Tag Archives: logical fallacies

Red vs. Blue

redvblueWe’re joined again by aaronJacob who helps us dissect the ridiculous divisions in party politics and ideology, examining the faulty logical steps that make them falter and fail. We decry both the stubborn projection of the GOP and the unscientific post-modernism of the Democrats. Their refusal to recognize evidence and facts may be partly to blame for their refusal to work together to make positive change for the country.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-12: Red vs. Blue by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – The Marimba Belles
Muuttuvat Laulut – Georg Ots
The Stars & Stripes Forever – Matmos
Hornets – Herbie Hancock
Take Me Just As I Am – Mitty Collier
Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Haqq Al-Yaqin – Om
Virus – Tes La Rok
Rip (w/Bun B) – Childish Gambino
Ezili Freda – Cut Hands
Between Love And Hate – Nehuen
Before I’m Done – Toro Y Moi
Oscillate Wildly – The Smiths
Noam Chomsky Spring Break 2002 – Department Of Eagles
Muzik Mogollar – Moğollar
Geistige Nacht – Aksak Maboul
Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddelach – 3 Leg Torso
Bratislava – Beirut
Dongle – The Baghdaddies
Kinetic Work – Hangedup
San Francisco Setting of the Cries of Two Newsboys on a Foggy Night in the Twenties – Harry Partch
Cumbia – Sobre El Mar Trio Serenata
the atom man theme – the vitamin b12
Music From Dry Machine – Oleg Kostrow
Everyone Is Afraid Of Clowns – Kumquat
3:24 – Clutchy Hopkins
Secondchance – Dan Paladin
Space Slut – Captain Funkaho
Hot Juicy Girls – Dupobs
Thus the Whirlgig – Daedelus
Polka Ofver Svenska Folmelodier

The President and the Democrats were able to get modest concessions on the fiscal cliff deal, averting a cliff disaster of their own arbitrary making, and in the process The Repubicans now have the debt limit and federal budget to use as leverage, while Obama gave up all of his own. The GOP even managed to turn the sequestration  which had been against their favor, as further collateral for their cause. The entire process was referred to by Joshua Holland at AlterNet as ” a hostage exchange.” Half of them aren’t even arguing about the same thing. They don’t want to fix the deficit or the debt; they just want smaller government. Both Tea Partiers and progressives are unsatisfied with the deal, unhappy that any compromise was met, or perhaps such pisspoor compromise. The media ate all of this political drama up like a reality show. So what does it actually do? The payroll tax rate is going back up to where it was in 2010, 6.2%, before President Obama pushed through a temporary cut to spur economic growth. And this return to the previous payroll tax rate hits everyone. And although low-wage earners dodged the bullet of seeing their tax rates rise from 10% or 15% to significantly higher rates, the tax on capital gains and dividends will be permanently set at 20% for those with income above the $450,000/$400,000 threshold. It will remain at 15 percent for everyone else. This is a huge drop from the Clinton-era rates, not to mention the rates of the 50’s and 60’s, disproportionately benefits the wealthy and hurts the middle class, and will not be enough to generate revenue for the government. Assuming one purpose of the tax code is to bolster the domestic economy more than the economy of other nations, taxing that investment at a lower rate than the employee’s labor is completely backward. This will result in a downward drag that globalization, mechanization and de-unionization have had on workers’ incomes. Wages have fallen from 53 percent of GDP in 1970 to 44 percent today—a shift of nearly $1.5 trillion away from wage income. The median wage continues to drop, adjusted for inflation, even though the economy is growing. And the share of the economy going to wages rather than to profits is the smallest on record. This was also a huge compromise on the tax goals President Obama outlined at the beginning of last month. In return, however, he received a fair amount of funding for anti-poverity and stimulus programs. The expansion of tax credits for lower-income Americans—initially paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—will be extended for five years. This includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit (originally pioneered by Republicans in the 1990s), and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Unemployment insurance will be extended for another measly year.

