Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Justin M. StoddardSPOT ALL THE FALLACIES!1!!11
Posted at 9:06 am on October 18, 2013, by Justin M. Stoddard

I was sent this video this morning and asked to comment on it. It was described as, “One guy with a marker just made the global warming debate completely obsolete,” on

The person making the argument starts out with this challenge: “Nobody I’ve shown this argument to has been able to poke a hole in it.”

Challenge accepted.

Before we start, keep in mind that this video was made in 2007. I don’t know if this gentleman has changed his views on the matter or not, so I’m not going to assume either way. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and grant that he may not understand the economics behind what he is proposing. But, economics or no, there are some serious problems with his line of thinking.

To begin with, this is nothing more than an obfuscated attempt at Pascal’s Wager.

In 1669, Blaise Pascal invited humanity to consider the following:

Either God exists or he doesn’t exist.
If He exists, and you don’t believe in Him, it will be infinitely bad for you.
If He doesn’t exist, and you don’t believe in Him, then no harm, no foul.
If He exists, and you do believe in Him, it will be infinitely good for you.
If He doesn’t exist, and you do believe in Him, you’ve lived a good life regardless.

The wager set in motion a new field of probability theory, which still exists today. At the time, it was considered a groundbreaking argument, made on wholly pragmatic grounds.

Now, I contend that when atheists call this wager a “fallacy,” they are over-reaching a bit. Given the strict definitions of the argument, Pascal is basically right. If there is a God, and you don’t believe in Him, you’re going to burn (working within the parameters of 17th Century Christian scholarship).

Pascal was working in a world where the boundaries are clearly delineated. Do X, and Y will happen. Don’t do X, and Z will happen.

The fallacy lies in in the “if God doesn’t exist,” statements. Who is Blaise Pascal to say that anyone’s life was lived well according to his definitions? How many wasted hours were spent worshiping a deity that didn’t exist? What could have been accomplished otherwise?

It’s the ultimate Broken Window Fallacy. All Blaise Pascal sees is a person who lived a life in alignment with his preferences, regardless if those preferences are based on truth or not. What he doesn’t see are the infinite possibilities lost. In short, Blaise Pascal lacks imagination. He dismisses the unseen.

Pascal also fails to understand that the person who doesn’t believe in a God that doesn’t exist still must deal with being a heretic in a world of believers. That could be very, very bad for you, indeed.

A more honest version of Pascal’s argument would look like this:

If He exists, and you don’t believe in Him, it will be infinitely bad for you.
If He doesn’t exist, and you don’t believe in Him: UNKNOWN.
If He exists, and you do believe in Him, it will be infinitely good for you.
If He doesn’t exist, and you do believe in Him: UNKNOWN.

Okay, enough with the background…you see where I’m going with this. Let’s spot the fallacies within the fallacy:

If global warming is not happening, and we take significant action, the results are global depression and wasted money.
If global warming is not happening, and we don’t take action, then no harm, no foul.
If global warming is happening, and we do take action, it’s all good.
If global warming is happening, and we don’t take action, it will be infinitely bad for you.

Unlike Pascal’s theoretical world, this world is much more uncertain. We’re not dealing with the clearly delineated choices between heaven and hell (infinite good vs. infinite bad). Instead, we’re dealing with speculation based on uncertainty.

How does this gentleman propose that we deal with speculation based on uncertainty? By taking significant, clearly defined action, of course. What action might that be? He let’s you know right at the 2:38 mark: Taxation, regulation, and government control.

Why is this the action that needs to be taken? No answer. It’s just an a priori axiom we are supposed to accept.

Why is it assumed that the action proposed will result in the conclusions proposed? No answer. It’s just something you’re supposed to know, for some reason.

In fact, the conclusions could be infinitely worse than what he proposes. It could result in mass starvation, continued abject poverty for the majority of the world, and outbreaks of war leading to the deaths of tens of thousands. The “what is the worst that can happen” conclusion could be every bit as bad as the worst that can happen if global warming is happening, and we don’t take action. Both are infinitely bad.

