Reductio ad Hitlerum

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” — Spock

Reductio ad Hitlerum is a bit of dog Latin for “argument to Hitler.” It’s when you compare the arguments or the person arguing to Hitler or the Nazis, specifically with the intent of calling them evil. I’m sure most people reading this have done it at some point. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss why you shouldn’t.

Being a living human being, Hitler did a lot of stuff in common with everyone. He ate. He drank. He breathed. He went to the bathroom. I have no reason to suspect he didn’t have sex. He spoke publicly. He went to school. He went to church. He sang in his church’s choir. He volunteered to serve in the military. He grew facial hair. Using the data point of “Hitler did it!” doesn’t, on its own, make it evil. Unless you’re comparing levels of racism and the magnitude of atrocities (for reference, your preferred political party losing power was not an atrocity, the Rwandan Genocide was), your comparison to the Nazis and Hitler is probably (and most likely deliberately) wildly hyperbolic and not contributing to rational conversation.

“Thomas, why are you bringing all this up? Surely you haven’t recently observed such rhetoric.” Oh, hypothetical reader, if only I hadn’t. I wish I had the creativity to make long, elaborate points about truly meaningful topics, rather than just reactions to the bad behavior I observe in social media. Unfortunately for both of us, I do not. Observe, exhibit A:

The needs of the many

Ignoring the political target here, it seems that the creators are somehow conflating altruism with Nazism, which is probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard honestly posited. I have no idea what the message of “We should take care of people” has to do with murdering a minority ethnic group, nor why I should denounce someone proclaiming Utilitarian views. What it leads me to do is classify the behavior of the person who shared it in at least one of several ways: 1) They don’t know how to identify bad arguments 2) They are susceptible to bad arguments 3) They don’t care what argument is being made, so long as it reinforces their viewpoints, and we all know how I feel about that.

What I’m really trying to say, through all of this, is that you shouldn’t do it and you should absolutely call people out when they do this. Guilt by association is a logical fallacy. Calling it out makes people think harder about their arguments, and that’s a good goal.

Thanks for reading.


Existential Crisis

As previously noted, my wife and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. Having a child, though makes the already nearly impossible task of buying a present for me even more difficult than it used to be. I don’t want much, and the things I want usually keep me occupied for every long periods of time: Book series, video games that take dozens of hours to play, entire seasons of TV shows. Those are more difficult to with a toddler.

So, this year, I decided to make it easy. I told my wife I wanted a houseplant. More to the point, a desk plant for work. I even read up on plants that are resilient and don’t require much light.

Today, we go to Lowe’s. We get to the greenhouse. They have one of my suggestions, and dozens of others as well. I’m suddenly overwhelmed. I have so many choices, how do I pick the right one? I’m suddenly going to be responsible for the care for keeping it watered and fed. What if I over/under feed/water it? What happens on days I’m not there? Does it need more soil than it comes with? Do I need to get a bigger pot?

And then my wife asked me to name it. Do plants need names? Am I really in a position to sign an identity to a mass of cells that never asked for it? Is it right to possess a life form completely agnostic and apathetic to its will? To keep it merely for my own pleasure? I was rendered incapable of justifying ever eating a salad again.

And yet, somehow, I was totally missing the complete irony that I didn’t even blink at the decision to have a kid, and that I’ve had none of these problems dealing with her. Moving on.

I was finally able to pry my brain away from the clutches of indecision and managed not only to choose one, but to name it. Good luck to both of us.

Años Quatro, "AQ" for short.
Años Quatro, “AQ” for short.

Thanks for reading, and not judging too harshly.

Four Years

I try to keep this blog as high-level as I can. I don’t post much directly personal stuff. This is because I’m arrogant enough to think I can make high-level points out of the dumb stuff that happens to me daily and that I’m capable of finding meaning in the most mundane things. I consider it a noble effort, but I’m also okay if it ends up being so boring that no one reads it and later looks like just narcissism.

Today’s different, though. Today is the first day of my 5th year being married to my beautiful, smart, sexy, caring, considerate, loving, giving, kind, generous wife who deserves way more than I’ll ever be able to give her. We’ve had our problems because we’re not perfect people, but we’re absolutely perfect for each other, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.

Children’s TV

What I remember from growing up and watching TV was mostly being entertained. If there were morals, I didn’t notice, or I didn’t notice I noticed. Obviously, as an adult, it’s easy to pick up on the themes in the shows my kid watches. I expected that.

