Monday, September 11, 2006

Pushing the Envelope of the Hyman Index

My apologies for what might seem like a tedious post, but Hyman’s recent rant on the moral necessity of staying the course in Iraq was so full of fallacies/propagandistic appeals that I couldn’t resist taking it apart, weasel by weasel.

Below, find the full text of Hyman’s editorial, complete with footnotes to explanations of what particular fallacy Hyman is committing and how he’s using it.

When it comes to the cut, run and hide crowd, [1] these are
some of their arguments on why America should surrender in Iraq. [2]

What does it accomplish for us? Let them deal with it. It's happening
over there. The financial cost is more than we want to spend. The cost in
American lives isn't worth it. It's not our problem. [3]

Now replace Iraq with World War I. World War II. [4] Or how
about cancer, heart disease, AIDS?[ 5] What about child
neglect, sexual abuse, homelessness or poverty? [6] What does that
say about us, as a nation, if every time we faced challenges and sacrifices that
we just give up? [7l]

As a Superpower we have certain responsibilities. [8] We
cannot solve all of the world's problems, but maybe we can make a difference
with some. [9]

The isolationist viewpoint [10] that we should ignore the global
war on terror until it's right on our doorstep [11] is naïve [12] . It didn't work in the first two world wars. [13] And this
is simply the latest world war [14] -- one against Islamic
fascism. [15]

It's sad that a nation that was known for assisting the rest of the world
in the last century would abandon 27 million peace-loving Iraqis [16] because
we've lost our nerve [17] in the war on terror and we don't care about the
plight of others [18].

1. Classic name calling, here. In addition to using meaningless and inaccurate labels (“cut and run”), Hyman’s use of the word “crowd” in this context is meant to suggest a group that’s on the margins or somehow distinctive from the mainstream. Of course, polls now show that most Americans disapprove of the war and favor some positive action to reducing our presence in Iraq.

2. This is essentially the “straw man” fallacy, with overtones of emotional appeal and false dilemma. No one advocates “surrender” in Iraq. Even if one did, exactly who would we “surrender” to? Hyman avoids the need to formulate a reasonable argument by suggesting anyone who thinks drawing down troop numbers, redeploying, setting a target date for withdrawal, etc., are for “surrender.”

3. Multiple straw men in this paragraph. Hyman both simplifies the arguments on the other side, and words them in a way that suggests narrow self-interest and a lack of empathy for Iraqis. In fact, the U.S. invasion has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, lower oil production than before the war, possibly permanent damage to Iraq’s oil fields, and a devastated infrastructure that the U.S. has failed to rebuild, resulting in misery (and hostility) among Iraqis.

4. False analogies. By comparing Iraq to the two world wars, Hyman attempts to suggest anyone who disagrees with the Bush position on the war is the equivalent of those who were against efforts that are now seen as noble and worthy. This fallacy attempts to erase important differences in the things being compared (in this case, for example, the fact that these were actual *wars* involving nation states, that the U.S. was begged to join those wars by their allies, that the U.S. didn’t enter the wars until its interests were directly attacked, etc.).

5. More false analogies. We chose to invade Iraq. We don’t have a choice about facing diseases.

6. Yet more false analogies. Like the rest, these analogies obscure the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was in fact a decision. Iraq was not a problem immediately affecting the well being of U.S. citizens. It’s also an unintentionally humorous moment, since the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to fight the “war on homelessness” or “war on poverty.” These are both far more relevant problems to Americans than Iraq, yet they’ve received scant attention.

7. Emotional appeal. The idea is to suggest that Iraq, like the war against Hitler, the fight against cancer, or efforts to combat poverty is a noble struggle that will pay important and lasting dividends if we’re just willing to stay the course. By invoking a sense of national pride being at stake, Hyman obscures the fact that some struggles are started for bad reasons, carried out poorly, and might be counterproductive. Continuing a difficult struggle is not in and of itself noble. Depending on the struggle, it might be far nobler to give it up.

