Philosophy Tuesday

As I’ve noted here before, there is great clarity that comes from comparing who we proclaim ourselves to be (or to be about), and looking at what our actions, or the results thereof, say about what’s ACTUALLY going on.  And what’s going on right now is really showing us a very stark view of how authorities view and treat people, to the tune of 422+ incidents of overreach, brutality, and aggression* that have hurt, injured, and even killed people they supposedly swore an oath to protect.

And with that comes a hard look at how we let things get to this point.  And what to do about it.  Be ready, for the tactics and fallacies are going to get deployed real fast, in thick clouds (and yes, that imagery is not chosen by accident), trying to excuse these actions.

Especially when it may be coming from within.  So let’s look at one of these fallacies in detail, because by doing so we can both recognize it when being deployed against us, and moreover inoculate ourselves from ourselves, from our own internal monologues that may also attempt to dismiss, or minimize, some of all that is going on.  And it is the No True Scotsman fallacy:

“No true Scotsman, or appeal to purity, is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule – “no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group.” [] **

This is, of course, nicely related to the “few bad apples” trope that is so readily trotted out.  (which, by the way, notice A) always only seems to get applied to one side of someone’s preferred group, ie, “our side has only a few bad apples, while the other side I am more than willing to tar with a broad brush and apply a single action/trait to degrade a whole group, and B) ignores that the complete saying is “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”)  But my own variant of it comes in this form:

“No climber/paintballer would ever steal my wallet.”

This comes from my days of playing paintball and, later, going to climbing gyms.  There were times where there were no lockers available, or place to stash something, or should I lock my car, or any of those kind of moments… and my mind would head straight into that fallacy:  “Well, I’m a good person, and I am a paintballer, so therefore paintballers are good, and besides, I’ve met a bunch of them, and they seem all like fun friendly people, so clearly I’ve got nothing to worry about…”  The same went for climbers.  “We’re all cool dudes and dudettes, all is safe.”

Fortunately for me, my wallet, or anything else, was never stolen.  But I’ve known others who have had things “walk away” in those kinds of situations, and I’ve been overcharged or otherwise tricked by paintballers and climbers alike.

This is a great example of what’s known as “positive bias” – instances of our hidden prejudices that favour those we have an affinity for, or an identity towards.  This quick piece on NPR is a great primer.

With these biases we can so easily deceive ourselves.  Especially as often we will do anything to avoid something uncomfortable.  Or to avoid a new truth that challenges us and our reality and our identities.  And this fallacy is an easy one to reach for.

But eating bitter is where true growth can happen.


* Keep scrolling in that thread — it’s a long list to get to 422+.  There’s also a spreadsheet here:  All noted and saved for posterity, so that it cannot be forgotten or denied.

** Also, if you aren’t familiar with all of the logical fallacies, they are mightily powerful to learn about.  Here’s one site that does it in a lighthearted fashion:  and the more extensive wiki article: