The Toderonemy, Vol. I

The law, Island of Dr Moreau, What is the law?

Last week someone asked me whether I was ever going to put up my collected Laws (which are really more like axioms) as I periodically promise to do. The truth is I’ve tried unsuccessfully to put them down to pixels on more than one occasion. Whenever I set down to write them all out, however, I get to a place where I know I’m still missing a bunch and so I hold off till I remember the rest of them — and then the project slips my mind altogether for several months.

So I decided it would probably be wise to jot down a half dozen or so and then add to it over time as they come up in conversation here. I’m not sure what I should call them collectively, so for now I’m just using The Toderonemy as a placeholder. I briefly considered the Todah, and then Levititod, but ultimately decided The Toderonomy sounded funnier. Once it gets a bit more complete, I’ll figure out a better name.

Better yet, if you folks here have any Laws you’ve come up with over the years that you think should be included, let me know in the threads. Maybe we could put together a list of the damn things, and then have that ever-growing list somewhere on the site directory. In that case, maybe we call it the Book of Ordinary Laws?

My guess is that those of you who have been here long enough will have seen at least a few of the Laws below explained at least once in a post or comment of mine at one time or another. Those who are newer have likely seen me invoke one or more by name and wondered, “What the fish does that mean?” Well, wonder no more!

Here we go:


The William Shatner Fallacy

Just because you can find people on the internet that argue William Shatner is the greatest singer of all time does not mean that it is a commonly held belief.

The William Shatner Fallacy occurs when someone makes a ridiculous claim about what all/most of another group believes, and when challenged points to the fact that they can google someone on the internet that believes it.

In order to qualify for William Shatner Fallacy status, an erroneous belief must be one that requires an almost comical effort of obliviousness. Indeed, a William Shatner Fallacy is notable in that it could easily be disproven by asking any random person on the street. Examples I have encountered in real life are conservatives who truly believe that most liberals are in favor of mothers killing infants up to six months old whenever said mothers they get bored with said babies, and liberals who truly believe that most conservatives want to repeal women’s suffrage. When questioned, these people invariably point me to google a specific name of a person of that political stripe that does indeed argue just that; they believe this proves their position is accurate.

For those interested, the name this Law comes from a discussion I once had with a country-western fan who “proved” to me that fans of rock and pop music had no ear for music, because fans of rock and pop musical all believe that William Shatner is one of the most talented singers in history. When I explained that rock and pop fans really, really don’t believe this, he referred me to a guy on a blog who both liked rock and pop music and thought William Shatner was one of the most talented singers in history, and then declared the case closed.

William Shatner "Sings" 'Rocket Man' (1978) – BEST QUALITY!


The Augusta National Rule 

The Augusta National Rule states:

People who are OK with discrimination as it occurs today believe they would have been opposed to identical discrimination against others in the past.

I first came up with the Augusta National Rule many years ago, back when the well-known golf course/country club famously did not allow blacks to become members. At that time, there were a lot of people that supported Augusta’s right to do this. However, whenever I asked a supporter of Augusta’s “right” to discriminate against blacks if they would have felt that way back when the club refused to admit Jews, the response was always, “Of course not! I was was/would have been on the front lines of fighting them on that clearly bigoted and hateful policy!”

And then years later after blacks were allowed to join but women weren’t, people would strongly defend Augusta’s no-woman policy, but swear up and down that they had always been against the hateful ‘No Blacks’ policy.

Now when I ask someone who is argues about their lack of “religious freedom” if Augusta should be allowed to bar entry for LGBTs, I get the identical answer I got ten years ago for women and twenty years ago for blacks. (And, I assume, would have gotten a century ago for Jews had I been alive to ask the question.) Likewise, those same people are deeply and sincerely offended that I would even ask about women, black, or Jews being barred, because of course they would never support such bigoted, backward, and hateful shenanigans.

(BTW: You can make your own version of the Augusta National rule, and it can be about any kind of restrictions on protected classes, such as “Was it OK for the citizens of King County to block the building of synagogues in1955?/Is it OK for Rutherford County citizens to block the building of mosques now?”  But I prefer the Augusta National question, because for most of us the question of what membership privileges the rich and snooty should be allowed is less of an emotionally charged, baggage-carrying issue.)

