols and perceptions and signaling to some great degree.

          Not overwhelming oneself is, in fact, a rational decision.

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  3. I remember Copi’s book from a philosophy class that I took in college many years ago. There’s an entire branch of study dedicated to evaluating arguments where the propositions have truth values aren’t always 1 and 0. It’s called fuzzy logic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic It’s an unfortunate name, but a useful set of tools addressing the very problems that you discussed.

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  4. You mention deduction, but fallacies do have a secondary (and much more often used) purpose: as a debating tool, carefully used not to discover truth but to dissuade observers from accepting evidence that does not support your position.

    This very much supports your OP, obviously.

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  5. In the world of formal deductive logic, a proposition like “All Eskimos like fish” is not proven until you have assessed the position of every last Eskimo (or survey everyone who doesn’t like fish and find that none of them are Eskimos).

    I think it’s more than that, actually. It’s proving that any Eskimo likes fish (that is, even Eskimo’s who aren’t part your sample, eg, dead ones, future ones, hidden ones…). Which means, in the world of deductive logic, that liking fish is a necessary (not contingent) condition for being an Eskimo.

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  6. A few points:


    Probability theory is really nice, and indeed it is mathematically sound. However, no one actually uses it the way the “Yay Bayesianism!” articles talk about. There are a couple reasons for this. First, it is computationally intractable, which is to say, in a large, multivariate probability space (that is, any useful probability space), the various degrees of independence and the shape of the conditional probabilities, which is were the interesting data is found, are computationally intractable. All real-world work based on these principles will use some abstraction of the full Bayesian methods, often graphical models in the style of Judea Pearl. Choosing such an abstraction weakens the general mathematical soundness.

    (This is to say, you’re making assumption that might not be correct. These are assumption about how to apply Bayesian methods, so you cannot account for their choice in the model.)

    (Highly technical point: there is probably a fixed point of “probabilistically model your choice of a model within your model,” but it is unlikely to be Turning computable. I haven’t proven this, nor seen it proved. Call it an educated guess.)

    The second reason no one uses this stuff the way you see in articles is this: Which variables should I measure? What should I consider “A proposition”?

    After all, we are not trying to find the truth or falsehood of individual propositions. Instead, we are trying to find out how things fit together, and what effects an action will have, including hard-to-measure second order effects. (This is the “law of unintended consequences” stuff.) Choosing what measures we take, and what we cannot measure, but believe is a confounder, and so on, shape the outcome entirely.

    tl;dr beware toy problems you see in blog articles.


    On this:

    A smart supporter would ordinarily not present a bad argument if a good one were readily available.

    The problem with this is that the public discourse on most controversial topics is pretty terrible, and do I want to rest the validity of transgender rights on arguments made by loud activists on television? Or, instead, would I hope that those who are undecided about transgender rights would deliberately seek out better arguments?

    If I by chance make a bad argument, but on a topic that is true, should I hope that others do not dismiss the issue, but that instead they look a little bit deeper, keep an open mind, and look critically at any new evidence that comes, before they reach a stern conclusion?

    How should I act when someone makes a bad argument?

    Thus much rests on what we mean by “a smart supporter,” because it might not be so obvious. When hearing about a controversial topic, the people I end up hearing were likely not chosen because they are “smart,” but instead because they are loud, or well positioned in the media, or entertainingly horrible. (For instance, right now who seems to be getting the most attention about transgender rights?)

    (Trust me, the trans community did not vote Caitlyn fucking Jenner to be our spokesperson.)

    I might dismiss “The Republican Party,” insofar as it seems to be full of idiots who creep into its power structure. This is not the same as rejecting conservative argument, where we might rightly assume the smart proponents are not to be found where TV cameras are pointing.

    (I mean, obviously I do reject conservative argument, but it would be foolish to base that opinion entirely on the buffoons on Fox News.)


    Much human insight seems to arise from “system 1” style thinking, and often a person will have some kind of intuition about a problem that is difficult to communicate or prove.

    Which fine. The point is, we then engage in “motivated reasoning,” and find what arguments we can to support our points. It is as easy to dress up these beliefs in “Bayesian drag” as it is in “classical logic drag.”


    Most attempts at “rational discussion” are pretty irrational, and the “moves” of using “fallacies” seem neither worse nor better than the “moves” used by the LessWrong crowd (which seems to be the epicenter of much of this development). That crowd is certainly pretty smart, but they are just as quick to deploy “cached responses” as any other group.

    Mostly they just link to the sequences and then get smug.


    On the other hand, I agree strongly with the LessWrong rationalist mantra:

    If it is true, I want to believe it is true. If it is false, I want to believe it false.

    A bad argument my a ninny on television is not much evidence either way. Most arguments by everyone are bad.

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      • As I’ve heard it elsewhere, Caitlyn Jenner has chosen to become the stereotypical male’s vision of the stereotypical woman. It’s not so much “discovering a true identity” as it is “cosplaying a sexy chick”.

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          • :rolleyes: Wasn’t saying it myself, bro. This is what I’ve *heard* people say, and I was passing it along as a response to Doctor Jay. I’m not claiming to be anything at all as regards the transgender community.

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                  • – I think you are misunderstanding what is saying. He himself is making no such argument. Rather, he is relaying to his understanding of why some people may be less than thrilled about Caitlin Jenner’s actions as a high-visibility trans representative/advocate.

                    You also came in snarking “TLDR” at , who is not only just about as far ideologically as you can get from Density Duck, but is herself a trans woman, with a vested interest in the topic.

                    Basically, it looks you came loaded for bear, without really understanding what was going on. Take a breath, or else people are going to assume you are here to troll.

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                    • I don’t think Brian’s here to troll. He’s been here commenting for a while.

                      Plus, I very much get that this is a topic that makes people see red. I assume that when someone loses it at moments like this, it has a lot to do with all of the constant stuff that goes on all day everyday prior to these kinds of comments just as much as it does the comments that set people off.

                      IOW, since the one of the goals of the denizens of the intertubes and social media seems to be to drive people crazy by offending them, it shouldn’t be so spurning when someone feels like they’re being driven crazy.

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              • Aaaaand I think that’s enough for this sub-sub thread.

                DD — when people ask a specific person (that isn’t you) a specific question (that isn’t directed at you), please try not to throw a match on it to see if you can make the site flame up. Thanks in advance.

                Brian — admittedly, our standards are probably few and far between to the outside observer. But even *I* get a little uncofmy when the threads are used to call people the c-word, the n-word, the r-word, etc., even when inserting the “word” part.

                Your overall point is perfectly fine, but maybe not the c-word in the future. Thanks in advance.

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                • “please try not to throw a match on it to see if you can make the site flame up.”

                  I was anwering the question. If anyone started a fight, it was Brian. I don’t know what his baggage about this is.

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                • DD probably doesn’t even realize he’s being a “type.”

                  Which is to say, there is this thing where right wingers and radical feminists will uncritically repeat each other’s positions, but only when attacking trans people. (And also sex workers, but anyway.) I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, as both groups hold trans women in equal contempt —

                  but still, talk about strange bedfellows.

                  Anyway, the argument that DD was making rests on the radfem premise that women who try to look beautiful are submitting to the patriarchy and thus bad.

                  Which, nonsense. But anyway —

                  The argument then goes on to suggest that trans women do this to excess, in fact they do it singularly, in fact this is all you need to understand about trans women. Thus trans women are uniquely bad and the most terrible agents of patriarchy.

                  Again, the first premise is nonsense and so the conclusion does not follow. But more, it’s completely false to suggest trans women are more likely to be feminine or submissive, compared to cis women. We are not.

                  It’s true that in the 1970’s, when much of the radfem theory about trans women was first developed, trans women were required by doctors to present hyper-femininine and to be appropriately womanly, which in the minds of sexist doctors meant pretty and submissive.

                  (I’m not exaggerating. Doctors would comment in their notes that they found attractive trans women more likely to be telling the truth about our condition. They were too stupid to realize how creepy this was.)

                  Anyway, these arguments largely died out as the second wave died out. Nowadays you mostly only hear them from TERFy retreads and the occasional right winger, who when presented with an opportunity to express contempt for trans women will not hesitate to repeat the blatherings of some 70’s-era lesbian separatist.

                  There is a nice social science research paper waiting behind all of this.

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                  • “Anyway, the argument that DD was making rests on the radfem premise that women who try to look beautiful are submitting to the patriarchy and thus bad.”

                    I’m not making an argument. I’m passing on what other people said, in response to a question that was asked. And I made that clear.

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                    • Yup. I thought you made it clear. You might have linked an argument and said so-and-so says; you might have disclaimed agreement, all of which might have made it more clear, but I do not think you trying to flame things or whatever, if that’s any comfort,

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          • DD is not a “friend” to the trans community.

            Regarding Jenner, it’s a free country and she has exactly as much right to be a tawdry tabloid icon as the rest of her family — which is, sure she can do it, but I don’t have to like it.

            Try to imagine sitting in a movie theater with a friend, when they decide to show some shitty trailer for some trans-themed thing. Which okay, it’s good they’re making stuff with us in it — although cis people don’t make stuff that is truthful about us, because the public is not interested in our real lives —

            Which actually our real lives are hella boring. Our genders are boring. Our transitions are boring. Our surgeries are boring. Our junk is boring.

            Tranny sex is boring. (Well actually, no, that part is pretty fun.)

            Anyway, we’re really fucking boring people. I mostly talk about math.

            Anyway, blah blah blah. I can go on about how the media sucks and literally everything they say about trans people is shallow false nonsense created to tweak the sexual preoccupations of cis people, and has not much to do with us.

            Which actually maybe that’s kinda exploitative, since people think that stuff is true and then decide how to treat us based on that shit.

            You know, like pass laws about us.

            But anyway! (I’m ranting here.) I’m in the movie theater. A preview for a trans thing comes on. A bunch of bro-dudes are in the next row.

            I get to hear a group of bro-dudes say dumb shit about trans women. They are just heee-laaarrr-eous.

            (They’re not hilarious.)

            Which, you know, shit like that gets old. Every asshole has an opinion about me, which many seem eager to share.

            So now we have Caitlyn in the media, a “big story.”

            But it’s a boring story and now I can’t just go sit at a bar without other patrons rambling on about dumb shit.

            I mean, it’s not like they really engage with the issue, really learn, really think. It’s just — you know — a great big dick joke at my expense.

            I suppose this isn’t really Jenner’s fault exactly. She’s trying to navigate the same shitty, transphobic culture as the rest of us.

            But still, what the fuck does she know about living trans, the long crushing drag of being “out”? The stuff she has to talk about, the self realization, coming “out,” transition, hormones — this is such a small part of what we are, so cliché and overdone. We’ve heard this story before, and cis people find it endlessly entertaining, but don’t seem to care about the rest of our stories.

            Ain’t Jenner’s fault, but she chooses what role she plays in the mess. For example, she could stay away from the cameras for a few years, until this living as a woman stuff has sunk in.

            In the meanwhile, Janet Mock deserves more attention. As does Laura Jane Grace. As does Imogen Binnie. These are women with shit to say.

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            • Oh, let me add, from a theoretical perspective, this is an issue of hypervisibility, which the best run down of the topic is from Trudy:

              Hypervisibility but as a stereotype, a punchline, or a controlling image is not respect. It is not adoration. It most definitely is not love. Ever. Being a Black woman means being regularly seen, but never for who I actually am. It means appearing in spaces but only as a stepping stool for Whites, Black men and even some non-Black people of colour. It means that whenever I discuss a dearth of nuanced (not necessarily “positive” now, as that can be dehumanizing and one-dimensional as well), dynamic, and complicated portraits of Black womanhood appearing in the media and for people interacting with Black women to treat us as nuanced, dynamic, and complicated beings, what humans are, I regularly receive responses that amount to “at least you are seen” by non-Black people of colour, “well that’s what y’all are like” from Black men and “well, you should be thankful that we have not completely erased you” by Whites. However, I do not want to be seen, consumed as a non-human product, appropriated, plagiarized, trolled or threatened because “at least” that is some form of attention…that I did not ask for in the first place. The attention economy is a plague. [http://www.gradientlair.com/post/73378519207/black-woman-hypervisibility-marginalization-social-media]

              Obviously she is talking about black women, but the analogy to other groups should be pretty obvious.

              Anyway, I am suggesting that Jenner is going to mold herself to be an easy to consume hypervisibility product. She might over time rise above this, but given her track record as a Kardashian, I would be surprised.

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              • Jenner is going to mold herself to be an easy to consume hypervisibility product. She might over time rise above this, but given her track record as a Kardashian, I would be surprised.

                I said this the other day on another thread, but Jenner’s penetration of (and apparent thirst for) the public consciousness long predates her Kardashianness.