Now, what if the assumptions were switched?

If global warming is not happening, and we take significant action, the results could be infinitely bad.
If global warming is not happening, and we allow the free market to continue doing what it does, the results could be infinitely good.

If global warming is not happening, and we don’t take action: UNKNOWN. (The unbeliever still has to live in a world full of believers, after all).
If global warming is not happening, and we deregulate the free market to continue doing what it does, the results could be infinitely good.

If global warming is happening, and we do take significant action, the results could be infinitely bad times infinity.**
If global warming is happening, and we allow the free market to work on it, the results could be infinitely good.

If global warming is happening, and we don’t take action, the results could be infinitely bad.
If global warming is happening, and we allow the free market to continue doing what it does: UNKNOWN.

Why is the last conclusion unknown? Because, nobody is talking about the benefits global warming could have on the world. I mean that seriously. Allow yourself to think of the kinds of benefits a rise of a few degrees in temperature over the span of a hundred years would have.

And, that’s the crux of the whole problem. We are being asked to imagine a future world free of all possibilities except two, both infinitely bad.

We are crippling ourselves by thinking this way. We are ignoring infinite possibilities, the stunning complexity of randomness, the laws of economics, spontaneous order, marginal utility, and we are assuming that we know what the best solution is for all of humanity based on speculation and uncertainty squeezed into a wager that was made 350 years ago.

This isn’t an argument. This isn’t proof. This tiny little exercise did not “just make the global warming debate completely obsolete.” This is simply another attempt at justifying controlling the entire global economy by the enlightened because the benighted just won’t pray hard enough.

**Pay attention to this particular point. The person in the video readily admits that to take significant action in a world where global warming isn’t happening will cause harm. But, he understates his case by many factors. Not only will it cause harm, it is very likely that it will be catastrophic harm, unimaginable to us. A few minutes later, he invites us to assume that these actions will be beneficial if global warming is really happening, because…in his estimation, these actions will stop something which will cause catastrophic harm, unimaginable to us.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

And, he’s not even considering that the drastic action he proposes may well have zero effect on global warming. Worse, he doesn’t consider that these drastic actions may make global warming worse, instead of solving it.

What happens when you apply a solution that may well have catastrophic consequences on a world where global warming is not happening to a world where global warming is happening? What happens if that “solution” has zero effect on global warming, or makes it worse, because it’s the very opposite of a solution?

The ultimate fallacy here is, the proposal this gentleman is urging us all to wager on has the possibility of being the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to humanity. It’s infinite bad (2)^infinity.

Filed under: Environment
Comments: 1 Comment

Wirkman VirkkalaBubblin’ Crude
Posted at 8:22 pm on June 18, 2010, by Wirkman Virkkala

As billions of gallons of “Texas Tea” bubble up into the Gulf of Mexico, I understand the rising tide of ill will directed against BP. The company’s smarmy, eco-friendly logo seems radically dissonant with the catastrophe they caused.

And yet, demanding that the company pay for every dime of recovery, every opportunity squelched, every harm to life and property (as Rosie O’Donnell did, as many on the left are wont to do), this is a bit disingenuous, no?

The Gulf is a commons. (more…)

Filed under: Environment, Regulation
Comments: 2 Comments

Christine HarbinAnother Way the Private Sector Can Influence Behavior
Posted at 7:30 pm on April 16, 2010, by Christine Harbin

As component of its Make a Difference campaign, Starbucks gives its customers a 10 cent discount if they use a reusable travel mug. This is another example of how the private sector can encourage certain behaviors without direction from the government, such as environmental stewardship.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives like Starbucks’s are preferable to government mandates because they respect individual choice. If, for whatever reason, a person does not want to use a reusable mug, he or she can still purchase coffee.

