On Fallacies and Libertarianism

Okay, so I realize that there is little to be gained here, but this is annoying me. I suspect that few folks here are really paying attention, but there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on between Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Andrew Sullivan. Like many others on the left, Amanda didn't take all that well to Peter Thiel's Cato Unbound essay on seasteading. In particular, she was (IMO rightly) offended by Thiel's clumsily-worded assertion that all hope for libertarianism went down the tubes after women were enfranchised. (I think Thiel's observation is a glaring post hoc fallacy; libertarianism went down the tubes not because women are especially hostile to libertarianism but because there was a giant fucking depression that turned pretty much everyone against the idea of a free market.)

Of course, it's not really all that much fun simply to explain why Thiel is wrong. That would involve, you know, actual civil discourse. And we can't really have that at Pandagon. So Amanda, displaying her usual flair for nuance, instead decided to say of Thiel:

And his essay really drives home how much libertarians shouldn’t own the word “liberty”, because they are actually modern day feudalists who object to any government functions that don’t involve taxing the middle class to create an army to ransack other nations and take their wealth.

Andrew singled this bit out (again, rightly IMO) for his Moore Award. Apparently Amanda has also been besieged by irritated libertarians, all eager to point out that, as a matter of fact, libertarians don't really so much endorse taxing the middle class, creating giant armies, or using said armies to create empires. Amanda and her commenters respond by accusing libertarians of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy.*

Now, I'm a big fan of Anthony Flew's Thinking About Thinking, so I'm pretty familiar with the No True Scotsman fallacy. For those of you who might not be, here's the passage in which Flew outlines the fallacy:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

So, it's not particularly hard to see why this is a fallacy. In most instances, it's out of bounds to redefine your terms in such a way as to explicitly exclude counter-examples. It may have the effect of making your term true, but it will be true tautologically, which is to say that it's not particularly interesting anymore.

Now, it's certainly possible to commit something that looks like the No True Scotsman fallacy in responding to Amanda's rather ridiculous charge. One could well argue along the lines of, "Look, anyone who wants to create a big army to plunder other countries isn't a true libertarian." I'll confess that I'm tempted by this approach myself. Anyone who really holds such a position is, at best, probably deeply confused as to what liberty really requires.

But, I think, it's wrong to argue that anyone who holds a view like this isn't really a libertarian. I'm a pretty big tent sort of person. There are lots of people with whom I am in huge disagreement but who nevertheless share my political label. The same really is true of pretty much any sort of general label: there are lots of different kinds of liberals, lots of different types of conservatives, lots of different kinds of Protestants and so on. Those of us who view nuance as something more than a talking point recognize this. That's why we invent subcategories like "welfare capitalist," "social democrat," "neoliberal," and the like to describe people who fall under the modern label of "liberal." That means that, like it or not, the racist-conspiracy-theorist Ron Paulites are part of our political movement, much as the left has to accept the rock-throwing World Bank protesters and the right has to accept the God Hates Fags crowd.

That said, there is a perfectly non-fallacious way of rejecting Marcotte's argument. Her claim, essentially, is that all libertarians are middle class-taxing, militaristic imperialists. Here's the form of the argument, translated from syllogistic form into modern predicate calculus:

    ∀x[Lx ⊃ (Mx & Ax &Ix)]

where L = libertarian, M = supports taxing the middle class, A = supports creating a large army and I = supports imperialism. In English, then, that works out to "For all x, if x is a libertarian, then x supports taxing the middle class and supports creating a large army and supports imperialism.

Now, logically, any sort of conditional claim is shown to be false by showing that the antecedent of the conditional claim is true while the consequent is false. Here's the truth table, in case you're wondering:

P Q P ⊃ Q P & Q
T T T T
T F F F
F T T F
F F T F

So, let's suppose that you want to demonstrate that Amanda's claim is false. What do you have to do? Well, mostly show someone who is a libertarian but who either does not support taxing the middle class, does not support creating a big army or does not support imperialism. Really, given the structure of the argument, one need only find a single libertarian who doesn't support any one of the three things. Finding a libertarian who doesn't support any of the three would just be gravy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...me! But if you're unhappy with that (I'm not, after all, the world's most orthodox libertarian), I give you: Cato's Benjamin Friedman, Cato's Chris Pebble, Cato's Malou Innocent, philosopher John Schwenkler, Will Wilkinson, most of the staff of Reason...I could go on here, but, frankly, I've spent about as much time on this as I want to now.