                After Olympic success, Jenner decided to cash in on celebrity status, requiring her to forgo any future Olympic appearances. Her agent, George Wallach, felt at the time that there was a four-year window as holder to the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” to capitalize upon. Wallach reported that Jenner was being considered for the role of Superman, which ultimately went to Christopher Reeve. She was also considered for a dog food commercial.[40] Soon after the Games, Jenner appeared on the front of Wheaties brand breakfast cereal as a “Wheaties champion”, being the second of role model athletes who appeared as spokespersons for the brand.

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            • Ain’t Jenner’s fault, but she chooses what role she plays in the mess.

              She’s is one of those people that did something famous once, and have been living off that fame ever since. I find it hard to care about such people. At least she’s originally famous for being skilled, instead of a sex tape or just being a rich attractive person, but still.

              But, in an odd sense, that does make her more ‘courageous’, sorta. Like you said, she could have, a decade ago, refused to get back in the public eye, and silently transitioned without anyone really noticing. Or a year ago, when her marriage fell apart, re-disappeared from the public eye…she’s wealthy enough, IIRC.

              So I have oddly mixed feelings about her. I’m not a fan of most people that choose to be famous as a profession…but *someone* has to be the first famous person to do this in front of the public, and better a famous person who *wants* to be there than someone unwillingly forced into the spotlight. (1)

              Of course, most famous != best spokesperson, but there’s no way of stopping the media from doing that. The media outlets that already *were* taking trans issues seriously will still be booking Mock and the others. The ones that weren’t will be booking Jenner, and that’s probably better than *nothing*.

              1) Actually, we already had that…Chelsea Manning. Of course, she physically couldn’t be a spokesperson.

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              • — She’s not the first famous person to do this. Nor is she the first trans woman to become a huge media darling (that honor goes to Christina Jorgensen).

                She might be the most famous person to transition. (I don’t think people like Laura Jane Grace or Lana Wachowski had the same profile.) And she is (so far as I can think of) the first big tabloid star to do so. So there is that.

                In any case, beyond all the media analysis, this affects my day to day life. Hypervisibility has a direct and immediate effect on me. Just walking around in public it is there.

                And yeah, that stuff was latent in the culture before Jenner came along. If it was not her, it would be other stuff (such as the trans related movie trailer I referenced in my other post).

                But still, right now it’s Jenner, and it’s big, and it’s nauseating. It turns up the volume knob big time.

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                • Nor is she the first trans woman to become a huge media darling (that honor goes to Christina Jorgensen).

                  Yes, but she became famous afterwards. (IIRC) Half the thing with Jenner is that she was very visible *before* coming out.

                  As for, Lana Wachowski, despite being a well-known director, she doesn’t really count as ‘famous’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her give an interview, now that I think about it. (And I have the sort of genre tastes that mean her and her brother are exactly the sort of interviews I would have stumbled across.)

                  I admit I don’t really know about anything about Laura Jane Grace. Don’t know anything about punk rock. She’s not famous enough for me to have heard of…of course, for what it’s worth, two years ago, I couldn’t have told you who Bruce Jenner was, either, except ‘Some vaguely famous person I heard mentioned by news, but have never cared enough to look up who he is.’.

                  She might be the most famous person to transition.

                  That’s sorta what I was getting at. And not just famous…*tabloid* famous.

                  But still, right now it’s Jenner, and it’s big, and it’s nauseating. It turns up the volume knob big time.

                  I have to suggest that this is something that *had* to happen, at some point, on the way to normalizing trans people. I’ve heard people compare it to Ellen coming out, and while that is a bit trite, it’s not entirely wrong.

                  But, yeah, it’s probably annoying as hell to suddenly have more attention. Even ‘well-meaning’ questions by curious people would get tiresome after a while (As I heard Janet Mock explain once, it’s normally considered somewhat rude to ask people questions about their genitals.), and I’m sure ‘well-meaning’ is not a good description of some of the attention.

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                  • — Yeah, it “had to happen at some point” is true, but darnit I wish we’d had an Ellen-style coming out and not quite this.

                    I mean, a lot of this is about subtle shades rather than bold hues — and I don’t want to sound like I hate Ms. Jenner, cuz I don’t. But I like DeGeneres in ways I do not like Jenner.

                    I dunno. I feel like —

                    It’s like this: Jenner is not the first trans woman the public could glom onto and make a “big deal.” Janet Mock exists. Laverne Cox exists, and both of those women did make some media splash, but not this kind of splash.

                    And I think because neither figure was quite willing to become a tabloid darling. Jenner is.