President Clinton’s tax rates delivered big budget surpluses and one of history’s strongest rates of economic growth. By contrast, President Bush’s cuts to those tax rates birthed massive deficits and the slowest rate of economic growth in modern history. Yet, faced with the fiscal cliff’s choice between Clinton and Bush tax rates, both parties agreed to ratify almost all of the latter.

Worst of all, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the final bill will increase the budget deficit by $4 trillion. Way to go, guys. Where is this money going? While the bloated defense contractor handouts couldn’t be touched, other corporations were affected. The legislation reportedly contains $205 billion in tax breaks (kick backs) for corporations, including:

  • “seven year recovery period for NASCAR motorsports entertainment complex property”, which is to say it allows anyone who builds a racetrack and associated facilities to get tax breaks on it. This one was projected to cost $43 million over two years. engaged in construction.
  • $165 million a year for railroads to maintain their tracks.
  • $150 million in deductions for Hollywood studios that film in low-income communities of just in the United States.
  • $9 billion a year to help banks and manufacturers “engage in certain lending practices and not pay taxes on income earned from it,” according to Naked Capitalism. Specifically, the bill allows the banks and multinationals to defer paying taxes on foreign income, thus encouraging the creation of jobs outside the United States.  supporters of the bill include GE, Caterpillar, and JP Morgan.
  • Sec. 323 allows US multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned by companies they own abroad.

This provides plenty of goodies for corporate interests, who meanwhile would like to convince Americans to cut taxes, spending, and regulations—divert all attention from record-high corporate profits and the concentration of income and wealth at the top. Another “subsidy for fancy Manhattan apartments and office towers for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp” was supposed to go directly to the small businesses affected by 9/11. Goldman got $1.6 billion in tax free financing for its new massive headquarters through Liberty Bonds.

  • An increase in the import tax on rum from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to benefit rum distillers in these U.S. dependencies.
  • Tax incentives for mining companies to buy safety equipment that they should be buying anyway. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bribe mining companies to not kill their workers.
  • $1 million a year in tax credits for coals companies that mine on land owned by Indian tribes.

Another little-noticed item in the bill changed the law that establishes conditions under which the president is allowed to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Rather than such action being contingent on certifying that Russia has first met its nuclear treaty obligations, the president now only has to know whether or not Russia has done so. There is more that the bill doesn’t do, because in a much realer way, we all lose. It does not fix the problem of dramatically increasing publicly-held debt. The “deficit debate” completely ignores this problem, as well as the starving, the sick, the dying, the preyed upon, the bankrupted. We’re already spending nearly 18 percent of our entire economy on health care, compared to an average of 9.6 percent in all other rich countries. Yet we’re no healthier than their citizens are. In fact, our life expectancy at birth (78.2 years) is shorter than theirs (averaging 79.5 years), and our infant mortality (6.5 deaths per 1000 live births) is higher (theirs is 4.4). In fact, the “austerity caucus” thinks it has a good shot at cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of a “grand bargain” with Obama. So anything at this point only kicks the can a short way down the road.  If cuts to popular retirement benefits end up in the mix of a budget deal, then this deal would have paved the way for a bad outcome. They want to take hard-won rights from you and me and call it ‘entitlement reform‘, a false bill of sale based on rhetoric and myth. These are programs that Americans direly need:

Census data showing 49 percent of Americans living in homes where at least one person is collecting a federal benefit – food stamps, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, or subsidized housing — up from 44 percent in 2008.

The number and percentage of Americans in poverty has increased dramatically, including 22 percent of our children. Social Security won’t contribute to future budget deficits. By law, it can only spend money from the Social Security trust fund. That fund has been in surplus for the better part of two decades. Taming future deficits requires three steps having nothing to do with entitlements: Limiting the growth of overall healthcare costs, cutting our bloated military, and ending corporate welfare (tax breaks and subsidies targeted to particular firms and industries). The current bill ignores the first, allows the second to go one unabated, and makes the third even worse.