The point here is just that there is a perfectly good way to demonstrate that Amanda's claim is false, one that doesn't require wading into the weeds of what is or is not a libertarian.

To which Amanda's very gracious reply is: No True Scotsman fallacy!

Huh?

I mean, look. Amanda is hardly known for her intellectual honesty (hence her willingness to dump all libertarians into a single category while huffing in righteous indignation when someone dumps all women into a single category). That's fair enough: people don't go to Pandagon for intellectual engagement; they go to watch Amanda pitch witty, entertaining, profanity-laced tirades. It's as reasonable a use of the Internet as any.

Still, this is a shockingly bad response, even by Amanda's standards. I mean, the only way that you can commit the No True Scotsman fallacy is by actually redefining a term. Pointing out counter-examples to universal claims is what we in the 21st century refer to as empiricism. It's the kind of stuff that makes science possible. In the Reality Based World (where some of us live, as opposed to others of us who use as a catch phrase to mock politicians), pointing out that the antecedent of a conditional is true and the consequent false is really just the way that logic actually works.

And, yes, I realize that this is all just shouting into the wind. Everyone here already knows that Amanda Marcotte is full of shit 9/10 of the time. And Amanda is totally unwilling to concede that she said something stupid even when it is beyond glaringly obvious to everyone else that she fucked up. It doesn't help that her echo-chamber is full of folks with precisely the same qualities.

Still, it's worth putting all this down here, I think, if for no other reason than as a warning. It's one that I give to my logic students, too. Cite fallacies cautiously. If you get them right, it makes you look smart and lets you win arguments. But if you cite them incorrectly, it just makes you look like an ass.

* Actually, accusing critics of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy is a favorite at Pandagon. Sometimes, they even use it correctly.

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Doesn't he have a point though?

While I agree that Peter Thiel's comments were 'clumsily worded' and were probably unhelpful in furthering the recruitment of potential libertarians it does appear to be the case that 'women are especially hostile to libertarianism'.

Thiel was making the case that freedom and democracy are incompatible and if it is in fact true that women are a constituency that are notoriously tough for libertarians (really the only claim in the article about women) then libertarians who believe in working within the democratic system have a problem.

It seems to me that it is true that women are considerably less likely than men to embrace libertarian ideas. That is mostly based on observation and anecdotal evidence but I believe there have been some studies of political attitudes that provide more solid evidence, though my Google-fu failed me when attempting to find them. I haven't seen anyone present any contrary evidence in any of the responses to the article so far.

It seems to me that libertarians who want to achieve change through the political process should be investigating whether it is true that women are a tougher audience for libertarian ideas and if so what can be done about it.

He does.

Believe it or not, there has been significant research done on this and the conclusion is that women are indeed significantly more likely to favor a "nurturing" government.

A excellent paper on this is: Lott, J. Kenny, L. Did Women's Suffrage Change the Size and Scope of Government?. The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, No. 6, Part 1 (Dec., 1999), pp. 1163-1198

The paper is on JSTOR and may be available through Google.

It is probably biological

Motherhood and all of that.

I haven't read the paper in

I haven't read the paper in full, but IIRC it looked at growth in state spending following the granting of suffrage to women by individual states (pre-19th Amendment). The fact that women's suffrage was left up to individual states until 1920 made for a good natural experiment.

It's really not necessary to look at historical data, though. All you need to do is look at modern polling data (e.g., the General Social Survey), and you'll see that men are more pro-liberty than women on most issues.

Yeah but...

The problem is that people do not always do what they say they do. Men may say that they are more pro-liberty than women on surveys but that does not imply that their voting patterns reflect that. Since women have had suffrage for a considerable period of time and politicians take a range of positions, it would be difficult to measure preference through exit polls and the like. The nice thing about that paper is that it can form a good casual relation between women voting and government growth.

Contra Thiel and Lott

I haven't yet read either the paper "Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Zora Neale Hurston on War, Race, the State, and Liberty", by the Beitos or the source from Stephen Cox they cite, but I was struck how this paragraph from the intro was 180° from what Thiel said:

Although the influence of one’s sex may be overrated, it undeniably contributed to these women’s attraction to individualist ideas. They were not the only ones. Stephen Cox, Paterson’s biographer, notes that “women were more important to the creation of the libertarian movement than they were to the creation of any political movement not strictly focused on women’s rights.” As Cox speculates, such women as outsiders were “used to doing for themselves” and thus had “a larger conception than other people of the things that individuals can and ought to do for themselves” (2004, 195).

