Friday, October 31, 2008


The march of doom:

No doubt these students deserve some blame for their lethargy, but some culpability lies with their professors, and the administrators who ostensibly but unsuccessfully provide vision and direction. Today’s faculty and administrators capitulate to students’ demands in innumerable ways. They hold classes outside on sunny days, not really caring if there is no blackboard, or if the students are admiring each other instead of the texts to be dissected. They encourage students to think of college as a “comfortable” and “supportive” community, not as a means to acquire necessary skills. Far too many of my colleagues are dialing in – showing up late, popping in videos during class, assigning group projects, or sitting in a circle and asking students how they feel. Why they have abandoned classroom rigor is something that only they can answer. But one answer is simple – students flock to these popular classes, probably because they cater to the students’ worst sensibilities. Homework is minimal, or sometimes optional. Surprise quizzes are considered unfair. Late assignments are not failed. Some grades are even negotiable.

Holding classes outside! Next thing you know, we'll be holding classes while walking around like Aristotle! And you know you can't walk around with a blackboard!

I'm tempted simply to let the passage be its own parody. What 'John Smith' calls a loss of classroom rigor is simply the loss of purely arbitrary features of the institution, ones that never had any particular claim to being serious elements of learning. It's certainly true that sometimes rejection of this leads down into bad teaching; but acceptance of it was never particularly conducive to good teaching or genuine learning, anyway. What I find most amusing is that 'John Smith' thinks that the students in his class are admiring the texts that they are studying rather than each other; the tendency to get distracted from the former by the latter is really not a feature of student life that can be eliminated by rows of desks and a blackboard, no matter how dismal and unflattering and unlike a sunny day you make the classroom.

I don't actually disagree with every single thing that 'John Smith' says; but when we are ranting about the evils of holding classes outside on sunny days (without blackboards!) or assigning group projects, it is indeed time for us to leave academia, because we have gone over the deep end.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Sunrise Poem Drafts

"Daybreak" and "Dawn Each Morning" are new drafts, and still very rough (especially the first). The imagery for "Daybreak" is partly influenced by the description of a sacrifice in the Iliad. This isn't the first time I've used the killing metaphor for sunrise; "Matutinal" is an older example of it (this time from hunting rather than animal sacrifice), and, I think, a stronger use of the metaphor. I've added "The Stallions of Sunrise" simply so you won't think I'm all violence when it comes to Aurora.


The heifer is brought from plains of Night;
the smith with tong and hammer gives gold its form
and on the heifer's head shapes golden light,
horns of gold made artful in fires warmed
by sun; and then a fluted bowl is brought,
filled with the lustral waters of the dew;
also to baskets of barley they take thought,
they who gather to make the day anew.
Nearby an axe is ready for the strike,
nearby a golden cup to catch the blood,
the blade now glints, now laughs, upon its pike,
in hope of finer feast than lowly wood.
The king takes some hairs off the heifer's head
and, praying all the while, casts them to flame;
they glow within the hearth, now white, now red,
and vanish into smoke within the same.
Barley grains are sprinkled, the axe is raised--
down now it falls in killing force,
a slicing-down of brilliant-shining blade
unyielding in its path and fatal course.
Nothing can make it stop or stay.
And, at the note and songrise of the lark,
the blade snaps through tough sinew
of the proud neck of the living dark,
and all the world, suddenly renewed,
is bathed in the strong and ruddy light
that from the now-slit heifer's throat
carries off in might the force of night,
pours down, and covers everything in rays.
The lark ends its fatal note,
but new-born is the living day.


In the silent distance I can hear
the tumult of the dogs a-glow;
they bound on clouds and bay.
A shaft shoots swiftly forth
to strike the fleeing beast;
it staggers, stumbles, falls.
The sun leaps up and in smooth stroke
slits the throat of darkness.

Dawn Each Morning

Dawn each morning, blushing bride,
glowing with an inner light,
walks in peace on the sparkling dew;
and though the air is bitter-cold,
the heart is warmed with passion bold
and age-old courage fired anew.

The Stallions of Sunrise

The stallions of sunrise are galloping in the east,
kicking up red glint and gold light,
neighing their welcome to cerulean skies,
hooves stamping, teeth champing, necks arching high.

High Offices

Surely this is not the strength of administrative offices, that they plant virtues in the minds of those who occupy them, and drive vices out? In fact, they are more likely to reveal gross wickedness than to put it to flight. And so it is that we take it as dishonorable that these positions so often fall to grossly wicked men; and it is for this reason that Catullus called Nonius a wart, even though he sat in a curule chair. So do you see what disgrace high offices award to evil men? And yet the lack of honor in such men would be less obvious, if they did not gain recognition by their political honors. And in your own experience--ultimately, you could not be compelled by all those threats, now could you, to be willing to undertake administrative duties alongside of Decoratus, since you saw in him the sensibilities of a grossly wicked man, an insolent idler, an informer? Why? Because we cannot judge people to be worthy of preeminence because of their political honors if we judge them to be unworthy of the honors themselves.

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Relihan, tr. Hackett (Indianapolis: 2001) pp. 57-58.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monbiot on Gibbering Numbskulls

George Monbiot has a bizarre rant on (as he says) how American politics came "to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance"? Part of the problem with the analysis in the essay is that even a minute amount of reflection will show that none of the factors Monbiot proposes to explain this alleged phenomenon could possibly explain it. And we get absurd exaggerations like, "A student can now progress from kindergarten to a higher degree without any exposure to secular teaching," supposedly because the Southern Baptists established private schools -- a claim that could not possibly stand serious rational examination as a general claim about private religious education, and could not possibly explain the problem, since private religious schools have existed throughout the history of the United States, which Monbiot concedes was not always like this.

In fact, a more rationally sustainable argument would have been to begin with not conceding that point. No one can seriously claim that most people in the States in 1776 were as well educated as Thomas Jefferson or James Madison; most people had less of an education than anyone does now. If we assume the existence of the phenomenon to be explained (I'm not sure we should do so without qualifications, but let that pass), then what we have to explain is not (as Monbiot illegitimately and absurdly assumes) why most people in the United States are not Thomas Jeffersons and Alexander Hamiltons, but why they aren't electing the people who are. And there are several things that are obviously going to have to be considered as potentially having an effect here. For instance: (1) The population of the United States is massive compared to where it used to be. Indeed, it is massive, period; not India- or China-massive, but massive nonetheless. It's harder to pick out anything in such a large population; it's more a matter of luck who rises to clear public view. (2) Democratic government in the United States has massively expanded since then. A greater percent of the population has the right to vote now than did in the early nineteenth century. Women can vote; there is no large voteless slave population; there is no property requirement on the vote. Certainly many of the people Monbiot is railing against as ignorant would have been denied the vote in the early years of the Republic. Now they have it, and are voting as they please. (3) The opportunities available to highly intelligent and well educated adults have massively expanded over time: the value of politics as a career option has arguably not kept pace (as one might argue that, say, medicine or law as a career option has).

More could be added. This is not an issue, assuming it is an issue at all, that can be handled by swift caricatures and absurd generalizations; it has to be approached rationally, by considering a number of different possible factors (like those above) and trying to see how much (if any) effect they have. And again, the question is not why most Americans aren't superbly educated, but why the superbly educated aren't ending up in public office, which is a radically different question. Monbiot opened by insisting that the U.S. "has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds" and so forth; so obviously the problem is not that educated people don't exist in the United States, and therefore it can't be explained by saying that U.S. education system is bad. It is not, contrary to Monbiot, a truism that ignorant people vote in ignorant politicians; if they are, in fact, electing ignorant politicians rather than those who aren't, we still need to ask why they are doing so, why, for instance, they are not impressed by Ph.D.'s and the like. It does not automatically follow (as Monbiot assumes) that if people are well-educated that this would make U.S. politics more intelligent; there are plenty of well-educated lawyers in Congress, and almost nobody thinks they are doing an intelligent job. If we want an explanation we will have to do better than Monbiot, making wild generalizations and relying uncritically on a single text for information about the U.S. -- a text, moreover, with an explicit agenda. I don't think there is any problem with historians having agendas; God save us from historians who are so bland that they never have any. But rational people won't simply seize upon the results of such investigations and use them to give simplistic answers to complex problems.

Voting as 'Rational Choice'

The following paper is an argument that the expected utility of voting is (more or less) independent of the size of the voting population

Voting as a Rational Choice (PDF) by Edlin, Gelman, and Kaplan

I've often pointed out that it's an irrational conception of voting to think that a voting is only rational if you have a high chance of deciding the election. Close examination of this idea, I think, quickly shows it to be neither consistent with the reasons people have generally fought for suffrage nor consistent with any coherent notion of democracy. This paper doesn't make this argument; what the paper shows is that even if you do accept that calculation of 'decisiveness' is essential to rational voting, the addition of other interests -- in this case, how many people are potentially affected by the outcome of the election -- can still allow for the possibility that an election in which votes have a very low probability of being decisive can still be an election in which it is rational to vote. So, for instance, in a voting population where your vote is unlikely to be decisive, it still may be rational to vote if you believe that the outcome of the election will have a massive effect on the whole voting population. If you consider an election's outcome to be extraordinarily important, it can be very rational to vote even if you have little chance of deciding the outcome yourself.

Obviously, I don't think this is a real model of rational voting, since I don't think decisiveness has anything whatsoever to do with rational voting. But it's a very nice argument in that it shows that much more sophisticated and plausible models are available than those that simply rely on decisiveness. And given that a lot of people irrationally (in the 'normative' sense) do take decisiveness into account, this makes for a much better model of how voters in practice often do reason about voting. (For instance, unlike models based solely on decisiveness, the model in the paper gets the correlation of turnout to voting population running in the right direction: people are more likely to vote in larger elections, where their votes are less likely to be decisive, than in small elections, where their votes are more likely to be decisive. Likewise, it explains 'strategic' voting.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rating Party Platforms (on Things Other than Politics)

I've been meaning to do this, but it keeps slipping away. It's certainly time again to rate party platforms on things having nothing to do with politics. In 2004 the Libertarians won, hands down, followed by the Greens, then the Republicans, with the Democrats doing everything badly except for putting a nice logo on their cover page. Can the Libertarians capture the title again? Will the Democrats show that they can actually communicate this year? Here are the contestants this year.

The 2008 Democratic National Platform

2008 Green Party Draft Platform

National Platform of the Libertarian Party

2008 Republican Party Platform

OK, first of all, what in the world is with the Greens this year? It's almost election time and they still can't give us a party platform, just an extraordinarily messy set of documents relating to a draft platform? And I see the Democrats still think it's a good idea to give a party platform a silly title like "Renewing America's Promise". If you were to pick that up, what would you take away from it? Are we renewing promises America has made? Are we reinvigorating America's potential? What does it convey beyond a sense of warmed over rhetoric? On the other hand, it's a jillion times better than the title in 2004, which I won't even deign to repeat here.

Organization: The Greens obviously lose here. Hey, guys, if you can't even get a party platform in shape, how do you think you are going to get a government in shape? Without doubt, the Libertarians trounce the composition on organization, as they do every time they come up with a new platform. They should put 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 in a different type to indicate that they are headings, but otherwise that's one spiffily organized party platform.

So we have the best and the worst on organization. Who does best between the Big Two?

Big plus for the Democrats: They have a decent table of contents. The Republicans only list major headings, but the Democrats give you content right away. Their headings are also easier to spot on the page. So this one goes to the Democrats.

Preamble: The Green Draft Preamble (I still can't get over the fact that all we get is a draft) is clean, short, and well-organized. I'm not sure what it means to talk about a compass embodied in principles, though. The Libertarians tell us the obvious: that in the next few pages they are going to "set forth our basic principles and enumerated various policy stands derived from those principles". I'm glad they know what a party platform is. But at least it's a preamble (and not a draft!).

The Democrats strike the note of doom -- vote us in or America will fall and the planet will die. That's perhaps to be expected. It's also filled with silly cliches and metaphors: "elected officials who failed to lead"? Failed to lead what, and how? And apparently they sometimes invited calamity and sometimes ignored calamity when it arrived. The government's apparently not anti-calamity enough. "The list of failures of this Administration is historic"? So the problem is that it has a historic list. I'm presuming that they don't mean 'historic' as in Gettysburg-Address historic. It's also almost three pages long. Do I really want to read a party platform whose preamble can't be made much shorter than three pages?

On to the Republicans: What's with this "Chairmen's Preamble"? How many people in the United States are seriously going to care what the Chairmen of the Republican National Convention think? At least it's less than a page. It's just as badly written as the Democratic preamble, though. "We present this platform at an uncertain point of time." We don't know whether it's 2008 or 2009; but we present the platform anyway. "In the economy and in society at large, it is a time of transformation." An uncertain point of time, but we know there's transformation going on. Of the economy and society at large, and you know how those never change. "We are an adventurous, risk-taking people, but we are not gamblers." I have no clue what that even means. But it is nice that they actually recognize in the platform that it's something they have to present to the American people to judge. The Libertarians just ignore everyone and state their goal, without any indication of accountability to anyone else; the Greens do the same, except that they have beliefs instead of goals. The Democrats tell the American people what their beliefs and goals should be.

So the Greens, I think, take the preamble prize, or would if we had an actual preamble instead of a draft, although the Libertarian preamble is slightly better-written. The Republicans partly redeem a stupid preamble with a show of humility; it doesn't outlast the preamble, but it's nice that they at least remembered once. In 2004 I called the Democrats "the bad-preamble-writing Donkeys"; apparently they still are.

General Informativeness: If I were from Mars and wanted to figure out what each party believed and advocated, which one would make my job easier? Well, the Libertarians (as usual) take the ball on conciseness. Very little fluff there. It's surprisingly tricky to extract their advocated policies from their platform, though, since they mostly stay abstract and general, usually only getting specific enough to say, "We're going to repeal everything that does such and such." The Greens are a little vague, too, but they do much better here, or would if this weren't just a draft.

The Democrats and Republicans still suffer Major Party disease, which is to say, their platform goes:

gobbledy-gook gobbledy-blah blah-blah-blah gobbledy-gook America blah blah blah-blah gobbledy-gobbledy-gook liberty blah-blah-blah we will devote $50 billion dollars to gobbledy-gook blah-blah-blah, mu-mu-run-ru gobbledy-gook freedom blah-blah democracy gobbledy-gook.

Except, of course, I have cut out most of the gobbledy-gook. And they also suffer from another common Major Party flaw. There's a joke about the ten-step program for how to be a best-selling novelist, where the first step is "Write a best-selling novel." And both the Democrats and Republicans have plenty of that here: How do we deal with our financial troubles? Jumpstart the economy! How do we fix our war woes? Win in Afghanistan and make Iraq a peaceful democracy! And so forth. But the Democrats are more specific than the Republicans, and more specific is more informative.

Statement of Principles: Greens and Libertarians have principles; Democrats apparently have none; Republicans have values instead, which they only spring on us after they've done everything else, and whose connection to everything else is a little bit vague. The Greens still have their Ten Principles, and the Libertarians have apparently wandered into a movie or alternate reality in which they are challenging a religious cult that worships an omnipotent state.

Internet Accessibility: Greens lose, since all I could find was a draft. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians were all pretty easy to access. Democrats and Republicans give PDF options for download. The Libertarians have the cleanest page and the Republicans the prettiest; but the Democrats, despite having a page that is way too busy for a party platform, use iPaper, which actually sort of impressed me. Everyone except the Greens is much better this time around.


* The Republicans beat everyone on the cover page this year. That's what you call a pretty cover sheet.
* The Republicans also have a dedication, which is a nice touch.
* And the Republicans organized their party platform like a magazine. I don't know if that's really a good format for a party platform, but it was an idea worth trying.
* Whoever made the logo for the Democrats this year needs to be knocked upside the head. Yes, I get it that the convention was in Denver this year, so we have a Rockies theme, and it's sort of dawn-ish looking and so symbolizes hope, but it looks awful.
* Did I mention that the Greens only got as far as putting up a draft?