  • Military: in 2012, the U.S. government spent about $841 billion on security—a figure that includes defense, intelligence, war appropriations, and foreign aid. At the same time, the government collected about $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes. (And about $2.4 trillion in revenues overall if you include payroll, corporate, estate, and excise taxes.) In other words, about 80 cents of every dollar collected in traditional federal income taxes went for security. Nobody in Washington seems interested in seriously curtailing defense spending that is greater in real terms than what the U.S. spent in the Cold War—despite the fact that the U.S. will be officially at peace when we withdraw from Aghanistan next year and the U.S. faces no major global adversaries.
  • Corporate Welfare: through bailouts, no-bid contracts, pork, tax cuts, subsidies, deductions and loopholes.

So what can we do? Besides just minting a symbolic trillion-dollar coin? The American Prospect advocates more tax brackets for the super-rich, rich, and sorta rich, breaking apart their interests.

In 1960, there were 17 brackets above $35,000—(roughly $250,000 today)—going up to $400,000 in annual income, or $3 million. Now, there’s a single one.

We could favor running large deficits in order to stimulate the economy during and after the Great Recession. But there’s something deeply wrong about proposing to permanently tax Americans at the lowest level in a generation and funding defense at Cold War levels while piling up over $6 trillion in new debt. And the president’s budget only makes things worse, largely continuing the fiscal disasters of his predecessor.

So that’s what the fiscal cliff was really all about, Charlie Brown. A group of lunatics threatening one disaster after another. So we look at the despicable, hypocritical, baseless and often schizophrenic philosophy of the far-right, which has become a black hole of conventional conservative wisdom in the media, on Wall Street, on the Beltway, and in the GOP, NRA and Tea Party.

The right has its own religion and mythology, unsound and invalid proposals and conclusions that they not only live by, but hypnotize their constituents into taking on faith:

  1. Austerity works.
  2. We need less government spending.
  3. Social Security and Medicare is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.
  4. We’re “living beyond our means.” More snake oil.It’s undertaxed corporations and billionaires who are living beyond our nation’s means, by claiming an inordinate and unearned share of our nation’s wealth and not paying their fair share of taxes for it.
  5. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout. First, we don’t have a full accounting even now. Secondly, we’re still responsible for the enormous amount of toxic risk which Wall Street created and the government then assumed on its behalf.
  6. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.
  7. Accusing the other side of Voting Barriers and Voter Intimidation (while doing so themselves)
  8. Federal Programs Need to be Rolled Back
  9. Billionaires Have the Free Speech to Steer Presidential Races
  10. So Do Secret Big-Money Groups

When they’re not focusing on the plutocracy, they’re proselytizing a theocracy:

  1. Religious School Voucher Subsidies
  2. Creationism In Science Classes
  3. Prayer And Proselytizing In Public Schools
  4. ‘Conscience’ Exemptions to Health Care Coverage
  5. Anti-Shariah Laws

“Is that just math you do as a conservative to make yourself feel better?” Not only does Fox News repudiate the findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on last year’s US temperatures, but even went so far as to insinuate that the academic researchers should go to jail.

“In the business and trading world, people go to jail for such manipulations of data.”

First of all, no they don’t. And second of all, we don’t jail scientists for reporting on actual data, we’re not Italy. If anything, its current data is even more reliable than before. But it’s not just science under attack, but mathematics as well:

“Fox News host Eric Bolling on Wednesday accused some schools of “pushing the liberal agenda” for teaching an algebra lesson about the distributive property.”

Conservatives don’t hold a monopoly on magical thinking, as the crazy cultish liberals have shown us: So we examine all of these properties and condemn both for putting ideology before evidence, and presenting faith as a fact.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-12: Red vs. Blue by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.

Ancient Peoples

If you watch any of these “historical documentaries” about visitors from outer space interfering with our ancient progenitors, you’d see the proponents of these theories claim that there is no way that massive sculptures and architecture could have been done without extraterrestrial help. Those mainstream historians and archaeologists just don’t understand when they claim that the evidence of UFOs and aliens in old artwork or texts is something more reasonable, when they posit some Earthly, mundane explanations.

Our ancestors, the ancient alien experts claim, weren’t stupid. And the official story makes them seem dumb, by not giving them the full credit they deserve for recognizing obvious aliens when they saw them, and then sitting back as said aliens (or gods, or whatever) did all the work that our stupid, useless ancestors could never have figured out on their own.

