Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Logical Fallacies - Appeal to Antiquity

I bumped into a post on facebook that led to a 115+ comment thread recently. During the discussion I was accused of committing a textbook example of tradition fallacy, also known as the appeal to antiquity. On the linked website listed above, it is defined as this:

"An appeal to antiquity is the opposite of an appeal to novelty. Appeals to antiquity assume that older ideas are better, that the fact that an idea has been around for a while implies that it is true. This, of course, is not the case; old ideas can be bad ideas, and new ideas can be good ideas. We therefore can’t learn anything about the truth of an idea just by considering how old it is."

I agree that age alone cannot judge veracity. With that being said, it cannot be entirely discounted as it is still an item of corroboratory evidence. I say this because if an idea survives thousands of years, there is clearly support for it. One must ask why it is supported and if it has been challenged seriously with directly opposing evidence. There are plenty of ideas that come and go out of public awareness so the ones that stick around are notable. This is because they tell us something about human psychology and speaks to the needs and perceptions of that slice of humanity in history. Therefore I disagree with the conclusion this quoted definition asserts because it states "We therefore can't learn anything..."

Going back to the reason this all came up, the trigger for the accusation of employing a logical fallacy was this:
"I understand that it is not conclusive empirical proof to quote a source in order to prove it. In the case of what we're discussing though, it is not the claims of authorship so much as the claims of legitimate historical account. We have thousands of years of a people group believing the source and it's continued propagation which again doesn't empirically prove but does at least deserve a benefit of the the doubt."

I can see where the reader could draw some associations between an appeal to antiquity and my assertion but I was not actually claiming proof due to age. I was asserting that the feat of surviving and thriving over thousands of years is not a small one. I was also asserting that the idea simply deserves more honest consideration. Granted I believe that proof can be found and will be found if it hasn't actually already, but I think it was clear I was not attempting to give longevity the entire burden of proof. Logically, there are quite a number of circumstances and actions necessary to preserve something over a single year let alone a thousand. 

In any case, the term "logical fallacy" seems to be a frequently touted one in debates in which a person's reasoning process is simply disagreed with. Fallacy is a strong word that has all sorts of negative connotations. I'd almost go so far as to say that the term "logical fallacy" is engineered specifically to add malice to a discrediting statement. Really there is either logic or the lack of it. The "fallacious" addition is really only the user's preference tag and in itself may not actually be logical regardless of the nomenclature used.

So there you have it. Call me crazy but I feel like I'm being reasonable!

place in the world

The USA has an internal problem that is having many external effects. It regards our identity and place in the world. We are no longer that little underdog nation that rose up from under oppression, we have become the primary superpower, at least in name. It is not by accident and we certainly don't seem to be shy about it. We like the notion that we're the biggest and baddest, and we want to continue that trend.
The problem is that those notions aren't helping.

Being on top always has the disadvantage of being a target everyone else is focusing on. Expectations rise, scrutiny magnifies, and when you hold power you attract those who desire it greatly. Those people tend not to be the most admirable in intention or practice. The United States have been in this position for years and as such has been experiencing the effects of what I've just described. The question is what to do about it.

When I first had the idea to post about this and started this post it was during a time when I was seeing a lot of the reaction from 9/11/2001. Bumper stickers touting the power of pride were abundant, war to rout the suspected instigators of the attacks was in swing and we were going to get our retribution. Now we've taken out both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and are nearly 10 years out from those attacks that kicked the war on terror into full gear. Still, we are in an economic stagnation and face a largely uncertain future with no clear path out. What happened? It seems that the power of pride just (predictably) turned a nation on it's side. The pride of economic product salesmen made decisions about what was or wasn't risky investment wound up profiting them alone while leaving millions more (around the globe no less) in dire straits. The wars that had good intention but poor planning have left our pride and honor in limbo as we balance the monetary and human life costs over the ability to deliver on intention and promises to peoples that have a decidedly love/hate relationship with our presence both in their homeland and in the world.

Despite it all, Americans as a people (aside from the government and it's policies) have recognizably good intentions as we pour out charitable contributions to disasters and humanitarian crises year after year both from personal donations and institutional programs. Our cultural and entertainment products still hold large sway (for better or worse) globally and ultimately the ideals our nation professes to espouse are recognized as preferable. The main issues that arise tend to come from breaching sovereignty of other areas of the globe and of course this is where it gets tricky. There were enormous wars that came out of countries expanding across their borders with hunger for more control over more. We came in to stop those countries and wound up policing the world at large. Stopping those who sought to overpower and control others was what endeared us at one point and I would argue that the same principle is at work against us now in global opinion. It's not actually just the USA although we get the focus because we're at the top, the EU is also a major player. The Western superpowers at the moment draw ire because many countries see us as creeping in with economic structures and controls which leads to political control. Essentially they see us as an invading  force that is simply (primarily) using financial might instead of military influence.

In countries with struggling economic, political, and social situations (sometimes caused by the creep of modern economy onto older, simpler lifestyles and economies) they are particularly wary and sensitive to our system's encroachments. In other major powers there seems to be a fair amount of suspicion as they deal with their own pride and ambition.  Our perception isn't helped when we wind up using military might in areas that have debatable value for the ideals we profess to hold.  It seems that at this point the main issue is what can be seen as the disconnect between stated ideals and action. Of course this is all a very complex situation and different people will have varying stated and actual reasoning for their opinions. What is clear to me is that whatever we do, it should be reflecting our strengths in a respectful and humble manner. We should concentrate on being an example to the rest of the world both in our respect of others and our rhetoric. We should support those who wish to retain their culture and boundaries as well as lend a helping hand in keeping with those boundaries. Our nation wasn't founded on world domination, it was on personal freedoms and creating a safe haven for exercising those freedoms. As good as those ideals are, it can't be forced without sacrificing credibility and credibility is something we can't afford to lose any more than it has been already.

This is a great country and I think we do a lot right, lets shed the parts that aren't helpful and continue striving towards productive goals like our humanitarian efforts at home and abroad. Lets bring back good honest blue collar work with pay that facilitates a decent lifestyle. Let's take down barriers to crops and products that are in place due to specific lobbies and unfair judgement calls. Let's let people make poor decisions and learn from them. Let's continue to clamp down on predatory practices and undue favoritism. We are a nation that is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's act like it, prideful only of the humility in which we implement whatever power we've been blessed with.