bellatrys (bellatrys) wrote,

Either/Or: It's (Relatively) Simple --

Logic is one of the most valuable self-defense arts out there, because what it does (one thing, at least) is create wiring diagrams of conversation, so that you can see what connects up and what doesn't, what verbal switch or combination of switches work to make something else work, and what breaks the circuit or is completely irrelevant.

What it doesn't do is give you hard-'n'-fast answers to anything: it doesn't provide proof that a verbal machine actually does what it's supposed to do (to push the analogy about as far as it can be pushed) when you turn it on, but it does help you see if a chain of if-thens actually leads where it's supposed to go, or if there's some results-fixing going on to make it "work" or avoid the problems inherent in the circuitry. It helps you sort out, using shorthand, where the bits and pieces are when you're diagnosing fallacies and figuring out what arguments actually consist of.

IOW, it's a really great bullshit-detecting device, and since bullshit is primarily a tool of social dominance, it's a really great mental shielding device if you use it in combat rhetoric scenarios, as well as helping to avoid making mistakes, yourself.

One of the critical tools in the FL kit is the separation of the word "or" into its two not-identical uses: and/or, aka "inclusive or" which describes states which may coexist, and either/or, aka "exclusive or", which describes states which rule each other out. If A is the case, then not-A cannot also be the case. (But is A the case? Depends on what A is. So it doesn't get you very far - but sometimes setting out what A and not-A are is a very big deal. Frex:

* Either A, or not-A;

* Either having been abused is excuse for abusing, or it is not;

* Either having the power to do harm justifies doing harm, or it does not;

* Either doing something good is a free pass for doing something wrong , or it isn't;

* Either wealth is the most important factor in human virtue, or not;

* Either the fact that there are other people who have done worse things is a free pass for anything not as bad as, or it isn't;

* Either having joined the military (whether or not because one has slammed all one's other doors shut) absolves one from all further social responsibilities, or it doesn't;

* Either experiencing suffering entitles one to inflict suffering, or it doesn't,

There are an awful lot of these sorts of "A" terms that are both commonly accepted in society and unstated in conversation, but these will do to start. They're unstated premises because stating them pretty much negates them, since very few people want to come right out and defend them so baldly, though very many people want to accept them, because they work pretty well at short-circuiting real arguments (this is what is known as an "enthymeme" in FL jargon - an unstated premise that seems to provide the glue between an "if A" statement and a "then B" statement while not actually making any sense) - but that's exactly why they have to be hauled out and gone over with a

If not-A (~A, !A) is the case for any of the above statements, then they simply cannot be employed - they're not defenses, they're not arguments, they're not even premises, they're just not relevant. They're non-sequiturs, just like eye color would be in any debate not about biology, and nobody would think it a reasonable response to bring them into any argument:

"You're being a jerk--"
"So? my father was a worse jerk I had major surgery you could be in Bosnia My eyes are hazel!"

"You're parked next to a fire hydrant."
"But officer, I was in Iraq I work in the ER somebody crashed into a hydrant the other day just look at these baby blues!"

"You deleted my files and the backups of them!"
"Yeah, but I sign your paycheck I could beat you up I could shoot you I have black eyes!"

"Wow, I feel awful today, I think I'm catching something."
"So? I get migraines I had major surgery My neighbor broke her leg last week I've got heterochromia!

Now, one can take a more nuanced approach and say that these As should be regarded as something more like red-green color blindness and thus taken as mitigating factors:

"You ran the red light--"
"But officer, it looked the same as the other light to me!"

At which point it might be an acceptable excuse, if the offender could show that there was no reasonable way to tell which signal was which under the circs; however, it wouldn't be if there were, in fact, other ways for someone with that condition to detect the state of the lights and thus avoid being a hazard and a menace to society - but then you'd have to say that as a result of this, people who couldn't see a full spectrum of colors shouldn't drive, the way people who can't see clearly enough to avoid running into/over other people aren't allowed to drive, the way I wouldn't and shouldn't be able to drive if corrective lenses didn't work for me or I couldn't get them - and the fact that most people with red-green color blindness do manage get around this decreased ability to detect the default color-coding means that it doesn't work as an excuse. (Very few countries prohibit driving based on dichromacy or anomalous trichromacy, though a few professions - especially where a great many lives are inherently hazarded - are barred based on testing for severity, which system is itself now undergoing testing.) And that's all it would be, an excuse for hurting/menacing others' health and lives, not an entitlement. Mercy tempers justice, not the other way round.