But they weren’t stupid. They were able to make complex astronomical calculations, invent forms of art, agriculture, writing, and design marvels such as the pyramids. Some of them would have been smarter than others, of course. Some of the people of that age probably believed some really weird things; perhaps they believed that their ancestors were visited by even more ancient aliens, whom they gave all the credit for all previous human efforts, without any evidence.

I’m just saying that their knowledge and sophistication was limited by the understanding of their time. People would have made dumb logical fallacies back then, like arguments from antiquity or arguments from ignorance.

Hm. Come to think of it. If we had aliens helping us out throughout history, we’d probably be a lot further along, and wouldn’t fall in such intellectual gaps.

10 Cliches That Try to Take the Place of Legitimate Argument

We’re all guilty of it, whether in our daily conversations, debates or blog posts. Analogy and illustration serve to simplify our understanding and answers to life’s complex conundrums. Sometimes, however, these over-used aphorisms over-simplify to the point of absurdity. It may even amount to pseudo-intellectual name-dropping, hoping to fool your audience into thinking that because you know who George Santayana was, that being in such good company means your reasoning must be thoroughly sound!

They may have a legitimate point, they may even be saying something you agree with, but “a broken clock is still right twice a day,” and fallacious logic can still coincidentally lead to a correct conclusion.

1. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Which is why he stopped trying to comb his hair after a while.

But how else would mutation and evolution have happened, innovation and invention, or the replication of experiments, the very foundation of falsifiability and the cornerstone of scientific discovery?

Actually, I prefer to think that Einstein wasn’t really talking shit on replication, but merely accurately describing that most everything that happens in the cosmos is insane. If you have some stupid theory of everything but your experiments can’t prove your pseudoscience, you’re not wrong to keep trying. Just insane.

People have used his phrase in political arguments, critiques of opponents, constructive criticism of peers, matronly advice, and internet comment sections, all hoping to wow one another with their undeniable wisdom.

When this fails to happen, they do it again and again.

This may be because, as we know, there are no original ideas.

2. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

-T. S. Eliot

And immature artists sue you for stealing

It’s not that I agree or disagree with any of these clichés (although some are undoubtedly ridiculous, as we shall soon see), it’s just that many of them are offered up instead of saying anything valuable at all. Of course creative people steal from their influences, we are all the product of our experiences!

Plagiarism is an even thornier-than-usual issue these days, however, so you had better be careful what you use this old quote to justify!

But I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is no original content. And not everything has to be mash-up or a modernization or a cover or a sequel or a gritty revisioning. Nobody like Ramses II existed before Ramses II (not even Ramses I). And the aforementioned Einstein was obviously thinking on another cosmic plane! To say nothing of Edison, Newton, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Archimedes… okay, now I’m just name-dropping! And certainly each of them drew on the accumulated knowledge of the great minds that came before, but that’s not really saying anything more than the obvious. We need these mutants to inject genuinely fresh and new ideas because, after all, the rest of us are so stupid.

3. We only use 10% of our brains.

In some cases this is true.

In addition to being on this list for overused phrases, you’ll also find it listed in collections of commonly cited phrases that aren’t even true. Those in the pseudosciences and radio arts often hold Einstein as an example of a God-king who could somehow magically harness 20% of his brain power, with the rest of us catatonically drooling down our fronts with glazed eyes. Many misattribute the quote itself to Einstein, or imply that special training (expensive books and tape) can “unlock” the remaining percentile, or even that impressive psychic powers or a sixth sense reside in the bulk of our unused gray matter.

Although many mysteries regarding brain function remain, every part of the brain has a known function.

According to wikipedia, it may have been early neuroscientists who used the 10% figure when referring to the proportion of neurons in the brain that fire at any given time or to the percentage of the brain’s functions that had been mapped at the time (accounts differ).

No matter, this commonly held misconception has proliferated through our pop culture, and is claimed by paranormal believers so much that one cannot help but wonder if they just want it to be true because it applies more readily in their case. Luckily, for about as many people who use this trite falsehood, there seems to be just as many ready to counter and ridicule it.

4. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

– George Santayana

Which is why they'll be remaking this movie soon.

I’m not a big believer that history repeats itself in any verifiable or scientifically useful way. That being said, similarities can be found between any two time periods, or probably, between any two things one cares to draw comparisons or confirmation-biases with.

And just what are the parameters? Are my neighbor and I doomed to repeat the events of the Peloponnesian War? If I suddenly forget the Nineties will I wake up one morning with a mullet?

I guess I’m mostly annoyed by the politician’s usage of this gem. When describing the economic collapse of recent memory, it could behoove one side or the other to compare either to the policies that led to the Great Depression, or to the recovery policies that dug us back out.

Invariably, someone uses a shade of this quote to wreak their foul Godwin’s Law, implying that because we are not diligent against the current administration (or whatever), that they must be Nazis readying for a blitz.

But Nazis were all about history! They had a storied passion for their firm place in history, for better or worse, and deliberately chose which facets to glamorize and which to destroy. There was very little unintentional lapse of memory at work.

Ironically, today nazis are often treated as a sinister joke, the sheer ridiculousness itself guarding against tyranny in that very specific form

5. “First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Martin Niemöller

This seems a very reasonable statement of our human nature to ignore problems until they are at our doorstep, or how we willingly bow to authority, no matter how triumphantly evil. Zimbardo or Millgram in action.

Call it survivor’s guilt, guilt by association, criminal negligence… no matter what it’s called, it’s still just a slippery slope argument. Granted, when cases of genocide are concerned, it’s best to err on the side of not imprisoning and slaughtering millions, but I would still be remiss not to point out that logical fallacy.

And even still, assuming Martin’s speaking for everyone in Reichland to make his point more valid (or at least assuming that the decades of quoters do), then each person up the chain would have also been a varying degree of guilty. There was no one left to speak out for you, because no one was speaking out for anyone, any time, anywhere, anyway.

Another similar (and just as overused) quote is Edmund Burke’s “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” 

No… I mean… evil sort of had the most to do with it… call it 80/20

6. “God does not play dice with the universe.”

-Albert Einstein

Unless this is a tabletop RPG. In which case, God uses many dice.

Einstein’s been proven wrong on many things in the years since his death, as he was just a man, and a product of his time. But this quote should be understood in his context and time, with the understanding that  Neitzsche proclaimed God dead, and that Spinoza proclaimed God to be a sort of pantheistic representation of all being. Similar to Dawkins or Hawking’s assertion of the non-necessity of a God, a reasonable and scientifically literate individual does not need a God to play dice with the universe, but admitting its  irrelevance to science does not render moot the possibility of a personal, non-interventionist deity.

Moreover, religion has nothing to do with it, so people who use this quote to claim that even the infallible Einstein was a believer are missing his point. Einstein was referring to the (then) burgeoning theory and study of quantum mechanics, which in the decades since his death have had numerous verifications and observable interactions with established physics. In fact, the very early precursors to the field are thanks to Einstein himself.

And really, what kind of scientific method would it be if it all just stopped after Einstein? Just because he said or did or thought or believed something, doesn’t mean we all have to!

7. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?

Hey, man, go with the flow.

Some version of this argument can be heard by desperate debaters and scolding mothers worldwide, and implies that following the herd will bring us to a nasty end. But really, it all depends… Is there a bungie cord? Is the bridge taller than 4ft? Is the goal itself to commit suicide? Am I going to be the very best at it? Has the pile of bodies gotten tall enough to comfortably break my fall?

With its equally clichéd antithesis, “50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong”, the appeal to popularity or appeal against popularity really tells us nothing about the original argument, or the wisdom in group-thinking. People who follow the “herd” have a “sheep” or “lemming” mentality. And yet, 4 out of 5 experts agree, everyone else is doing it, and you do want to be popular, don’t you?

We need individual thinkers to point out that the Earth is round and goes around the sun, but we also need group cooperation to build roads, operate government, form protests, fight wars, make the trains run on time and populate Coachella.