2002: Martha Burk on Augusta


The ‘Failing Conservatism’ Corollary

By now everyone knows the phrase, “Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.” I don’t know who first came up with this axiom, but it’s bloody brilliant. It’s also depressingly predictive of the response of most conservatives I’ve ever argued politics with in the past decade outside of this site.

The ‘Failing Conservatism’ Corollary, then, is the other side’s version of that axiom:

Liberals/Leftists will always admit to the failings and shortcomings of any liberal/leftist elected official, candidate, or policy — with the single exception of whatever liberal/leftist elected official, candidate, or policy is being discussed at the moment, given for all elected officials, candidates, policies, and moments.”


Tod’s Law

Originally stated, Tod’s Law read:

The more likely a LoOG/OT commenter or contributing writer is to send the editors an email demanding a commenter on this site be banned or a contributing writer be removed from the mast head, the more likely it is that we get emails fro other people demanding that that person be banned and/or removed from the masthead. This remains true in regards to the number of emails as well as the degree of passion/vitriol voiced in each email.

Tod’s Law is something I first noticed two years ago in my role as an editor here at this site. However, I have come to realize it has broader applications than just LoOG/OT.

After I penned Tod’s Law, it hit me that at every place I have ever worked there was a similar dynamic that occurred with those people most likely to complain about coworkers. Similarly, in politics the candidate in a primary that’s most likely to become indignant about personal attacks/unethical tactics from other candidates is almost always the one that gets the most complaints lodged against them from everyone else on this same fronts.


The Tom Cruise Rule 

The Tom Cruise Rule, which is really about the disparity between the celebrity-level political candidates we think we support and the celebrity-level political candidates we actually support, is this :

If you have a movie about anything and you put Tom Cruise in it, will instantly and almost magically become a movie that’s about an arrogant and successful upstart who stumbles, rights himself, and Learns Something Valuable while growing as a person.  It will always be this way, because if the movie can’t be that Tom Cruise won’t show up to take the part.  

Similarly, running for high-profile, always-on-TV political offices today takes a certain kind of person, regardless of political party or platform.  If being in the spotlight and living for being told you are So Very Important isn’t your bag, you’re just not going to be that electable guy.  Being successful at national, celebrity-level campaigning and politicking today requires being the kind of personality that is a more than a little vain and self-centered.

This is why the “Washington culture” we all disingenuously claim to hate never changes. Even those elected official we elected to Shake Things Up find they really, really like it the way it is when they get there. Because if they weren’t the kind off people that lived to be part of that kind of culture, they never would have run and we never would have elected them.  It’s also why you should never be surprised (and indeed, should probably just assume) that the Boy Scout family man you were sure loved his wife and kids the way you love yours invariably turns out to be boinking someone on the side.

A Few Good Man "You Can't Handle the Truth"

Newt Gingrich; "ALL three wives would make a 'great first lady'


The Errol Flynn Fallacy

The Errol Flynn Fallacy occurs when people allow themselves to be fooled by political figures into believing things on a very tiny and arbitrary scale are actually on a ridiculously large and Important scale.

The most obvious example over the past decade has been where parties disagreed on whether there should be a 36% marginal tax rate or a 37% marginal tax rate. The difference between the two was portrayed by half the country as the difference between Liberty or Tyranny. It was betrayed by the other as the difference between an Equitable Society and an Oligarchy. In reality, obviously, it was neither. Indeed, the actual numbers 36 and 37 were rarely mentioned at all by pols or pundits, who wanted to make the divide between the two sides seem larger and more potentially catastrophic than was actually the case.

For those too young to know, the Errol Flynn Fallacy is named for the Hollywood actor and sex symbol known for playing swashbuckling roles such as Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and  Gentleman Jim in the 1930s and 40s. He was famously handsome and charming, but he was also fairly short.

Since movie producers believed a short actor would not be properly be idolized by men or lusted after by women to pull in the desired ticket sales, they went to somewhat ridiculous lengths to make him appear taller than than he was on screen. In the movie Robin Hood, for example, Olivia de Havilland was made to wear wide flowing dresses that were too short for her, so that it looked like she was standing up straight when she was in fact crouching underneath the dress whenever she was in a scene with Flynn. In other movies, you will often only see him in crowds from the waist up, because he would be standing on a box.



[Image: Screenshot from Scholastic Rock’s I’m Just A Bill, via YouTube.]

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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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72 thoughts on “The Toderonemy, Vol. I

    • I would say that Conservatism Can’t Fail, It Can Only Be Failed mainly happens with social issues. In some ways, I am sympathetic. I don’t expect sincere believers to switch ideology just because popular opinion is going against them but it does create a bind because they end up not being able to admit defeat and then they just drift further and further into the wildnerness.

      Though you also see this with tax cuts for the wealthy and GOP candidates. When are we going to get a GOP candidate that breaks from supply-side economics?

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      • Saul,

        I’ve always understood the slogan to refer to all conservative policies, but primarily economic and foreign policy. If those policies succeed, it’s cuz conservatism can’t fail! If they fail abysmally, it’s because they weren’t implemented properly or Dem obstructionists got in the way, or Putin or something.

        Well, not Putin. Never Putin.

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          • Yep. That’s basically what Tod’s saying though your version is more succinct.

            There’s also the libertarian version that rejects any and all criticism of libertarian proposals by claiming “it’s never been tried”, even if the proposal amounts to a reversion to a prior state of affairs, say before a law, regulation, or tax was imposed.

            I think Tod’s describing a human universal.

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            • I don’t think that *is* what Tod is saying at all. If he wanted to saying ‘Liberals also think liberalism can’t fail, only be failed’, he could have said that easily enough.

              Tod, instead, is saying something how liberals will always admit there are flaws in their own programs and people…except when they’re talking about them.

              Which is something I do not actually understand, but is not the same as swapping ‘liberalism’ for ‘conservativism’ in that expression.

              I’m wondering if Tod is observing the fact that liberals are willing to pass things that suck, because they are better than literally doing nothing…and of course they don’t criticize bills *while* they’re trying to pass them, but then later they point out that it wasn’t exactly the bill they wanted, but a compromise, and of course any problems are blamed on what the *other* side demanded. (Whether or not this is actually true.) The most obvious recent example: the ACA.

              This is not really a condemnation of *liberals*, everyone in politics does this…well, everyone who actually attempts to seriously pass bills, so I guess it *is* a condemnation of liberals, currently.

              And the same with electing moderate pols. The party supports them, because better them than the other side, but then complains about how they vote. Again, everyone does this.

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              • Of course, that’s not to say liberals *don’t* say ‘liberalism cannot fail, it can only be failed’. Liberals can say that too.

                That entire concept is just a close cousin of that logical fallacy I can’t think of the name of, where when *other* people do something bad, it’s an indication of how evil/incompetent/whatever they are, but when you do the same thing, you always have a ‘good reason’.

                Here, it’s when *your side* fails at something, it’s always due to outside influences or events outside your control or something unfair. When the other side fails, it’s entirely correct to have failed and proves them wrong.

                The reason that fallacy has gotten associated with conservativism is, to be blunt, that conservative has had a *lot* of epic fails of its base principles over the years. Complete and utter disasters of things that could be considered tests of their entire philosophy. Market crashes, government funding disasters after tax cuts, disastrous wars, etc.

                Liberalism usually doesn’t fail in such a spectacular manner. Liberalism might sometimes fall a bit short of its goals, but rarely appears to make things *worse*. (And, when it does appear to do that, there is, indeed, plenty of ‘that’s not really liberalism’.)

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                • Anyone (who’s sane, at least) says, “Of course policies, including no action at all, can fail. That’s why we instrument them, and re-examine them from time to time.” That may be biased. Every permanent non-partisan staffer I’ve known says that; politicians and their partisan staff, not so much.

                  All the permanent non-partisan staffers I’ve known are also big believers in the KISS principle.

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  1. Christopher Carr:
    Google suggests Errol Flynn was 6’2”.

    Perhaps that one should be the Tom Cruise Fallacy.

    All the “actor that stood on a box” web pages I can find point at Alan Ladd as being the genesis of the legend. Flynn doesn’t appear in a list of notable actors under 5’8″, so that’s more support for it not being him.

    On that not, I’m surprised that Bob Hoskins was 5’6″ – I always pictured him more DeVito-sized.

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  2. The most obvious example over the past decade has been where parties disagreed on whether there should be a 36% marginal tax rate or a 37% marginal tax rate.