I'm not interested enough in the topic to follow it up today, but I thought I'd leave it here in case anyone else is...

O/T H/T to LRC

The existance of 2 or more people in contact range

is incompatible with the concept of "freedom." If the wind blows your campfire smoke in my face then my freedom to breathe is compromised. Ultimately, "freedom" means the ability to leave the area, taking portable assets, and find a place of solitude.

Counterproductive

It seems to me that libertarians who want to achieve change through the political process should be investigating whether it is true that women are a tougher audience for libertarian ideas and if so what can be done about it.

Of course, part of the reason women might find libertarianism hostile might have something to do with the hamfisted ways in which libertarians keep telling them that they are the reason we're not more free than we are. See the "women are mothers, so of course they're not into liberty" comment below for a nice example.

I think that a big part of the problem here is that there's a big tendency to confuse explanation with persuasion. It's actually going on right on this comment thread, in fact. There may well be some story to be told about the historical relationship between demographic X and generally libertarian-friendly positions. Those stories are probably fairly complicated. A lot of that explanation, I would submit, is connected up to the perception that libertarians are defenders of a certain sort of status quo, and that status quo hasn't been particularly friendly toward people who aren't white males. I'm not saying that I think that perception is correct. But when libertarians say things like "women's suffrage fucked up libertarianism," well, one can see how our critics might be left with that sort of impression.

But the bigger point is that I think these sorts of historical explanations of people's attitudes are entirely irrelevant to the issue of changing those attitudes.

At the end of the day, it just doesn't matter how it is that people came to be unreceptive to libertarian ideas. The point is to sell those ideas on the merits, not to find some sort of self-serving, post hoc explanation for why people don't all agree with us. And when those self-serving, post hoc explanations also have the added disadvantage of sounding sexist to the very people we're trying to convince, then it's twice as pointless an exercise.

You don't get off so easy

You made a claim. Somebody made a rebuttal. At that point you don't get to declare that the topic should be off limits.

Your claim:

Thiel's clumsily-worded assertion that all hope for libertarianism went down the tubes after women were enfranchised ...
libertarianism went down the tubes not because women are especially hostile to libertarianism but because there was a giant fucking depression that turned pretty much everyone against the idea of a free market

Rebuttal:

It seems to me that it is true that women are considerably less likely than men to embrace libertarian ideas. That is mostly based on observation and anecdotal evidence but I believe there have been some studies of political attitudes that provide more solid evidence, though my Google-fu failed me when attempting to find them. I haven't seen anyone present any contrary evidence in any of the responses to the article so far.

Your response:

At the end of the day, it just doesn't matter how it is that people came to be unreceptive to libertarian ideas. The point is to sell those ideas on the merits, not to find some sort of self-serving, post hoc explanation for why people don't all agree with us.

How convenient for you.

Yes, I know you only quoted a small bit of Matt's counter-argument and your response is okay if we limit our attention to that scrap, but the rebuttal I quoted is also there in the same comment and your response turns out to be very convenient, since you're in effect chiding him for his rebuttal, painting it - and all statements like it - as self-serving, post hoc explanations.

You are attacking his motivation. ("Self-serving") You are implying that it is weak ("post hoc"), which is silly - we are talking about what happened long ago, so of course anything that we come up with is going to be "post hoc", unless you want to artificially limit everyone to arguments that originated in the 19th century, shutting down everyone's brain and turning everyone into a parrot of thinkers from five generations ago.

Conflating different points

I think your criticism is a bit off-the-mark, and I take the blame for that, as I wasn't all that clear in making explicit what I see as three entirely distinct claims.

    Claim A: Women are less sympathetic to libertarianism than men.
    Claim B: Libertarianism's lack of success is explained by women being less sympathetic to libertarianism than men.
    Claim C: X is the reason why women are less sympathetic to libertarianism than men.

Thiel is making Claim B, and I called that a post hoc fallacy. As Patri points out in his response essay, somewhere between 9 and 16 percent of the entire population is sort of intuitively libertarian. Even if every single one of those folks is male, that means only about 1/3 of men are sympathetic to libertarianism. One can't very well claim that women are responsible for libertarianism's lack of success when, at most, just 1/3 of all men support it.

So what I actually say is this:

I think Thiel's observation is a glaring post hoc fallacy; libertarianism went down the tubes not because women are especially hostile to libertarianism but because there was a giant fucking depression that turned pretty much everyone against the idea of a free market.

