What does “flatten the curve” really mean?

One of the most common phrases we hear of late when discussing about the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is that we must try our best to flatten the curve. While this is true, many people don’t understand the reason why. It is important to manage our expectations about where we are, and what’s coming, and that’s what I will try to show in this article.

I will try to show that:

  1. We need to flatten the curve
  2. Most of us are going to get infected anyway

The curve

This is the curve many have seen:

I wrote a simulation using real data from USA as of today (SIR model). And as you can see it resembles the “flatten the curve” graphs you might have seen before.

USA model simulation

However, what you don’t see are the magnitudes; 12,000,000 people in the worst case scenario, and 3,000,000 people in the best. This Y axis is the number of active cases at any given day, provided that 50% of the cases are not noticeable, and only 15% might need hospitalization.

The total number of active cases would be 164,000,000 in the worst scenario, and 40,000,000 in the best.

And the time span is one year. The peak of the worst scenario would be at day 78, and in the best case scenario that day there would be 30,000, so sure; 30,000 is better than 12,000,000, but the true objective of flattening the curve is to delay the peak, which would happen at day 240 instead of 78.

So yes, it’s good to delay the peak from day 78 to day 240, and to reduce the active cases that need hospitalization from 12,000,000 to 4,000,000, so social distancing is good, but that will not be enough; the healthcare system will still be overwhelmed, and people will die as a result.

Healthcare limit

The totals

However, one thing is the number of active cases, which doesn’t look very good, another is the total number of cases.

Active cases
Total cases

In the worst case scenario there would be 326,000,000 cases, and in the best case 250,000,000. So to think that you will not get infected if everyone performs social distancing is delusional.

This is why experts say 70%-80% of the population will get infected (76% in this case) (even in the best case scenario).

So this is the actual curve people should keep in mind:

Active vs. total cases

The numbers

The difference in my model between the worst case scenario and the best, is the growth factor (worst: 1.2, best: 1.04), but what does that number mean?

If yesterday the total number of active cases was 32,859, and today they are 43,112 (as of 2020-03-23), that means dividing today by yesterday you get 1.312 (32,859 * 1.312 = 43,111). Is this good or bad?

Right now South Korea is 0.98, and Italy is 1.07, so yeah, 1.312 is pretty bad, so bad in fact that it’s 10% worse than my worst case scenario, and the worst case scenario is 15% worse than the best. When the growth factor is 1.0 that means the curve is at its peak; South Korea presumably has passed it already.

When people say “flatten the curve” what they really mean is reduce the growth factor; when you reach 0.0 the curve is flat.

Imagine you are in a car, and the accelerator pedal is stuck; not only will you be moving forward, you will be moving forward with an ever increasing speed. Surely you wouldn’t feel safe until the accelerator is unstuck, and that is the inflection point; the point in which the velocity stops increasing.

It’s easier to see the two points by visualizing the new cases per day (velocity); the point in magenta is the inflection point (deacceleration), the blue one is the top of the curve.

When you visualize the total number of cases the inflection point is different, and when reached you should expect the total number of cases to be twice as they are at that point.

The important thing to note here is that as long as no inflection point is reached, the growth is exponential, and there may be many orders of magnitude to go, so basically there’s no end in sight.

Where are we?

Have we reached an inflection point? The short answer is: we can’t say yet. There’s too much day-to-day volatility, and conditions in every country are drastically different.

USA growth factor rolling average

As you can see USA not only is in bad shape, but it’s getting worse; the graph should be moving closer to 1.0, not away.

Growth factor rolling average

Fortunately not every country is in the situation of USA; some countries are getting significantly closer to 1.0, even though not quite there yet.

World growth factor rolling average (except China)

Worldwide we are all over the place.

I think it’s safe to say we are nowhere near any inflection point.

But wait

Say that somehow miraculously we reach an inflection point and we are on our way to a perfectly flat curve. Can we be content now?

Well, no, the virus can make a comeback, depending on the seasons, or even mutations. The Spanish flu of 1918 did in fact do so; the second wave was much deadlier than the first, and it wasn’t the last one.

Spanish flu waves

Even in the most ideal of situations like in South Korea, the nature of a pandemic makes it so not any country is “safe” until the whole world is safe; the virus can be reintroduced into the country, in fact, many times over.

As a simplification you can think of the world as a neighborhood. You can choose to stay home and delay the inevitable, but if everyone else is infected you will eventually be too, unless you stay inside for years.

The solution

The only realistic solution (other than let things run their natural course) is vaccination, but as of today no vaccine is expected in less than 18 months.

So we can try to delay the worst by social distancing, closing airports, and pretty much everything you can think of, and we may be able to delay the worst (reduce the growth factor to less than 1.04), but even so it might not buy us enough time for the vaccine.

Conclusion

It’s too soon to tell where we are and where we are heading. Many of the parameters needed to make reasonable predictions are not known with any real confidence. The model I used is one of the simplest models, and the growth factors I used are pretty much guessed. Even so we know something for certain: it can be really bad, even if we try our best.

So yeah, you should still perform social distancing in order to help others, particularly those that are more susceptible such as the elderly; by reducing the growth factor we give breathing room to the healthcare system.

But you will get infected, or at least you should operate under that assumption, it’s only a matter of when.

To keep track of the number of cases per country in real time you can use this graph I developed. I will publish more graphs as I have them.

How a modern troll argues

Traditionally an Internet troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord, whether for the troll’s amusement, or a specific gain. The classical lone troll wasn’t hard to deal with, once identified all you had to do is follow the classical response: “do not feed the troll”. This worked well in the past, but times have changed.

Nowadays there’s more than one kind of troll.

We have brigading trolls (such as Chapo Trap House trolls), who bad together pushing the same kind of inflammatory commentary; the community might ignore one or two, but if a band of users say the same thing that might give credence to their claims, and a good actor might be fooled into giving a response, thinking there might be some valid criticism there.

Then there’s concern trolls who act pretty much as good actors, except their advice to the group would cause harm rather than good. They use sockpuppet accounts to hide their true agenda; for example a Republican might create an account faking to be a Democrat, and then propose a witch hunt to identify the “true” Democrats, and thus in effect dividing and weaking the group. The usual advice to ignore the trolls doesn’t work because concern trolls are almost indistinguishable from good actors.

And finally there’s professional trolls; which as their name suggest, they are being paid by a corporation, a political entity, or special-interest group to achieve specific goals. There have been many studies that prove these kinds of trolls exist, the most famous group being Russia’s Internet Research Agency. The tactics and goals of these groups vary, sometimes from day to day, but in general their tactics include: flip the narrative, cancel, position, counter-offend, and oppress usually with the goal of polarizing a community. Therefore it wouldn’t be unusual to play both sides of the fence; have both alt-right and far-left sock puppets in order to get the real users to fight between themselves.

The community

Recently I became a moderator (mod) in an online community in reddit (called a “sub”) about the author and public intellectual Sam Harris. I wasn’t paying close attention to this sub, but yet I noticed a steady stream of irrelevant content, I complained about it, and thus I learned I was merely one of many to do so.

When I became a mod I started receiving a lot of feedback about the dire status of this online community. It turns out it was so bad that a group of users decided to create an alternate community in order to get away from toxic behavior and a sea of irrelevance. Also, there were sister and related communities that recognized the problem, and the need to solve it.

I had my work cut out for me, but what I didn’t know at the time was the amount of pushback I would receive by every little attempt to improve the community. Right away I received complaints merely by removing content about what I considered to be clearly irrelevant topics; topics Sam Harris barely had talked about, and in my opinion didn’t belong in the sub.

Virtually all the users that complained about the moderation decisions shared a similar style of arguing. At the time I couldn’t deal with the sheer amount of comments, but slowly and steadily I discussed the issues with each and every user, and while doing so I realized many of them were dishonest. I would say A, and they would claim I said B and run with it. For example I would say “In my opinion the detractors that are engaging in bad faith shouldn’t be welcome”, and they would say I wanted to ban all detractors (what I said, what they say I said).

A misunderstanding here and there is to be expected, but not so many misunderstandings from so many sources, constantly. More importantly; these users didn’t seem to be interested in the least in being corrected. It looked like they knew what they truth was, they were just not interested in accepting it.

So in order to keep my sanity and avoid wasting time I arrived to a rule of thumb; the moment a user makes it clear he/she isn’t interested in what I am actually saying; I end the conversation, and I avoid future ones. Generally I give people the benefit of the doubt, but when it is clear they are not interested in what I say, they are merely interested in what they can claim I said, there’s no point in discussing with that person. So I labeled these people as intellectually dishonest, and moved on.

This is of course the traditional approach—ignore the trolls—and it worked for me, but not for the community, because these trolls kept spreading lies, even if I didn’t engage with them, and they kept derailing conversations, and sowing discord.

Something had to be done about these trolls, I just didn’t know what. I didn’t even want to accept these were trolls.

The setup

I asked for advice in different communities—there’s even a community of moderators—and I received good advice, however, most if it couldn’t be applied to our particular community because we have a strong commitment to freedom of speech (in the spirit of Sam Harris and others in the Intellectual Dark Web).

So how could we both hold on to our strong commitment to freedom of speech, and at the same time stop the trolls from destroying the community? If a user is obviously acting in bad faith, the solution is easy; ban that user. But many of these trolls would do everything in their power to appear as good actors. So even if a moderator is pretty sure a user is engaging in bad faith, he/she can never be sure. The fact that a user appears to be a troll is not enough.

I roamed the Internet for inspiration, and I encountered tips to actively deal with trolls, mostly in the form of trolling the trolls. However, I didn’t want to reduce myself to their level. I tried different tactics, mostly engaging with the trolls, but not as if I was dealing with real people, and then I saw the light.

Trolls have a major disadvantage, that any good actor engaging in good faith doesn’t have; they don’t care. Their interest in any particular subject is manufactured, it isn’t real. So if you spend time writing a really good argument they would not be able to counter it; they don’t have the intellectual tools, nor the interest in doing so. What they will do is go to their troll toolkit, and pick any of their well-practiced tactics to deviate the conversation. The most common one is the smoke screen.

A good actor might inadvertently use a smoke screen, but a troll will use it over and over, to the point that the times he avoids an argument are more than the times he engages in it. This is not an accident, this is deliberate.

