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Matt Berkowitz - Logical Fallacies & Cultural Baggage - Z-Day 2013

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Hi, everyone. As mentioned, my name is Matt Berkowitz. I'm a coordinator of the Vancouver Chapter of The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM). I do all our media spokesmanship and lectures, coordinate our events, and I'm a part of TZM lecture team. Today, I want to talk about communication, more specifically about common traps we often fall into in the course of everyday conversation. So, I've titled this 'Logical Fallacies and Cultural Baggage'. If there's one thing that will help unify the world and our understanding of the natural world, it would have to be in developing superior communication skills with one another. Perhaps a secondary concern to overhauling the economic structure, but in many ways also a concomitant issue that needs to be dealt with in upgrading the human value system, is the need to socially evolve our communicative practices. In order for humanity to realize a new way of living, we're going to have to figure out how to communicate with our fellow human beings in a more mature, more scientific and logical manner. Perhaps one of the greatest impediments to effective communication lies in a lack of common understanding of physical referents. Very similar to the ambiguity of a clear physical referent for our economic system, this parallel should be understood. Imagine, in the course of everyday conversation with someone else, if every word each of you used was commonly understood amongst the two of you. Would it not eradicate much of the potential for disagreement or imprecise communication? There is considerable evidence that the brain can process information much more competently with verbal and visual neurological anchor points, which allow ideas to be consolidated and identities established; all the more reason for rigorously defined physical referents for our language. Stuart Chase, in his seminal work entitled 'The Tyranny of Words', describes a continuum of the degrees of abstraction that words can possess. For example, words or word conglomerates like pencil, cell phone, evergreen tree and the Earth, have referents that are fairly easily recognizable and could be placed at the lowest end of the abstraction continuum; whereas words like freedom, individuality, spirituality are often quite vague, have multiple possible definitions and [are] often used sloppily in communication, and therefore would be placed at the highest level of abstraction. Part of the problem, of course, is the way in which the establishment has perverted various words and institutions that claim to portray essentially the opposite of what they're actually doing. In a world where news-selling institutions dictate what we believe and think, like a propaganda machine, where music and other art forms are corrupted down to commercial ventures, devoid of artistic integrity, and where 'free' voluntary exchanges really translate to coerced, slavery-inducing necessities, it's no wonder our current level of communicative discourse is confused. And then there is the utterly nonsensical abuse of the language by charlatans who wish to sound intelligent and sophisticated, humorously satirized by this Deepak Chopra quote generator. Who knows what the physical referents are in all of these examples. However, even if there were clear physical referents, the depraved culture we live in has an unfortunate tendency to cause people emotional upset when their established beliefs are challenged. So, another major barrier to effective communication and likewise the ability to update our beliefs and perspectives lies in a common failure. This is, very simply, the failure to distinguish between criticism of an idea you hold and an attack on your character. While it is certainly true that many people do see themselves this way, this doesn't make the reality such. The fact that people with fixed belief systems, whether religious, political, economic or otherwise philosophical, are unable to distinguish between information they believe being criticized and their character being attacked, is a serious problem of any established belief system. Imagine if scientists who held competing theories operated this way. Imagine if when their theories were scrutinized for lack of soundness or validity, that, rather than evaluating the criticism, they became personally offended at the 'attack on their character'. We'd still be in the Dark Ages, and social progress would be nearly impossible. If society is ever going to mature, we need to become much better at making this distinction. To discuss a religious theology or other dataset is not to discuss those who believe in or follow it. Information itself is neutral. To become entangled with the fate of information's validity is to make yourself vulnerable to it being disproven and thus suffer serious emotional distress. The beauty of the scientific worldview is that one can change his or her mind on a dime, without suffering from emotional baggage that is created when one invests emotionally in a fixed belief. This is a sort of reverse ad hominem logical fallacy. Rather than being the person who is attacking the arguer instead of the argument, the person fails to distinguish between feeling attacked and having his or her argument attacked. And that brings me to my area of focus for this talk: 'Logical Fallacies', how they relate to effective communication and more specifically, how we deal with the fallacies we frequently encounter when discussing and promoting the concepts we do in TZM. So, what is a logical fallacy? It's very simply an error in logical argumentation. There are two types. One is a 'formal fallacy', which refers to a flaw in a deductive argument. The other is an 'informal fallacy', which is simply an argument that is fallacious for reasons other than structural flaws. These are the types of logical fallacies I want to discuss today, as they can be more convoluted and difficult to spot. They are the kinds of trickery that are often dishonestly used to silence any dissenters of the status quo. They are also simply the result of an ignorance of the information being presented and an inability to evaluate the claims being made, usually due to some personal bias or deep-rooted psychological conditioning. But usually, as is classic with illogical thinking, the person thinks he or she is being logical. Perhaps the most common logical fallacy there is is the 'argument from ignorance', which asserts that a proposition is true simply because it has not yet been proven false. We often tend to inject our own preferential explanations into a real or perceived gap of knowledge, whether it be to reinforce some emotional association, or to make it seem like we know more than we do. This is most common with religious claims, where the idea of 'God' is used to plug in gaps in human understanding. However, we hear this type of fallacious reasoning all the time in TZM. Perhaps the most common is the 'human nature' argument, where people who are unaware of the true causes of human behavior. attribute it to genes or 'human nature', simply because they are ignorant of the behavioral chain of causality. The same fallacy is also made by attributing unexplainable human behavior to the 'free will' argument; that is, the originator of a person's behavior was that person, ruling out any possible prior cause. Really, unexplainable human behavior is just that, unexplainable; that is, until we figure out the mechanism that generates it. To invoke tired cliches like the human nature or free will arguments to fill such gaps are 'arguments from ignorance', and thus inherently fallacious. The argument from ignorance often leads into another fallacy called the 'burden of proof' fallacy, which is simply when someone who is making a claim attempts to shift responsibility to someone else to disprove that claim. Of course, the burden of proof or evidence is always on the person making the claim. Often, critics will propose that we're promoting something communist or totalitarian and assume the burden of proof is on us to disprove such a ridiculous contention. The onus is always on the person making any such proposition to validate such a claim. Then there is the ubiquitous 'ad hominem attack', a fallacy involving the attack of a person's character in an attempt to undermine their argument, rather than addressing the argument. Any person or group that challenges dominant beliefs of the status quo that are held as sacrosanct will unfortunately make themselves a target for all sorts of emotionally-driven personal attacks. The hate-filled anti-TZM sites out there provide a number of humorous examples of this which rarely address the specific claims of the Movement, but rather seek to disparage through a range of emotionally-driven tricks. Another tactic used to avoid addressing a particular claim or argument is to blindly reference a person in perceived authority. This is called the 'argument from authority', which doesn't advance discussion one iota, but rather is really a plea to ignorance and an attempt to validate an idea, because someone with credentials holds a similar view. We get many variations of this all the time. Those in opposition to our advocacy will often either reference some grandfather figure of the free market theory to uphold the market system, or point out the lack of mainstream credentialed authorities who are sympathetic with TZM's claims, all the while not addressing the claims. Then there is the 'strawman', an extremely common fallacy, whether intentional or not. This is when someone misrepresents an argument to make it easier to attack. The Zeitgeist Movement gets this in many forms, whether it's through erroneous labeling, as in accusations of promoting communism, anarchy, or some form of tyranny, or other rather comedic suggestions that we only advocate what we do because we don't want to work, or that we want to limit people's freedom. Another related fallacy is the 'association fallacy', where connections between two pieces of information are drawn where none exist. One version of the association fallacy is the 'prima facie', or 'face value' association, whereby the person assumes that because two things share properties, they therefore must be the same. Again, we get this a lot, with claims that we are promoting communism, socialism, a dictatorship or other thoughtless distinctions. Often when two ideas share a similar characteristic or tenet, they are simply equated as the exact same. Changing gears here, we have the 'false cause fallacy', or the 'non-sequitur', which incorrectly assumes that one thing is the cause of another. One common version of this is when two events may be correlated, but are falsely assumed to be causally linked. This is a fairly common fallacy we hear in many versions. For example, without a monetary incentive, as in a Natural-Law/Resource-Based Economy, it is assumed by some that motivation will cease, and nothing will get done, as though money is the only thing that generates incentive. It is blindly assumed that this carrot-and-stick approach of extrinsic motivation is causally sound, though the research indicates otherwise. Related to the 'false cause fallacy' is the 'slippery slope fallacy', which relates an initial event to the inevitable culmination of a chain of related events, with some significant effect overall, such as the unfounded assumption that the removal of the coerced labor-for-income system will lead to people lying around as lazy bums and the cessation of creativity. As mentioned about the previous fallacy regarding the science of motivation, the behavorial sciences finds this to be wholly fallacious. Next up is the 'loaded question fallacy', which is a question put forth that contains an unjustified presupposition or assumption, such as "How does TZM plan to take away possessions of the rich in order to equalize society?" Usually the best response to this kind of question is to challenge the assumption rather than attempt to answer the question. Closely related is the 'ambiguity fallacy', which involves someone using a double meaning, vague language or some kind of semantic trick to misrepresent the truth. While politicians are often most guilty of this, people become entrapped in this fallacy quite often. In relation to TZM, we're often asked "What will happen to individuality or spirituality in such a new social model?" as though such words have one strict meaning. Then there is the 'fallacy fallacy', which incorrectly assumes that the failure to defend an idea proves that the idea is false. Ironically, if you're unconvinced by what I'm saying, it does not necessarily mean my claims are incorrect, just that I have failed to properly substantiate it. Then we have the 'mind projection fallacy', a common logic trap any person or group encounters when challenging traditional philosophies or values; it simply refers to when someone's subjective judgments are projected outwards, as though they are inherent properties of an object or system. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is with free market dogma, whereby the 'invisible hand' is blindly invoked as a metaphysical, deistic process that ensures optimal social outcomes. The way the argument is used often disregards any possibility of a counter-argument and just assumes this invisible hand is as immutable as natural law. Next, we have the 'bandwagon fallacy', where someone asserts that a proposition is true simply because many people believe it to be true. This fallacy is used in pretty much every way imaginable against individuals or groups who challenge any mainstream idea. Then we have the 'false duality fallacy'. I'm sure most are familiar with this one, where two possibilities are presented as the only two, without any alternatives. Any time you challenge a widely-believed dogma, watch out for this one. If you're against capitalism, you must be a communist; if you're not a Christian, you must be a satanist; and if you're against the free market, you must be for some form of tyranny. Closely related is the 'middle ground fallacy', where, instead of insisting that one of two options is the only option, we insist that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes. But perhaps the answer lies close to one of the two extremes, or on a whole other level altogether. For example, the ideal socioeconomic model could, of course, not be accurately said to lie between the extremes of Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism, but outside this traditional spectrum altogether; or that the ideal amount of competition is a moderate amount, rather than none, as all the studies actually indicate. That brings me to an extremely common fallacy, one we likely encounter countless times a day; that is the 'anecdotal fallacy'. This is when someone uses personal experience or an isolated example, rather than evidence, in an attempt to substantiate a claim. TZM gets this all the time, for example, when discussing the merits of competition, both for economic and psychological flourishing. Despite the evidence being absolutely overwhelming in favor of outgrowing competition in all forms, many feel emotionally connected to the idea and project unsubstantiated anecdotes about how or why it might be beneficial. Often related to the anecdotal fallacy is the 'appeal to emotion' fallacy, which is just what it sounds like: manipulating an emotional response, rather than presenting an argument. This usually happens when a claim's truth value challenges a belief we're emotionally dependent on. When criticizing a socioeconomic paradigm, one is bound to run into this all the time. I'll use the prior example again regarding our society's beliefs about competition, both in an economic sense and a psychological sense, which are deeply ingrained dogmatic beliefs. Those who question such dogmatism are often simply insulting, without any attempt to provide counter evidence. The so-called 'evidence' that is presented in refutation is often anecdotal or steeped in emotional bias. And related to emotion-driven fallacies, is the 'argument from personal incredulity'. This is when you find something difficult to understand and therefore conclude that it's not true. This is a fairly common dismissal tactic for those who either don't want to or cannot contemplate the magnitude of the social reform we advocate. And lastly, there is the 'nirvana or perfect solution fallacy'. This is a sort of false dichotomy that the person creates by comparing a real world solution and a utopia, rather than one realistic possibility and another which is merely better. We've all heard this projection, which is commonly uttered by those who wish to frustrate social change, or who simply have a strong emotional investment in the current system. Any alternative system that is proposed, regardless of its merits, is claimed to be 'utopian'. In reality, a system that embraces the scientific method to solve social problems should be considered the opposite of utopian and that is practical. I'll stop there with the fallacies, as there are literally dozens more of them. So, what's my point with all this? Well, logic is something that most people really never study in school or elsewhere, and as such, are often vulnerable to committing logical errors. The monetary culture we live in, with its superficial values of materialism, promoted through marketing and advertising, along with the orientation to treat symptoms, rather than examine root causes in essentially every institution in society, does everything to reinforce faulty reasoning and deter critical thinking. As such, I wanted to run down a bunch of the most common logical fallacies that inhibit our communication and identify the most common ones we encounter in TZM. Combined with the semantic and other communicative mishaps I touched upon earlier, I wanted to offer another angle by which to identify and address the objections we get when advocating for such a radical social change. Those of us who discuss the train of thought regularly with new people will find that the most common objections are limited to a small handful, with only slight variations. So, with an arsenal of understanding that equips you to identify such fallacies within people's objections, it becomes a lot easier to discuss these issues with people and attempt to bridge that difference. Updating our communication strategies to reflect logical and scientific principles is certainly key in advancing our society's values and hence moving us towards a saner future. Thank you very much. [applause] The Zeitgeist Movement www.thezeitgeistmovement.com

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 54 seconds
Year: 2013
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: The Zeitgeist Movement
Director: The Zeitgeist Movement
Views: 238
Posted by: ltiofficial on Mar 28, 2013

This is the third talk of eleven, from The Zeitgeist Movement's flagship, 5th Annual "Zeitgeist Day", 2013 Main Event, held in Los Angeles CA.

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