That's a statement about Claim B. Matt, however, is saying that he thinks there is some evidence that Claim A is true and Newt offers a paper that says the same thing. But nothing about what either one says gives reason for thinking that Claim B is true. Nor, in fact, did I say anything that is inconsistent with Claim A being true. It probably is true, in fact. But even if it is true, it doesn't somehow logically entail the truth of Claim B.

To put the point another way, libertarianism is far from being a majority view across pretty much any broad demographic. That it's less popular among some demographics than others has exactly zero explanatory power in showing why it's unpopular overall.

In other words, I don't see Matt as rebutting anything that I've said, since, as far as I can tell, Matt's claims are perfectly consistent with my claims.

You are attacking his motivation. ("Self-serving") You are implying that it is weak ("post hoc"), which is silly - we are talking about what happened long ago, so of course anything that we come up with is going to be "post hoc", unless you want to artificially limit everyone to arguments that originated in the 19th century, shutting down everyone's brain and turning everyone into a parrot of thinkers from five generations ago.

This criticism is partly fair and partly not, though to the extent that it isn't, it's because I wasn't clear enough. My argument that libertarians can sometimes be a bit self-serving in their defenses was really aimed more at bilwald's comment about motherhood. Bilwald's comment, however, is actually an instance of Claim C. And that one, I think, is a bit self-serving. It basically denies agency to women, implying that, well, of course anyone who is using reason will be attracted to libertarianism, but for women, biology is destiny, so of course they're not swayed. I probably should have posted my comment specifically as a reply to Bilwald and not to Matt.

But as for the post hoc stuff, I was using "post hoc" as a shorthand for "post hoc ergo propter hoc." Obviously lots of arguments are going to draw on recent research. Being "post hoc" in that sense isn't a problem. But arguments that assert (without evidence) that X followed Y so therefore Y must have caused X are post hoc in the fallacy sense. That's what Thiel is doing. It might make us feel better to say that, well, it's clearly not the power or the presentation of our ideas that's the problem. But the whole, let's blame biology approach is hugely counterproductive.

My more general point, however, still stands. Regardless of the reason why people (of all sorts) don't accept libertarianism now, we should probably try to convince them of the merits of our ideas in ways that don't appear to them to be sexist. You can argue all you want that people shouldn't think that certain ways of arguing are sexist. But, at the end of the day, that's kind of irrelevant. If you're trying to convince someone of something, it's generally best to avoid saying things that they think are offensive, even if you don't think that they ought to be offended by it.

A post hoc fallacy

A post hoc fallacy is this:

Premise: Y follows X in time.

Conclusion: Y is caused by X.

If you claim that someone has made a post hoc fallacy, then you better be damned sure that that person has no reason for stating that conclusion other than that premise. Lo and behold, Matt mentions other grounds than that premise on which to state that conclusion. This rebuts your claim that that conclusion is a post hoc fallacy. Note that a rebuttal is not a disproof and I am not saying that Matt has disproved your claim. Not being a mind reader I don't know what Thiel was or was not aware of. What Matt has done is pointed out something which makes your claim uncertain. For my part, I like to avoid saying things of which I am uncertain, so if I were in your position, having realized that there is more going for the claim that Y is caused by X than the mere observation that Y followed X, I would retract my statement.

I am not saying there is nothing I would say in criticism of Thiel's conclusion. I am saying that I would not accuse him of making a post hoc fallacy, having realized that there are other grounds on which he may have based his conclusion than mere chronology.

Nor, in fact, did I say anything that is inconsistent with Claim A being true. It probably is true, in fact. But even if it is true, it doesn't somehow logically entail the truth of Claim B.

Indeed it does not. But what I am criticizing you for is not that you are trying to rebut Claim B, but the particular argument you used to rebut it.

Moving on...

As Patri points out in his response essay, somewhere between 9 and 16 percent of the entire population is sort of intuitively libertarian. Even if every single one of those folks is male, that means only about 1/3 of men are sympathetic to libertarianism.

But libertarianism is an extreme position. Many people who are not libertarian may nevertheless fall into the category of voter which would support capitalism. A lot of conservatives are far from being libertarians (by their own account) and yet they would like to roll back government economic intervention to pre-FDR levels. Keep in mind that the United States was founded in the 18th century yet, according to Thiel:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics.

That's a long time. Evidently, there was sufficient support for capitalism until then to keep hope alive, even if only 1/3 of men could be described as fully libertarian.