After engaging with trolls in this matter I realized how ridiculously often they do this. All you have to do is ignore all the red herrings they throw, all the ad hominems attacks, don’t drink from the poisoned well, ignore the smoke screen, and concentrate on the argument. Don’t say anything extra they might reply to, don’t ask any follow up questions, don’t answer their irrelevant questions; stay on point.

Any person acting in good faith will reply to your questions, even if it might mean losing the argument. A troll will not.

So when I realized this trend, I decided to engage with a suspected troll to see how far the rabbit hole could go, and I honestly didn’t expect a nonsensical discussion of such epic proportions.

The discussion

The context of the discussion is a little tricky. First, there was a discussion between Sam Harris and Eric Weinstein in Weinstein’s relatively new podcast: The Portal. In this discussion they touched on the lack of effort some people make to try to understand people they disagree with, and they mentioned examples such as Sam Seder, and David Pakman. Funnily enough, both Seder and Pakman replied about these comments in their respective podcasts, and their conclusions couldn’t be more different.

The ironic part is that Pakman was mentioned as an example of a person who does make an effort to understand what his opponent is saying, and he did understood what was being said by Weinstein and Harris. On the other hand Seder was brought up as an example of a person that does not make an effort, and lo and behold in his podcast he did indeed misrepresent what Weinstein and Harris said.

This was the topic of the post I made to reddit’s Sam Harris community: Good and bad faith actors behaved in predictable ways that Sam Harris & Eric Weinstein accurately described.

In my post I made it crystal clear what was in my opinion the argument Weinstein made:

Let’s get the premise right; the premise is that some people would rather mock a straw man, than get correctly the actual gist of what is being said. That’s it.

This is the argument. This is what Harris and Weinstein are talking about, this is what Pakman replies to, and this is what Seder is attempting to address. This argument for brevity and analysis purposes I’m going to call argument W.

Right off the bat user BloodsVsCrips starts with this attack:

If you rank Tim Pool as a 4 out of 5 your definition of “good faith” becomes useless.

This is in reference to another discussion in which users were supposed to rank political commentators, and I did rank Tim Pool with an overall grade of 4/5. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with the argument at hand; neither what Weinstein said, nor what Seder said about what Weinstein said. So this is a smokescreen, an ad hominem, a genetic fallacy, and poisoning the well. The thing he didn’t do is address argument W.

I mocked his obvious attempt at not addressing the argument, mrsamsa accused me of not addressing the argument, I asked what was BloodsVsCrips supposed argument, and mrsamsa replies:

That people with a demonstrably bad barometer for determining good and bad faith might be inaccurately judging the people described in the OP.

Now, this is not an accurate representation of BloodsVsCrips’s argument, and yet it commits the same fallacies. I chose to concentrate on the genetic fallacy, which has this form:

  • X said Y is true
  • X is a bad source
  • ∴ Y is false

Of course X is me, but Y is a little bit tricky, because mrsamsa’s argument is also a smoke screen, so he wants to change Y from the original topic (argument W) to “Sam Seder acts in bad faith”. To be clear, I did say Sam Seder acted in bad faith, but I did so with an argument:

Sam Seder didn’t show any signs of understanding Eric Weinstein’s argument, therefore he misrepresented Eric Weinstein’s argument.

We can call this argument F, which depends on argument W.

In fairness to mrsamsa if Y is in fact “Sam Seder acts in bad faith”, then his argument wouldn’t be a genetic fallacy, but we know I did provide an argument (argument F) for my claim, to ignore that would be falling into his smoke screen.

So the syllogism would be:

  • felipec did put forward argument F
  • felipec is a bad source
  • Argument F is false

That is an obvious genetic fallacy.

It should not matter what did or didn’t say about Tim Pool, it shouldn’t matter how good I am at representing anybody’s good faith, it doesn’t matter who I am at all. The only thing that matters is; what was Weinstein’s argument? (argument W), and did Sam Seder represent Weinstein’s argument correctly or not? (argument F).

Is mrsamsa going to focus on the argument, like any good actor would do? Or is he going to do something else?

Dancing around the genetic fallacy

So the first thing I tried to do is nail down the definition of a genetic fallacy; I asked mrsamsa two direct questions, and he evaded them both:

Answer these questions.

(1) Is this a genetic fallacy?
> P1: X said Y is true
> P2: X is a bad source
> C: Y is false

(2) Is this a genetic fallacy?
> P1: felipec said Sam Seder is a bad faith actor
> P2: felipec doesn’t have good judgement
> C: Sam Seder is not a bad faith actor

mrsamsa:

If you’re just asking hypothetically then yes, presenting it as a proof can be fallacious but that’s obviously not what happened…

Notice he is responding in terms of yes, argument X can be fallacious, but he doesn’t want to say it is. I insisted I am not interested in him saying if it can be, but if it actually is:

mrsamsa:

…I did answer, yes it can be fallacious…

This continues:

mrsamsa:

I’ve already answered above. Now stop with this bad faith nonsense and continue with the discussion.

Then he tries to throw smoke screen:

mrsamsa:

Because you don’t understand the topic very well (as evidenced by thinking the genetic fallacy wasn’t an informal fallacy) your response is to misconstrue my answer, rather than to realise “that makes sense”.

Unfortunately I made a mistake of categorizing the genetic fallacy as a formal fallacy, and we’ll see later he will use this as a smoke screen, and an ad hominem.

In addition, he continues taunting the “can be”.

mrsamsa:

Again, someone who believes that the genetic fallacy isn’t an in informal fallacy is unlikely to teach me anything about logic.

It can be, certainly.

More of the same:

mrsamsa:

Do one easy thing right now: admit you made an error by claiming that the genetic fallacy isn’t an informal fallacy.

I can’t change my answer though, I can’t forget everything I know about fallacies and logic and pretend the answer is “yes” even though such a response is nonsensical…

It should be a very easy (1) yes, (2) yes. Why on Earth would any good actor avoid such obvious questions? Maybe mrsamsa does indeed possess a superior knowledge of logic, and the textbook example of a genetic fallacy doesn’t indeed contain a genetic fallacy, but if that is the case why isn’t he enlightening us? Why isn’t he explaining in which cases argument (1) can’t be a genetic fallacy?

The answer is simple; he doesn’t care. In the best case scenario, just like a hostile witness he is simply not answering the question, nor venturing any useful information; he is wasting our time. In the worst case scenario, he is a troll who doesn’t have a good answer for our questions, and is also wasting our time.

And that of course doesn’t translate to argument (2), because that is a specific argument; it either has a genetic fallacy, or it doesn’t. No can, if, then, or buts.

Now, this is just a taste, because the amount of times he applies the same tactic over and over, not just to me, but anyone trying to have a rational discussion is just mind blowing.

Argument within an argument

I wasn’t the only one engaging with him; DwightVSJim unfortunately also got caught in his web of nonsense. He also avoided to answer any of DwightVSJim’s criticisms, but the amount of nonsense is too much to summarize, so I’ll just make a list of comments:

  • mrsamsa: A liar is more likely to lie than someone who doesn’t lie.
  • mrsamsa: You can’t be serious..
  • mrsamsa: Come on, just think a little bit about this.
  • mrsamsa: Yes, if I said something different then it would be different.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t know what this is supposed to mean.
  • mrsamsa: Keep up.
  • mrsamsa: It can be, definitely.
  • mrsamsa: Perfectly valid argument, no fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: Remember that arguments are about judging the persuasiveness of the support for a conclusion…
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just proved yourself wrong there.
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just said that my argument based on the origin of the claim isn’t fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: I’m showing that an argument based on the origin of the claim can reject the conclusion while not being fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: The origin of the claim is Ham, not me.
  • mrsamsa: I am, using Ken Ham as the origin.
  • mrsamsa: The fact that I’m making the argument is obviously irrelevant to whether something is or isn’t a fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: No, the origin in my argument is Ken Ham.
  • mrsamsa: I’m arguing that.
  • mrsamsa: Please just take two seconds to realise how stupid this argument is.
  • mrsamsa: C Felipec is probably wrong about Seder acting in bad faith.

Of course, while avoiding anything presented to him, he didn’t stop making snarky remarks. And at no point in time does mrsamsa addresses the actual arguments: argument F and argument W. He just goes on an on inventing new irrelevant arguments such as a fake argument from Ken Ham.

Finally, I arrive to save DwightVSJim from mrsamsa’s black hole. I point out if in “felipec says Y”, Y is an argument itself, there’s no need to even check if there’s a genetic fallacy:

felipec:

We also have logical argument X which can be evaluated on it’s own. So if logical argument X is:

  • All men are mortal
  • All Greeks are men
  • ∴ All Greeks are mortal

We know logical argument X is valid, so it’s irrelevant if “felipec is probably wrong about logical argument X”, because we can look at logical argument X and see that it is valid. It’s like getting two 6 dices and somebody else is saying; “I don’t need to look at the dices, because I know getting two 6s is very unlikely”.

This destroys mrsamsa’s red herrings, because it forces us to look into the actual argument X (argument F), and not run around irrelevant probabilities of “me” being right.

Miraculously, mrsamsa agrees:

mrsamsa:

All you’ve argued is that there is another way to challenge the conclusion of X. Okay sure, yeah there are. That doesn’t make it fallacious.

So he finally accepted one thing, but in doing so I got him, because there’s an easy way to demonstrate the smoke screen fallacy:

felipec:

Which one would be better to tackle if we want to discern the truth of the conclusion of X? [Argument X, or argument Y?]

All he has to do is say “X”, and he would be admitting that in this whole thread we should be looking at argument F, not my bona fides. You can guess what happened.

mrsamsa:

As for which is better, it depends on the specific claim and the strength of the evidence for each argument.

What a surprise. He is backed into a corner, he has two specific options, and instead of choosing X or Y, he throws another smoke screen and say “it depends”. I didn’t let him go that easily, and I insist he gives an answer:

felipec:

X, or Y?

He goes back his usual cop out:

mrsamsa:

And I said we can say your proposal.

This is the point where I decided to end the discussion, because I thought I had gathered more than enough evidence. Note however that I’m not going through the threads in the order they happened.

After dozens of comments on this particular subject, mrsamsa hasn’t answered a single important question directly. He always avoided the topic, specially when he was backed into a corner. Any good actor would have to answer my question honestly, and say “X”, but that’s not what he did.

Can’t own mistakes

We also got completely derailed when mrsamsa failed to convert one of his fake “arguments” to a syllogism, and then failed to accept his mistakes.

First, mrsamsa provided this example of a supposedly valid argument:

“I doubt Ken Ham is accurately describing that principle of evolution because he has history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding them”

It was pointed out to him the many reasons why this “argument” is essentially useless, but mrsamsa kept defending it, and provided a supposed syllogism for it:

mrsamsa:

P1 Ken Ham thinks X about evolution

P2 Ken Ham has a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims about evolution

P3 we should doubt claims made by people with a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims

C we should doubt Ken Ham’s claim X about evolution.

This was in fact not a “perfect” argument nor an accurate mapping from his original argument. I pointed out the many issues this argument has:

  1. He used different verbs in the premises: thinks vs. claims
  2. A similar “valid” argument can be made with the premise “we should doubt claims made by people with a mustache”
  3. Changed “I doubt X” to “we should doubt X”
  4. It’s a red herring trying to distract us away from argument W

So I destroyed the notion that this was in any way a “perfect”, along with getting us out of the black hole of ignoring argument F. I made an analogy of an embedded argument and his Ken Ham “argument” to arrive to the following syllogism that puts a nail in his coffin:

felipec:

And since we obviously can’t trust you to put a correct syllogism, it would be like:

  • P1: Ken Ham made argument A about evolution
  • P2: Ken Ham has a history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding claims about evolution
  • C: Argument A about evolution is unsound

This “argument” has a genetic fallacy.

What mrsamsa does do is everything, but acknowledge the fact that he made two different arguments, and that an argument can be embedded in another argument, and we should talk about the original embedded argument, not the outer one:

mrsamsa:

Holy shit, pedantry through the charts.
Yes, let’s act like normal human beings, se how that works out for you.
How is that a “correct” syllogism? It’s an invalid argument.
You’re the embodiment of dunning-Kruger.

The rest of the responses keep evading the issue:

  • mrsamsa: Of course I didn’t address the argument that has a conclusion that’s irrelevant to my argument.
  • mrsamsa: What are you talking about?
  • mrsamsa: Semantics aren’t the damning blow that you seem to think they are.
  • mrsamsa: I mean, you keep pretending you can’t see my argument so why should I engage with your strawman of my argument?

Until finally:

mrsamsa:

I’ll take that as a “I’m going to continue to troll rather than engage in any kind of meaningful discussion”.

Very classy.


I take the conclusion reached in this subthread that is pretty hidden by now, and repeat it on the main thread:

felipec:

Hmm. “We should doubt X” versus “I doubt X”. Somebody isn’t reading his own arguments.

Of course he handled it very graciously:

mrsamsa:

Don’t get hung up on semantics and try to address the argument itself.

Another user, SailOfIgnorance, came to mrsamsa’s rescue and made the argument that there’s no distinction between “I doubt X” and “we should doubt X”, but if course there is, and I answered the challenge:

felipec:

You want me to state the distinction between (1) “we should doubt X” and (2) “I doubt X”? Easy, (1) requires reasoning, (2) doesn’t.

This explanation was addressed in perfect faith by mrsamsa:

mrsamsa:

Easy, /u/sailofignorance. I assume that clears up any confusion you may have had!

mrsamsa:

Oh. Maybe meditate more?

I event went to the trouble of providing different syllogisms to show the pointlessness of “I doubt X”. Essentially conclusions like “I believe X”, or “I doubt X” are pointless, because they don’t require reasoning, so you don’t need any argument, or any other premises.

When SailOfIgnorance challenged this notion, I explained it to him:

felipec:

> Give me an example where “I doubt X” doesn’t require reasoning

Easy: “I doubt I’ll have eggs on my breakfast”.

SailOfIgnorance did eventually acknowledge this difference, but did mrsamsa? No.

Why can’t he just accept that he made a mistake? (multiple ones actually) Why doesn’t he want to acknowledge any of the main arguments? (argument F, or argument W). This tendency should be clear by now, and we are only just getting started.

Nonsense of origin

In another thread with DwightVSJim, mrsamsa to spin and spin around the same issue:

  • mrsamsa: That honestly makes no sense and is a bizarre interpretation of the genetic fallacy…
  • mrsamsa: The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance…
  • mrsamsa: Both attack the origin, but only one is fallacious.
  • mrsamsa: Shooting the paper boy for the contents of the paper would be an error, shooting the editor/ journalist would not.
  • mrsamsa: No they don’t need to bring it as well.
  • mrsamsa: Obviously the only relevant person to the genetic fallacy would be the person making the original claim…
  • mrsamsa: You understand that your understanding means that unless someone makes an argument that they themselves are a biased source to reject the conclusion they’re arguing for, a genetic fallacy is impossible, right?
  • mrsamsa: That’s literally what you’re arguing.
  • mrsamsa: So you’re not saying that I is the “origin” that’s relevant to the genetic fallacy?
  • mrsamsa: But if you’re not saying that I is the “origin” that’s relevant to the genetic fallacy then what was your argument?
  • mrsamsa: When I make an argument that dismisses a claim made by Bob because it came from Bob, I’m pointing out that you seem to believe that I is the “origin” relevant to the genetic fallacy rather than Bob.
  • mrsamsa: I just summarized it there and we’ve gone over it in detail above, address whichever is easier for you.
  • mrsamsa: Just highlight what is the origin that would be relevant when assessing if it commits the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: So you’re now agreeing with my characterization of your position that you think the arguer is the origin that the genetic fallacy refers to?
  • mrsamsa: Jesus, this is such an insane view.
  • mrsamsa: Except remember that the genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance so this is only true when we’re rejecting it because it’s coming from Bob for irrelevant reasons.

This is what happens when a good actor tries to engage honestly as if the troll is a real person. If nobody challenges his bullshit, the troll can go on and on about irrelevant stuff.

When I show up to this thread I end by showing to mrsamsa exactly in which kind of arguments the source of a claim matters, and where it doesn’t, by providing different unquestionable examples:

felipec:

No, you don’t understand. The genetic fallacy occurs when we accept or reject a claim. Normally I would ask you for syllogism explaining when the truthfulness of claim is relevant, and when it’s irrelevant, but we all know you are going to botch it, and it will take us 50 comments for you to not accept that you did, so let me do that for you:

  • Bob says X
  • People that say X are racist
  • ∴ Bob is a racist

Here’s another example:

  • Bob says X
  • If anybody say X we drink
  • ∴ We drink

In both these cases the conclusion has nothing to do with the X being true or false, and the other premise relies on Bob’s claim (regardless if it’s true).

Now let’s make it a fallacy:

  • Bob says X
  • Bob usually lies
  • If anybody says a lie we drink
  • ∴ We drink

Why is this a fallacy? Because we assuming the truthfulness of a claim based on its source, if we reject X because Bob said it we are committing the genetic fallacy. It’s irrelevant who said X; we need to find out if X is true or not.

Tell me /u/mrsamsa, how is this not the case? Do we or do we not need to know if X is true before accepting that conclusion?

This destroys all the irrelevant nonsense about who is the origin of what that mrsamsa kept going on and on about. He replied dozens of times to DwightVSJim when it was easy to avoid the actual issue, but when I make it difficult for him to ignore what actually is a genetic fallacy, what does he do?

He didn’t bother to reply.

Words don’t matter

In yet another thread mrsamsa argued that the names of fallacies don’t matter, instead, we should point out the errors in reasoning themselves, and he did so in his usual classy manner:

  • mrsamsa: Trust me, don’t try to explain to dwight how fallacies work and what they mean.
  • mrsamsa: Yeah that’s exactly how I see it now.
  • mrsamsa: Bringing up the names of fallacies is indeed a troll talking point.
  • mrsamsa: Non trolls realise that the names of fallacies are pointless in themselves because it doesn’t help describe your position or highlight the supposed problem in the argument you’re replying to.
  • mrsamsa: Fallacies have nothing to do with the conclusions…
  • mrsamsa: Of course it does, fallacies aren’t about whether a conclusion is true or not…
  • mrsamsa: Tell me what you think a fallacy is.
  • mrsamsa: Very good.
  • mrsamsa: Fallacies are only related to the structure of the reasoning, they don’t determine the truth or falsity of the conclusion.
  • mrsamsa: You can’t be serious?
  • mrsamsa: Why are you dodging your false claim that I corrected in my post above?

I can’t help but notice the sweet irony of mrsamsa lecturing us in how non-trolls argue, but unfortunately he managed to one again derail the discussion away from the arguments (argument F and argument W) into purse nonsense.

When I jump into the discussion his tone changes:

felipec:

The guy who says the names of fallacies are irrelevant is claiming the categories of fallacies matter. Makes sense.

mrsamsa:

I assume you’re trolling rather than intentionally being so blatantly dishonest here, but if you’re genuinely confused, the names of fallacies are less important in a debate than actually explaining what you think the flawed reasoning is.

This whole argument that the names of fallacies don’t matter is obviously self-defeating, since words are basically the only thing we have to communicate, there is a reason we don’t explain what a napkin is every time we want one. So obviously there’s a reason why common fallacies have names.

felipec:

> I assume you’re trolling rather than intentionally being so blatantly dishonest here, but if you’re genuinely confused, the names of fallacies are less important in a debate than actually explaining what you think the flawed reasoning is.

And what is the quickest way to explain that there’s a flaw in reasoning?

> If someone says “it’s spelt “ab hominid” not “ad hominem” loser!” then while the names of fallacies still aren’t useful in a debate, it’s still worthwhile pointing out that the person isn’t right.

If I say “to say that a person didn’t finish high-school therefore his argument is invalid; it’s an X fallacy”.

1. ab hominid
2. hasty generalization fallacy

What do you think is closer to the truth? Which one do you think is more worth correcting?

I ask mrsamsa two questions. Care to venture how many he will answer?

mrsamsa:

> And what is the quickest way to explain that there’s a flaw in reasoning?

Not by using the name of a fallacy as that doesn’t explain the flaw in reasoning in the person’s argument.

> What do you think is closer to the truth? Which one do you think is more worth correcting?