These fallacious nuggets appear everywhere, but just because everyone else uses them, doesn’t mean you will. Right?

8. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”

-Helen Lovejoy

After epochs of stuffiness and reactionary noisemaking by parental associations and nosy church busybodies, imagine how much slower our society must have progressed due to whatever scary monster-of-the-week was lodged in their collective craws.

We basically ended up with violent Prohibition in the U.S. because of ‘The Boogeyman’, and this ‘reasoning’ still wreaks havoc in our schools, on our televisions, and in our libraries. All sorts of censorship have been implemented to protect our defenseless children, from comic books, video gamesplastic-propelling toyssex in music and the cartoons in cigarette advertising. More accurately, censorship is put in place so that one group of vocal zealots can get their way, or to disenfranchise another group, or to help facilitate half-assed under-parenting.

The entirety of Jenny McCarthy’s insane and factually-vacant crusade against vaccination can be summed up as ‘for the sake of the children.’ You know what the children really need? Intellectual discourse and critical thinking to engineer a better world for them to grow up in. I know, it sounds batty.

At the same time, the really cool, really old people remind us how easy kids today have it. How back in their day, they only had a jagged shard of metal to play with, or how they used to have to work in a factory for seventeen hours a day for pennies, or how they used to be afraid of things like… y’know… polio.

Come to think of it, back in my day, we had playgrounds made of concrete and steel. Kids have it so easy.

9. “Greed is good”

               -Gordon Gecko

For all your conniving and success, you still couldn't avoid LeBeouf.

For all your conniving and success, you still couldn't avoid LeBeouf.

Especially true in this era of class warfare, where the top blah-blah-blah-percent blah-blah-blah against the bottom blah-blah-blah-percent! We hear this from the right-wing media, the corporate elites, and their bought legislators. It’s the defining principle at work in ‘Trickle-Down Economics’, deregulation, free market principles, and Citizen’s United.

I could write multiple separate essays on all that Ayn Rand nonsense (and I have), but mostly I just hate it when cautionary tales are taken out of context, idolized and seen as divine inspiration. How soon we forget how things ended for Gordon Gecko, or Tony Montana, or Don Corleone, as instead we are bedazzled by the short-lived success and glory. Unfortunately, things do not turn out as bad for the baddies in real life, who seem to rarely see their downfall from massive hubris. It’s nefarious, it’s ignorant, and it’s bitter irony.

Which serves as a reminder that the original cautionary tale was Satan’s.

10. Those who choose not to vote shouldn’t be allowed to complain.

Good enough reason for anyone to complain.

Or any other fascistic (though perhaps well-meaning) platitudes of intellectual treacle. If somebody exercises their freedom of speech and vote by abstaining, then that’s a perfectly reasonable choice. As if a dictatorship or some other undesirable federal form of government would affect non-voters differently than voters! In fact, it’s the political ideologues and loud patriots who would hear the boots marching first, not the apathetic whiners.

Why is it that if someone chooses not to perform one constitutionally granted right, they should be stripped of an entirely different enumerated one? Just how well would the following fly with these freedom-flinging pro-voting bigots?
  • Those who choose not to practice freedom of religion should have troops quartered in their home.
  • Those who choose not to assemble shouldn’t allowed to bear arms.
  • Those who skip jury duty shouldn’t petition their government.

Okay, well maybe that last one is a bit hypocritical, but still…

Of course, the abstainers will still have to listen to the clichéd proselytizers, because they’re just exercising their First Amendment Rights, after all.

BONUS: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes!”

-Benjamin Franklin

This one only annoys me because people like to quote it and then add their own third thing, completely missing the entire point. ‘And taxes’ is the punch line, implying that they are as detrimental and damning as death itself, when clearly they’re just a damned nuisance. To add your own third option, whether to make a point or attempt to be humorous, underplays the quote. Quit it. I’m sick of hearing it.

Blinded!

With science journalism paltry and underfunded in the dying newspaper industry era, and blogs still not the dominant political force of commentary (despite being the dominant social force), it would be insincere to hope that better science education would find its way into the contused field.

