Three Card Monte

by Henry on February 25, 2007

This “short, funny paper”:http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=962462 on the “denialist’s deck of cards” by Chris Hoofnagle does a pretty good job at identifying a stock set of lobbyist/glibertarian responses to various proposals for consumer legislation.

Most of these arguments can be cogent in certain contexts. Sometimes the industry is correct on the facts and the issues. In others, the arguments [are] not. … The point of listing denialists’ arguments in this fashion is to show the rhetorical progression of groups that are not seeking a dialogue but rather an outcome. As such, this taxonomy is extremely cynical, but it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates.

Not as short and to the point as “Whale Central Station”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/01/31/ask-a-nineteenth-century-whaling-expert/#comment-59351 but pretty useful nonetheless. Via “Larry Solum”:http://lsolum.typepad.com/legaltheory/.

{ 23 comments }

1

Glenn 02.25.07 at 11:54 pm

Someone needs to print up a deck of these cards so you can just pull the appropriate one out during these debates.

Although I’m not sure Cato really deserves to be on the list of scoundrels. They might be wrong, but they strike me as usually arguing in good faith. Same can’t be said for AEI et. al.

2

Adam Kotsko 02.26.07 at 4:49 am

The card motif is somewhat confusing.

I know that it was inappropriate for the context he was addressing, but it seems obvious that people will dismiss this paper by saying that “the other side does the exact same things.”

3

snuh 02.26.07 at 4:57 am

the card motif may be confusing, but bonus points for quoting guy debord.

4

bi 02.26.07 at 10:13 am

Adam Kotsko: Well, they’ll do that no matter what “the other side” does. They’ll find the flimsiest excuse to fling mud, even if it means force-fitting an India concept (Ayurveda) into the American Left-Right spectrum.

Speaking of the AEI, once more we at Neo-TeX invite everyone to submit spoof papers on global warming to the AEI!

5

Barry 02.26.07 at 1:27 pm

“Although I’m not sure Cato really deserves to be on the list of scoundrels. They might be wrong, but they strike me as usually arguing in good faith. Same can’t be said for AEI et. al.”

Posted by Glenn

In terms of Social Security, they certainly do, and knowingly. Which is a non-trivial thing, IMHO.

6

Belle Waring 02.26.07 at 2:01 pm

everyone has to follow the whale central station link to read one of the funniest threads ever. remember when we used to be funny, back in the day? good times.

7

Kieran Healy 02.26.07 at 4:20 pm

Belle, in my heart I know I’m funny.

8

Justin Horton 02.26.07 at 7:35 pm

but it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates.

Could somebody parse that for me?

9

Michael B Sullivan 02.26.07 at 8:21 pm

Sure, Justin: It parses to, “As such, this taxonomy is extremely cynical, but it is a reflection of and reaction to the low quality of public policy debates.” It also implies that the low quality of public policy debates is at least in large part the responsibility of the author’s political opponents.

10

Brett Bellmore 02.27.07 at 12:36 am

Oh, joy, yet another excuse not to respond to the actual argument somebody is making.

11

bi 02.27.07 at 11:03 am

Brett Bellmore, 10 of Hearts, “You Don’t Understand Us”.

And the paper doesn’t mention the 5 of Diamonds. I think I’ll label it “Remember Galileo?” … which’ll fit right in with what the AEI (and Michael B. Sullivan) are darkly suggesting.

(Michael B. Sullivan: You know, people don’t become “Leftists” or “Rightists” from birth. People change their beliefs and their behaviour according to what they see and hear, and changing behaviour is the whole point of lobbying.)

12

Brett Bellmore 02.27.07 at 11:29 am

See? We can place this right next to “argument” by diagnosis, where you respond to every argument by discussing the psychological causes which might impell somebody to make it, and “argument” by literary critique, where you treat opposing arguments as “naratives” to be examined for literary value rather than instances of reasoning.

Does the world really need what is just another excuse not to respond to reasoned argument with reasoned argument? Do we have an excess of rational discussion that needs to be pared back?

Yes, yes, I know, I’m just denying that there’s a problem… No, there is a problem: People, generally speaking, do not want to be reasonable about things they disagree with. It’s an unpleasant task which we instinctively search for excuses not to engage in.

And that’s what this is.

13

bi 02.27.07 at 12:27 pm

Brett Bellmore, “right next to”? 9 of Diamonds, “Poison the Well”.

And, “Do we have an excess of rational discussion that needs to be pared back?” 8 of Spades, “Duh!”

You know, the thing about many of the tactics described in the paper is that they’re simply invalid. They have no place in “rational” debate. Astroturfing and dark hints of Galileo simply aren’t “reasoned argument” in any sense.

Similarly, fact-free rantage such as yours does not a valid argument make. Period.

14

Brett Bellmore 02.27.07 at 2:53 pm

You do realize, don’t you, that you’re illustrating my point? I try to make a reasoned argument, you respond by calling out a card, rather than addressing the merits of the argument.

You know, the thing about many of the tactics described in the paper is that they’re simply invalid.

You know, the thing is, Hoofnagle himself says that most of these are actually cogent arguments under some circumstances. And how do you tell when you’re in one of those circumstances?

By addressing the merits of the argument, rather than calling out the name of a card.

What we have here might be amusing, but in practice it’s simply yet another tool for people to avoid coming to grips with arguments for positions they dislike. Something the world has a crying need for…

15

Henry 02.27.07 at 3:22 pm

Does the world really need what is just another excuse not to respond to reasoned argument with reasoned argument?