But as entitlement is how such A statements are usually put forth: not even "Pity me, forgive me, I did wrong BUT I have been so badly damaged I couldn't do otherwise", but So what? I'm all fucked up!" in the same way that "I could fire you if I felt like it, neener neener!" is used by bullying bosses who have gone over some line of appropriate behavior and know it, but are too arrogant to apologize and so make a boast of their threats. Yeah, and I'll be out on the streets, but you'll be DOUBLY an asshole is still true, even if we don't dare to say it.

Which is why such A statements need to be unpacked, to be taken out of the realm of mokita, of Society's Unspoken "Truths" and spelled out in all their embarrassing detail.

--Now, if such As are in fact true, then there should be no shame in stating them openly, rather than using them as unstated premises to "win" arguments: but then we must be prepared to deal with the barrels and reefer cars of worms that they bring. If after all Dives is the good guy in the parable, we ought to rewrite the Scriptures to say so! If being abused is justification for abusing, then we ought to stop trying to end the scourge of child abuse and the unjust penalization of abusers. If - only then we will have to determine where we draw the lines, and how. There is, after all, plenty of historical precedent - that's why it's called privilege, and why there used to be different rules - not just practices, but actual, spelled-out rules - for the same deeds when done by free or by slave, by man or by woman, by Christian or by Jew, by noble or by commoner, back in the Good Old Days--

But IFF - that is to say, and only if - such A statements are in fact true ones, then we should not pretend otherwise.

Yeah, it would be complete chaos - imagine the problems of having to sort out whose pain/sacrifice/power took precedence, even in a relatively simple situation like Joe Smoe With A Bad Childhood vs Dr. Jane Smoe The Heart Surgeon vs SSGT Smoe The War Hero in a 3-way conflict, let alone when Dr. Smoe The Surgeon From A Wealthy But Abusive Background gets into it with Joe Smoe The Decorated Hero From A Powerful Mafia Family inclusive-or mixes it up with Mr. Smoe The Millionaire With The Horatio Alger Story (including sex abuse and dire straits) ; where would you draw the lines? Would the power of the Mob trump the power of Mayflower money or not, and which would outrank nouveau riches? Would the pathos of a sickly childhood be more worthy than other states, or not? Would Surgeon and Sergeant be allowed immunity to traffic laws, say, or only up and until they killed someone driving recklessly? Is a surgeon above a nurse who also is a veteran AND volunteers for the Red Cross because richer & more powerful, or not? When, if ever, does pederasty become unacceptable regardless of privilege? What if the trusted lawyer who stole a small fortune from his elderly client and her blind son is also a beloved & inspiring Little League coach (to rip from local headlines) - should that service to the community get him off the embezzlement charge? How do we work this out?

These would not ever be simple problems, even if we came up with a code - or codes - of law to try to rationalize and prioritize such justicial partiality. (We could call them "Lex Agonistes," "Lex Servilius," and "Lex Potentialis," perhaps.) A sorting algorithm to figure out precedence might work, and then instead of debating principles and precedents lawyers and judges would only plug in variables and run the program. It would be more complicated than determining whether an English baronet's daughter who married a Scottish earl who then became British secretary of state still outranked the Bishop of Winchester's wife, but that's never slowed us down as a species before when it comes to creating systems that some of us can work to get ahead of the rest. (If none of the aggrieved parties could settle on whose sufferings/service/brute strength was more worthy, the solution might be to maroon all contestants on an island with axes and let them solve it by Ordeal - which at least has legal precedent, too.)

--This sounds absurd, perhaps, but then that's what running a simulation or an equation until you find the errors is all about. If we're going to allow these exceptions, then we need to be honest about them - and consistent. Problematic as hell, sure - but so is the state of simultaneously accepting and not-accepting them, and avoiding spelling it all out.

Because either that's the system you accept as the one we should be operating under, or it isn't.

Tags: bullshit artistry, dialectic, ethics, logic, metaphysics, rhetoric
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