So there's a definite loser this time around: the Greens. It's hard to pick a winner, though. The Democrats definitely did better this year than in 2004. The Republicans are trying to be flashy this year, with lots of bells and whistles. The Libertarians lost some of the things that made their 2004 platform so much better than the competition, but it's still nice if you like spartan. I'm inclining toward giving the Republicans the award this year: somebody put a lot of effort into presenting this year's Republican platform. Which do you think should win? And, I remind you, we are rating on things other than politics.

Admin Note

Just to let people know, Haloscan comments have occasionally been lagging a bit -- they take a while to show up, or show up then disappear for a while, etc. So if your comment goes hiding for a while, or if people seem to ignore your comment for a while, that's probably one reason.

Five Dimensions of Moral Sense

Will Wilkinson has an interesting post worth reading on Jonathan Haidt's analysis of the difference between liberals and conservatives. I'm not actually thoroughly convinced that Haidt has made his moral-sentiments research map adequately onto his liberal/conservative research, but it's an interesting idea and worth supposing for the sake of argument. The basic idea is that while liberals appeal to two dimensions of moral evaluation (harm and fairness), conservatives appeal to five (harm, fairness, in-group, authority, and purity). In any case, I find it interesting because it would be one of the few measures by which I fall clearly and unequivocally on the 'conservative' side of the spectrum. While I fully understand arguments that they need to be kept under tight restraint (they often do) or that they are misapplied (they often are), my mind thoroughly boggles at the idea of people who deny that loyalty (a.k.a., in-group) and deference (a.k.a., authority) "count as moral at all." (I set aside purity, because I fully understand people not getting that one. To make a purity work as a moral category, you need the idea that people can exert a morally corrosive influence on another, and, even more, that you can be exerting such an influence, or be receiving such an influence, completely independently of any intention you may have or deliberate choice you may make. Even if conservatives, drawing from tradition, are more likely to use inferences that fit this, I suspect that by and large you'd find that conservatives have as difficult a time with this notion as liberals, and would rarely accept it if put to them baldly like that. And, of course, it's easy enough to find cases that make a lot of sense under this category -- racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and the like as impurities or corrosive biases -- which at least some conservatives would bend over backward not to put under it.)

In any case, as I've noted before, another thing that interests me about this whole thing is that Haidt's five topoi or dimensions of moral sense are independent rediscoveries of a moral classification that was discovered by William Whewell in the nineteenth century:

Text not available
Lectures on systematic morality delivered in Lent term, 1846 Delivered in Lent Term, 1846 By William Whewell

('Truth' may seem an odd man out, but Whewell sees the moral value of Truth as the foundation of a community, because it is the foundation of any particular form of communication, by which a group is bound together.) The classification is not precisely Haidt's, but the differences are so much just a matter of variation in details that it is striking. And indeed, it occurs to me that this may have been one element in the great battle in the nineteenth century between intuitionists (like Whewell) and utilitarians (like Mill), since it does seem that a Mill-style utilitarianism would be congenial to the view that morality can be summed up by nonmaleficence and reciprocity. Which makes me wonder if Haidt might not be picking up on some enduring remnant of a divide in Victorian-era moral views.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Drunks Staggering Home

But I think that the mind is not to be so easily dismissed, and although it can sometimes be clouded and confused, still, what it wants is its proper good; but, like some drunk on his way home, it cannot remember which is the right path. Are those who are trying not to want for anything really wrong? It certainly is conducive to happiness to have plenty, to need no one's help, and to be entirely self-sufficient. Are those who want reverence and respect altogether wrong? The effort of men to obtain respect is by no means base or contemptible. Is power a bad thing? Surely, it is better than weakness. And is fame always bad? Nobody can argue that most things that are excellent are also famous. And it hardly needs to be said that happiness is not possible for one who is worried, or depressed, or afraid of pain or trouble.