8. Emotional appeal, specifically an appeal to national pride. It’s mixed with a generality, “certain responsibilities,” that is undefined.

9. Here’s an example of an appeal to moderation. Hyman sets up the point to make it seem as if continuing to fight a war in Iraq is a reasonable position, between the extremes of trying to “solve all the world’s problems” and “isolation.” This is a fallacy for two reasons. First, a “middle of the road” solution is not always a good one, and second, it assumes that Iraq was a world problem that could and should be solved through unilateral military action.

10. More name calling, again harkening back to World War II. In fact, very few opponents of the Iraq war (with the exception of some old-fashioned conservatives like Pat Buchanan) are isolationist. Most are actually very much in favor of involving the U.S. in world affairs (even to the point where they favor cooperation with allies and negotiation with foes).

11. Another straw man. No one has said we should ignore terrorism. In fact, the position that Hyman describes is a far more accurate description of the Bush administration’s attitude on September 10, 2001.

12. Name calling again. The word “naïve” suggests that the opposing side’s arguments aren’t even worthy of being rebutted, since they are so simplistic that they show no understanding of the issue. It’s a term used to dismiss an argument rather than face it. It’s also irrelevant in this case since, as we have seen, it’s being applied to a largely non-existent group (those who think we can ignore terrorism).

13. A repeat of the previous false analogy comparing Iraq to the world wars.

14. An extension of the same false analogy, with a hint of an appeal to emotion (in this case, fear) by suggesting that the war we are engaged in is on the same scale and presents the same risks as the global wars of the 20th century, while providing no evidence that this comparison is valid.

15. Emotional appeal to fear. “Islamic fascism” is, as many have noted, a meaningless and inaccurate term. It is used again to compare a current enemy to enemies of the past that are acknowledged to have been threats to our existence.

16. An appeal to pity, suggesting that to be against continued war in Iraq is to be against helping the suffering Iraqi people. This fallacy obscures the fact that much of the suffering of Iraqis is the result of the invasion and non-existent reconstruction. It also ignores the fact that a great many Iraqis want us out of their country.

17. Emotional appeal, again to national pride. It suggests that to be for any course of action other than the one Hyman champions is to show a loss of “nerve.”

18. A repeat of the appeal to pity.

In addition to all of these specific moves, you’ve got overarching fallacies that the piece as a whole commits. Notice, for example, that Hyman’s entire commentary is a case of “begging the question.” It is the morally correct choice to continue the war in Iraq, Hyman argues, because it’s the morally correct choice to continue the war in Iraq.

There’s also the fallacy of shifting the burden of truth. Rather than make a positive argument for why Americans should continue to fight and die in a conflict in which both “the enemy” and “victory” are terms that are hazy at best and undefinable at worst, Hyman topspins the argument back into his opponents’ court, suggesting they must prove why we *shouldn’t* continue to fight and die in Iraq.

Lastly, and most damningly, is what is technically called ignoratio elenchi, which basically means trying to prove one thing, but proving something else entirely. In this case, even if one grants everything Hyman says about the “global war on terror” and that we are in the midst of a third world war against the forces of “Islamic facism,” this has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping the status quo in Iraq. If there’s one thing Iraq never was, it’s an “Islamic facist” state. Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, but he was no religious zealot. It’s not at all clear that the majority of those participating in the insurgency in one way or another are aiming for an Islamic facist state, no matter how one might define that.

Which brings us to the “Big Lie” behind all of this, which is that war in Iraq was necessary, was an appropriate response to attacks by al-Qaeda, and has made us safer.

Which reminds us: “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” – George Orwell

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: Done broke my ‘puter trying to cipher it out! (Actually, it’s about 7.96)


At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Wow. Try making a schematic diagram of that decomposition! Ol Marky sure is a pro, isn't he?

If I were a truly believer in the policies of the right and believed out of thoughtful conviction, I'd be so embarrased by such a blustery moron as Mr. Hyman.

I can't believe his words resonate with more than a handful of indivuduals per Sinclair station.



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