What I didn’t really expect was the morals being taught to parents as well. For every child learning to share, there’s an adult being patient, caring, and forgiving who’s treating the child as much like an adult as they can. This episode of Daniel Tiger is a prime example. No yelling. No threats. No immediate punishments. A little song, a concession of choosing one more thing to do, and they keep on moving.

That’s tough in reality. The presentation is almost comical in how easily everything works out for them. I don’t believe it’s as far-fetched as it seems, though. It uses the idea that kids are GREAT at learning. Something that happens once is how it happens from here on out for kids. Taking a little bit of extra time once establishes the rule for the kid of “I can have a bit more fun, but the we have to go.” The worst thing that happens for the parent is that they might have to sing a silly song in front of other people.

The message to the parents, no matter what the situation, is that being caring and patient creates a great positive feedback loop, and it doesn’t make you a doormat. Adults that take the time to create an environment where the kids can learn to be better behaved make it easier on themselves later and that allows them to be more accommodating, which I guess shouldn’t be all that surprising. Stable environments help kids be stable. I like this message because it’s another tool to help me avoid having to use the philosophy of “Might makes right” in my household.

Thanks for reading.

Optimism From Otherwise Uncorrelated Data

Typically, I avoid trying to group ideas together when there’s no observed link between them. “Correlation is not causation.” There have been several new studies, though, that make me VERY optimistic about the future. Let’s get to it.

Teen Pregnancy Rates Continue to drop. That’s amazing. Not only are they declining, they’re continuing to decline. And that’s not a decrease in births. It includes all pregnancies that are reported, regardless of whether they end in live birth, abortion, or miscarriage. The rate is HALF of what it was 22 years prior. There’s a map on the page that shows regional variation. I count this as a great thing, given how socially, emotionally, and financially unprepared I expect most teenagers to be for childrearing. I’m not going to hypothesize why that may be, but I will note it exist. It’s also been shown that high school dropout rates also continue to decline, and Pew Research also published an article about Younger Americans and Public Libraries. They had several highlights, but this one stood out to me:

Millennials are quite similar to their elders when it comes to the amount of book reading they do, but young adults are more likely to have read a book in the past 12 months.

Reading is important. Spelling, too. A recent xkcd recently mentioned a study that showed that kids who text more often are better at spelling. His explanation for why this happens seems to tie all these things together for me. This is a generation where reading and writing aren’t just an integral piece of their lives, but so everyday that it would be weird day without them, and hopefully that the ease of that communication encourages more open, honest discussions and makes life better for them.

I guess what I’m saying is that the next generation has all the statistics showing that they’ve got a lot of good behavior. There’s a lot of promise for a better tomorrow, and I find that exciting. Here’s hoping the bad behavior from their elders doesn’t weigh them down too much.

Thanks for reading.

A Study Case of Rejecting Inconvenient Reality

“It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.” — Edmund Way Teale

I was recently in a discussion about spanking, and brought up this article about Harsh Corporal Punishment and a strong correlation with shrinkage in the brain. Among the responses were these nuggets (quotes have highlights for emphasis but are otherwise unaltered):

Well, and this is coming someone whose bachelor’s degree is in psychology.  I’m not going to pretend to be a psychologist, but rest assured, there is no credible research that supports these claims, just these biased non objective studies that are basically a load of opinions. Just being honest

I’ll give the person the benefit of the doubt that it was honest expression of opinion, but that shouldn’t be confused with an honest critique. Claiming that research published by the National Institutes of Health aren’t credible, well, that’s not really conducive to open, rational discussion. It’s also not discrediting the study.

Spanking can result in abuse if taken too far. I agree that these indicators would be apparent in someone with abusive parents. Again, none of those traits apply to me. I’m sure I was spanked more than once a month too lol

The “research” that was conducted only involved 1,455 young adults. That’s a VERY small group of people. I believe it would be more credible research if it was more broad. Just my opinion.

(The emphasized statement will be addressed later)
At least this one got that you should attack the methods, not the researcher. I personally disagree with their assessment of “VERY small.” Of those, 45 total qualified for the study (23 subjects and 22 controls). The worst correlation had a 3.7% of being random. If I tell you that of the 23 people who were shot in the head, all of them died, but 96.3% of them died within 30 seconds of being shot, that’s a pretty strong indication that being shot in the head is deadly. Are other things deadly? Sure. Could other things have killed them within those 30 seconds? Absolutely, probably near their typical mortality rates. People are hit by buses every day. Are 45 total people a good sample? Ask a statistician, or someone who work with statistics daily.