    Did that really happen? What we actually got was an increase from 35% to 39.6% for the top marginal rate on wage income, and an increase in the rate on investment income from 15% to 23.8%, plus a 0.9-percentage-point increase on the top marginal rate for Medicare taxes. I know Republicans are pretty lousy negotiators, but bad enough to get there from a starting offer of 37%?

    Incidentally, including Medicare and state taxes, actual top marginal tax rates are over 50% in California, New York, and Hawaii, and in the high 40s in most other states. Note that when your marginal rate is 50%, a 1% increase in your marginal tax rate is a 2% decrease in your marginal after-tax income.

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    • Brandon Berg,

      …plus a 0.9-percentage-point increase on the top marginal rate for Medicare taxes.

      I’m not sure about the rest of it without doing some googling, but Medicare and SS taxes don’t have a progressive rate structure. If anything, the SS tax is arguably regressive in nature due to the cap on earnings subject to it (not sure about Medicare in that regard).

      Also, this:

      Note that when your marginal rate is 50%, a 1% increase in your marginal tax rate is a 2% decrease in your marginal after-tax income.

      is only sort of true and even then only when the starting rate is 50%. In that case an increase in the rate from 50% to 51% reduces your take-home on the next dollar from $0.50 to $0.49, which is indeed a 2% reduction. But note that the difference between 50% and 51% is also 2% when figured the same way, as a relative increase/decrease. And if your starting point is, say, 25%, then changing it to 26% is actually a 4% increase ( (.26 – .25)/.25 ), resulting in a 1.3% decrease ( (.75 – .74)/.75) in after-tax income. The reverse is true if you’re starting at a 75% rate.

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      • As of whenever the Obamacare tax hikes went in, the Medicare tax does indeed have a marginal rate structure, albeit with only two brackets. The second starts at either $200k or $250k, above which the employee contribution increases to 2.35%.

        The second part of my comment is precisely correct. Note that I said “marginal after-tax income.”

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          • California’s top marginal tax rate is 13.3%. 39.6% + 3.8% + 13.3% * (1 – 0.396) = 51.4%.

            Technically this is slightly off, since when including the employer-side Medicare contribution, it should also be added to the denominator. I haven’t fully thought that through, but I think I can just correct for that by dividing the rate by 1.0145, giving 50.7%.

            But apparently they also brought back the Pease limitation, which (I think) reduces itemized deductions (including state taxes) by three percent for high-income taxpayers, so that adds another percentage point or so.

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              • For reasons I’ve gone over multiple times before and don’t see any point in rehashing again, due to the effects of compounding and double taxation, investment income is in effect taxed more heavily than wage income.

                Putting that aside, in the 2011 tax year, among taxpayers with AGIs exceeding $10 million, a bit under half of income consisted of qualified dividends and long-term capital gains, which as far as I know are the only types of income subject to the ostensibly low rate. In the $5-10 million category, it was under a third, dropping down below 10% by the time you get to $1M-1.5M.

                See Table 1 here.

                2011 was a so-so year for stocks, and there were losses to carry forward, so I ran the numbers again for 2006, which was a pretty good year for stocks. This increased the numbers somewhat, to 55% for $10M+, 42% for $5-10M, 33% for $2-5M, 29% for $1.5-$2M, and 25% for $1-1.5M.

                The long-run average is somewhere in between, but I’m too lazy do this for enough years to get a good average. To be honest, I’m not 100% confident that I’m using the right numbers ((qualified dividends + net long-term gains – net long-term losses) / AGI), but I’m pretty sure I’m not making any mistakes that would dramatically change the results.

                Maaaybe I should be subtracting itemized deductions. I can’t decide whether it makes sense to do so, although it’s not really relevant to the top marginal rate anyway.

                In any case, it’s clear that except for the very richest (0.01% or so), the majority of income is subject to ordinary rates, and it’s not really even close. Brookings backs me on this (PDF). Their report shows the top 0.1% having only 35% of income as investment income, and that includes interest, ordinary dividends, and short-term gains, which are all taxable as ordinary income

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    • I think is on point when he describes it as a universal human trait because we seemed very unable (as a species) to admit our ideologies might not always work out or be wrong. So there is a Marxist version, though the one I hear is that “Real Marxism/Communism has never been tried and was corrupted by the Soviet Union.”

