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The Brine Shrimp gambit

How adorable! A dodgy fellow has invented what he thinks is a new get-out-of-jail-free card, called the brine shrimp gambit. It’s an excuse of the form, “I’m talking about X (brine shrimp), and you’re accusing me of Y (animal abuse), therefore you lose.” It doesn’t seem to matter that no, I am actually talking about X, and you’re just trying to displace the criticism to something completely different so you can skip off without thinking about your claims. I have seen versions of this many times.

The most common example occurs when I criticize religion to someone’s face, and they immediately protest, “Oh, no, I don’t believe in that kind of religion. You’re thinking of the Fred Phelps kind of religion.”

Sorry, no. I’m quite aware of the distinction between crazy fundy evangelicals and your average, run-of-the-mill Christian who believes in silly fantasy stories. I despise Karen Armstrong almost as much as I do Fred Phelps, but for different things. I am actually jumping down your throat for your worship of evil, tiny, nasty little brine shrimp; I have not mistaken them for, say, a squadron of cats or intervening angels.

And yes, when you tell me you love black people and would even let one use your bathroom, it is not inflating a brine shrimp into a sea monster to point out that you’re being a racist. Similarly, if you defend a gender-biased selection of event speakers because, you say, you didn’t think of those other notable women you could have invited, then you are being sexist.

Just watch. You’ll be seeing the Brine Shrimp gambit pulled many times in the future, and every time it will be used as an escape hatch to justify lesser injustices by pretending it could have been worse. Add another bullet to the arsenal of silencing tactics.


Now I’m seeing it everywhere. Here’s an example from Newtie.

You really see this problem on the heels of the South Carolina primary, which Gingrich won mainly by running around insinuating racist arguments without saying them out loud, and then when he was called on it, his supporters took umbrage because they’ve put so much work into avoiding saying the N-word.

That’s a perfectly executed Brine Shrimp gambit.

Comments

  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    To all Left-leaning and “moderte” Christians out there who respond to the antics of your conservative, fundamentalist, competitors with the tired denial “They aren’t TRUE Christians,” consider that is exactly what the Fawells, Robertsons, Duggars, etc., of America say about you when you try to shoehorn modern discoveries about science and civil rights into your historically ignorant and bigoted faith.

    It doesn’t matter if your version of the alleged Palestinian “demigod” would want socialized medicine and gun control while another wants to lower taxes and publicly execute homosexuals, as long as they center around a divine being named “Jesus Christ,” your religion is “Christian!”

  2. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    You’ve seen it many times? How about all the fucking time? Right here on Pharyngula, even!

  3. Denephew Ogvorbis, OM says

    PZ:

    You criticize religious folk? How dare you deny the the destruction of the Ukrainian farmers!

    No, that (or similar things) would never happen here.

  4. mwitthoft says

    I don’t get it. I read the Randi article and I don’t get it. I am a fan of rhetorical tricks and logical fallacies and I don’t get it. What is the brine shrimp fallacy, what is an example, and what does it have to do with the examples given?

  5. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    There’s worse things than brine shrimp. Consider a squadron of cats for a moment . . .

  6. andyo says

    Maybe I haven’t been following the “movement” enough, but I’m kind of in the same ship as mwitthoft above, I don’t get what the poster at Randi.org is going on about, like if something specific brought it up.

  7. eigenperson says

    #8, #10: The reason you don’t get it is that it’s poorly expressed.

    Also, to understand what I perceive to be the author’s point of view, you should understand that “trafficking in brine shrimp” means “alleged oppression of women”, and “supporting human trafficking” means “being sexist”.

    And if, at this point, you’re wondering why each and every alleged oppression of women must be analogized to something so obviously innocuous as trafficking in brine shrimp in order to draw the strong conclusion the author presumably wants you to draw, you have just discovered the main flaw in the author’s thesis.

    Consider the following two conversations.

    Conversation 1:

    Me: “Selling brine shrimp in little tanks is akin to human trafficking.”
    MRA: “No it isn’t. Brine shrimp don’t suffer from being trafficked so it isn’t bad.”
    Me: “Dude, are you FOR human trafficking!!? Racist!”