I don’t really understand how this is relevant, both need to be corrected. Fortunately we can do two things and aren’t limited to one.

This is nonsense. Obviously saying “argument X has flaw Y” is explaining the flaw in reasoning, even if Y is misspelled. But if he answers my questions he would have to concede, so he just doesn’t.

The rest of the discussion is more of the same; mrsamsa evading questions, derailing, and smoke screening:

  • mrsamsa: Hey, you answer a single question I’ve posed to you in this thread and then I’ll take your tantrums more seriously. Otherwise it just looks like bad faith trolling.
  • mrsamsa: You’re the definition of bad faith troll.
  • mrsamsa: How does this relate to anything I’ve said?
  • mrsamsa: And how does that relate to my argument?
  • mrsamsa: I explained why naming a fallacy doesn’t help you identify the specific flaw in an argument. And you replied that naming the fallacy is identifying the flaw.

I didn’t let him get away with such obvious smoke screening. I tried to force him to address the argument, but of course he didn’t.

felipec:

Your argument was that the name of a fallacy doesn’t help you find out the flaw in an argument, I just showed you it does.

If you can’t see that there’s no more reason to discuss. Good bye.

Why are we even discussing this? Of course we can say “argument X has a genetic fallacy”, and the words “genetic fallacy” are useful to identify the flaw in reasoning. If mrsamsa’s wasn’t intentionally derailing the conversation why does he keep bringing red herrings, and always avoiding not only the main arguments (argument F, and argument W), but he avoids any arguments he himself brings up.

This is meta-arguing; mrsamsa is arguing about arguing, and he is derailing the very same tangent he has put us on.

The actual argument

There’s only one point in the whole discussion where mrsamsa actually tried to engage with the actual argument:

mrsamsa:

Seder is responding to Weinstein’s metaphor of the IDW doing maths and how people like Seder are ignorant of alternative forms of maths so jump to ridicule and thinking people are crazy.

Seder is criticizing the idea that when people mock others who seriously propose race realism etc that really what’s happening is that the race realist is privy to some kind of information that Seder is unaware of, and what appears to be crazy is in fact just an evidence based position that could be uncovered by a serious investigation rather than dismissal.

His criticism is essentially of the idea: a) that it’s appropriate to compare things like race realism to the factual nature of maths, and b) that Seder thinks it’s crazy because he’s unaware of the logic behind race realism, rather than the fact that they’re wrong.

This is obviously a misrepresentation of Weinstein’s argument (argument W), in fact, he didn’t say what was the argument, he just mentioned a “metaphor”, so I ask him to at least make an attempt:

felipec:

> Seder is responding to Weinstein’s metaphor of the IDW doing maths

That’s not what Eric Weinstein did. Can you do at least a poor man’s job of a steel man?

Will mrsamsa finally answer a direct question? You already know the answer, don’t you?

mrsamsa:

Use your words buddy, if you disagree with something then explain it.

Why do you think Weinstein wasn’t using a maths analogy?

felipec:

I’m not going to fall for that. Can you make a steel man argument for Eric Weinstein or not?

mrsamsa:

You’re not going to fall for engaging in a productive good faith discussion?

So there it is. When it was time to actually address the argument that mattered, he didn’t even make an attempt to explain it with his own words.

My bad

I don’t want to be a locus of attention; I want to focus on what mrsamsa did, but I’ve had to rely on my comments, since they are directly related to many of mrsamsa’s comments.

And even if I made argument F, and I brought up argument W; I want the focus of the discussion to be on those arguments, not me.

Unfortunately I made a mistake in saying that the genetic fallacy was a formal fallacy. In my defense I probably had more than a few beers when I made that comment, I did a quick Google search and found no evidence that the genetic fallacy was informal.

But if it’s true that I made such mistake, it doesn’t matter in the discussion if the genetic fallacy is formal or informal; it’s still a fallacy. In retrospect I shouldn’t have fell in such an obvious bait, but I did; I did respond to a red herring.

Now, a good actor would simply say: “you made a mistake” and move on. In fact mrsamsa made many of such mistakes, and I didn’t punish him eternally for them. But that’s not what a troll does.

What a troll does is hold on to this trivial mistakes as evidence that a person is “bad at logic”. This troll tactic is another fallacy called poisoning the well. Since I made one mistake, that means that forever and ever any argument I make is flawed. Indeed, after I accepted the mistake mrsamsa and other possible trolls have weaponized this mistake and brought it up in other threads.

Even after I ended the conversation, mrsamsa piled on with other users on the formal fallacy mistake:

mrsamsa:

But to him, I think he views it all as some grand conspiracy to derail the sub, so he seems to view it as a moral duty to not give an inch on anything…

mrsamsa:

These people are so unaware of how little they know about a topic that they’re practically incapable of even understanding how little they know about the topic. It becomes a black hole where trying to explain it to them fails because they lack any foundation to even make sense of the possibility that other people might know more than them, and worse still, those people might think they’re wrong.

mrsamsa:

But the genetic fallacy not being an informal fallacy claim is just a really easy thing to put your hand up over, especially as it doesn’t affect his argument or position at all. It’s just a “whoops, yeah, don’t know why I said that, of course it isn’t. Let’s move on now” moment that doesn’t need to be a big deal.

mrsamsa:

If it wasn’t abundantly clear, he’s barely read the wiki page on the topic nevermind an actual textbook.

mrsamsa:

And coming from the guy whose ego is too big to even accept that they didn’t know the genetic fallacy was an informal fallacy, that insult falls flat.

And of course, I did accept I made a mistake later on:

felipec:

> Will you admit you were mistaken?

Yes, I made a mistake. Not that it matters, because the category of this fallacy is completely irrelevant, and focusing on this is a red herring.

As expected other users used this as ammunition:

zemir0n:

But it is relevant. Your knowledge or lack thereof of logical fallacies is definitely relevant when it comes to talking about logical fallacies.

Did mrsamsa praise what he supposedly wanted me to do in good faith? You know the answer:

mrsamsa:

Replying to comments is a fallacy.

Beating on a dead horse

As I said, once I thought I gathered enough evidence to convince any rational person that mrsamsa was in fact a troll, I ended the conversation. This was taken by mrsamsa and his allies a “victory”.

It doesn’t have to be said that they took this “victory” graciously:

mrsamsa:

So I mean… a win? Even if for the most bizarre reason.

mrsamsa:

That was probably one of the most cringey things I’ve ever seen on the internet. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if, as you point out, the entire essay long argument didn’t boil down to this bizarre point based entirely on semantics.

Once again bringing up the informal fallacy red herring:

mrsamsa:

It definitely makes sense in light of him being unaware that the genetic fallacy is an informal fallacy, which is fine if it’s a slip of the tongue but egregious as a genuine error.

And he goes on and on:

mrsamsa:

He doesn’t seem to know about a lot of things.

But instead of just listening to the other person he seems to scan posts for any little thing that he can pinpoint and say “Ah ha! You said “doubt” instead of “reject”, therefore you’re making two completely different arguments and I can’t take you seriously any more!”.

We already explored why “I doubt X” is different than “we should doubt X”, he exploiting the fact that a casual observer might have missed the difference and then claiming I just did a “gotcha!” “just semantics” comment. No, there was a difference, the difference has been explained, and he is framing the narrative to make it seem otherwise.

This is dishonest behavior.

mrsamsa:

Being on the receiving end, it’s definitely [extremely boring and frustrating].

mrsamsa:

I feel like he’s got this caricature of what it means to be a “rational person”, and he’s confused being pedantic with being rational. It’s like someone who’s idea of how to be a lawyer comes from TV and so they just yell “objection!” at everything.

mrsamsa:

Destroyed!

mic drop

Is this the way a good actor treats a “win”?

Other conversations

Not content with derailing this conversation with his genetic fallacy nonsense, he sprang up a discussion about the same nonsense in a completely unrelated post. In order to protect the sanity of the reader, I’m not going to go in detail through those, but there have been several dozens of such comments.

In a post titled: Full Subscription Model and Amount of Hatred Sam Receives on this Site:

  • mrsamsa: I followed it fine, you were simply wrong for all the reasons I explained to you.
  • mrsamsa: I’m happy if you agree now but you explicitly argued before that BvC was the origin of the claim subject to the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: You called me dishonest for saying that, and then repeated what I just said…
  • mrsamsa: What’s not a genetic fallacy?
  • mrsamsa: Take a step back and read what I’m writing.
  • mrsamsa: Why do you think I “take pride in pissing people off”?
  • mrsamsa: The arguer is irrelevant to assessing whether a genetic fallacy occurred.
  • mrsamsa: But if you mean the origin of the argument then you accept that who is arguing that “Bob is a liar” is irrelevant, right?
  • mrsamsa: We’re trying to figure out what you mean by “origin”, that’s all.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t have a problem with the concept of the genetic fallacy, we’re debating your interpretation of it that isn’t consistent with how it’s actually understood.
  • mrsamsa: So when is the person making the argument ever the issue?
  • mrsamsa: Do you need me to dig up our past conversation where you explicitly told me the opposite?
  • mrsamsa: When you argued that BvC was relevant to assessing if his argument was a genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: So, in your view, the arguer is the source that the genetic fallacy refers to.
  • mrsamsa: Of the issue yes, not the arguer.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t know how I can make it any simpler.
  • mrsamsa: Where did I claim that you believed it was always the case?
  • mrsamsa: The arguer isn’t relevant to the genetic fallacy. That’s what you’re struggling to understand.
  • mrsamsa: I’ve told you a million times that you’re wrong but I don’t imagine that you’d agree that it’s bad faith for you to not accept that.
  • mrsamsa: The person making the argument (eg BvC in this case) is irrelevant and is never the origin of the issue that matters.
  • mrsamsa: Stop being evasive and wasting time.
  • mrsamsa: The issue is the claim being debated, ie felipecs ability to judge bad faith.
  • mrsamsa: Present your evidence, no more evasion and smokescreens.
  • mrsamsa: Yes great, link me to a source that supports your interpretation.
  • mrsamsa: The idea in BvCs argument is felipecs barometer.
  • mrsamsa: What part of his argument would we analyze to determine whether it’s based on dismissing a source or not?
  • mrsamsa: He’s dismissing an argument of felipecs.
  • mrsamsa: His argument about judging bad faith. That’s why he appealed to his barometer, as that was a criticism of the argument.
  • mrsamsa: He’s trying to convince us of his methods for judging bad faith, that’s the argument.
  • mrsamsa: Read his OP, it spells it all out in detail.
  • mrsamsa: What part are you pretending not to understand?What part are you pretending not to understand?
  • mrsamsa: What part of his OP did you not understand?
  • mrsamsa: Stop fucking evading, make your argument and stop throwing up smokescreens.
  • mrsamsa: Read the OP and tell me specifically what you don’t understand.
  • mrsamsa: Instead of constantly demanding people to answer your questions, show some good faith and do so in return.
  • mrsamsa: Answer the question or stop responding. That’s the end of the conversation.
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just proven yourself wrong with your own timeline.
  • mrsamsa: Holy shit this is getting ridiculous.
  • mrsamsa: Jesus christ. If you’d stop with the mental gymnastics these conversations would go so much easier.
  • mrsamsa: It’s not, because it’s only fallacious when the appeal to the origin is irrelevant.