I turned out just fine getting switched it  whipped..

This comes out every time there’s a discussion about spanking. There are a few points here:

  1. The plural of anecdote is not data.
  2. The study differentiated between Corporal Punishment (open hand, only on the buttocks or extremities) and Harsh Corporal Punishment (at least 36 times within 3 years for at least 3 years, potentially with foreign objects). Additionally, the control group included those who received CP that didn’t qualify as “Harsh”.
  3. Claiming that your outcome wasn’t the worst says nothing about the conclusion that your outcome was worse than it could have been.
  4. It’s easy to give a pass here, but if you’re going to claim something is false because of your own condition, it’s helpful to actually have data about your own condition. The claim wasn’t that people who received HCP all became hardened criminals, it was that they had reduced brain mass where people in similar demographics who had little/no CP didn’t. I get that not everyone has access to a CT whenever they want, and I get that the most contentious topics WON’T have easy access to the supporting/discrediting data. It seems important to me, though, to address the statement itself, not just what you think it means.

The point here is not to say that spanking is always bad or that people who support it are wrong. The point is to give several examples of bad argument styles, and to note that they’re not limited to this topic.The point is that when you disagree with data, it’s on you to find better data. Anything less is intellectually dishonest and won’t get you closer to the truth.

Thanks for reading.

Thirteen Years

I’ve never really written about my experience with 9/11. There are lots of reasons for it, but as time goes on, the biggest reason is because I was really a jerk. Know that I’m as judgmental about it as you’re going to be.

September of 2001 was during my first semester in college. I was under more stress than I’d ever been in. This was the first time I’d ever been exposed to anything where I couldn’t just absorb new material, where I couldn’t keep up with the torrent of information coming at me. I was dealing with it poorly. Fight or flight is what usually takes place for most people. But, for a few of us, there’s a third option. Freeze. And, I did. I did anything that kept me from thinking about classes – movies, games, books. Anything to withdraw from reality.

On Tuesdays I had Calculus recitation, a time to ask a graduate student any questions you may have had about what had been taught the previous day, to turn in homework, and to take tests. Buried in my own worry about how I was going to keep up, I barely noted people talking about crashing planes. There was a popular First Person Shooting game at the time called Counterstrike that has teams of terrorists vs. counter-terrorists. I honestly assumed people in my dorm were talking about the game when they were talking about a terrorist attack, though I wondered why it was suddenly such a popular topic.

I have a ticket from September 2nd. It’s from the World Trade Center (building 1, I believe). Georgia Tech played Syracuse that weekend. I was in the band, and as part of the trip we were encouraged to go visit Manhattan. The group I was in was torn between going to the top of the WTC or the Empire State Building. I pushed for and we went to the WTC – it was closer, the tickets were cheaper, and I’d visited the Empire State Building in a previous trip. It was an amazing view, and I wondered aloud how likely we were to rebuild NY if something disastrous happened. It’s an excellent port, and the bedrock underneath allows the skyscrapers to be so numerous. It’s just a great spot for a city. I had no idea I’d see a demonstration of the answer being “yes” for the exact building I was standing on.

As the day unfolded after the attacks, I was almost entirely self-absorbed in the results. I didn’t know anyone directly affected by it. It was just a kind of surreal. “You know that building you were standing on? Yeah, it’s not a building any more.” It was so far away, so unconnected from me that it didn’t mean anything. What mattered to me was that my weekend trip to Panama City was going to be moved from a perfect September weekend to a frigid November one. Everything just kept on for me. Classes went on. I continued to bury my head in the sand.

In retrospect, I’m disgusted at my lack of empathy. Life ended for 2,996 people, but for me, it was Tuesday. That doesn’t make me a dictator, but it does make thinking about it a sore subject. Remembering that day is remembering what it’s like to not care about the sufferings of others and that I really used to believe that it was okay to just pretend terrible consequences don’t happen. I don’t remember horror or disgust. I remember apathy, and I don’t want to.

And, yeah, I get that’s also selfish, which is why I’m writing this down. Today SHOULD be a day of remembrance for all the direct victims and those who died trying to save others, and I shouldn’t let my disapproval of who I was prevent me from honoring them. They deserve better, and this is me trying to give it to them.

Today we remember those who died because a few people thought they could achieve their goals with violence. I hope we’re always so resolute in responding to those who choose to use fear and the deaths of innocent people as weapons.

Thanks for reading.