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  3. I don’t have a pithy name for it, but one working rule I have developed (I hesitate to call it a “law”) is, “bigotry feels itself aggrieved.” Under this working rule, people support measures they’d otherwise feel to be wrong or violent or unjust because the pose some kind of threat or represent others who pose that threat.

    If we take Tod’s Augusta National example, I’d imagine that at each stage of membership discrimination (blacks, women, gays), the discriminators believed themselves beset by a true danger. Tod alludes to that feeling with gay folks when he mentions how some cite alleged attacks on their religious liberty.

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    • This is quite true, I’ve found.

      My intuition leads me to want to question this aggreivement, to bring more clarity to it,since I think it might help.

      That is, for instance, I know a woman who tells me that, in the context of her husband’s service in the Air Force, had women tell her, “I just don’t want to have to go to church with those people,” meaning African-Americans. There is a sense of harm there, of grievance.

      I think that that’s the thing that needs to be looked at – what harm? How will be you harmed? I think the harm is real in a sense – socializing with black people would lower one’s status in the normative culture the speaker was raised in. But if you ask them that – and no sense of approbation or shame can accompany that question (that’s no mean feat!) – and plumb this you will bring this to the surface, where they themselves can see it, and see how they’ve been manipulated by their upbringing.

      This isn’t quite all hypothetical. It’s happened to me, not on these terms, but on different ones. Once I could figure out just what the harm I feared actually was, I could manage affairs and relationships on a much more equitable basis. Equality is hard work.

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      • That’s a good approach, hard to do (as you say), but worth it.

        Sometimes it’s even possible to see some legitimacy in the grievance, which makes the bigotry harder to tease out. My mother, for example, once joined a picket line to protest busing in my city. One justification for her grievance was that she preferred her kids (my siblings…I wasn’t born yet) go to a the neighborhood school just 5 blocks away instead of being bused a couple miles away. By itself, that grievance is legitimate. However, I won’t deny that other factors probably were at play.

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    • Sometimes I think we should actually spend some time and effort looking at the *psychological* reasons for racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia.

      It’s become clear, at this point, that laws against racism do not ‘work’ in the sense of ‘forcing white people to behave as if black people are people’. Instead, they work by forcing people of different races to *interact* with each other, which changes how they view each other, and changes their behavior.

      Same with sexism. The laws don’t change how men in the workplace see women…they just result in, for example, men who have female bosses, so as *the men* climb up the ladder, they are not uncomfortable with the idea. And, *finally*, we’re at the point where the generation of who climbed the ladder without ever having a woman above them (aka, the people who comprise the glass ceiling) are generally dying off.

      Now, this is, in a way, a bit obvious…but, OTOH, I don’t recall it *ever* being presented that way in school. In fact, I don’t recall the motives *for* racism or sexism ever being explained either.

      The ‘official’ story for racism, the one we teach kids, is that, for some unknown reason, a lot of white people disliked black people, and then a bunch of black people (and white people helping them) convinced everyone this was wrong by annoying them via various protests.

      That story…literally makes no sense. I mean, the motives of black people makes sense, but *why* did white people act that way in the first place? Why did they change their minds? It’s not explained at all.

      And the same thing with sexism. Why did men treat women that way for so long? Why did they fight change. And sexism is presented even stupider in textbooks…they like to pretend women were just kept from voting and stuff, when in reality women were placed in very specific boxes and moving out of that box was, if *not* punishable as an actual crime, could still get them blacklisted from society.

      No explanation of why everyone seems to think an unmarried mother *working in a mill* posed such a threat to society.

      If we actually started explaining the *motives* of historic assholes to children, they might realizes people who are *currently* assholes are presenting exactly the same motives right now…which, come to think of it, is *exactly* why we’ll never tell children about any of this.

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  4. I used to contend that the intelligence of a group of people rose in inverse proportion to its size.

    Now, I realize that this is not true. Experience demonstrates that small groups of people, and indeed even individuals, are more than capable of demonstrating forehead-slapping levels of boneheadedness when faced with important decisions.

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  5. Well, the double A rule of politics (or AA rule): the political out group will listen to its own outgroups saying they need to be MORE extreme while trying to regain power.

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  6. Regelung macht frei: A person complaining about free markets run amok will almost always be doing so in the context of talking about a problem in a very highly regulated industry, and often about a problem that is directly attributable to that regulation.

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