Thursday, January 08, 2004

George W. Bush is a Chimpanzee: The joy of syllogism

I was in a chatroom last night. It advertised itself as a room for college and university lecturers, and, wanting to participate in a bit of intellectual cut and thrust, I entered it. As ever, however, it turned out to be something of a disappointment. One woman was complaining of another user sending unwanted private messages: Some guy was looking for �a smart hottie to do some C2C!!!�: Two others were discussing what they�d had for dinner. In the midst of this maelstrom of intellectual debate, one user was deriding anyone and everyone who opposed George Bush�s policies. Here�s a sample of what he said:

Ifix: Bush�s steel tariff policy was wrong.
RLSM: Hey, you liberals all say that.
Ifix: I�m not a liberal. I just think that the policy doesn�t work.
RLSM: The man can do no wrong.
CandidEye: The invasion of Iraq could have been handled better..
RLSM: Tell me � do you support Saddam?
CandidEye: Of course not, but the war was launched on a false premise.
RLSM; So you liberals say.
CandidEye: Why don�t you try and debate properly?
RLSM: Why do I want to talk to commies for?

And more in this vein. What interested me was the way RLSM made his leaps of logic. Firstly, he used the word �Liberal� as an insult. There�s nothing new there: Since 9/11, the word has been used in this vein to deride anyone even mildly critical of the president�s policies. He then moved on to say that liberals were first, communists, then Stalinists, then homosexuals and finally, the French � obviously a most deadly insult. Joining in the childish fun, I equated Bush with Hitler, then left the room while he exploded in rage.

Now, while I would certainly describe myself as generally liberal in my politics, I definitely cannot say that I am a communist, a Stalinist, a homosexual or even French. What interested me most about what RLSM was saying was how he arrived at his premises: the wonderful world of the false syllogism.

A syllogism is, of course, a flexible philosophical tool for arriving at a conclusion from a set of premises. Usually we include a general, universal primary premise with a secondary premise that may be universal or specific, and from them we reach a conclusion. For example:

Men can grow beards.
Plato is a man. (Syllogisms frequently use dead philosophers.)
Therefore, Plato can grow a beard.

As we can see, when the premises are reasonably universal or reasonably specific, we can arrive at a reasonable conclusion. However, syllogisms can be easily wielded to produce false conclusions, especially in the hands of those for whom logical thought is an alien concept. Here are a couple of examples:

Men have beards.
Plato doesn�t have a beard.
Therefore, Plato is a woman.

Liberals don�t like right-wing policies.
The communists don�t like right-wing policies.
Therefore, all liberals are communists.

Can you see the problem? Yet the entire thrust of right-wing American popular political debate is based upon the use of false syllogisms. Your average shock-jock lazily reaches for a premise, tacks another to it and voila! Instant opinion. Or they might take the conclusion, use that as a premise, and move on to even whackier conclusions. In truth, this has absolutely nothing to do with reasoned debate: It is merely the ugly logic of the mob, the erratic desire to reach a conclusion no matter what, and truth be damned.

Anyway, two can play at this game�.the next time someone lazily accuses you of being a commie, or a Stalinist, or a homosexual (or hetero, to be perfectly fair), or, God Forbid, French, you can come back at them with some of the following, employing the same warped way of thinking that your accuser uses. And yes, it is puerile and silly, but what the hell�.

Chimps have close-set eyes and purse their lips when confused.
George W Bush has close-set eyes and purses his lips when confused.
Therefore, George W. Bush is a chimp.

Which leads to�.
Chimps throw their own faeces at potential enemies.
George Bush is a chimp.
Therefore, George Bush throws faeces at potential enemies.

Chimps can learn to imitate aspects of human behaviour.
George Bush is a chimp.
Therefore, George Bush can learn to imitate aspects of human behaviour.

Feel free to make up more insulting versions of your own.

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