                    And the public wants what it wants, and it does not want to consume us from a place of dignity, so neither Mock nor Cox would do, since they both knew how to stick up for themselves and tell interviewers to stuff it.

                    (Plus there’s probably some race stuff there also. But anyway.)

                    Neither would Laura Jane Grace quite do — and not cuz punk rock, but because she would never submit to the camera the ways that the salacious public wants.

                    I mean, look, let’s be blunt. Go look at Jenner’s big cover picture. Notice something?

                    What part of her body does the camera invite you to focus on? Why?

                    (Am I the only person who noticed this?)

                    Actually, I don’t exactly blame the photographer and producers for choosing that. It seems — I dunno — kinda to have a few levels of irony. But I bet the public hasn’t the insight to know what is happening. I bet they won’t see any need to self examine the direction of their gaze.


                    And neither would Imogen Binnie do, since she’s a raw voice and the public doesn’t want to be challenged.

                    On and on, I can name trans woman after trans woman who was “available” for attention, but none of them are what the cis public wants.

                    Julia Serano. Sibil Lamb.

                    Yeah, any big burst of attention is going to suck. But this big burst of attention sucks in particular ways.

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  7. I notice that the phrase “inductive reasoning” is absent so far from this discussion. Absolute proof and certainty are not a criterion for induction, inductive reasoning helps us get to the truth in ways deduction cannot, by taking note of the strength of evidence and the strength of what is reasonable and expected based on available evidence.

    To the inductive reasoner, the tipster at the track offers arguments in favor of betting on Red Octopus. Those arguments are just that, arguments. They may contain evidence (“Red Octopus won his last three races by five of more lengths each.”). But the fact that the tipster has bet on Blue Squid is also inductive evidence. That, too, is not dispositive: the tipster may actually think that Red Octopus is most likely to win, but perhaps has made a mathematical calculation that the odds on Blue Squid are disproportionately high compared to Blue Squid’s chances of winning.

    Nevertheless, it’s evidence of what what the tipster thinks the smart bet is. A deductive reasoner may well look at this evidence and decline to bet on Red Octopus. But it takes induction to go the next step and bet on Blue Squid.

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    • That’s a funny take on voting.

      I loved Drum’s last graf, where he (so he says,) gives his preference:

      As it happens, my own guess is that highly engaged voters probably vote more stupidly than people who live normal lives and don’t even know what GDP is, let alone whether it’s gone up or down under the current occupant of the White House. If I had my way, anyone who shows an actual interest in politics—all of us who read and write this blog, for example—would be deemed obviously neurotic and forbidden from voting for dog catcher, let alone president. People like us would get to rant and rave and publish op-eds, but only people who are bored by us would actually get to vote. Any objections?

      Neurotic I say. Obviously not fit to make a rational choice.

      We are back to a successful investment strategy being monkey’s selecting stock with darts as the preferable alternative to hedge funds. My personal take is that this topic reeks of Heisenberg’s uncertainty; and it all depends on which way you look and what you measure, and while you’re doing one thing, someone else looks the other way and measures something different.

      And both answers are true.

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  8. (Sorry for having missed this until now, I think, but then maybe not, as everybody tends to hate the position that I not only take, but blindly and angrily defend.)

    A question perhaps – when you’re arguing with someone, are you trying to are against that person or against the arguments. My bet would be that the people outraged at my position are very good at ignoring the person and simply having at the arguments themselves. That would preclude the sort of “I don’t believe the thing that YOU’RE saying because I know that YOU’RE a hypocrite!” position that I like to take. Because I’m arguing with that person, and if that person has lived a life that runs counter to the argument that he’s making, I have no interest in the argument being made. The personal hypocrisy undermines it to such an extent that believing his/her claims becomes not only impossible, but a total waste of my time.

    If your interest is in arguing against the idea, create whatever little fun rules you’d like against what is and isn’t allowed to be said, but if I didn’t sign up for that game – and I was never smart enough to join the debate club – I don’t see why I’m bound by its rules.

    Sidenote – when I was a kid, I would occasionally get in fights. I’m not proud of this, but it happened, usually with my friends. Anyway, I always went straight for the face. And I always got the same, “Why are you hitting us in face when we fight?” complaint, as if there are rules man. But I didn’t want to be in fights, and it seemed to me that going straight for the face ended fights as quickly as possible. So I always went for the face. Was I bound to a set of fighting rules I never agreed to. I tend to think not. I suppose the members of the debate club think otherwise.

    Such is life.

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