Finally, people tend to be conservative in supporting whatever exists. And people tend to support whatever they were indoctrinated to support. So even if only 1/3 of men today support greater economic freedom than what we currently enjoy, this does not mean that had women not been enfranchised, that number would still have been 1/3. A possible sequence of events is this: women are enfranchised, with their support the country becomes much more socialist and the schools become much more aggressive in their socialist indoctrination of young boys, and as a result of this 2/3 of boys grow up to be socialists, both because of indoctrination and because they grew up used to and comfortable with the socialism that currently surrounds them (and would have grown up comfortable with laissez faire had they been surrounded with that instead).

So even the current stats don't fully disprove the idea that the enfranchisement of women (which I will now call "suffrage") is to blame. And meanwhile the idea that suffrage is to blame is stronger than what Thiel actually said. Here's the relevant comment that I can find in Thiel's essay:

Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

Thiel has not said that suffrage is solely to blame. In fact he also mentions welfare recipients. Logically, he is not asserting that suffrage is either necessary or sufficient. Even if we interpret him as claiming that women's suffrage together with the increase in the welfare voting bloc are (taken together) sufficient, this cannot be interpreted as a claim that women's suffrage alone is sufficient. And if he is saying that women's suffrage and welfare are sufficient (which is how I actually interpret him), then he is not claiming that they are necessary. Your rebuttal on this point:

One can't very well claim that women are responsible for libertarianism's lack of success when, at most, just 1/3 of all men support it.

misses the mark, because it rebuts a claim that suffrage was necessary, a claim that was not made. As I mention above, it does not even successfully disprove the claim that suffrage was necessary, because without suffrage, young men might not have been indoctrinated into socialism in the same numbers that they are today.

But as for the post hoc stuff, I was using "post hoc" as a shorthand for "post hoc ergo propter hoc."

I see. I didn't interpret you that way. There's another use for "post hoc", which means developing your hypothesis after the data is in rather than before collecting data.

My more general point, however, still stands. Regardless of the reason why people (of all sorts) don't accept libertarianism now, we should probably try to convince them of the merits of our ideas in ways that don't appear to them to be sexist.

You are assuming the project of libertarian proselytism - converting the heathen. Patri has argued for an alternative:

I'm just saying, if the goal is to change the world, perhaps talking to the people who are already convinced by your arguments about how to construct a better alternative could be more effective than trying to get more votes in the idea election.

I understand Thiel to be arguing in support of this. You seem, then, to be judging them by the standards of a project in which they are not only not currently engaged in, but which they are proposing an alternative to.

Huh?

Lo and behold, Matt mentions other grounds than that premise on which to state that conclusion. This rebuts your claim that that conclusion is a post hoc fallacy.

I'm afraid that I'm not following you here. I've read Matt's response several times now, and I'm not really seeing where it is that he's offering any evidence at all for the claim that women being hostile to libertarianism actually caused libertarianism to be unsuccessful. He offers anecdotal evidence (and the memory of more solid, systemic evidence) that women are in fact hostile to libertarianism. But, as I said in my previous post, that's a different claim, and one that is, in large part, pretty much irrelevant.

Again, I think that your entire response rather oddly conflates

    Claim A: Women are less sympathetic to libertarianism than men.

with

    Claim B: Libertarianism's lack of success is explained by women being less sympathetic to libertarianism than men.

At first, I thought that I was just unclear in distinguishing between them. Now I'm starting to think that you're just confused about the differences between those two claims. No study aimed at demonstrating A can demonstrate B. They are two entirely different claims. B presupposes the truth of A, so anything that might show A to be true is at least relevant to showing the truth of B. But you need both proof that A is true and evidence that it's truth is causally connected in the right sort of way. I've not seen anyone on this thread offering any evidence for the truth of such a connection.

As for this:

Not being a mind reader I don't know what Thiel was or was not aware of. What Matt has done is pointed out something which makes your claim uncertain. For my part, I like to avoid saying things of which I am uncertain, so if I were in your position, having realized that there is more going for the claim that Y is caused by X than the mere observation that Y followed X, I would retract my statement.

I assume that you're aware that arguments are fallacious (or not) based upon the premises that are actually present (whether stated or implied), not on whether there might actually be some other argument that might justify the conclusion.

Once more

I'm afraid that I'm not following you here. I've read Matt's response several times now, and I'm not really seeing where it is that he's offering any evidence at all for the claim that women being hostile to libertarianism actually caused libertarianism to be unsuccessful.

