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Head Games: Identity, Arguments, Force, & Results

Posted By: Swami
Date: Wednesday, 13-Jan-2021 05:51:57

Why People Should Stop Appealing to Their Identity to Win Arguments - Foundation for Economic Education

When you invoke appeals to identity, you are undermining the truth-seeking mission of the conversation, and the reasonable response is to discount what you say.

Monday, October 01, 2018
Bryan Caplan

I recently remarked: “Appealing to your identity is a reason to discount what you say, not a reason to pay extra attention.” Why do I believe this?

Logic versus Emotion

Well, suppose you want to make people agree with you. You’ve got two main routes.

Offer arguments in favor of your view to change what listeners sincerely think.

Make continued disagreement feel uncomfortable so listeners pay you lip service.

Only the first option is epistemically respectable. But it has a major downside: good arguments are scarce. The second is epistemically sleazy, but it has a major upside: it is open to everyone, regardless of the merits of their views.

Well, if you’ve got at least halfway decent arguments, you’ll probably make them, hoping to change your listeners’ minds as well as their words. In contrast, if your arguments are flimsy, you’ll probably play on people’s emotions.

So what rhetorical route should we expect speakers to take? Well, if you’ve got at least halfway decent arguments, you’ll probably make them, hoping to change your listeners’ minds as well as their words. In contrast, if your arguments are flimsy, you’ll probably play on people’s emotions. You won’t really convince them, but at least they might act convinced.*

What does this have to do with identity? Simple: When someone you disagree with appeals to their identity, it is usually uncomfortable! If I want to discuss the prevalence of sexual abuse among Catholic clergy and a listener responds, “As a Catholic…” they’re not-so-subtly telling me, “You better tread lightly, lest you insult my faith!” If I want to discuss the right to burn flags, and a listener responds, “As an American…” they’re not-so-subtly telling me, “You better tread lightly, lest you insult my country!” The same goes for all of the standard appeals to identity—religious, national, ethnic, gender, etc. When you invoke them, you are undermining the truth-seeking mission of the conversation, and the reasonable response is to discount what you say.

Is Identity Ever a Valid Argument?

But can’t identity provide extra information? Once in a while, yes. But again, the truth-seeking route is normally to simply share your extra information without making identity an issue. In special cases, admittedly, you can’t certify your credibility without mentioning your identity. For example: “I’ve attended Catholic Church for 32 years and never seen the slightest sign of clerical sexual abuse.” Even here, though, truth-seekers will acknowledge their identity casually to keep information flowing freely.

In any case, your identity provides far less information than you think. For two reasons:

Belonging to a group lets you learn lots of details about the group, but this depth comes at the expense of breadth. Being Danish teaches you a lot about what Danes are like. But the more energy you invest in your Danish identity, the less you learn about non-Danes.

The more you identify with a group, the worse your myside bias normally becomes. When you invest energy in your Danish identity, you grow more likely to overestimate the wonder of Danes and underestimate Danish shortcomings.

By analogy: Each of us knows more about our own lives than anyone else on Earth. But the more you dwell on your own life history, the less you’re likely to know about what life is like for anyone else. Furthermore, the fact that you know lots of details about your own life does not make you a reliable judge of your own merits and failings. Quite the opposite.

The knowledge that identity provides is cut from the same cloth as self-knowledge. Indeed, it’s probably worse because the social sanctions for personal arrogance are far stronger than the social sanctions for group arrogance. Even your parents and closest friends will roll their eyes if you say, “I am the greatest.” But among people who share your identity, declaring “We are the greatest” might even make you friends.

You can’t make the whole world reasonable. But you can still be the change you want to see in the world.

The “discount appeals to identity” maxim can plainly be abused. An Indian nationalist could selectively use it against Pakistani nationalists, and Pakistani nationalists could return the favor. But the same goes for any de-biasing rule. You can’t make the whole world reasonable. But you can still be the change you want to see in the world.

* Needless to say, both claims are only tendencies; people with good arguments occasionally appeal to emotions, and people with bad arguments occasionally make them, anyway.


Muslims Burn Piles of Pampers Because They Insult Mohammed - American Renaissance

Dave Rudge, Daily Mail, February 22, 2018

Muslim protests in India are calling for a boycott of Pampers products after claiming to have seen the word ‘Mohammed’ in the face of a cartoon cat which appears on its nappies.

The lines illustrating the whiskers, nose, mouth and left eye of the smiley feline have been suggested to resemble the Prophet’s name when written in Arabic or Urdu, although the company that makes the products vehemently denied the claims.

Procter and Gamble in a statement that said they would never intend to offend any person or religion and the the design showed ‘an innocent animated representation of a cat.’

However, the image on the hygiene product has been branded an ‘insult’ to Islam by critics, and protesters have staged ‘Pampers burnings’.

Activists from the Islamic group Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat yesterday lodged a formal complaint about the nappies at Dabeerpura Police Station in Hyderabad, reports the Deccan Chronicle.

In a letter to police, the group said Pampers — owned by US multinational Procter & Gamble — had ‘hurt the feelings’ of the Muslim community and called for the products to be taken off the shelves immediately.

It stated: ‘Even with (the) bare eye it is been identified that the name of Prophet (PBUH) can be seen printed on it in Urdu/Arabic.’

The Prophet Mohammed, it added, was a ‘holy personality in Islam’ and the ‘disrespect cannot be tolerated’.