Nope. What it needs is more “shouting”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/04/20/replication-of-results/#comment-152657 Michael Bellesiles, Michael Bellesiles, “MICHAEL BELLESILES”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/04/20/replication-of-results/#comment-152672 at every available opportunity ;)

Seriously though, there is a point in what Brett is saying, although I’d phrase it somewhat differently. Sometimes, these are going to be legit arguments – that is, arguments which actually provide at least a minimum (and perhaps more than that) of clarification, and which are intended, at least partly, in good faith. Sometimes, they’re anything but legitimate and to prevent proper argument from being started – as with the tobacco lobby’s deliberate efforts to create doubt surrounding a relationship between smoking and cancer that the tobacco companies knew was real. The two kinds of arguments should be treated very differently – I talk about this in my much delayed post on Berube’s book, which will be up Real Soon Now. But there isn’t any surefire way beyond one’s nose for stinkiness, and some degree of knowledge of the issues in question, to distinguish the one from the other, and even then, you may be wrong. But then, I’d like to see Brett live up to his own standards a little more – unless he’s really quite stupid, which I don’t think he is, I suspect he doesn’t believe himself in the ‘we will reduce your country to slagheap if you carry out attacks inside the US’ theory of Al Qaeda deterrence that he advances in Kieran’s thread above.

16

bi 02.27.07 at 3:44 pm

Brett Bellmore:

you respond by calling out a card, rather than addressing the merits of the argument”

Because, like, there’s no other “merit” to the argument beyond what the card says?

how do you tell when you’re in one of those circumstances?

What I do is, if someone starts throwing out arguments which are clearly bogus, I’m going to ignore what that someone says. If he can’t be bothered to make his point without resorting to bogosities, then I can’t be bothered to listen to him.

Which means, I’ll immediately show the door to anyone who tries any of these (and perhaps others):
*6 of Clubs — “Competition Is Magic” (steaming pile of unfalsifiable crap)
*8 of Clubs — “Red Herring” (isn’t it obvious?)
*9 of Diamonds — “Poison the Well” (Stalin! Hitler! Baudrillard! Arrr!)
*Joker — “Temper Tantrum” (if this is reasonable, then what isn’t?)
*10 of Clubs — “Fake Consumer Group” (don’t even try to pull this)

Oh, and it’s surprising to hear this from someone who’s against psychologizing:

People, generally speaking, do not want to be reasonable about things they disagree with.

17

Brett Bellmore 02.27.07 at 4:21 pm

“Nope. What it needs is more shouting Michael Bellesiles, Michael Bellesiles, MICHAEL BELLESILES at every available opportunity ;)”

LOL! It’s just that he’s such a classic example. But if you know of any other blatent academic frauds who won prestigious awards after having been exposed, (That’s the delightful part…) I’ll use ’em in the future.

“I suspect he doesn’t believe himself in the ‘we will reduce your country to slagheap if you carry out attacks inside the US’ theory of Al Qaeda deterrence that he advances in Kieran’s thread above.”

Eh, I think it was operative for at least a little while after we invaded Afghanistan. Chiefly because the sort of people who plan and carry out such attacks would in our place, if they had the capability.

18

bi 02.27.07 at 5:33 pm

It’s quibbling time! The heroic Brett Bellmore, after finding that he can’t sustain his main thesis, decides to hit back by playing the 8 of Clubs (“Red Herring”), the 9 of Clubs (“Nit Pick”), and the 9 of Hearts (“Muddy the Waters”).

Michael Bellesiles won an award after being exposed as a fraud, therefore More Guns, Less Crime! Arrr!

19

Michael B Sullivan 02.27.07 at 6:13 pm

Bi writes: “(Michael B. Sullivan: You know, people don’t become “Leftists” or “Rightists” from birth. People change their beliefs and their behaviour according to what they see and hear, and changing behaviour is the whole point of lobbying.)

To which I say… yes? I agree? And I’m not sure what prompted you to say that, or why it was directed at me.

20

Chris Hoofnagle 02.27.07 at 7:16 pm

I think Brett has a good point. We should listen to arguments in good faith.

But I’m not talking about good faith in the Deck of Cards. I’m talking about the libertarian lobbying machine, which is not aiming for discourse at all. They have one purpose–kill reform. The facts don’t matter. Winning does.

21

Brett Bellmore 02.27.07 at 8:41 pm

Good faith, bad faith… I’m not a mind reader. I doubt you are, either. And I know darned well that people can advance bad arguments from good motives, and be driven to promote the truth from self interest.

“Michael Bellesiles won an award after being exposed as a fraud, therefore More Guns, Less Crime! Arrr!”

Ah, no. Michael Bellesiles won an award after being exposed as a fraud, therefore he’s a convenient example of the way fraud gets treated in academie when it advances a popular agenda. Nothing more.

22

Barry 02.27.07 at 9:25 pm

Brett: “Good faith, bad faith… I’m not a mind reader. I doubt you are, either. ”

That’s true. So we just go on words and actions. It’s not like you popped in to CT for the first time on this thread, Brett.

23

Functional 02.28.07 at 4:59 am

From page 1, the article struck me as exceedingly uninformed. It classifies the Manhattan Institute and Cato as groups that “spread doubt about the need for any type of reform.”

Hmm. Any type of reform? How about, “a few narrow types of federalized regulatory interventions”? After all, Cato and Manhattan certainly do support welfare reform (or did, pre-1996), tort reform, and so forth. And — oddly enough — their opposition in the public debate always uses some of the same argumentative tactics that are criticized in the article.

“We don’t need tort reform — there’s no problem!”

“If there have been a few situations where lawsuits have driven a perfectly good product off the market (Bendectin), those are just the bad apples.”

Of course, maybe those arguments are right. Maybe there IS no problem in a particular area where someone is pushing for so-called reform. Maybe all of the problems DO come from a few bad apples. Maybe the reform WOULD make things worse in a number of other ways.

To resolve those kinds of questions, you have to address argument on their merits, not with juvenile, ad hominem stunts.

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