If Thiel was aware that women were hostile to libertarianism (as we know he was from the text) then he may have inferred from this fact, that suffrage greatly harmed the cause of liberty, helping - along with the rise of the welfare recipient bloc - to tilt the balance (further) against. If he inferred his conclusion from that fact, then that was not a post hoc ergo propter hoc inference, since the premise of the inference is not a fact about chronological order.

I think that your entire response rather oddly conflates

I don't think it does.

Now I'm starting to think that you're just confused about the differences between those two claims.

Only an idiot would be confused about the difference. Neither of us is an idiot.

I assume that you're aware that arguments are fallacious (or not) based upon the premises that are actually present (whether stated or implied), not on whether there might actually be some other argument that might justify the conclusion.

I found no post hoc ergo propter hoc argument in his text. Here is the relevant section (to the extent that I was able to identify any relevant section):

Indeed, even more pessimistically, the trend has been going the wrong way for a long time. To return to finance, the last economic depression in the United States that did not result in massive government intervention was the collapse of 1920–21. It was sharp but short, and entailed the sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” that could lead to a real boom. The decade that followed — the roaring 1920s — was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

In brief, he claims that things were honky dory until the twenties, and he claims that since the 1920s suffrage and welfare have caused things to go downhill. I do not see here any post hoc ergo propter hoc inference. You do say "implied", but I see no such inference implied either. What I see is simply an assertion.

So I see no argument at all here which yields the conclusion that suffrage and welfare caused things go downhill. I see simply the assertion that it did. However, he does in fact explicitly state the following:

welfare beneficiaries and ... women [are] two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians

This bolsters and helps to explain the claim he makes. I do not read it as an argument. I do not read him, here, as trying to argue the point. He puts too little effort into arguing for it for me to interpret that as an argument, and furthermore and perhaps more importantly, he does not link it together as an argument, with logic-implying words such as "therefore" or "it follows that" or even more informal ways of suggesting the same. Granted, peppering your text with "therefore" is stilted and there are more informal ways of conveying that you are constructing an argument. But I do not see that here. I recall that Patri refers to it as a throwaway comment. Reading an argument into this is very much a creative act on the part of the reader, in my view. It borders on the ridiculous to treat a throwaway comment as if it were an argument. Surely a person can simply state a claim without supporting it. It is required by finiteness that some things simply be asserted. And if a person decides to offer some morsel of additional information in support of the statement he has just made, this is not necessarily intended as an argument for it, and so it would border on the ridiculous to attack it as such. In an argument, gaps are flaws and so it is right to attack them. But if someone makes an assertion and then briefly mentions something that supports the assertion, it is ridiculous to fault him for not filling in all the gaps - because he doesn't intend here to be constructing an argument. If you want to challenge it, the first step is to ask the speaker to support it - to see what reasons the speaker can give to back it up. Nevertheless, if you absolutely must read an argument into his text as is, then the presence of the statement that the constituencies are tough means that he isn't relying purely on chronology. So it's not a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Nor, by the way, did you refer to it as an argument. You wrote:

I think Thiel's observation is a glaring post hoc fallacy

How can an observation be a post hoc fallacy? An argument can be. But not an observation. I was forced to interpret you as meaning something you did not say. My interpretation was this: Thiel made an "observation" - that is, an assertion. And the assertion was "post hoc" because Thiel's reasons for believing the assertion were "post hoc". That is to say, had he explicitly given his reasons then he would have written out a post hoc fallacy. I took you to be making this claim about Thiel on the basis of clues about his knowledge which you drew from his text.

So a lot of the structure of my response has to do with the fact that you chose to use the word "observation" here. Belatedly, you have directed attention to a supposed argument contained within the text, and so I have replied to this new turn.

If Thiel was aware that

If Thiel was aware that women were hostile to libertarianism (as we know he was from the text) then he may have inferred from this fact, that suffrage greatly harmed the cause of liberty, helping - along with the rise of the welfare recipient bloc - to tilt the balance (further) against. If he inferred his conclusion from that fact, then that was not a post hoc ergo propter hoc inference, since the premise of the inference is not a fact about chronological order.

And this is where we keep having problems. You see, first, Thiel doesn't say that women have contributed to the problem. He says that suffrage (plus those pesky welfare recipients) have "rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron." That is, they haven't merely contributed to libertarianism's unpopularity; they have actually made it completely impossible.

