Friday, December 17, 2010

Julian Assange sex crimes case and the never ending fallacies of the internet

By now every knows about the Julian Assange sex crimes case, and despite having surprisingly few facts on the matter, everyone has already decided for themselves whether he is guilty, innocent, a terrible rapist, or a poor victim at the hands of some evil feminists.

The facts are these-
Julian Assange is the spokesperson and editor in chief of Wikileaks, a website that publishes [leaks] information that is mostly confidential from anonymous submissions.
Julian Assange has been accused of sexual abuse against two separate women. He's denied the allegations.
The allegations came back in August, with one woman accusing him of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, and the other accusing him of rape. They both said that they had engaged in consensual sex at different times, but each had a separate occasion where it was nonconsensual, and they went to the police to see if they could make him get tested for STD's and to seek advice about their situations.
There was a warrant put out for him in August, but was quickly rescinded after the prosecutor decided it wasn't enough evidence to build a case against Assange. Since then another prosecutor has stepped in. He believed differently, and started building a case against Assange, which is why the warrant was put out again for his arrest.
These are all the facts.

Since this has become a huge issue over the past few weeks, the media has been all over it. There have been claims that it is an international conspiracy against him, that the accusers are linked to the US government, that they are merely jealous/jilted lovers, that he was seduced, that the condom broke/fell off and that not wearing a condom while engaging in consensual sex in Sweden is considered rape, that he is a rapist and that the public's reaction to this is exactly why rapists get away with their crimes...the list of assumptions goes on. I can't say whether any of these things are true or false [except for the condom law in Sweden, that's been proven false], and I have yet to really make any sort of decision on the matter, because I feel like that would be really ignorant. When a case is as prominent as this is, they withhold the details that are most important[usually]--to ensure that they can have a fair trial. I think it would really just be stupid to make judgments now, when we don't have all the details. However, that's not stopping The Guardian, The New York Times, The Australian, AOL News,, Huffington Post, or any other news sources from making their decisions. So! I have decided to make a list of the fallacies that I can find here.

The fallacy that is most striking to me is the false dichotomy. Either Julian Assange is a terrible rapist with not an ounce of respect for women, or he's a christ-like martyr for the case of worldwide free information, and all the powerful countries in the world have set him up. You can see the same thing, only stronger, against the accusers--Either they are two evil feminists who have set up a "honey trap" to take down this man, or they are the poor victims, having to try and clear their names now that they have been dragged through the mud as false rape accusers. And then, depending on who is speaking about the issue, one of those options is crossed out, made to seem too ridiculous to be true--leaving only one option.

Either this is a case of powerful governments conspiring against one man whose only mission is to shed light on information that has been withheld from all of us, or the man is a terrorist who wants to bring harm to our countries, and it is only reasonable that he would also be a bad person in other areas of life, so he must be a rapist. It has been presented as black and white, either/or, he is the best of the best and untouchable or he is the worst of the worst and deserves to be executed.

In a case as important as this, you would think that we would withhold judgment until all the facts were put before us. Unfortunately, the media has so polarized the issue that we feel compelled to accept what is given to us and choose a side--and so far all that have been given to us are speculative theories and hearsay. We cannot expect to make a logical conclusion when so far we have yet to see any logical [or even indisputably factual] evidence.

Appeal to pity-This seems to be more on the side of those standing up for the accusers--

"Claes Borgström, the lawyer for the two women whose complaints of sexual assault triggered Julian Assange's arrest, said his clients had been assaulted twice: first physically, before being "sacrificed" to a malevolent online attack. The women were having "a very tough time", he said.

A wealth of hostile material attacking the two women has appeared on the internet since August, when they took their complaints to the police. Their right to anonymity has been abandoned online, where enraged bloggers have uploaded dossiers of personal photographs, raked through their CVs and tweets, and accused them of orchestrating a CIA-inspired honeytrap operation. These online rumours were a convenient way for Assange to divert suspicion from the actual allegations, the women's lawyer said.
From this site

It's easy to stir up pity, sympathy, and empathy, especially in a case that involves rape. Personally I am very easily swayed by this, and it's hard for me to NOT feel bad for the accusers. I don't want to let my opinion on this case be swayed by that, however. I think a lot of people feel that way, but they have taken it to the extreme and have shut themselves off from hearing any new information that may come into conflict with their previous mindsets.

Ad hominem, or "against the person" fallacy is the easiest fallacy to pick out in arguments and apparently it is really prominent in this case. I think it ties in with the false dichotomy fallacy, because here you can see exactly how extreme the polarization is. Here are some examples.