Consumers win because they pay a lower price for the product and also because their choice is unrestricted. Companies like Starbucks win because they can reduce their material and inventory costs. The environment wins because fewer paper cups go to landfills.

Filed under: Economic Theory, Environment, Market Efficiency
Comments: 2 Comments

Justin M. StoddardEnvironmental Polylogism
Posted at 7:04 pm on March 26, 2010, by Justin M. Stoddard

Does cognitive brain function determine your belief in anthropogenic global warming? Or, rather, do your political beliefs determine your cognitive brain function? George Lakoff, professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley would like you to believe so.

Over a span of several articles on the subject, Professor Lakoff attempts to explain what he calls global warming denial as problem of ‘framing’ the discussion; meaning, well…several things:

In a May, 2009 article on the Huffington Post titled, “Why Environmental Understanding, or “Framing,” Matters: An Evaluation of the EcoAmerica Summary Report,” Professor Lakoff says:

How the environment is understood by the American public is crucial: it vastly affects the future of our earth and every living being on it.

The technical term for understanding within the cognitive sciences is “framing.” We think, mostly unconsciously, in terms of systems of structures called “frames.” Each frame is a neural circuit, physically in our brains. We use our systems of frame-circuitry to understand everything, and we reason using frame-internal logics. Frame systems are organized in terms of values, and how we reason reflects our values, and our values determine our sense of identity. In short, framing is a big-deal.

All of our language is defined in terms of our frame-circuitry. Words activate that circuitry, and the more we hear the words, the stronger their frames get. But if our language does not fit our frame circuitry, it will not be understood, or will be misunderstood.

That is why it matters how we talk about our environment.

It’s worth it to read the entire article to really see what Professor Lakoff is driving at, here. Framing is a ‘big deal’ because it is basically the storage space where ‘input’ is translated into ‘output’. Apart from the first sentence, regarding the environment (I’ll get to that in a bit), I have no particular argument with this line of thinking since, admittedly, my knowledge of cognitive scientific theory is spotty, at best.

I do, however, know a little bit about praxeology, being a rational person (in an economic sense) who voluntarily interacts with other rational people (a society!). Where Professor Lakoff loses me (and veers off into dangerous nonsense) is when he abandons hard science for pseudo-Freudian theory.

In February, 2010, Professor Lakoff wrote the following in: A Good Week for Science (Or, What Eating Worms Reveals About Politics):

All three results follow from a cognitive science study called Moral Politics, which I published in 1996 and was reprinted in 2002. There I observed that conservatives and liberals had opposite moral worldviews structured by metaphor around two profoundly different models of the ideal family, a strict father family for conservatives and a nurturant parent family for liberals. In the ideal strict father family, the world is seen as a dangerous place and the father functions as protector from “others” and the parent who teaches children absolute right from wrong by punishing them physically (painful spanking or worse) when they do wrong. The father is the ultimate authority, children are to obey, and immoral practices are seen as disgusting.

Ideal liberal families are based on nurturance, which breaks down into empathy, responsibility (for both oneself and others) and excellence — doing as well as one can to make oneself better and one’s family and community better. Parents are to practice these things and children are to learn them by example.

Because our first experience with being governed in is our families, we all learn a basic metaphor: A Governing Institution Is A Family, where the governing institution can be a church, a school, a team, or a nation. The Nation-as-Family version gives us the idea of founding fathers, Mother India and Mother Russia, the Fatherland, Homeland Security, etc.

Apply these monolithically to our politics and you get extreme conservative and progressive moral systems, defining what is right and wrong to each side.

There are a couple of ideas put forth here that strike me as wrong-headed. We of ‘conservative’ political ideology (I’m assuming Professor Lakoff is lumping anyone who is not ‘progressive’ into this realm, which, in effect, is a false dichotomy, and rather meaningless as there are plenty of Republicans who don’t have a conservative bone in their body) tend to believe that Liberalism* is a philosophy that cannot help but lead to overly patriarchal forms of government. (Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc… are all movements from the Left). That, essentially, is what we are always railing against.

