This is a test…

…of the Prudential Thinking Network.

Today’s subject: the Genetic Fallacy.

The Genetic Fallacy occurs whenever you say something like “That can’t/must be true because the people reporting it are Not of My Tribe/Wise Tribal Elders, or The Wrong/Right Sort.”

Do you suffer from a Genetic Fallacy Disorder? Here’s a test. When you read:

Hostess To Pay $1.75 Million In Executive Bonuses After Blaming Unions For Bankruptcy

…is your first thought “Why is he linking the ritually impure Think Progress site?” or is it “Is that true?  I’d better find out.”  If the former, have yourself screened immediately for Genetic Fallacy Disorder. It is communicable by print, air, and electronic devices and has cost millions of dollars and millions of lives.  Have yourself inoculated immediately against this and many other fallacies with a good shot of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

For more on logical fallacies, go here.

  • Nick R

    So fun! More please!
    Have you seen this? http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

  • Salvatore Spatafore

    Mark, when I say “Bush lied, kids died!” do you involuntarily cheer?

    • Mark Shea

      One of the many depressing features of our politics is that so many Christians think it more important that somebody might criticize Bush than that children have, in fact, died in droves because of the unjust war he chose to launch. It all comes back to a petty form of team sports in American politics. The real deaths of innocents caused by our politics mean nothing–except of course if the innocents are aborted. It’s all about team signifiers, tribal identity markers, and excluding heretics. You’re retreating back into the Bubble instead of treating with reality. Good luck with that.

      • TomD

        I am just curious . . . is it possible for someone to disagree with your tribe without have bad, impure motives?

        • Mark Shea

          Yes. That should have been obvious from the test. I assume not *everybody* leaps to the genetic fallacy. Meanwhile, I’m wondering, what’s ‘my tribe’? Also, I’m wondering why it is that obviously insincere people, who are plainly writing to accuse, so often seem to preface their accusation with the lie, “I am just curious”.

          • TomD

            “. . . obviously insincere people . . . preface their accusation with the lie . . .” There is much presumption in this, and you should consider that you may be wrong. As an infrequent reader of your blog, I was actually just curious if someone could disagree with you and not be a bad person with impure motives.

            When people cannot communicate and understand each other . . . begin with erroneous presumptions, and then, inevitably, jump to erroneous conclusions . . . that is the beginning of unnecessary conflict.

  • Raul De La Garza III

    My first thought was of skepticism. My second: As it is a company headquartered in my home state, it’s none of your business.

  • Bill Kirby

    I find the update article more interesting. Now that the union seems ready to play ball hostess might avoid bankruptcy.

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/11/19/1217321/hostess-may-avoid-bankruptcy/

    Did they really just bluff their way into breaking a strike?

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    Typically, I take the basic biases of a source and consider them, while withholding judgement until I check other sources to verify the story. After all, if I hear Rush Limbaugh say something negative about Obama, I can’t ignore that it’s Rush Limbaugh saying something negative about Obama. He might be right, and I’ll certainly check. But that’s my reaction to things nowadays.

  • Kristen inDallas

    An abbriviated (harder to fake out) version of the test: Whe you read the linked texed above do you A) Form an opinion about the statement based on what you already know, B) mouse over the text to investigate where the hyperlink is originating from in order to decide whether it is worth clicking, or C) click and read the link, then form an opinion, perhaps with the assistance of an independent google search?

  • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

    my response was to click through to try to find some confirmation of what seems like a ridiculous thing to do. So far, nada. I can’t find one link that includes the quoted text on the Think Progress site. I know the internet changes fast so I’m not saying that it was made up (there are other websites with the same meme/statement with links that don’t/no longer support the statement) but the thing about websites like Think Progress, Daily Kos, Fox News, etc. is that they are quick to link to a story that fits their operating paradigm, have their moment of outrage, create a meme (You didn’t build that) and the facts of the story get lost (particularly if the reporting changes).

