[Mini-fisk] JR Hill, defending monarchy and conflating arguments

ComRes recently carried out a poll for the Sunday Telegraph, asking the question: ‘Do you believe Britain is better off as a monarchy or would be better off as a republic?’ 66% voted monarchy, 17% republic and 17% don’t know. Yet the Observer insists that the Royal Family is outdated. Is it not ironic that, in the name of democracy, the Observer rejects polling suggesting a democratic majority in favour of monarchy? Today, theirs is the minority opinion, and in democracies minority opinions are not carried. So, by all means disagree. We can do that sort of thing in a constitutional monarchy. But perhaps we should admit that it is the republicans who are outdated? (source)

JR Hill doesn’t show us the link of “yet” in his initial comment. A poll showing us what the average person thinks doesn’t contradict an argument from a single person. It doesn’t link in two ways.

First 66% could vote that women should be denied jobs, “yet” a John Stuart Mill could argue differently. That doesn’t tell us who is right in that debate (spoiler: it’s the great Mill), it shows us differing opinions. The “yet” should be replaced by another conjunction, like “and”.

But, that’s still probably wrong because of the second way it doesn’t link.

In saying that the Observer thinks the Royal Family is outdated, the only way for that sentence to link is if the Observer was making a FACTUAL claim based on the same poll data – not a moral argument. It would make sense in this way: “The poll says that 66% voted monarchy… yet the Observer insists the poll says majority voted against monarchy”.

The Observer isn’t arguing how many agree, it’s arguing the idea is unjustified.

Indeed, when Hill says “theirs is a minority opinion”, he again seems to be linking majority with justification of argument. This is an appeal to majority fallacy. And again, the Observer wasn’t describing data which is what Hill is doing and conflating.

Criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

My super smart frenemy Kenan Malik has a new post up, examining the blurry, grey landscape that is the no man’s land between the criticism of Islam and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

I tried tackling this in relation to Sam Harris – who I like but Kenan isn’t such a fan of – some time back, myself.

I find, for example, Murtaza Hussain’s criticisms of Harris misguided, though I’ve not yet formulated a good enough response. Anyway, Kenan’s articles are always incredibly nuanced and thoughtful (compare that to anything Hussain writes about Harris).

I hope you’ll read Kenan since he’s one of the smartest people you’re likely to encounter, whose topics are broad yet consistently insightful. Even The New York Times recognised this recently.

Oprah Winfrey and misusing entertainment (and large) platforms

In my latest for Big Think, I use the whole “Oprah denies atheism” affair as a jump off point to examine her larger and damaging approach to thinking.

I don’t view all celebrity as bad. What I worry about is the uncritical or unthinking engagement so many have toward things they adore: From people to video games, nothing is sacred. That doesn’t mean we can’t be sensitive in how we criticise, of course, but neither does it mean our silence for fear of offence.

Celebrities can do good, of course. But we shouldn’t be afraid of calling them out just because their platform is larger than ours or just because they’ve, perhaps, done good in the world. As I indicate, doing good in one area doesn’t absolve you of wrong done elsewhere.

(PS: Please try refer to her as Oprah Winfrey or Winfrey. I have a small annoyance at referring to strangers by first name, who actually have a surname. [Hence, Madonna is fine and is after all her stage name])

Being right is not enough

In conversation with Twitter friends, I asked about whether we should attempt to find a term that better portrays video games as not being strictly for children. I used the example of “graphic novels” to illustrate this point, since graphic novel “sounds” more mature, more adult, despite many of us still calling them comics, regardless.

Predictably, many said that ignorant people shouldn’t be catered to. We know that video games are a medium, not genre; similarly comic books aren’t all about superheroes. If people assume all video games are mindless shooting, sexist romps that turn children into psychopaths, why should we change our terminology to suit them? They’re wrong after all.

However, this isn’t in dispute – the point is do we mount a kind of political campaign to try change perspectives? [Read more...]