*The word Liberalism is used here to describe a leftest ideology. I do notice, however, that Professor Lakoff has cleverly ‘framed’ his own language throughout his writings. He consistently refers to Liberals as Progressives (never the left-wing). Conservatives are still conservatives and often the “right-wing”. Historically aware people may find this a bit curious as the term “Progressive” was once proudly used by the most racist, war-mongering, intolerant group of people our country has ever witnessed. 100 years ago, “Progressives” got us into World War I, outlawed dissent, outlawed alcohol, banished African Americans from federal employment, purposely starved to death thousands of Germans after the November 11 armistice was signed, censored newspapers and the mails and generally acted like the worst kind of abusive parent. Not to mention their “enlightened” view on eugenics, an idea supported by a majority of scientists and politicians of the day (sound familiar?). A policy so repugnant, it led directly and irrevocably to the gas chambers in Hitler’s Germany.

I would be wary to hitch my wagon to such a term.

Secondly, this strikes me as an example of polylogism; the “belief that different people or groups of people have different forms of logic.” This is a collectivist idea most famously used by Karl Marx when he referred to proletarian logic vs. bourgeoisie logic.

Ludwig von Mises addresses this form of polylogism in Chapter 2 of his book, Human Action:

Marxian polylogism asserts that the logical structure of the mind is different with the members of various social classes. Racial polylogism differs from Marxian polylogism only in so far as it ascribes to each race a peculiar logical structure of mind and maintains that all members of a definite race, no matter what their class affiliation may be, are endowed with this peculiar logical structure.

There is no need to enter here into a critique of the concepts social class and race as applied by these doctrines. It is not necessary to ask the Marxians when and how a proletarian who succeeds in joining the ranks of the bourgeoisie changes his proletarian mind into a bourgeois mind. It is superfluous to ask the racists to explain what kind of logic is peculiar to people who are not of pure racial stock. There are much more serious objections to be raised.

Allow me to rewrite that last paragraph in more modern terms, with apologies to Lugwig von Mises:

There is no need to enter here into a critique of the concept political belief as applied by these doctrines. It is not necessary to ask the Progressives when and how a leftist who succeeds in joining the ranks of conservatism or libertarianism changes his liberal mind into a conservative/libertarian mind. It is superfluous to ask the Progressives to explain what kind of logic is peculiar to people who are not of pure progressive thought. There are much more serious objections to be raised.

In any case, this is all a pretext. To get back to the original intent of this article, what astonishes Professor Lakoff the most is the simple fact that there are individuals out there who are skeptical (he uses the blanket term ‘deniers’) of anthropogenic global warming.

Professor Lakoff is further quoted in this article:

“It relates directly (to global warming) because conservatives tend to feel that the free market should be unregulated and (that) environmental regulations are immoral and wrong,” Lakoff said.

“And what they try to do is show that the science is wrong and that the argument is wrong, based on the science. So when it comes back to science, they try to debunk the science,” Lakoff said.

On the other hand, he added, liberals’ cognitive process allows them to be “open-minded.”

“Liberals say, ‘Look seriously at the science and look at whether people are going to be harmed or not and whether the world is going to be harmed,’” Lakoff said.

Lakoff, however, said that “99.999 percent of the science is final” on global warming and, in fact, the term “climate change” should be changed to “climate crisis” to more accurately describe the phenomenon.

“Climate crisis says we had something to do with it and we better act fast because that’s the reality,” Lakoff said

There are plenty of excellent reasons to be highly skeptical of Professor Lakoff’s claim that “99.999 percent of the science is final”. (How do you empirically come up with such a statement about science, anyway?). Trying to explain all this away by claiming conservatives and liberals are cognitively different smacks of metaphysical desperation.

[Cross-posted at Shrubbloggers.]

Filed under: Economic Theory, Environment
Comments: 4 Comments

Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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