    The short version is that executive pay/bonuses *is* an issue but not every reported story about that issue is true and particularly if the story happens to nicely fit the narrative from some left/right wing site take it with an extremely large grain of salt. I’m not opposed to reporting on Think Progress any more than I am opposed to reporting on Fox News. I just don’t particularly trust that they have any remote sense of objectivity.

  • MikeTheGeek

    Not sure what the point is. Company shutting down, pays off the guys that ran it. And???

    • sal magundi

      … and perhaps should pay off the guys that worked to make the product for it?

  • http://agapas.me Bob LeBlanc

    I typically view liberal bias as something the liberal media doesn’t report rather than what they do report. I don’t consider Dan Rather’s acceptance of forged materials to be that common. Maybe lies will be more common in the future, and virtue breaks down, but I would rather hold off that judgment for the future.

    The liberal bias shows in the framing of the narrative. Mario Rubio, as a politician, is shown hedging his bets with respect to evangelical and fundamentalism Christians, but at the same time, Slate does the digging to see that President Obama has made similar comments. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/11/rubio_and_obama_and_the_age_of_earth_politicians_hedge_about_whether_universe.2.html

    What matters here is that those with (R) after their name are seen as ignorant Christians, and those with (D) after their name are seen as enlightened intellectuals.

    A good example of bias on both sides is the current reporting on Israel and Hamas. The left media will show the hurt inflicted by Israel, civilians wounded by Israeli forces. The right media will show Hamas handing out candy to children in celebration of an Israeli bus getting blown up. The left’s media narrative is bad Israel attacks and poor Hamas retaliates. The right’s media narrative is an ever patient and good Israel has its back to the wall, and finally retaliates after numerous unjustified attacks by the terrorist Hamas.

    What I don’t trust is whether I have a complete and balanced picture.

    • DTMcCameron

      As they keep telling me, “it’s not either/or, it’s both/and!”

  • Richard Johnson

    Skepticism is a good thing, when done in moderation. However, the epistemic closure practiced on both sides of the political aisle these days is sickening, but not unexpected.

    As to this subject. First, we have this from snopes.com

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/hostess.asp

    Listed as sources for this information are the ritually impure USA Today and Wall Street Journal. USA Today is bubblegum journalism, no doubt. But the business pages at WSJ are known for their fairly solid reporting of business issues, albeit with a slight pro-business slant (unlike their editorial pages, which are a conservative’s paradise).

    But I am sure that this will not convince the skeptics here. So, allow me to add some more logs on your fire. So, let us go to Reuters and see if that is enough to quell the skeptics.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/19/us-hostess-bankruptcy-hearing-idUSBRE8AI0XS20121119

    “The U.S. Trustee, an agent of the U.S. Department of Justice who oversees bankruptcy cases, said in court documents it is opposed to the wind-down plan because Hostess plans improper bonuses to company insiders.”

    Hmm…well, that’s likely not enough. Maybe we can check elsewhere to convince the hard-core skeptics here. How about Crain’s Business.

    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121119/BLOGS08/121119764/hostess-unions-agree-to-mediation-fight-executive-bonuses

    “Under the plan, bonuses ranging from $7,400 to $130,500 will be paid to 19 executives. The company argues the bonuses are below market rates for such payments. But the unions, which blame mismanagement for the company’s demise, say the bonuses are unjustified and should be rejected by the judge.”

    OK, Bob LeBlanc, Dan F., et.al., is this enough for you? Or should I take another 5 minutes to search on Google and find yet more confirmation of what Mark reported.

    Mark, you nailed it on the head. Partisans on both sides of the issue (and yes, I am saying that liberals/progressives are every bit as quick to cloak themselves in confirmation bias as conservatives/libertarians) too often brandish skepticism when a piece of information contradicts their personal biases, and too seldom brandish it if the information supports said biases.

    • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

      I didn’t say it wasn’t true but my click-through’s on citing links weren’t finding the info. Also, of your links only snopes has the whole story that includes the information on increases in executive pay but doesn’t mention bonuses (unless the two are being conflated). The reuters piece doesn’t discuss dollar amounts at all and the crains piece links back to the original CNN Money piece that everyone was linking to which no longer says what it had been quoted as saying.

      So, not trying to defend Hostess or the actions of its executives BUT my point about meme creation trumping actual reporting of information stands.

    • http://agapas.me Bob LeBlanc

      Good grief, Richard, you haven’t understood what I’ve written.

      In Mark’s epistemological test, I’m not even bothering with the question “Is it true?” I ASSUME it’s true, unless reads like a scam artist’s sheet or a story about how Limbaugh is making contact with space aliens. So my skepticism does not lead me to refuse evidence because of its source. The question that my skepticism prompts me to ask is “What is missing from this story?” If I have the time and interest, I will do further research on a topic before I form an opinion. I challenge you to find the fallacy or error in this method. If the best that you can say is that I waste my time in not relying on a single source, then I can accept that criticism with good cheer.

      • Raul De La Garza III

        Roger that, Bob. “Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.” – Tolkien

  • scott b

    So if your going to liquidate and shutdown a large corporation. how do you keep the critical and knowledgable managers required to do the job efficiently and properly from abandoning ship?? You pay them bonuses to stick around. Unlike the government which never gets smaller, all these people will need to find a new job to support their lives. How do you get such a person to stay and close the business down.

  • sbark

    My initial reaction was to accept the information about the payments at face value but to question whether it is particularly meaningful information. IMO the article did not address the biggest question of “why were these bonuses paid?” First, many executives work under written contracts that specify bonus payments and what triggers those payments. If the payments were made under such contracts, Hostess would have been liable for breach of contract if it hadn’t made the payments. Second, the filing of a bankruptcy petition would often result in executives jumping ship and getting other jobs. Were these specific executives given a stay bonus because their services are necessary for an orderly wind-up of the business?

    My basic point is that the payment of compensation by a company that is going through bankruptcy isn’t necessarily something bad. Furthermore, if they were paid out in a way that can’t be justified, they might be subject to being rejected by the bankruptcy court. The issue I have with the article is that there is an underlying assumption that any compensation paid to executives is somehow wrong.

    • Jamie R

      If it’s going through bankruptcy, it’s breaching its contracts. You go through bankruptcy only because you’re going to breach your contracts. If you could pay everyone what you owed them, you wouldn’t need bankruptcy. The question is what priority the managers that ran the company into the ground should get relative to labor and to other creditors.

  • Tom R

    Certainly a fallacy, whether practised by American right-wingers or anyone else, but not a fallacy that a Catholic blogger is well-positioned to criticise since the very raison d’etre of Catholicism is that ultimately one judges the truth of arguments by their source, not by their content. If a Pope lists “religious liberty” among the Syllabus of Errors, or if some author on the Index of Prohibited Books says that Moses did not write Exodus, then from the Catholic point of view, it’s “game over” (or “causa finita”), at least until a later Pope re-defines “religious liberty” or amends/ rescinds the Index. The idea that one tests all things and holds fast to what is good, is, in Catholic epistemology, a Protestant heresy – the sin of “private judgment” or “private interpretation”.

  • Loud

    Now, I sorta agree with you. But biases are important, too. If, repeatedly, we find that one source or another is honest, then we can generally use it as the measure for ones we aren’t familiar with. But if we find that another group or source isn’t honest or isn’t properly thorough, then we will automatically double check their tale. (at least, that is what we logical people do)

  • tz

    Name one Bishop that condemned TARP, or the Bailed Bankster Billionaires Bonuses while the “little people” losing their jobs and homes were being rooked.

    They wonder at their lack of moral authority, but are silent (or worse) on the conditional evils.


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