Against the accusers-
"some trite feminist rhetoric"

"All that work for social status so that one may enjoy the attention of women and then a dishonest woman can take your social status and destroy your life's work with one lie."

On withdrawn consent-"It's a relatively new trick in a woman's repertoire of manipulative techniques."

"this [is] the most egregious take-down of a credible man of high status by a disreputable woman of low status in a very long time."
All four quotes from this site

"Anna Ardin is a radical *all heterosexual sex is rape* lesbian feminist."
Comments from this site

"I mainly question this vapid transition from consensual coitus to “rape”. I bet there are female (actual) rape victims who feel injury that you use the word “rape” to describe this mid-coitus change-of-mind trick. (This trick appears in feminist literature as a means for revenge.)"
Comments from this site

"The problem here is not some theoretical abstraction about the nature of consent. No, the much larger problem apparent in this situation is that Swedish leftist women are atrocious sluts."
From this blog

And then there's this entire article, which provides such gems as--

"It appears that Anna Ardin,, the spurned lover of Julian Assange, has decided to grace her radical leftist feminazi presence upon the Palestinians."

"As you may recall, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, are the radical feminists who filed false rape charges against Assange based upon some condom related events. Perhaps here she will experience real rape, the dirty little secret the Palestinians sweep under the carpet"

Which is wrapped up by the blogger's detailing of the Palestinian "dirty little secret"--that [amazingly] rape happens there as well--and then he posits this insightful rhetorical question...

"wouldn't it be poetic justice if Ms. Ardin were to experience true Palestinian hospitality?"

How illuminating.

Ad Hominem against Assange-

"And the more it goes on, the more Assange loses his cool of an international man of mystery and begins to look like a normal techie with a website and a hard on…"
From this site

"Sometimes we like and admire people who are really just rapey douchebags or assholes who rape or hurt others out of expediency, entitlement, or what have you. The idea that Assange might be a rapey douchebag shouldn’t be confounding, and if he turns out to actually be a rapey douchebag, he’ll probably still retain some degree of popularity."
From this blog

I think the man is a high-tech terrorist."
-Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

"I certainly have no interest in defending that disgusting scumbag."
From this blog, again

I think it's almost ridiculous to have to explain why an Ad Hominem attack is ridiculous/childish/illogical, but here goes anyways--It is ignorant. It shows a lack of intelligence, in my eyes, because instead of picking apart a person's argument, you are simply attacking them. To paint Assange as a "rapey douchebag" and the accusers as "atrocious sluts" is, in my eyes, to admit to everyone that you don't know a single thing about what you're trying to talk about. Thinking about the facts of the case [or realizing that not having all the facts means that you can't have a really well-formed opinion on the matter] is too difficult, or too boring, or not attention-grabbing enough, I don't know. If you can't write a post about the facts or even the "what-ifs" of this situation without trying to smear one party, you shouldn't be seen as an objective news source. And if you can't be seen as an objective news source, your writing is nothing but cheap entertainment. [Ad hominem alert]

And last, but definitely not least, red herring. Red herring is a fallacy that is meant to distract people from an important issue by placing all of the focus on a smaller, less important issue. Examples--

This is very important.

This is not important.

This is very important.

This is not as important.

This is very important.

This is not.

I have read more blogs about Wikileaks in the past few weeks than I have ever wanted to. And while I feel like it has made me a lot more informed than I would have been otherwise, I am pretty bothered by the fact that it has been so much easier to find out what the accusers in this case were wearing when they met Assange than it has been to find websites detailing the major cables that have been leaked. Is he guilty or innocent? Are the accusers linked to a CIA setup? Are they robots built by the Kremlin? I don't know. No one does. But that won't stop the articles from being published.

So as for my project, what role does logic or the lack thereof play in my everyday life? I've come to the conclusion that logic soothes me. When I read something that isn't riddled with fallacies and instead is rational and carefully thought out, it makes me feel a little bit more sane. When I read something that is full of gaps, childish attacks, faulty logic, and that substitutes facts and research with outlandish speculation--I feel like I am going crazy. More often than not it seems that the media focuses a lot more on sensationalized and trivial news than it does on making sense of things, and I think that's the problem. No one makes sense anymore. We come up with conclusions before we have almost any real knowledge on issues. I have many friends and family members who "hated" George Bush, or who now "hate" Barack Obama, but when you ask them why, they don't know. I hear that all the time. People just don't like things. They are not sure why. Because all we are given from our main news sources are attacks, or emotionally charged language, or things that play up a certain emotion in us, whether it be pity or fear or a desire to be part of a group--and those are very powerful things.  And for all of this talk about wikileaks and wanting to know all the facts about everything, for all the talk about government transparency and how glorious that would be, we are so plagued by fallacies and faulty logic in our everyday lives to the point that it has taken the place of logical thought. What's the value in finding out all the facts when we don't know what to do with them anymore? Fallacious arguments in the media and among peers have become the norm. And although it is illogical of me to think that I can do anything about the mindset of my country, I would still like to try. One blog post at a time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Appeal to the people(direct)/Appeal to fear

