I meta joke once. It wasn’t funny.

As true with most of my personal guidelines, you don’t have to agree with me here. They’re mine, and I occasionally fail to follow them.

There’s a video going around showing the President saluting the Marines as he debarks from Marine One with a beverage in the hand he’s saluting with. Some people (G1) are saying that this reinforces their pre-existing idea that the President does not care about America and/or the military. Some others (G2) are saying that the first group has misplaced priorities and note that previous presidents haven’t always saluted, or saluted well. I’m not here to take sides.

I’m here to talk about our behavior, specifically talking about people talking about behavior and people talking about people talking about people’s behavior. I’ve made a general rule for myself: I try not to talk about the behavior of public figures that isn’t explicitly illegal or grossly immoral when they’re not doing whatever it is that makes them public figures. They’re entitled to their own lives and opinions. They’re fallible, and it’s only a recent development that we can document every failure, minor or major, that they commit. Any expectation that they should never be less than perfectly professional all the time is ridiculous.

The “Latte Salute” is the most recent example of why. It’s not important. Hours have been spent trying to make something meaningful out of it. Hours have been spent trying to say that meaning isn’t there. All of this time spent over something that took less than 2 seconds to happen and that no one involved took notice of at the time. The worst part is that it won’t change anything in a meaningful way. The people arguing about it aren’t going to persuade each other, and the people listening most likely had a favorite side that they stuck with. The President MIGHT be more diligent about it in the future, but G1 only cared that he made a misstep and G2 only cared that G1 was complaining. That lack of any potential productive change is what should discourage me from contributing, although sometimes it fails, and I end up talking about people talking about people talking about someone, incredibly far removed from the initial context, but just as angry as though I was the first one there. I don’t think that’s healthy.

Here’s a challenge for you:

If you’re in G1, explain what you think is going to change (other than making a lot of people as angry as you, maybe at you) by talking about it. What reasonable change can you or someone that you know make in order to make this better?

We need to be the change we wish to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

If you’re in G2, explain what you think is going to change (other than making a lot of people as angry as you, maybe at you) by talking about G1’s behavior. If you think they’re a lost cause and don’t believe you can change their behavior, consider how you might make them more willing to listen in the future.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

No matter which group you’re in, consider how you think the other group will be answering, and think about them when the inevitable next super-contentious topic comes up.

Be reasonable, and thanks for reading.


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.

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.

The Quiet

I grew up as an only child. I can’t speak for every only child, but I grew accustomed to dealing with some things better than I’ve observed people who have siblings do, such as quiet and general isolation. It was just an everyday thing. They’re enjoyable, if you let them be. They give you time to reflect and think. You have time to flesh out the skeletons of ideas that come to you over the course of the day, but can’t consider during the hustle and bustle.

With the grand invention of the Internet, though, I can talk to everyone I know whenever I want. I can discuss these ideas. I can get whatever information I need to understand anything I want better. I can put my thoughts out there in get approval and critiques in order to refine them further.

But, as most of us have discovered, at one time or another, that’s not really the way it works. Let’s ignore that people really love their cat videos. Let’s pretend forums aren’t filled with trolls and don’t act as echo chambers. Let’s even suspend our disbelief and say that people don’t willfully spread misinformation. Even with all of those caveats, it seems as though there’s this ENORMOUS hill to overcome in order to get people to take time to engage in conversations. I don’t come here to read the news, I come here to talk about the news and whatever else is on my mind. If you’re here for news, go click that link labeled “Ongoing Worldwide Data Sources.”

The lack of interactivity when I try to start discussions, though, is a bit disheartening. I talk about and share things because I think they warrant discussion. In trying to encourage discussion, I’m being passively incentivized to make whatever I’m saying as inflammatory as possible, and I’ve tried my best not to do that. Picking a fight isn’t a good way to start a conversation, and neither is using guilt (and I hope you, dear reader, do not think of this post as such).

If I knew how engage people online without feeling like a bully, I wouldn’t be writing this. I try to be the kind of person I want other people to be online – commenting back, liking, giving any indication that what they’re doing is worthwhile. I’m okay continuing to yell into the void, it just seems odd that so many people choose to be a part of it. It’s weird that, given how easy it is to share, how many people choose not to.

Thanks for reading.