Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Fallacy of Being Right

Something's been worrying me about discussions on the Internet. I'm calling it the fallacy of being right. The value of a statement of truth on any topic is dependent on more than it being true.
The 3 I've identified so far:
  • Context. Does something being true contribute or derail a discussion by it being true? Take, for example, people who seem to only care about men in abusive relationships when people are discussing domestic violence in the context of the casualness around rape culture which disproportionately puts women on the back foot. It is true that men are abused. Its being true doesn't help to advance a discussion on how to minimize domestic violence toward women.
  • Scale. Let's talk economics. In NZ we had a politician admit to committing benefit fraud and our hypocrisy was shown in all its colors. People were angry with her because "benefit fraud is benefit fraud!". In truth, we were looking at a woman lying to gain an extra $15 or so a week. The cost of 3 coffees.... It's true, she committed a crime. But then, people don't show the same amount of fury at businesses who commit tax avoidance. A problematic comparison BUT at a completely insanely different scale. The burden of making up that shortfall falls to individuals paying taxes and is often in the millions.
  • Superiority. Why argue the point? Is your being right important? I found myself in an argument online about whether eggs should be considered vegetarian. When I was vegetarian, I never considered them vegetarian because to me there's very little difference between an egg and a chicken (I also didn't eat gelatin or rennet). A random Internet guy started getting almost aggressive in his wanting to be right about eggs being considered vegetarian. He knew he wasn't going to change my mind and he was totally free to disagree with my opinion (to be fair I was talking about it in the context of trying to find food while out), but it wasn't long until he was spouting off a whole lot of other irrelevant (possibly true?) bits about milk having udder blood and puss in it. The only reason I can possibly think of to get that invested about whether some random person agrees with your opinion is to feel superior to them.
The main problem is that we tend to talk in absolutes about whether something is true rather than looking at the context, scale or whether an argument is being made to make someone feel superior.
Take trickle down economics. The idea is that investment at the top leads to more jobs being created. Does it work? It's tempting to say "No. It does not work at all". But that assumes that everyone who believes in trickle down economics is stupid. The reality is that there's some truth to it but it likely doesn't provide the results to the scale that is promised.
If we break down the language "trickle down", we're left with a feeling that a lot of content at the top leads to a "trickle" downwards. Which would lead any reasonable person to conclude that if it only trickles down, then to create jobs there needs to be a flow upwards, in which case putting the money at the bottom leads to lots of smaller trickles on its way up. We're essentially taking about the ability of businesses to hire individuals. For example, say I go to a dairy and buy a soft drink. The dairy is a potentially able to hire staff, the distributor of the soft drink can pay staff, the soft drink manufacturer can also employ staff (I'm intentionally ignoring automation). The licenser of the branding of the soft drink gets the effects too. et el. Trickle down economics encourages putting the money at the top, to the licenser of the soft drink. As it's already at the top, there's no flow up effects and it ends up in the pockets of shareholders who may or may not use it to create employment opportunities.
So does money trickle down? Yes. Does that make it an effective way to run an economy? Well... we've been trying it and it hasn't proved to be effective thus far.