Rubbish Recycled Rhetoric #2: The M&M Argument

You’ve seen it a thousand times. In all likelihood, you’ve probably seen it employed by vastly different demographics. Which I find amazingly strange, because one would think that when on the receiving end of this utterly worthless reductive argument, one immediately and intuitively realizes just how deeply flawed it is. So I can see why one would then turn it around and wield it ironically, reductio ad absurdum, as a joke.

But then to use it seriously? To have the stupid thing proliferate through internet discourse? It’s completely unfathomable to me.

So let’s get to it. It looks something like this:

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Or, it goes like this:

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Or maybe, like this:

This+is+a+bullshit+argument+and+you+know+this+was_bee70f_5747655.jpg

You get the idea.

This “argument,” if you can call it that without gagging, is used and abused by tons of people in very different camps, all the time. It’s another classic piece of rubbish recycled rhetoric, something that gets slapped on an image that can be circulated and go viral when people see it and already agree so they hit the share button, because simple arguments don’t make brain go ow.

Let’s examine the point, with an ounce of charity, to boil down what it’s trying to get across.

The Attempted Point:

You have a sample of a thing, say X, and a smaller number of that larger sample, Y, is hazardous in some way. The numbers seem to vary a bit depending on who’s using them (10%, or apparently even 0.1%) in terms of wha portion of the sample in question is hazardous. The supposition here is that even if the hazardous sample is incredibly small, you’ll hesitate to take a random sample of the larger sample when you’re playing with your life (the implication being eating a poisoned M&M kills you, I suppose).

Now, if I haven’t made it clear already, I’m really having a hard time believing I really even need to write this post. It’s frankly somewhat shocking that it’s not so patently obvious how shitty this argument is that people wouldn’t immediately realize and abandon it. But, much to my continued dismay, and to the continued knee-capping of social discourse, it still lives. And especially since it’s so egregiously bad, there’s a duty here to dismantle it, for the good of our ability to reason as a society. Sigh.

Why It’s Garbage

10% isn’t very much. There’s a decent chance that in any sample of just about anything, that 10% of that sample sucks. So, let’s go reductio ad absurdum first. You basically just need a stereotype, and you stick it in the formula, and ta-dah, you have your stereotype affirming BS argument.

  1. You say not all white kids are school shooters? Imagine a bowl of M&M’s. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead, eat a handful. Not all M&M’s are poison, and not all white kids are school shooters.
  2. You say not all conservatives want to shoot up abortion clinics? M&M’s
  3. You say not all conservatives are closet racists? M&M’s.
  4. You say not all liberals want to ban all guns? M&M’s.
  5. You say not all cops want to kill black people? M&M’s.
  6. You say not all black people want to kill cops in retaliation? M&M’s.
  7. You say not all black people are criminals? M&M’s.

I hope you get the picture. This rhetoric can be used to apply to literally any stereotype about a general demographic you can think of. It’s basically a catch-all argument for stereotyping. And therefore bigotry. Last time I checked, bigotry was bad. Following?

Second approach. How about that .1% huh? That’s a really, really low number. Are we really going to balk at that? I can maybe understand, theoretically, not wanting to play Russian roulette with a 10 chamber gun. But one bad apple in a thousand? Let’s take a minute and look at some statistics, for perspective.

death

(Source: http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts-chart.aspx)

So, if we’re not risking anything with more than a 1/1,000 chance of death, don’t get in a car. Or on a motorcycle. In fact, don’t go near roads, since lots of pedestrians are killed. Don’t keep any sharp objects or pills in the house, because you just might off yourself. Also you sure as shit better switch to an all kale and quinoa diet, because heart disease and cancer, damn. Just to be safe, don’t go near any body of water, since drowning is pretty darn close to 1/1000 deaths.

Look, goofy statistics aside, the point is you take risks in your life every day when you get out of bed. Hell there’s probably a pretty small statistical chance that getting out of bed will kill you, and you do that a whole lot. Maybe you should stop risking that, since you risk your life every time you do.

Life is risk, folks. There are no 100% safety assurances on anything. And if that’s what you want, go lock yourself in a rubber room and strap into your bubble suit.

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I really hope that’s about enough to wrap this up. But do me a favor, next time you see anyone, regardless of whether you happen to agree with their point, use this argument, tell them it’s BullShit and they shouldn’t be using it. Because it’s bad rationale, and every time it’s used it enables other people to use it as a form of rhetoric for some equally shitty point. Even if you happen to be using it to support a otherwise tenable position, using it alone is an issue.

If you’re too lazy to explain why the argument is shit, just copy the link to this post on the person’s stupid picture or comment. I don’t mind the site traffic.

Rubbish Ranking:

I’ve also decided that if I keep going forward with these types of posts, I’m going to start ranking how shitty these pieces of rhetoric are. Factors in their shittiness are as follows:

  1. How prevalent is the rhetoric? The more common it is, the worse the ranking.
  2. How shitty is the argument? Is it never usable? Would it be alright in some circumstances, but sometimes it’s misused?
  3. How much overall impact and damage does the rhetoric have on people’s likelihood to think through the issue?