In yet another post: Why is Felipec even a mod? Who made him a mod?

  • mrsamsa: Semantics won’t save you or felipec here.
  • mrsamsa: So for it to be a genetic fallacy, BvC would need to reject his own argument based on his own history.
  • mrsamsa: Careful, felipec bans people for not saying yes or no to that question.
  • mrsamsa: Why are you trying to turn it into a deductive proof?
  • mrsamsa: Why not just answer my question?
  • mrsamsa: I am rather cynically assuming that the reason you keep pretending not to be able to read my position every time I spell it out for you though is because you realise that you can’t actually refute it, and you don’t want to admit that after all this fucking bullshit I was actually right.
  • mrsamsa: If we’re in agreement that reaching a conclusion that felipec is probably wrong about a claim because he has a history of being wrong on that topic isn’t fallacious then good, I’m happy with that outcome.
  • mrsamsa: No, saying felipec is probably wrong because of his history is coming from him, he’s the origin referred to in the argument.
  • mrsamsa: As I say in my other comment, using the word “doubt” here confuses the comparison a little bit.
  • mrsamsa: It doesn’t change the origin. The origin is “felipec’s history of judging bad faith”.
  • mrsamsa: It’s a fine argument, there’s nothing fallacious about it and it wouldn’t require evidence to avoid being a fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: It’s a little confusing to use the first one as a general argument and then to use a specific example in the second.
  • mrsamsa: Now do you agree that the “origin” that would be relevant to the genetic fallacy is premise 2 in both those arguments?
  • mrsamsa: And just to be clear, this is a hypothetical, right?
  • mrsamsa: The point wasn’t about Tim Pool, the point was about Felipec’s ability to judge bad faith actors in this sub.
  • mrsamsa: I’m probably jumping ahead, continue.
  • mrsamsa: I’ll have to see why he thinks changing the conclusion from “probably wrong” to “definitely wrong” changes the origin.
  • mrsamsa: That’s not particularly relevant for the genetic fallacy.
  • mrsamsa: Remember that to dismiss a claim we don’t need to state it in absolute terms.
  • mrsamsa: If I say that creationism is probably false, I am claiming that it’s untrue.
  • mrsamsa: If I say felipec’s argument is 99.9999% likely to be false, are you saying “Well… that’s not a dismissal of his argument, he’s saying he could be right!”?
  • mrsamsa: How can someone argue that something is probably untrue without arguing it’s untrue?
  • mrsamsa: If argued as definitely then yes, if probably then no. Agreed.
  • mrsamsa: Both are arguing it’s untrue. One says it’s probably untrue, the other definitely untrue.
  • mrsamsa: Saying something is probably untrue is a dismissal of a claim.
  • mrsamsa: We’re talking about the concept of untrue, not definitely untrue. You’re conflating the two.
  • mrsamsa: It means that something is probably true or false, since truth isn’t binary.
  • mrsamsa: Wait… are you saying arguments with the conclusion of “probably” aren’t even arguments?…
  • mrsamsa: I think you’re going to have to support some of these claims, I can’t see what you’re possibly basing them on.
  • mrsamsa: Can you give me an example of an argument that bases its conclusion on a probability?
  • mrsamsa: So when scientists say that creationists are probably wrong, they aren’t dismissing their claims as true or false?
  • mrsamsa: I’m not sure how this relates to my question.
  • mrsamsa: Since truth is binary in your view, if they aren’t fully dismissing of creationism, and they aren’t fully accepting of evolution, then surely they’re both in the same position of being “neither true or false”?
  • mrsamsa: You’ve just said that if an argument concludes that something is “probably wrong/false/untrue/etc” then they aren’t dismissing that claim.
  • mrsamsa: You explicitly said that people can’t dismiss claims as true or false if they’re talking in a probabilistic way.
  • mrsamsa: I don’t see how any of this addresses my question.
  • mrsamsa: And yet clearly I ended up being correct.
  • mrsamsa: I think you’ve misspoken there – a sound conclusion can’t be false.

Can you imagine trying to argue with him? Such a joy.

Notice that this is just the genetic fallacy argument he is using to derail other conversations. He does a similar style of arguing with other arguments, but I’m not going to bother going into more trouble trying to understand what can’t be understood.

The ban

In my opinion, there’s more than enough evidence than mrsamsa is most likely a troll, as so I decided to temporarily ban him for a month. There are some considerations that must be pondered before banning somebody, depending on the sub, it might be perfectly fine to ban somebody that we can’t be 100% sure is a troll.

Part of this analysis was sent to the mod team for a second opinion, but since no strong opinions against the ban were voiced I decided to go ahead with it.

Unfortunately due to some internal issues, his ban got reverted. I would attribute this as a mistake, and miscommunication, but it is quite telling what has been mrsamsa’s behavior after the ban.

He has been consistently lying about the reason why he was banned, and why he was subsequently unbanned:

mrsamsa:

Yeah because felipec banned me for disagreeing with him, and the other mods overturned it because that’s not against the rules.

This is a lie. He knows what was the rationale behind the ban, since part of this analysis was sent to him, so to attribute the rationale to a “disagreement” is disingenuous at best. He was banned because he engaged in bad faith, and that’s against the rules.

It is also a lie that the other mods decred he didn’t violate the rules. For starters only one mod did engage with the situation.

mrsamsa:

It’s pretty crazy that being wrong (in the eyes of the mod) is now an instant bannable offence. I assume the other mods must have thought there were others reason that justify the ban, otherwise hopefully it’s hashed out between them and the user.

He is lying about the reason why he was banned; it wasn’t because he was “wrong”, and he knows that.

mrsamsa:

What do you think of him banning me for “not answering questions” to his satisfaction (where he wanted a yes or no answer to a question I explained didn’t have a yes or no response? Or for “snarky” remarks like “keep up”, “think about it” and “this is a stupid argument”?

As you can see in this analysis, he wasn’t banned because of that; it was because he didn’t answer virtually any question directly. It is his behavior in aggregate that shows this.

mrsamsa:

Yeah he said the same thing about my ban which turned out to be him asking another mod and then banning me before they replied. So I don’t know, but the mods seemed fair in dealing with me so I assume they’ll look at both sides of the issue there.

That’s yet another lie. Some back and forth happened before the ban was applied.

mrsamsa:

Felipec banned me for disagreeing with him, I appealed it and the other mods agreed that there didn’t seem to be any basis to it and overruled him.

Another lie, and knows it. He saw the discussion that lead to him been unbanned, and no point did anyone say there wasn’t any basis.

Suspect

If his behavior in conversations wasn’t enough evidence, there’s also reason to believe that he has more than one user, who also engage in these discussions. In addition his comments constantly get more than five upvotes, which is extremely rare in deep discussions. This suggests that he is tricking the system. But not only that, but he gets upvotes on comments on old threads that are supposed to be invisible for other users. This means there’s practically zero doubt he is gaming the system.

I am also in contact with at least three users that have noticed the same behavior; each time they discuss with mrsamsa their comments are always voted down, and the ones of mrsamsa up. Not to mention the endless discussions in which mrsamsa never addresses an actual point.

The weird thing to find would be a productive discussion with him.

Conclusion

Let’s summarize what user mrsamsa did:

  • Didn’t talk about Eric Weinstein’s argument (argument W)
  • Didn’t address my argument about Sam Seder (argument F)
  • Didn’t accept a textbook definition of a genetic fallacy
  • Didn’t accept that focusing on the argument X, is better than Y
  • Didn’t accept that he provided two different arguments “I doubt X” vs “We should doubt X”
  • Didn’t accept that “I doubt X” arguments are useless
  • Wasted everyone’s time
  • Rehashed the same discussion in other conversations
  • Lied about the reasons of his ban

Regardless of what the actual motives of mrsamsa are, it’s fair to say this is not the kind of behavior anyone should accept in their online community.

This kind of behavior is not easy to see unless one is engaging in the actual discussion, and not simply avoiding it following the traditional advice “don’t feed the troll”.

Moderators most likely would never see the obvious tricks being used over and over, because they don’t typical engage with the trolls, and looking at any individual comment there’s always the possibility to be taken in good faith. But in aggregate there shouldn’t be any doubt.

Modern trolls rely on these man-power limitations, exploit the good faith of moderators and users, specially in communities that value freedom of speech. They hide in plain sight, and constantly derail conversations claiming to be good actors.

What they don’t expect is somebody keeping track of the amount of times they engage in troll tactics, such a smoke screens, ad hominems, and poisoning the well. So that’s precisely what we should do; actively deal with them.

First principles of income distribution

Anyone attempting to live well within a society must have a concept of fairness; there’s a limit to how much debasement you should tolerate. You wouldn’t just let somebody cut in line in front of you, not only because you would have to wait longer, but it’s a matter of principle: it’s not fair. This isn’t unique to humans, even monkeys wouldn’t do the same job another monkey is doing, if the other monkey is receiving a grape, while he a cucumber slice. I wouldn’t do it either; I prefer grapes too.

If your potatoes are as good as the neighbor’s potatoes, but he sells them at $20, while you can only sell them at $10, either he is doing something right, you are doing something wrong, or your view of the world is incorrect, and your potatoes are not as good as you thought. It is a puzzle that must be solved, because those extra $10 might be the difference between survival, attracting a potential mate, or death.