    Conversation 2:

    Me: “Selling brine shrimp in little tanks is akin to human trafficking.”
    MRA: “No it isn’t. Brine shrimp don’t suffer from being trafficked so it isn’t bad.”
    Me: “Yes, they actually do, and here is some evidence that shows it. Maybe you should reconsider your preconceived notions about brine shrimp.”
    MRA: “You’re accusing me of being for human trafficking, you horrible person!!1!”

    Conversation 1 is what the MRAs THINK is going on. Conversation 2 is what is actually going on.

    In both cases, one person is committing a fallacy (marked conveniently with exclamation points). Both of them could be called “brine shrimp fallacies.” In fact, #1 is the fallacy the author thinks is being committed, while #2 is the one the author is committing.

  8. says

    Is there a name for the hoary old ‘some Christians did some good things unrelated to their religion, therefore Christianity = good’ argument? ’cause this one seems like a flipped version of that.

  9. consciousness razor says

    I’ve got to admit, I was confused for a few minutes too. I thought he might be attempting to be serious.

    The lucky ones [brine shrimp] that survive do not live free, but are doomed to an unfulfilling aquarium life as the “property” of snot-nosed kids. It is not unlike the early slave trade in the U.S.

    If this dude wanted to criticize hyperbole, why would he do it by being so blatantly hyperbolic? Am I missing something?

  10. jaranath says

    #8 and #10, I agree it’s confusingly vague, but here’s my best guess:

    The author over at JREF (Steve Cuno) is complaining that people who do something very mild on a spectrum of offense are being criticized as if they did something very severe on the same spectrum (although he also seems to imply they’re not even on the same specturm at all…) Thus, in his example, if you order some sea monkeys for your own private amusement or to feed to your pet live coral, you might be given the same severity of criticism as if you’d ordered MONKEY monkeys for your own amusement or to feed your pet lions.

    Given everything else going on and the strange indirect, passive-aggressive wording of the piece, I think I can assume he’s referring to the recent kerfuffles over sexism and suggesting that it’s deeply inappropriate to say some people have been showing some sexism, such as Ben Radford or DJ Grothe.

    I am reminded of conversations I once had with my parents regarding racism. They were incensed that I could ever think of using the term “racist” to describe them or some of their views. This despite things like being warned never to marry a black person, countless racist chain emails (“we tried painting the robots black, but they quit working, demanded welfare, and two robbed the store!”), etc. To them, “racist” could apparently only ever mean white hoods and lynchings, and thus I must think they were horrible people. Sigh.

  11. Irene Delse says

    conciousness razor:

    If this dude wanted to criticize hyperbole, why would he do it by being so blatantly hyperbolic? Am I missing something?

    Oh, it’s simple: the author of the article thinks he’s clever and insightful, when he’s just annoying. Not naming names, he manages to insult about everybody who’s ever voiced an opinion on a “hot button” topic.

    So, basically, it’s trolling.

  12. don1 says

    It’s poorly expressed and rather woolly, but is his gist;

    ‘Hey, all I did was invite her for coffee and you’re treating me like a rapist.’

    When in fact he was just being called on being creepy and sexist?

  13. screechymonkey says

    This is simply the MRA version of Don’t Be A Dick: “[i]some people[/i] are making inappropriately substantiated accusations of sexism, and that gives me a sad, so please stop doing that in the name of Holy Skepticism. Who’s doing that? Examples? Oh, heavens no, I couldn’t possibly say.”

  14. anchor says

    “I’m quite aware of the distinction between crazy fundy evangelicals and your average, run-of-the-mill Christian who believes in silly fantasy stories.”