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Slavitt, tr. Harvard (Cambridge, MA: 2008) p. 63.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Excommunicating Comets

Jim at "Quodlibeta" has a post on the widespread story that Pope Callistus III excommunicated Halley's comet. Of course, the story doesn't even make any sense in its own right; Halley's comet is presumably not a regular partaker of Eucharistic communion, and therefore is not even the sort of thing that could be excommunicated. (Take that, comet! You are no longer allowed to participate in the Mass!) But, then, people don't always think stories through. He suggests the probable history of this curious little anecdote. It sounds very similar to the excrement-in-heaven story, which started out as a joke and began to be taken seriously.


John Wilkins points to this essay by Pascal Boyer on religion as a natural phenomenon. It's quite an interesting essay, although to some extent I have the same issues with it that Razib does: 'religion' is not a univocal term, nor (I would say) even a very useful one. It used to have a very clear use; it was a moral virtue, i.e., a disposition relating to will, allied to justice, in which one attempts to pay due honor to the divine. It was a matter of being disposed to a certain sort of stable practice. As such it would make little sense to talk of particular beliefs, for instance, as 'religious', except in the loose sense that they might have something to do with the performance of religious actions (which would cast a very wide net indeed); institutions would be 'religious' only in the sense that they were in some way specially devoted to this sort of practice (as in the phrase 'religious orders', which are bound by special vows to certain features of a life devoted to religious practice); and so on and so forth. But as time has gone on the term has bloated to massive scope, so that the only thing that keeps it from being purely useless is the fact that we associate certain things with it as paradigmatic examples. Ande ven these are quite diverse: beliefs, practices, feelings, and more are all jumbled together. Thus I don't think there is any sort of generalization about 'religion' that will stand serious examination, although (of course) there are many sorts of generalization that are true of particular things that we might call 'religious'. Talking about 'religion' without any clarification is like talking about 'respectability' or 'custom' without any clarification; it's an extraordinarily sloppy mental habit that we should all fight.

I think it's also important to recognize (and tends to be overlooked by people who favor the claim that religion will always be with us) that this doesn't automatically mean that the sort of 'religion' (however it is understood in context) that we're stuck with is a good thing. There are plenty of things that appear to be 'always with us' that are not good: slavery, for instance, which goes on every day even in countries like the United States. And there are certainly plenty of things that go by the name 'religion' that, we can all agree, are hard to stamp out and are dubious by their very nature. What is needed, here as elsewhere, is clear-headed rational thought, not people jumping in and trying to push the conclusion to one that they like.

It's interesting reading some of the comments to the Evolving Thoughts post, though; to take just one for-instance, some of the comments bring home clearly just how far a certain type of atheist is willing to go toward simply rigging the argument from the get-go in favor of his preferred conclusion. Of course religion (left undefined, of course) will be stamped out, they say, of course it's thoroughly superfluous and due entirely to irrationality; and to support it they will give some extraordinarily implausible analogy, or cherry-pick examples, or some other absurdity. It's a common enough failing, of course; but it's salutary to be reminded (since most* atheists will not remember themselves) that atheists are not immune to it.


* I say 'most' because there are some thoughtful exceptions. One of the most misquoted passages on this sort of subject that I've come across is Richard Lewontin's "divine foot in the door" passage:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

I have seen this quoted as if Lewontin were giving his own view of materialism here; but, of course, he is not. He is reviewing Carl Sagan, and his point is not that this is the way materialism really is, but that this is how Sagan argues against 'religious' views -- and that this type of argument is so indiscriminate that it would be extremely difficult to defend, to the standard of argument to which Sagan holds such views, even Sagan's own materialism against it. All the charges Sagan brings against religion and the like are charges that can be (and have been) brought against science and materialism. And so when we appreciate just how much effort has to be put into arguing against this type of argument, regardless of the position against which it is applied, we realize that the deployment of this argument against a position tells us very little about whether that position is rational or not; it's the kind of argument that even a moderately clever sophist can easily deploy against any position, thus tangling up proponents of that position in endless slippery little quibbles. Or in other words, Lewontin's argument is not that this is what materialism is, and certainly not what his own materialist position is, but that materialists should see the futility of trying to rig the argument in their favor by using reasoning like this (whatever truth it may contain) against the positions they oppose. It's the type of argument people use to rig any argument in favor of any position they support.