You might not be able to solve every mystery of life and the universe, but surely you should be able to sell your potatoes at $20, and so you must.

This is the simplest explanation why we are hard-wired for fairness, and we refuse to be part of a system that exploits us. We might not understand every aspect of an extremely complex socio-economic system, but we recognize we should be paid the same amount as other cogs in the machine of the same level, at least.

Inequality

We understand we can’t all have the same wealth, we can see people that work less than we do, or have less ability, so we should be paid more than them. If follows that other people provide more value than us, therefore certain level of inequality might be tolerated, if not even favored.

Many staunch capitalists shrug at the question of inequality. “You want everyone to have the same wealth?” they belch. Few things in this world are black-and-white, and inequality is no exception. The question is not “equality vs. inequality”, the question is “how much inequality?”.

It should not be surprising that high levels of inequality create social instability; large masses of people don’t like to be screwed over. If high levels of inequality are not rectified: crime increases, and eventually revolutions erupt. Ask Marine Antoinette if leveling the playing field a bit more wouldn’t have been a good policy, or rather–ask her detached head.

Therefore it should not be surprising either that elites pay close attention to inequality metrics as it stands to reason that nobody is fond of surprise revolutions. But more pressing than inequality metrics, are perceptions of inequality, because it doesn’t matter if large masses of people are being screwed over… If they don’t know it.

However, extremely high levels of inequality can’t be ignored forever, and eventually society descends into chaos. But what is that level? How much is way way too much?

Morality

The first thing a right-wing capitalist would tell you is that “it doesn’t matter”. It doesn’t matter how much money your neighbor is making selling potatoes, as long as you are making good money. This feels wrong, just like it feels wrong to receive a cucumber slice instead of a grape, but perhaps it is our base instincts at play, and in fact there is nothing inherently wrong.

The phrase they often use is “a rising tide lifts all boats”. The idea is that rich people are the ones that provide the most value to the economy, so if they have a lot of profit, they will know how to use that money best, and therefore the whole economy would benefit, including you. This is also called trickle-down economics; the earnings of the rich trickle down to the poor.

However, it doesn’t take a genius to find a caveat: what if the rich hedge 100% of the earnings? How much do you get in that case? Well, nothing. Right-wing governments have tried time and time again to decrease the taxes for the rich, in order to incentivize the supposed “job-creators”, increase the economy, and receive more total taxes as a result. The latest instance is Trump’s Tax Reform. It has never worked.

What many dogmatic capitalists seem to forget is the first principle of economics: resources are limited. So therefore naturally there’s a limit to how many resources the rich may hedge before the poor classes start to starve.

There is no magic bullet: there is a limit to the amount of value an economy can create. And how you distribute the fruits of that value does matter, and that is the distribution of income.

Numbers

So we start with two premises a) too much inequality is bad, and b) income is finite. We have to find a number to express how much inequality there is, that is certain, and anybody that lives in the real world understands you can’t give to four people half the pie each (4/2 ≠ 100%) (staunch capitalists seem to forget that).

I can tell that a nation has a R/P 10% of 23.05, a Gini of 48.86, or a top 1% share of 13.5, but what does that really say? I would have to explain what each metric means, and you would still not get a good picture. I could show the Lorenz curve as well, but I would have to explain it, and it still would be hard to see what is the problem, if there is any.

Example 1

Let’s say there’s an economy of two people, a total of value created of $100,000 (it doesn’t matter the units), and we divide that total evenly ($50,000, $50,000). This is perfect equality, or no inequality, something nobody is advocating for, or even possible. The Gini index is 0, but we’ll see later how to get that number in a more realistic example.

Example 1 (Gini: 0.0).
Median: $50,000 – Richest: $50,000 – R/M: 1.0

Example 2

A slightly more realistic example divides the value unevenly ($20,000, $80,000). In this case there is inequality, but how much?

Example 2 (Gini: 30.0).
Median: $20,000 – Richest: $80,000 – R/M: 4.0

The Gini index is often referred as a representation of the Lorenz curve of an income distribution, but we don’t need extra layers of complexity to understand what the value means. Another way to define Gini is in terms of the relative mean absolute difference: we find all the relative differences, and divide by n.

The total is $100,000, x₁ is $20,000, x₂ is $80,000, so: |x₁x₂| / total →|$20,000 – $80,000| / $100,000 →$60,000 / $100,000 → 60%. The relative difference of x₁ and x₂ is 60%, and the other way around (x₂x₁) is the same, so the sum is 120%, we divide that by n (2), and the result is 60%. The Gini index is half of the RMAD, so: 30.

So when you see a Gini index of 30, you can picture the above distribution (20, 80), but is that a fair distribution? Well, 30 or above is considered medium inequality (30 < x < 50), but I leave it to you to decide if it actually is.

Example 3

Let’s move to a more complicated example ($7,000, $13,000, $20,000, $60,000):

Example 3 (Gini: 41.5).
Median: $13,000 – Richest: $60,000 – R/M: 4.6

At first this looks like it has more inequality, but in fact the economy follows the same distribution as the previous example, except with more granularity: x₁ + x₂ = $20,000, x₃ + x₄ = $80,000.

It’s much more tedious to calculate the Gini mathematically by hand, just the first element would be: (|x₁x₁| + |x₁x₂| + |x₁x₃| + |x₁x₄|) / total → ($0 + $6,000 + $13,000 + $53,000) / $100,000 → $72,000 / $100,000 → 72%. The whole RMAD is (72% + 60% + 60% + 140%) / 4 → 332% / 4 → 83%. So the Gini is 41.5.

But wait a second! Why is the Gini higher in this case, if the distribution is the same? Well, that’s the first caveat of the Gini index: it depends entirely on the number of samples of the population: the more samples, the more precise it is.

But that’s not the only caveat. If you have been paying attention, you might have deduced already that there’s more than one set of four numbers whose relative absolute difference equals to 332%. Which means there’s many income distributions that result in the same Gini index, and there are:

Alt 1 (Gini: 41.5).
Median: $17,000 – Richest: $54,000 – R/M: 3.2
Alt 2 (Gini: 41.5).
Median: $11,000 – Richest: $46,000 – R/M: 4.2
Alt 3 (Gini: 41.5).
Median: $12,000 – Richest: $51,000 – R/M: 4.2
Alt 4 (Gini: 41.5).
Median: $11,000 – Richest: $64,000 – R/M: 5.8

So that’s the second caveat: a single Gini index cannot represent entirely a distribution of income. It is by far the best way to represent the economic inequality in a single number, but it cannot give you the whole picture.

The last example is particularly interesting, as the richest person earns 5.8 times more income than the average person, yet the Gini is exactly the same because the bottom 75% is quite homogeneous.

Example 4

Finally we arrive to the most realistic example ($2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $6,000, $7,000, $8,000, $11,000, $15,000, $39,000):

Example 4 (Gini: 46.2).
Median: $6,000 – Richest: $39,000 – R/M: 6.5

This again follows the same distribution of the previous examples: add up the first five elements and it will give you $20,000, add the rest and it will give you $80,000. But the granularity makes the inequality more visible, the Gini index is increasing, and so is the ratio between the richest and the average person.

At this point I must confess that this is not an entirely fake economy; this is in fact a simplification of the economy of Mexico, and each example follows exactly the distribution of income in Mexico, which has a Gini of 48.86. As the granularity increases, the Gini index gets closer to the real value. Unfortunately even official sources list the Gini index as 47.13, but that’s because the economy has been simplified to ten values, when the real Gini is 48.86 (if you use the whole surveyed sample).

So we actually have reached the limit of official sources and we are going beyond.

Real numbers

It’s time to move away from fake numbers to real ones, instead of sets of 4 or 10, to hundreds or millions. Values are adjusted to have a mean of $10,000, but the proportions are the same.

Real 10

If we divide the real sample into 10 values, we get a graph closely following our fake example #4 (these numbers are not rounded):

Real 10 (Gini: 47.1).
Median: $5,791 – Richest: $39,476 – R/M: 6.8

Real 100

Dividing the real sample into 100 values we start to see how the inequality shapes up. Also, the Gini index is very close to the real value.

Real 100 (Gini: 48.8).
Median: $6,259 – Richest: $134,956 – R/M: 21.6

If you pay attention to the richest person you would see his income keeps increasing as we add more samples. At this point he receives 21.6 times more income than the average person.

Real

Finally, if we plot the real sample as it is (122,643,890 weighted values), we get the following graph:

Real (Gini: 48.9).
Median: $6,313 – Richest: $4,406,353 – R/M: 698

Does that graph looks remotely similar to a fair distribution of income? The richest person has an income of $4,400,000; 700 times what the average person gets. That doesn’t even reach the 50 index needed to be considered high inequality. 48.9 is still considered medium. And yes; this is real.

There is a final caveat to income surveys: the richest of the rich are extremely underrepresented. The richest person in Mexico doesn’t receive an income of $4,400,000, it’s closer to $4,000,000,000 (400,000 times the media), but the chances of interviewing that person in a random survey are virtually zero. The real number of entries in the survey are 70,000, with a mean household size of 3.6, so you can’t say much about the top 0.001%, except: they have an insane amount of income.

At which point does an economy becomes ridiculously unfair? Well, apparently it’s not with a Gini of 48.9 (or at least this distribution), because Mexico has not exploded into a revolution, although that might be due to ignorance. Perhaps if the population of Mexico knew how unfair the distribution of income is, they would do something about it. But at the moment it seems a Gini index of 50 is manageable.

Conclusion

Hopefully after reading this article you have a better understanding of what the Gini index is, and why it’s a good measure of inequality, although not a perfect one. And what a distribution of income with a Gini of 50 looks like.

This article only scratches the surface of income distribution measurements. There are many ways to stratify the data: by area, by urban vs. rural areas, by number of habitants, by age, by work status (full-time vs. part-time), by sex, etc. The per capita income can be recalculated through equivalization, which increases it dramatically. And the top incomes can be calculated through other means. Plus, there are confidence intervals to take into consideration.

And we didn’t even mention wealth and income dynamics. The income distribution is the number that is more easily obtained, but what is most important is how that number changes, and increases the wealth of each individual. The distribution of wealth is a much more complicated subject, but suffice to say: it’s much more unequal than the distribution of income.