   Recently I've noticed a frequent activity in politics--politicians and members of the media using fear or general mob mentality to drum up support for their causes, or to sway the general populace's view on important issues. I don't know if it has always been like this, and I just never knew because I was young and uninvolved, or if this is a recent occurrence. Either way, I find it extremely frustrating and embarrassing to know that so many people are this easily influenced by their emotions rather than their own rational thought.

''There are a lot of universities that are as dangerous with the indoctrination of the children as terrorists are in Iran or North Korea. ... We have been setting up reeducation camps. We call them universities.''

—Glenn Beck, Glenn Beck show on FOX News Channel, Sept. 1, 2010

''When you see the effects of what they're doing to the economy, remember these words: We will survive. No -- we'll do better than survive, we will thrive. As long as these people are not in control. They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered!''

—Glenn Beck, on FOX News, Nov. 3, 2009

''Finally -- well, he wasn't the president. He was the chancellor, Hitler, decided that it was the only empathetic thing to do, is to put this child down and put him out of his suffering. It was the beginning of the T4, which led to genocide everywhere. It was the beginning of it. Empathy leads you to very bad decisions many times.''

—Glenn Beck, on President Obama's statement that he would consider ''empathy'' in choosing a Supreme Court nominee, Fox News' Glenn Beck show, May 26, 2009

     I am not sure what world Glenn Beck lives in where the concept of empathy could be twisted to have a sinister connotation...but let's look at it objectively, no conservative, no liberal connotations, no relations to Hitler, just...the definition.  "Empathy is the capacity to share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being through consciousness rather than physically. Empathy develops the ability to have compassion towards other beings."

     Adolf Hitler is the very LAST person we should ever use in relation to the word "empathy". He killed millions of people because they were different, because he HAD no empathy, or compassion. To vilify compassion and empathy is to vilify the very things that separate us from animals...the capacity to truly care about one another. So...why would Beck say something like this? For the same reason the following people said these things--

''The Girl Scouts allow homosexuals and atheists to join their ranks, and they have become a pro-abortion, feminist training corps. If the Girl Scouts of America can't get back to teaching real character, perhaps it will be time to look for our cookies elsewhere.''

—Hans Zeiger,  candidate for Congress in Washinton state, on the deep moral threat to our country's dainty youth posed by the Girl Scouts of America

''Do you know, where does this phrase 'separation of church and state' come from? It was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. ... The exact phrase 'separation of Church and State' came out of Adolph Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis.''

—Glen Urquhart, the Tea Party-backed Republican nominee for the Delaware House seat held by Rep. Mike Castle, April 2010
"The most virulent form of this phenomenon is seen in the South as coalitions of fundamentalist Young Earthers, Evolution Deniers, Climate Change Deniers, Holocaust Deniers, Muslim Haters, Gay Haters, Racists and other fellow travelers have joined into a solid, enthusiastic and reliable voting block for Republican candidates who openly espouse extremely anti-American ideas as they continue to push for a theocratic America."
"I shiver more than a little when I perceive a political shift in favor of a lunatic fringe that wants to see a theocratic America abandon all of its traditional values and submit to religious dogma adhered to by only a few. I fear for my country."
-Both from this site , on the topic of religious/conservative politics

     --To instill fear in their viewers and listeners.Why? Because it works. Imagine you don't know a lot about a candidate, but you are told that he or she is secretly a communist, born in Russia, who plans on tearing our country apart from the inside out. Or you don't know much about a bill, but you keep hearing from your friends that there is a "secret" provision in this bill that allows the government to kill whoever they want, for whatever reason they choose. And if you approve of this bill, the government is going to start funding abortions and teaching children to engage in insane sexual activities and oh my god that's something that HITLER would do and the next thing you know we're going to be living in an Orwellian dictatorship with no control over anything anymore!

     The sad thing is that this SHOULD sound ridiculous, the idea of someone making outlandish claims with no proof whatsoever. But that's exactly what's been happening....there are still people out there who think that the President is a Muslim. Born in Kenya. And I'm sure that on the other side of the fence, there will be people who believe that Christine O'Donnell is really a witch for years to come, because she said some nonsense on a talk show ten years ago. It doesn't matter how many times proof is given to show that these ideas are wrong...they heard it one too many times from the media or their like-minded peers, they felt scared, their patriotism flared up, and they ran with it. Same thing happened with "death panels". With a name like "death panels", how could you NOT be scared?