But that claim simply does not follow from the claim that women are hostile to libertarianism. To simply assert that it does -- solely on the grounds that women are hostile to libertarianism -- just is a fallacious argument. Without some further evidence that one has caused the other -- evidence that Thiel doesn't offer -- the claim is an instance of a false cause fallacy. And given the temporal nature of the claim, it is more specifically the post hoc ergo propter hoc subcategory of false cause fallacy.

I will grant you that had Thiel made the argument that you make in your previous comment, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with it. It'd be rather beside the point, since even if women and men supported libertarianism in equal proportions, it'd still be a solidly minority view. But it wouldn't be a fallacious argument.

I think if you read carefully, though, you'll see that the argument you advance is actually far more cautious than the one Thiel makes. It's also stretching the principle of charity awfully far to think that Thiel is really saying what you say.

As for your long paragraph talking about throwaway comments, I think you should reread it in the context of my previous arguments. The thing that you're saying Thiel offers as "something that supports the assertion" isn't in fact any such thing. It is, in fact, what I've been calling Claim A. It's the empirical claim that women are more hostile to libertarianism than men. But the entire thing that I've been arguing is that even if Claim A is true, it does not actually entail Claim B, which is the claim that women caused the downfall of libertarianism.

So, to reiterate: If, as you suggest, Thiel really does intend the very claim you cite to be evidence for his argument that suffrage has destroyed libertarianism, then he is committing a post hoc fallacy. Or, if it makes you happier, call it a false cause fallacy.

A little wordy

While I don't disagree with it, it seems a little wordy and breathless, plus the translation of the simple disproof by counterexample into mathematical gibberish, losing more than 90% of your potential audience, was unnecessary. My guess is that you were agitated while you wrote this and mashed the mouse button hard when you hit "submit".

You caught me

Though, technically, it was more in the way of disappointment than agitation by the time I hit "submit." Mostly, I found myself sympathizing with your objections to my post on liberalitarianism.

not all supporters of ron paul are racist conspiracy theorists

As you were talking about groups and subgroups, and referred to one of these subgroups as "racist-conspiracy-theorist Ron Paulites", I'm hoping you were referring to a minor subgroup of a subgroup (i.e. small portion of Ron Paul followers are racist conspiracy theorists). Labeling a majority of those who support Ron Paul as mostly racist conspiracy theorists I think is inaccurate.

If your point was to go to the extreme pointing out how racist conspiracy theorists are also part of the libertarian party (thus the big tent concept where you don't agree with everyone), then point made. Going further to label that group as Ron Paul followers ascribes Ron Paul and anyone who wished he was president today as also being racist conspiracy theorists.

Of course it may be accurate to say that all conspiracy theorists are Ron Paul supporters. It is not accurate to say a majority of Ron Paul supporters are conspiracy theorists.

I, along with many other decent hardworking Americans who otherwise follow the rules, pay their taxes, do not belong to a militia, etc. etc. - happened to give Ron Paul a good portion of my paychecks while he was running for office. I tend to think that he got a bum deal with the media - and tend to get irritated whenever I see Ron Paul's name inserted on the same sentence with racist and conspiracy theorist.

You're right

I did not mean to imply that all Ron Paulites are racist conspiracy theorists, for all that Paul himself is certainly the latter and arguably the former. My point was only that Paul's campaign seemed to draw out a lot of racist, conspiracy-theorist types and I think that said demographic was far more vocal and prominent (especially on the Internet) than their actual numbers would indicate.

FWIW, I thought that Paul was the best of the Republicans in the field in 2008. That, however, was a really low bar.

meaning of the word conspiracy theorist

Everyone who breaks the law cheers for the guy who is pushing the maximum amount of freedoms, that's a given. Ron Paul wanted to shut down half the government, anyone who hates the government would naturally gravitate towards Paul. Guilt by association was a method the media used to take Paul down several notches, and it was effective. Then again, I guess me even putting forth the idea that the media actively attempted to phase out Ron Paul would have me engaging in conspiracy theories?

When everything is said and done, after having followed Ron Paul very closely, I'd have to say he did absolutely nothing to promote racism. That leaves the remainder, "conspiracy theorist". The word "conspiracy theorist" has an awful connotation, i.e. Oklahoma bombing / rogue militias / tax protesters / X-Files UFO coverups. Ron Paul gets stuck with this label -- whereas the majority of his activity was simply challenging various governmental operations as being outside the scope that is allowed in the constitution.