But all this doesn’t change the fact that an inequality in the distribution of income can be measured and visualized. Personally I think anyone with a pair of working eyes can say with confidence: yes, some distributions of income are unfair.

The power of words

Quite often in a discussion I’ve heard the phrase “semantics”, as if the meaning of words didn’t really matter in a discussion. Words are the building blocks of complex ideas, and if we don’t have a solid agreement on what they mean, then how can we hope of ever transmitting our message? We might not need to use a specific meaning offered by a dictionary, we might not even need to use a real word, but we need the idea to be packaged in a neat container–a word–which we can send back and forth multiple times in a conversation.

Words do more than simply package ideas in a singular conversation; they can serve as Eureka moments; the first time an idea is not only realized, but packaged, captured like an exotic Pokémon. People might have had Eureka moments before the word “Eureka” was widely used, but it wasn’t until the coinage of the idea that our collective minds became fully aware of such phenomenon.

Have you noticed that when you learn a new word, it suddenly appears everywhere? You probably saw and heard such word many times before in your life, but you never paid any attention to it. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which maybe you have never heard of before, but now that you have; ironically–it will pop up everywhere 🙂

It’s hard to explain how our minds work (or the current scientific understanding of it); but if I attempt to summarize; it’s all about recognizing patterns, and feedback loops. That’s why the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon makes so much sense: we can’t recognize a pattern we haven’t seen before, but once we identify it; our brain will try to see the world through different lenses in order to check if the pattern applies, if it does; the feedback loop will reinforce the idea so we can recognize the pattern better in the future.

So it makes sense to think that language affects our worldview, which is the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. Imagine we didn’t have a word for “thought”, how would you describe a thought? It’s hard to describe a mind if you don’t have the word “thought”, so it is to describe “believe”, “remember”, “forget”, and dozens of other ideas related to thoughts.

This is not merely a theory (or rather; a hypothesis); we know it happened in Nicaragua in the Seventies because there were no schools for deaf people. When the first school was established dozens of people without language gathered, and they slowly created their own sign language. However, their language was very rudimentary. The second generation of kids learned the language from the first generation, but they added new words. These new words did not merely amplify their vocabulary; they changed the way they thought. The first generation merely focused on describing events, the second generation talked about feelings, thoughts, ideas. They got better at thinking about thinking, in one generation, simply because of language.

There is an test called the Sally-Anne test; it is used to measure the ability of a person to attribute false beliefs of another; something that cannot be done without theory of mind. The test goes as follows:

Sally takes a marble and hides it in her basket. She then “leaves” the room and goes for a walk. While she is away, Anne takes the marble out of Sally’s basket and puts it in her own box. Sally is then reintroduced and the child is asked the key question, the Belief Question: “Where will Sally look for her marble?”

Fully functioning adult persons know the answer: Sally would look in her basket. But young children answer differently: Sally would look in Anne’s box. They don’t understand that Sally’s worldview is different than their own; they don’t understand that each person has a different worldview, a mind different of their own. The ability to understand that each person has a different mind is called theory of mind; something so incredibly simple most people take for granted, is actually a gift that young children don’t have, neither do most animals. And it turns out the first generation of Nicaraguan kids didn’t have this ability either, even after they became adults, even in their fifties. Language is the tool that helps us understand other people’s minds; it is words like “belief”, “mind”, “point-of-view”. The second generation of Nicaraguan kids had these words, and with them they easily acquired theory of mind.

Imagine the first time somebody used the word “empathy“. Surely the concept of empathy existed long before the word was coined. However, like many patterns; it was elusive, hard to explain, and thus hard to identify, discuss, mold, evolve. How can I say “the most basic level of empathy arrives with theory-of-mind” if I don’t have the word “empathy” at my disposal, and for that matter, the word “theory-of-mind”?

The word “economy” wasn’t widely used until after the 19th century, and again; surely people understood the concept of economy long before the word, but they couldn’t exactly discuss it. How would you say “the economy is bad lately”? How would you discuss different economic models, like capitalism, or communism? How would you measure something that doesn’t have a name, like using the GDP? The answer is: you couldn’t, and they didn’t. It was the word that gave people such power, in a way the word “economy” changed the world. Certainly there were many other factors revolving the industrial revolution, but the coinage of the word “economy” was instrumental.

A more recent example is the word “meme“. Again; memes existed long before the word, in fact; words themselves are memes; they spread around society like viruses. Curiously enough the word “meme” wasn’t coined until the word “virus” sank into wide use, which could only happen after viruses were discovered, at the end of the 19th century. It is no coincidence that the word “meme” was coined by an evolutionary biologist–quite familiar with viruses.

But words do more than expand our understanding of the world, they change it, shatter it, shift it. Consider the word “gender“. Previously the word “gender” was fixed to the word “sex”, so a male is masculine, and a female feminine. Today we’ve been forced to change that notion, mainly due to transgenders. So a transgender man might have been born with a female biological sex, but considers himself to have a masculine gender as far as society is concerned. This paradigm shift hasn’t settled still with many people, which consider both gender and sex to be the same thing. Inevitable society will have to change its worldview, otherwise transgender people couldn’t fit, and they must.

An even more dramatic shift happens with the word “person“. The concept of personhood has changed dramatically through history, in many cases excluding certain races, or considering one sex less of a person than the other. Today we accept that all people regardless of sex or race should be considered full persons, and the people that don’t accept that are considered bigots; sexists, or racists. So grand of us, isn’t it?

But that’s still not enough. Consider a human being so psychologically disturbed that he lacks any consideration towards other beings, incapable of empathy, even without theory of mind… Is he a person? How about a dog that truly loves his human companion, cares for him, would risk his life if the need arises, and would miss him to death if he was gone.. Isn’t he a person? Indeed; many dog lovers would attest that their dogs are better beings that many humans, and they might be right. A dog doesn’t care for race or sex, and in that sense he might be better than many family members that gather at your typical Thanksgiving.

dog-tilt-crop

Personally, I see empathy as the essence of person; if you can’t feel another person’s suffering, then what good are you in a society? Every dog owner has seen the expression of tilting the head to one side; it’s an attempt dogs make in order to understand humans’ emotions (probably because they have trouble seeing our mouths due to their snout), they do this because they are empathic; they understand their human might be sad, even if they themselves feel happy. Contrast this with a human infant, who is barely able to see anything beyond his own hunger, and certainly doesn’t have a theory of mind. Who is more of a person? Why should the word “person” be fixed to the word “human” then?

When you see from this vantage point, you realize that if it’s hard to say a human infant is truly a person, then it’s even harder to call a human fetus a person, which is barely distinguishable from a chicken embryo–both in terms of physiology and mental processes. Certainly less of a person than a fully functional adult woman, whose life might get ruined by abortion laws.

Thus the importance of thinking about the meaning of words, specially important ones like “person”, regardless of how firm you think you have your grasp on it. Because of the way minds work; it’s much more difficult to change the meaning of a word, than it is to learn a new one; it’s much easier to recognize a new pattern than it is to change an engraved one, thanks to feedback loops–much like a drop of water falling on a rock millions of times–the damage is already done. But if you don’t do that paradigm shift, you might end up in the wrong side of history, just like your bigoted, racist and sexist ancestors, you might end up being the bigoted family member in a future Thanksgiving, facing your son’s spouse which might be–let’s go for a long shot–an artificial intelligence; not a human, but still a person, as worthy of our respect as any other.

Being honest about Islam

The typical leftist has the idea that everyone should be respected, and every idea as well. That we shall all live in an inclusive world where every faith is tolerated, and all cultures are valued equally. It sounds lovely, an utopia we all should thrive for.

One of the latest examples is Khizr Khan’s speech at the US Democratic convention; the father of a muslim American soldier. Of course the media celebrated this event as an example of their culture inclusiveness. One more step toward the multiculturalism utopia. How progressive of us to accept cannon fodder of all faiths.

There is one caveat with this inclusiveness notion, and I’m going to show it with a single word, but first, it shouldn’t be hard to see that there’s a problem with inclusiveness; our body can’t ingest any substance. There are such things as toxic substances, things that just don’t belong inside our body–that are actively harmful. Similarly, there are certain ideas that are harmful, and can’t be included in a modern society that thrives to progress. If you have trouble thinking of one, here is an example: Nazism.

Now, the word Nazism is often overused, to the point that it has become a joke, but in this case it’s a good analogy; it’s an ideology that is toxic to modern values, and even the most inclusive societies must reject such ideology, we all agree on that. However, Islam is not Nazism, it’s a religion, it can’t be toxic, after all, we often hear it’s a religion of peace, right?

But is it a religion of peace? Let’s convert some of the common Muslim memes to Nazism to perhaps remove the veil: Nazism is an ideology of peace, not all Nazis are extremists, you are a Naziphobic.

So, if you follow the previous statements you might start to see a couple of issues. First of all, saying “Islam is a religion of peace” is worthless, you have to actually prove that it is (which I will try to explore in this post, it’s as worthless as saying “Nazism is an ideology of peace”). Second, when an ideology is toxic, it doesn’t matter if you are moderate or extreme; you are still toxic. And third, using a trump word like Islamophobic against all critics is not fair; the word implies an irrational fear against that ideology, but is it irrational? Plenty of Islam critics have been murdered, so would it be irrational for say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to fear for her life when her life has actually been threatened plenty of times?

A religion of peace

We often hear that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the terrorist attacks are an aberration of the faith. Sounds very reasonable, but is it true?

Christians often assume that Muhammad was like Jesus; peaceful, benevolent, surely Muhammad said something similar to turn to them the other cheek when you are hit. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: Muhammad was warlord, he spread the religion through the sword, many people had to die for his religion to be established.

Let’s see some verses from the Qur’an, to see how peaceful this religion is:

Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out…”

Quran (8:39)“And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion is all for Allah alone.”

Quran (9:123)“O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.”

And there’s many more.

Very peaceful indeed! You might be tempted to justify this on Christian terms and say; “the Bible also has violent verses, but that’s the Old Testament”, or something along those lines. However, even the Old Testament wasn’t so violent as to encourage killing all unbelievers, and also, a key difference between the Bible and the Qur’an is that the later has the principle of abrogation: when verses conflict, the earlier is discarded. So, you might see a benevolent verse in the Qur’an about how to treat unbelievers, but that’s superseded by a later verse. The earlier parts of the Qur’an are more benevolent, and the later more violent. So there is significantly less room for interpretation.