So, without further ado, I give The M&M Argument:

blight on human discourse

“A Blight on Human Discourse!” This godforsaken thing is horribly common, and even when the position it’s supposedly defending is solid, it does damage. It not only stops people from thinking, but encourages people to use stereotyping and hasty generalization as methods of evaluating problems. Huge no-no.

I’m also going to retro-actively go back and rate Rubbish Recycled Rhetoric #1: “Nobody Blamed the Lightsaber” so go ahead and check that out if you haven’t already.

 

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Rubbish Recycled Rhetoric #1: “Nobody Blamed The Lightsaber”

Hello non-existent readers. It’s been ages since I posted anything here, and long enough that perusing my old posts makes me cringe at the titles alone. Partially to comfort myself, I’d like to reaffirm that while my jimmies occasionally do get rustled and thereby prompt a salty post here, everything I write is backed primarily by a motivation to spark reasonable discourse. Disgusted by something I wrote a few years ago? In all likelihood, me too. Drop a comment and we can talk about how shitty some of those older posts are.

Moving forward, I’m going to be starting (attempting to start) a new post series that I think has some potential, and is important to me given the goal of this blog. In this post I’ll both pitch this new post series and its goals, and offer my first prompt on the topic. Here’s the pitch.

This day and age, while nothing “new,” it seems we’re becoming increasingly likely to let others do our thinking for us. Clever little visual puns and one-liner “arguments” float around on pictures that are shared on social media, as if a substitute for robust intellectual discussion, or at least sufficient to drive the sharer’s proposed point home. 99% of the time, the rhetoric being used on these types of posts, is utter garbage. There are very few intelligent nuanced and robust arguments on complex issues that can be reduced to half a sentence. If you find one that really does work, treat it like a diamond, because they’re way more rare than those.

The point is, more often than not, these argument pacifiers of sorts are floating around and blinding people with contentment. They’re stopping real conversations short at horribly oversimplified and watered down points, feeding an unwillingness to think and encounter things that we disagree with. We see ones we already agree with, chuckle over the pun or simplicity of it and our own intellectual superiority, hit the share and/or like button, and done.

That’s legitimately dangerous for intellectualism, and any hopes for reaching real understanding and conclusions on important issues. 

Rarely, someone will see the post and comment, prompting a real discussion, which is the goal, in which case, great. But when we become complacent with these pre-packaged pieces of putrid pontification (don’t judge me I needed a P word) we’re killing discourse in its crib. And when we kill discourse in its crib, we breed an ignorant stubborn populace. And when we breed an ignorant stubborn populace, society breaks down. Basically bad things happen, and we should push against these.

So, without further ado, the first Rubbish Recycled Rhetoric:


The point here is pretty clear and simple (as it always is): light sabers don’t slaughter defenseless innocents, Jedi tripping balls do. It’s a ham fisted argument by analogy to “guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Don’t blame the instrument, blame the culprit.”

For those that haven’t seen the Star Wars movies (it’s okay, they’re not even actually that good, everyone is just nostalgia’d blind) this is a scene in which the main character has been blinded by emotional desperation and turns to the Dark Side under the guide of the bad guy of the series who has him slaughtering all the Jedi, which included small children in training. He does go through with it.

The supposition runs like this: Anakin is now a Bad Guy, and no one wants to ban light sabers, they just want to stop the Bad Guy. So, extending it to real life, we should just be trying to stop Bad Guys, not banning guns.

The problem is, the analogy doesn’t function to deliver the desired conclusion, which is to push against gun control.

Light sabers in the Star Wars universe are presumably pretty heavily regulated pieces of equipment. You can’t just go and buy one from Star-Mart. As featured in the very picture being shared, you’re obligated to start training as a very small child under the direct supervision of Jedi masters. You dedicate your life to becoming a master of the weapon, and learning the Jedi code, which includes pretty stringent ethical requirements.

Anakin was even banned from becoming a Jedi in Episode 1, because he was fearful for his mother. Yoda (little green Jedi master guy with funny grammar), in a famous scene, suggests:


And thus bans tiny 8-12 year old little Anakin from becoming a Jedi, and thus, obtaining a light saber. Simply because he was afraid.

This means that light sabers are crazy more regulated in the Star Wars universe than guns are in ours.

But hey, if you want some 900 year old dude looking into the heart of children when they’re 10 to decide whether they’re allowed to own a gun, requiring that they must dedicate their lives to a prescribed moral code and way of life surrounding protecting others, I’m on board.

On the other hand, if you want to make a point about how guns don’t kill people and therefore shouldn’t be punished when someone does something bad with them, Star Wars is NOT the model you want to use to illustrate your point.

Rubbish Ranking:

So, all that being said, the idea behind the argument isn’t in itself horrible. I mean, it’s not great, but it’s not inherently flawed. To suggest that one ought not blame a tool, but instead the agent using it works in some situations. Even if it were used in a better scenario, it’s not strong enough to stand on its own, and would need some serious heavy lifting performed by other pieces of argument. So this piece of recycled rhetoric could be worse. Rubbish ranking?

not the argument

Go ahead, read it in the voice. I won’t stop you.

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It’s primarily an issue of a really bad example used to back a shady-at-best piece of reasoning. The reasoning itself could theoretically be augmented by a better argument, but Star Wars and lightsabers were really not the route to go. Better luck next time. Just remember, there is no “try.”