      "Hate, fear, paranoia, hysteria — the default emotive lexicon of [those who] can't honestly debate the issues."
-from this site

     As I was searching for evidence of fear mongering, I came across this gem, and honestly it upset me more than anything else I've read. Personally, I can typically write off quotes by people who are obviously just trying to stir up fear or instill a sense of hatred of the other, because I think it shows a lack of intelligence and an inability to honestly discuss issues logically and rationally, and why would I care about someone's opinion when they obviously lack that ability? But this was different. This is a writing off of anyone pointing out that this very common fallacy is happening. And it's just so illogical that I had to sit here for a few minutes, trying to think of what to say about it. I think this would be more along the lines of the false cause fallacy? Or maybe it's not so much a typical fallacy as much as it is like approaching a bully, telling them "Hey, you're a bully. Why don't you stop being so angry and mean?" only to have them respond "Oh that's what everyone says when they can't fight back!"

     Well, yeah. Of course that's what people say. Because it's true. Of course people will point out that some people are using fear as a substitute for logic and reason...because they are. And of course we then cannot have an honest debate of the issues, because we have ceased to be reasonable beings. We have begun to rely on stirring up unnecessary emotions, instead of discussing issues like rational people. When you call someone a Nazi/communist/Marxist/fascist, or imply without any proof that a public figure is treasonous, or dangerous, or "bad" for our country, you have personally rejected any notions of logic and rationality. It will not be very important to most people, especially politicians, what some random 21 year old from Oklahoma has to say about it--but in my eyes, this fallacy is the most unforgivable one. It plays on the most basic human instinct to be afraid of the unknown. People know that it works, and so they use it...but at what cost? Does anyone care about the lasting impact, the fact that this is what my generation is growing up with and we are thereby obligated to perpetuate or end it? Why couldn't YOUR generation end it? Does anyone care about how these things will influence the youth of our generation not to question what they are told, but instead to be overcome by fear when it comes to making serious decisions? Is anyone out there NOT okay with feeling like politicians think we're really that stupid, to be swayed so easily by words with negative connotations, instead of facts and reason?

     Maybe I am falling into the same trap I am complaining about, and I am basing all of this off of a fear that my country is going to turn into something bad and terrifying. Personally I do not feel scared...I'm just mad. Is that reasonable? Who knows. At least I haven't yet uttered the words "I fear for my country" yet, that's when you know someone's passed the point of no return. I've discussed all of this with a lot of people before, and the most logical response to all of this I really think would just be to ignore it. If you know that one media outlet only shows one side of any story, ignore it. Watch another channel. Better yet, do your own research. When you hear of something outlandish, look it up everywhere and make sure it's true before you send out a chain e-mail warning about the evils of nazi-ridden girl scout camps. If we don't try to educate ourselves on the issues, all we will know is what we are told by biased friends and the media and politicians, and most of the time, that isn't very helpful at all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Purpose, an unnecessary introduction, and ridiculous things.

     I'm starting this blog for the purpose of examining the part that logic plays in my society. I think that most of it will be based on fallacies and the effect that different words have in an argument, because that's what I see the most of, but I'll add as much as I can as time goes on. This will double as my Logic class's final project.

     My name is Holley. I'm a 21 year old female student. I'm an Atheist, a liberal, and maybe a little naive when I think of our society's capacity for positive change. I am unashamedly obsessed with social progress, civil rights, strong logic, and being as open minded and objective as I can possibly be. I am angry about the state of a lot of things, namely the lack of objectivity in our media and the obsession with "winning" in politics--instead of having a focus on doing things to benefit our country and its people. I argue on the internet about a lot of things. I play a lot of video games. I draw bad comics. When I "grow up" I want to be a social worker. Or an author. Or a video game programmer. Or a spy. I want people to listen to the things I have to say, because sometimes I really think they are important. That might just be egotistical of me, though. I would also like to get paid to do nothing. I think that's normal.

     If there is one thing that I could wish to come from this blog, it would be to have at least one person think "Man, I never thought of it that way. That is pretty ridiculous.". I would like to inspire someone to do something to make things LESS ridiculous. I would like to have one person think about their actions, and stop saying ridiculous things. I would like to make myself less angry about the state of things, and a bit more hopeful. I'd like to do the same for other people. I just want to do SOMETHING, so here is my first step.