So, when an ISIS fighter kills an unbeliever, is he really distorting the faith? The Qur’an is pretty much telling him to do so, without room for interpretation.

Islam is a violent religion. In fact, when people say “Muslim extremists” are the violent ones, that is pretty much conceding the point; they take their violent religion too seriously. Contrast that with Jane extremists, which are extremely peaceful, since Jainism is a truly peaceful religion.

Moderate Muslims

So maybe the religion itself is violent, but fortunately not all Muslims take the religion too seriously, and we shouldn’t worry about the vast majority of Muslims.

islam

Let’s start with a number from a Pew poll: 36% of Muslims (around 580 million) want the death penalty for leaving Islam. So if you have ten Muslim friends, and one of them leaves the religion, four of them would want him to be executed. And they are the moderates.

68% of Muslims think Sharia law should rule. Another reason why Islam is different than other religions, like Christianity, is that it is more than just a religion; it also comes with a legal framework, and other ways to run the society. In modern inclusive societies we follow the principle of secularism, so that all faiths are accepted, or at least, the ones compatible with modern values. Unfortunately, Islam is not one of such; it wants  to subvert the society’s legal framework, and impose its own; it’s incompatible.

So yeah, not all Muslims are extremists, not all Muslims want the death penalty for apostates, and not all Muslims want Sharia law, but dangerously high numbers of them do. So we have to be honest about their views and values; we know we don’t want extremists, but we don’t want Islamists either.

The only real difference between an extremist and an Islamist, is that the Islamist doesn’t kill people, they want to implement Sharia law through political means, so they disagree on the method, but they want the same goal.

Hear it from the mouth of one:

Now, take the example of Belgium; it accepted large number of Muslim immigrants (5%-7%), and now it is suffering the consequences, not just from terrorist attacks from the extreme minority (a minority of a large number of people is still an issue), but from the “moderate” Muslims who don’t agree with the attacks themselves, but they do agree the objective; the Belgium society must change to be more in accordance with the Qur’an, and they will not rest, through political movements or otherwise, until it does happen.

Islam is not compatible with modern secular societies, it is toxic, and there is a direct correlation between the amount of the Muslim population in a country, and the violence and terrorist attacks in such country.

Even moderate Muslims are a problem.

Denial

Let’s jump to the real issue with Islam; denial. As violent and dangerous as the ideology is, the real problem the denial of it. Just like the public health problem of tobacco smoking was exacerbated by the denial that happened in the sixties. Just like prominent doctors made quite a bit of money denying the link from tobacco smoking to lung cancer, so is people like Reza Aslan profiting by telling multiculturalist leftists what they want to hear; that there is no link between Islam and terrorist attacks. But the reality is very different.

To exemplify the extent of the denial I will use the case of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular I want to use the speech that president Obama made.

While it’s true that U.S.A. has an issue with gun control, and mental public health, the motivation of the killer was clearly religious, however, due to political correctness, and fear of Islamophobia Obama didn’t even mention the word “Islam”. Sure, he probably wanted to use this incident as a political tool to promote his anti-gun agenda, but to avoid the word completely is astonishing.

The media, again, in the name of multiculturalism, denied the link between Islam and the hate of homosexuals. But is there really no link?

For starters we have an Imam in Orlando, just before the attack saying that death is the sentence for homosexuality.

Maybe that’s just one crazy leader, and the majority of Muslims don’t share his views. So let’s see what the polls about homosexuality in different countries say:

gsi2-chp3-6

There is essentially no acceptance for homosexuality in the Muslim world, in fact it’s punishable by death in many Muslim countries. And it’s not that different in western countries like the U.K. where not even 1% of Muslims agreed homosexuality was morally acceptable in a recent poll.

The Qur’an is also clear (this is just one example):

Quran (7:80-84)“…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)”

So there is absolutely no reason to think that Muslims are O.K. with homosexuality, and yet when a Muslim person with links to terrorist Muslim groups, throws a terrorist attack in a gay nightclub the media denies any link between his ideology and the attack, and the president doesn’t even mention the word “Islam”.

How hard must reality hit us in the face before we accept it?

The victims and the heroes

Although the western world has seen the tip of the iceberg that is the horrific doctrine of Islam, the real victims are Muslims, in Muslim countries, since they suffer the bulk of the violence, predominantly for believing in the wrong flavor of Islam. And the heroes are Muslims, or ex-Muslims, who recognize the threat that nominal Islam is, and want to reform it, risking their own lives in doing so.

Many religions, including Christianity, had to change, to evolve, in order to be compatible with modern liberal values. Currently there is no religion that needs it more than Islam, and many Muslims recognize that reality. Unfortunately they are the minority.

Our job as defenders of liberal values should be to empower these reformist Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz (an ex-radical), who want to transform their religion into a version that is compatible with modern secular societies. Unfortunately we do the opposite; Maajid is constantly criticized by popular media, and denied a platform, in fact, he is called an Islamophobe (even though he is Muslim).

The current, nominal, version of Islam is incompatible, it is toxic, it is a cancer in modern society, and it is openly at war with us. Tolerating an intolerant ideology is a recipe for disaster. And the more time we deny the link between Islam and terrorism, the more people will suffer, both Muslims and non-Muslims. I wonder how many more Muslim terrorists attacks will have to happen before we as a society realize the truth; they will not stop until we do something about it.

Basics in rational discussion

Lately I’ve been having deep discussions that get so abstract we reach deep into the nature of reality. One might think that in the 21st century we would at least have gotten that right, we could agree on some fundamentals, and move on to more important stuff–after all, philosophy is taught in high school (last I checked)–sadly, that’s not the case.

Nature of reality

The first thing we have to agree is the nature of reality. For example, it’s possible that there are multiple realities, maybe your reality is different than mine. Maybe I see an apple as red, and you see the apple as yellow, both our perceptions are correct, but the realities are different; you take a picture, and it’s yellow, I take a picture, and it’s red.

If this was the case, it would be useless to discuss reality; what does it matter if I see the apple as red and you as yellow? In fact, it’s pointless to discuss about anything; does she loves you? Or is she using you? Maybe there’s two versions of her, and if that’s the case, the discussion is over. It gets even more hypothetical than that: maybe I’m alive in my reality, but dead in everybody else’s.

This is where philosophy enters the picture, and more specifically; epistemology–the study of knowledge. We, rational people, have decided that we need to assume there’s only one reality, which is objective. It makes sense if we want to discuss about anything. What makes the apple look red to me, and yellow to you, is our subjective experience of the objective reality. Experience can be subjective, but reality is not.

So if somebody tells you there’s many realities, or that reality is subjective; end the discussion. Just say: fine, your reality is different, whatever it is, we would never know. Look for other rational people willing to discuss about the real reality we all live in.

Discerning reality

We have agreed that there’s one objective reality, but, can we really know it? If I’m thirsty can I really know that drinking water will help me? We can’t know for sure, but we have to assume reality is discernable. If I don’t drink water and I die, well, we know that drinking water would probably have helped me.

There really is no alternative; if there’s no way to know if water will help, then there’s no point in discussing anything.

But what if the first time a human being drinks water it helps, but the second one it doesn’t? What if reality is constantly changing, including the laws of physics? If that was the case it would be quite tricky to discern reality, and again; there would be no point in discussing.

Here enters science–the method to build and organize knowledge. Science assumes uniformitarianism; the basic laws of nature are the same everywhere, have always been, and would continue to be. It’s only with this assumption that we can even begin to attempt to recognize reality.

Now we have to decide the method. We can go with dogma, tradition, or even feelings, however, the only method that has reliably produced results through history is science. Science has taken us to the Moon, and improved dramatically our way of living–precisely by recognizing reality correctly. Science has proven dogma and tradition wrong, many times, and never has any of these methods proved science wrong. To put it simply; science works.

So, again, if somebody tells you reality can’t be known, just move on, and if he tells you he doesn’t believe in science, well, he isn’t interested the real reality.

Basic tips

After we have aligned all our necessary assumptions, and agreed on a method to find out reality, we can start the real discussion. In the process of doing this for centuries, we have identified a bunch of common mistakes in reasoning, and we call them fallacies.

Our minds are faulty, but what’s even worst; bad at recognizing our own faults. Fortunately we have given names to many of our faults in reasoning, in the hopes that it will make it easier to recognize them.

However, not many people are interested in their faults in reasoning. Again, if somebody tells you he isn’t interested in fallacies, move on; it will be quite unlikely that you will be able to show him when his reasoning is faulty.

fallaciesposterhigherres

Summary

So to engage in a rational discussion we need to agree on:

  • Objective reality
  • Reality is knowable
  • Uniformitarianism
  • Science is the best method
  • Fallacies should be avoided

If anybody disagrees, you should be free to end the discussion immediately. Perhaps you can point that person to this post, so you don’t have to explain why yourself 🙂

The vanguard in the war of ideas

Language is interesting; it tells you about what’s going on inside somebody’s mind, but also; it tells you what’s going on inside the minds of a society.

At some point somebody came with the word “thought”, which changed the way we communicate forever. Same with many other words, like “racism”. There was a point where “racism” wasn’t a thing, and it’s essentially impossible to fight a concept for which you have no word.

“Racism” and “bigotry” are easy enough (although we don’t even have a word for “bigotry” in Spanish), but with them come more complicated notions, like “affirmative action”, and “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, both real things we should worry about.

I like “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, because it gives a name to an idea I adhere to; do not forgive a person that wronged you just because you are “morally superior”; hold other people to the same ethical and moral standards you hold yourself to, and you want others to hold you. It’s part of the golden rule, and it’s something the left doesn’t do with other cultures; we give them a free pass in the name of multiculturalism. It’s an issue.

But progressives don’t stop; while society catches on with ideas like “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, there’s even more novel ones, like “the regressive left” (also a real issue), which was coined only recently.

There’s a constant war of ideas, and it feels good when an issue finally gets identified and named, because all of us who felt the same way can rally and say; “yes! I feel the same way you do: the regressive left is an issue”. It feels good to be on the vanguard on the war of ideas, it feels good to know you are on the right side of history, just as I imagine the first people that said “racism is an issue” must have felt.