The letter went on to say: ‘Arrest them and punish them.’

A spokesman for Pampers’ owner Procter & Gamble said: ‘We are aware of the false and misleading information about Pampers being spread via social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube.

‘The design on the Pampers Baby Dry Pants shows an innocent animated representation of a cat. It shows a cat’s mouth and whiskers like it is commonly portrayed in drawings and cartoons across the world, especially by little children.

‘The intent behind the use of this cartoon is completely innocent and we would never intend to offend any person, religion or cultural belief.’

Some social media users joined in the calls for a Pampers boycott, while others insisted the cartoon was just an innocent drawing of a cat which had been taken out of context.

Nasar Alam Khan wrote: ‘Please request every Muslim brother and sister to boycott this product. It’s the only way to prove our strength and the love for our Prophet.’

Azam Shariff said: ‘Maybe it’s the fault of the creative team but whatever the case is, directly or indirectly, it’s manifesting the name of (our) holy Prophet.

‘That is a sheer desecration, it’s insulting. Don’t use the products until they change this, until they apologise.’

Amina Wani Choudhury added: ‘Anything that is in your mind you can see or imagine because it’s in your mind, not on diapers.’

On its website, Procter & Gamble states Pampers is its biggest global brand and has ‘served millions of babies since its launch in the Arabian Peninsula’.

Procter & Gamble has been approached for comment.


Critics denounce South Carolina's new 'anti-Semitism' law | News | Al Jazeera

A recently passed South Carolina law targets criticism of Israel in schools by branding it anti-Semitic.

by Ali Younes
16 May 2018 20:38 GMT

South Carolina recently passed a bill that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP]

Update: Responding to claims by a student quoted at the end of this report, the University of South Carolina said: "First, USC has not supported the anti-Semitism bill or provisio. Secondly, our administration is committed to maintaining and supporting a diverse and inclusive campus. That’s not to say we are immune to the larger societal problem of racism and bigotry."

Civil rights activists are opposing the passage of a bill that equates criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism in the US state of South Carolina.

The new bill would effectively deem any criticism of Israel in publicly funded schools and state colleges as "anti-Semitic".

Unable to pass it as a standalone law for the past two years over questions about its constitutionality, supporters of the measure used a legislative tactic known as a "rider" to insert it into the state's 2018-2019 budget. The measure will expire after one year.

Supporters of Israel see the controversial bill as a triumph, arguing that any criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic and should be banned on college campuses.

Opponents argue the bill is politically motivated and has nothing to do with the actual issue of anti-Semitism. They argue the law will instil fear in academic circles and create self-censorship among professors and students who will be reluctant to include Israel in political discussions.

Brad Hutto, a Democratic South Carolina senator, played down the impact of the new law, saying it would not change freedom of speech in South Carolina's public schools and universities.

Hutto, who voted against the bill, told Al Jazeera "freedom of speech is alive and well in South Carolina".
Cooper says the law stifles free speech and academic debate

Joshua Cooper, a professor of mathematics at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, told Al Jazeera he opposes the law not only because it stifles free speech and academic debate, but also because it violates the values of his Jewish faith.

"The law will chill free speech on campus when a robust debate is desperately needed," he said.

Barry Trachtenberg, director of the Jewish studies programme at Wake Forest University, who teaches a course on anti-Semitism, said there should be clear distinctions between "actual anti-Semitic hatred" and legitimate criticism of Israel.

Cooper, also a member of the Academic Advisory Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, said that, as a Jewish person, he does not want to be identified with Israel when it commits human rights abuses and continues to occupy Palestinian territories.

"The bill identifies Jews with Israel. As a Jew, I don't want to be associated with Israel's human rights abuses," Cooper said.

The bill's sponsor, Representative Alan Clemmons, told Reuters news agency that Jews are subject to intense anti-Semitism in the US with "Jews at the point of the hate spear in this country".

The Anti-Defamation League said in February the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US jumped by 57 percent last year.

The passage of the law shows South Carolina as "leading the fight against anti-Semitism", he said.

Trachtenberg is the director of Jewish studies programme at Wake Forest University

Reinforcing anti-Semitism

Trachtenberg argued the legislation would actually reinforce anti-Semitic hatred against Jews, not decrease it.

"It is my sense that such laws are more likely to exacerbate anti-Semitism rather than combat it for they reinforce the notion that Jews are an exceptional people who require laws that pertain only to them," he said.

"Speech that is racist, ethnically motivated, or discriminatory may be legal in the US, but it must be opposed by all concerned with freedom, equality, and human rights. Speech that questions Israel's founding principles, policies, and actions is entirely legitimate."

Dana al-Hasan, a Palestinian graduate student at the University of South Carolina and president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the university, told Al Jazeera the new law is no more than a political tool by the Israeli lobby.

She said she often works with Jewish students to raise awareness about hate speech and anti-Semitism.

"Needless to say, we at the SJP denounce and never condone anti-Semitism. Palestinian and Jewish students work hand in hand to fight hatred," she said.

Arya Novinbakht, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina and a member of the Jewish community in the area, told Al Jazeera "the law would only obstruct our community from discussing the Israeli policies and behaviour in the Middle East, and that's not healthy or constructive for us".

Novinbakht also criticised the University of South Carolina for "not doing anything" to combat racism and discrimination against African American students, while actively supporting this "biased" law.

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