    Hmmm. The distinction is superficial. The former vocally demands everybody should believe in silly fantasy stories, while the latter (generally) passively wishes everybody should believe in silly fantasy stories. The significant thing is that both believe in silly fantasy stories, which is crazy. Full stop. What’s the difference? That the average run-of-the-mill Christian is a type of kinder and gentler fundy evangelical? Or that the fundy evangelical is a type of militant run-of-the-mill Christian? That this distinction is somehow informatively non-trivial and the degree of craziness involved should dominate one’s consideration? That it’s more important to distinguish which camp is more crazy? Is it really easier to persuade the average run-of-the-mill Christian out of their crazy belief because they aren’t as crazy as the fundy evangelicals? Feh. This ‘distinction’ is manufactered and can be construed as another form of misdirection, a kind of brine shrimp in red herring clothing, with overtones of circularity. CRAZY still = CRAZY…whether the believer has a big mouth or not, they’re still nuts.

  15. says

    ‘Hey, all I did was invite her for coffee and you’re treating me like a rapist.’

    Ing stock response: I’m offended that you’d think I’m so nice to rapists.

  16. says

    I don’t get it.

    I’ll try to rephrase:

    Ladies and gentleman, these are Sea Monkeys. Sea Monkeys are sold to children as monkeys, but Sea Monkeys…ARE…brine shrimp. Now think about that. That does NOT MAKE SENSE. Why would brine shrimp be sold as monkeys, which are terrestrial primates? That does NOT MAKE SENSE! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does NOT MAKE SENSE! Look at me. I’m a skeptic defending bigotry, and I’m talkin’ about brine shrimp! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re on those blogs deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Nineteenth Amendment, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen the supposed blogosphere, it does NOT MAKE SENSE! If Sea Monkeys are brine shrimp, you must find Rebecca Watson a cunt! The defense rests.

  17. you_monster says

    …was that article a swipe at DJ Grothe?

    No. The article is in favor of a point that DJ agrees with. The author added this in the comments section,

    Only a fool steps into the Comments section of his own article. Here I am.

    Just wanted to note for the record: Some have suspected DJ Grothe of being the impetus behind my article. Nonsense. It was my idea and mine alone. I submitted it to Randi.org’s volunteer editor, who, in accordance with established practice with long-term contributors to the site, ran it without consulting her boss or DJ.

    I phoned DJ this morning and asked if, had he known about the post, he would have have nixed it. He said three things: 1) He would probably have allowed the piece to run, in a spirit of open dialog, however, 2) he would have asked me to be more specific in order to avoid the very firestorm I seem to have caused. 3) He agrees with my observations about THE BEHAVIOR, which both he and I have observed ON BOTH SIDES of various conflicts within the skeptical community, and not just recently.

    I might add that despite repercussions directed at DJ that should rightly be directed at me, he was thoughtful and warm when I called. Can’t help but like the guy.

    —Steve Cuno

    I’m reasonably sure that DJ views this article as an elucidation of a serious problem. Both Steve Cuno and Grothe seem very much distressed at the recent vocal criticisms of sexism within the community.

    Of course there are no legitimate claims being made by the feminists in our community. Some of those more nastier skeptic bloggers are just fomenting the controversy and the commentariat are merely jumping on the bandwagon. Blah blah blah, heard it before.

  18. you_monster says

    I might add that despite repercussions directed at DJ that should rightly be directed at me

    This part reminded me of when DJ was whining that he was receiving too much criticism for him “merely liking” some Facebook comment. It really pisses me off. If someone publicly agrees with something I find objectionable, I will critics that person. The fact that it is not them personally presenting the shitty argument is not that important. Agree with a shit idea = my opinion of you diminishes somewhat.

  19. Ichthyic says

    I’ll try to rephrase:

    perfectly done!

    same thing that first popped into my head when I read the OP.

  20. Ichthyic says

    The key part of Steve’s “article”:

    Heck, I may even fool myself.

    and indeed he has.

    well done Steve!

  21. Azkyroth says

    Just so I’m clear here, are we actually arguing that differences of degree don’t matter or aren’t worth taking into account in our reasoning?

  22. KG says

    Can’t help but like the guy [D J Grothe]. – Steve Cano

    Oh, I find it remarkably easy to help liking him.