Journalism in this country is SHODDY WORN USED LIKE A CHEAP (excuse me *ahem*) and it is a mistake to think that more science in journalism is just for the benefit of science journalism. No, but for the very embiggening of the power of journalism itself, the scientific method must be more rigorously applied.

While even our so-called tech-savvy president seems to only react and respond and capitulate to the center-right to far-right mainstream media or Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal, he seems to be out of touch with progressive fact-finders like TYT and TPM. We cannot count on K Street, Wall Street, and Congress to utilize the internet for better information, indeed, they often do not even let the experts speak to them concerning technical matters for which they are ignorant.

Skepticism and critical thinking has not just historically been scientific or philosophical, but provides important watchdog services to journalistic integrity. As it has become, the fourth estate instead refers to the corporate mouthpieces of myopic agendas. Hard-hitting news has been almost completely replaced with flashy entertainment. Why is it that the most fantastical line of an article is taken out of context and made into the sensational (and misrepresentational) headline?

Though the internet is unimaginably vast, with enough dedicated investigation, a less relativistic definition of truth is soon revealed.

We need that widespread dissemination of information, like viruses, or even better like vaccines against the stupid, memes of novelty wave out and spread, with particularly brilliant, mutated individuals using their unique perspective to build each Hegelian block. At the same time, the massive hive thought MUST utilize critical thinking and skepticism in order to falsify incongruent precepts, since the democratizing forces of social media also allow crazies to discover one another, confirming each other’s biases, regardless of reality. Most of us only hear and accept the voices we already agree with, and deepen our belief systems accordingly. Ethan Zuckerman’s TED talk addresses how to escape these traps.

Brain plasticity has made us the apex species of the planet, and diverse adaptability and resourceful critical thinking and second-guessing has allowed us to survive at all. Thinking outside the box and truly examining ideas and theories should be done by all, as I am truly convinced that good thinking will lead to correct conclusions, but only provided the input data is factual and reliable. Stupidity and ignorance result in hurting the entire herd.

Scientific methods lack in both mainstream and independent (even hacker) journalism, leading to the press quackery of Arianna Huffington, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones.

Even the once-laudable Ron Paul has extremely questionable theories regarding alternative medicines, homeopathy, and the FDA (as well as race, but that’s another topic). I suppose you have the ability to cherry-pick from the opinions of ‘experts’ and professionals, but no one can logically justify cherry-picking data. And celebrities are terrible judges at this stuff anyway.

Brian Dunning of Skeptoid has recently published his list of the Top 10 Worst Anti-Science sites on the web, and although pathetic examples such as the Daily Mail and any of the various Examiners do not make the list, the internet-renowned Huffington Post does. But how would one know to find such a list unless they were already clued into the skeptical network?

The of-course-brilliant Neal Stephenson has written an article concerning the need for good science fiction writing, as it fosters critical thinking, as well as the lofty fantasy of engineers and futurists. Since none of us exist in a vacuum, if we all want to progress then the best way to facilitate this is with better knowledge on scientific subjects. Sure, Google provides great answers for those researchers who know how to look effectively. For many, this is a daunting task.

How can one know the truth with so many liars and so many internets? The veritable flood of information from our social media sites alone threatens to drown us, with a wealth of news sites and supposed experts spouting often contradictory opinions and personalized “facts” at every turn.

It comes down to trust, and reasonable common sense. Most outlandish claims are just that. And when logic appears fuzzy, it usually is. Erroneous “facts” abound on the web, but so too does the number of resources for checking such facts. Not everyone has the time to do this, and as a result they will be under-served or mis-served bad informations.

Just as it is the responsibility of writers to inspire, and scientists to discover, and politicians to represent constituencies (har har), journalists owe the populace hard facts and realistic conclusions. No justification can be accepted for anything less.

Ultimately, it is only the news agencies that will lose if they do not adapt. They will eventually lose face, faith, and the trust of their flock. Once lost, they will not return, and information consumers such as myself will be happy to aggregate our news from such tailored sources as TED, Wired, ArsTechnica, and NewScientist.