  23. Ichthyic says

    Just so I’m clear here, are we actually arguing that differences of degree don’t matter or aren’t worth taking into account in our reasoning?

    we aren’t.

    Steve isn’t.

    but then, Steve’s actual point isn’t useful, either.

    I think Steve’s ego is far bigger than his brain.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people think they can synthesize the entire elevatorgate incident and dismiss it with so much handwaving.

    *waves hands about*

    doesn’t work for me.

  24. Ichthyic says

    er, in case it still isn’t clear (I deliberately intended it not to be, just like Steve).

    no, the idea that differences of degree = hyperbole is a red herring.

  25. Irene Delse says

    3) He agrees with my observations about THE BEHAVIOR, which both he and I have observed ON BOTH SIDES of various conflicts within the skeptical community, and not just recently.

    Ah, ha! And here we have the “But both sides do it” gambit. Why, oh why, does the guy insist for acting like a troll again?

    (BTW, note the irony of Cuno’s article drawing fire toward Grothe, when it was intended as support.)

  26. consciousness razor says

    That’s a perfectly executed Brine Shrimp gambit.

    Hmm… So in order to be perfectly executed, this kind of gambit must fail miserably? Do we have to bother setting up a counter-gambit, or does it work itself out naturally (preferably in some kind of explosion)?

  27. 01jack says

    Sorry folks. Calling the brine shrimp gambit can’t be useful rhetorical device if nearly no one can understand what you’re getting at.

  28. says

    All I can say is that the skeptical movement has reached a point where it comes down to two things: being a skeptic, or being a member of the He-man Fairy Stomping Club. I’m pulling for the former.

  29. says

    BrianX, I’m assuming that you by “He-man Fairy Stomping Club” are referring to some misguided machismo reaction toward the feminine or effeminate. However, this is a case where the metaphorical language totally overshadows the point being made. Even when I know what your point is (presuming I do) I can still only conjure up the mental image of Prince Adam screaming “By the power of Greyskull I have the power!” after which he clomps is great S&M boots into a garden of Tinkerbells and Navis. If some club offered that activity for its members, I’d sign up instantaneously. “Hey! Listen!” – “No!” *splat*

  30. DLC says

    Sorry, but I’m not seeing it. No doubt Mr Cuno’s brilliance is too subtle for me to glean any useful knowledge from it.

  31. marias says

    Good grief. The hypocrisy high bar gets raised yet again. It is reassuring that pretty much everyone outside of this sheltered workshop sees you for the clown you are now though.

  32. says

    Sketch:

    I’m referring to the way that people seem to think that there’s limits on what’s amenable to skepticism. There are people who claim to be skeptics who think evo-psych refutes feminism, for example, or that global warming denial isn’t tinfoil hattery.

  33. Koshka says

    And if your sea monkeys swam to the surface and calmly explained ” Hey we don’t like being kept in this tank. We are thinking creatures and you should treat us as such”, should you;

    1) Think about it, try to understand their position and release them in the wild

    or

    2) Shout at the sea monkeys ” Shut the fuck up, I am supplying you a nice safe home and you aren’t really suffering so get the fuck back in the water and build me a sandcastle. Don’t you know there are animals out there that are being killed and eaten you ungracious shit”

  34. Irene Delse says

    @ Koshka:

    Or “What about my right to have pretty sea-life in a tank in my house? You are bullying me!! I won’t defer to the Anti-Human Sea-Brine Mafia!!!”

  35. SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

    What I got from this is that mentioning that Steve Cuno may have said something racist is tantamount to sabotaging skepticism.

    Two can play at this hyperbole game.

  36. Ichthyic says

    And if your sea monkeys swam to the surface and calmly explained ” Hey we don’t like being kept in this tank. We are thinking creatures and you should treat us as such”, should you;

    …Immediately check yourself into the nearest mental health care facility.

  37. Ichthyic says

    He-Man is in denial.

    the new cartoon series sure to take the kids by storm!

    “He-Man and the Masters of Denial!”

    “BY THE POWER OF NUMB-SKULL!”