To say the government is doing something wrong seems to be allowed, that is how Obama got elected wanting "change", change from what? Change from the wrong things the government is doing. To say the government is doing something wrong - and take it one step further - "the government is purposely doing something wrong", gets one labeled as a conspiracy theorist - plunked in the same tent as rogue militia activists, tax protesters, Timmothy McVeigh, "patriots" - to the extent that that word also suffers a bad connotation. Guilt by association.

So in summary - I think we both agree that Ron Paul is not a racist. I think we both agree that Ron Paul - by literal definition - has theories that the government is conspiring in certain ways to act outside the scope as allowed by the constitution, which could simply be phrased "conspiracy theorist". However, I disagree that Ron Paul is a conspiracy theorist to the extent that the meaning of that word is tainted, to throw him in with all the bad eggs that also have that label.

Conspiracy Theories

However, I disagree that Ron Paul is a conspiracy theorist to the extent that the meaning of that word is tainted, to throw him in with all the bad eggs that also have that label.

Google RP and North American Union.

north american union

In September 2006, U.S. Representative Virgil Goode proposed with six co-sponsors non-binding House Concurrent Resolution 487, which specifically outlined opposition to a North American Union or a NAFTA Superhighway as a threat to U.S. sovereignty. The bill never left committee.[43] The same resolution was reintroduced by Goode in January 2007 for the 110th Congress as House Concurrent Resolution 40, this time with forty-three cosponsors,[44] including unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidates Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo, who have all expressed opposition to a North American Union during their campaigns. source

A bill "which specifically outlined opposition to a North American Union or a NAFTA Superhighway as a threat to U.S. sovereignty". Submitted by not-Ron-Paul, cosponsored by 43 others including Paul.

So we have 44 conspiracy theorist members of the House of Representatives?

Do I really think this is going to happen? Not really. But do I think there is a remote possibility that a group of people stand to benefit from this theoretical scenario (merging of US, Canada, Mexico) and would push for this to happen? Sure, a remote possibility. 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? 1 in 10000? Maybe 1 in a million, I don't know. That's what we have representatives for - that's their full time job to research these things. And 44 of them thought it was important enough to create a bill "which specifically outlined opposition to a North American Union or a NAFTA Superhighway as a threat to U.S. sovereignty".

Paul was asked this question in the debates, and his answer sounded fairly reasonable to me.

not trying to hijack the thread, but ...

By the way, this isn't an attempt to hijack your thread and change it into Ron Paul focused.

After reading your article, you seemed to be upset at Amanda because Amanda was accusing libertarians of also supporting middle class taxation, of being militaristic imperialists. You then went through great lengths trying to construct a mathematic formula how her opinion was wrong.

However, just like Amanda did to libertarians, you do in a similar way to Ron Paul. You labeled Ron Paul as being in the same boat as, connected to, racists and conspiracy theorists. This was more subtle, you didn't outright broadcast "Ron Paul is a racist conspiracy theorist" like Amanda said "libertarians are middle class taxation promoters who have militaristic imperialist tendencies".

Yet, calling racist conspiracy theorists as being "Ron Paulites" - does through the magic of the meaning of words, the value associated to certain words, those words being "conspiracy theorist" and all the negativity that term has, along with racist, in the same sentence as Ron Paul.

What happens with newspapers when the picture of an airliner is displayed next to a story of an airplane crash (even though that airliner wasn't the same model or company of the one that crashed)? What happens when a man's picture is put next to a story of a pedophile getting arrested, even when that man had nothing to do with and was not the one referenced in the article? These are known as dirty tricks that play with the subconscious mind, attempts at defiling the reputation of whatever innocent is associated next to the negative.

I just thought it ironic that your entire article was centered around how libertarians are not in the same ballpark as middle class taxation promoters and imperialistic war mongerers -- meanwhile making the point that Ron Paul followers are conspiracy theorists, racists, the same type of people who caused the Oklahoma bombing, tax protesters and law breakers. Ron Paul pays his taxes, is not a racist, does not promote violence or breaking the law (except to the extent that someone who peacefully breaks a law they consider incorrect to be given the same respectful title as Rosa Parks, that of "civil disobedience" and ready to pay the consequences as such).

What would that mathematical formula look like? The one where RF = Ron Paul follower, R = racist, C = conspiracy theorist, M = militia member, T = tax protester, U = UFO believer, etc. etc. The militia and tax protester and UFO believer you didn't directly reference, though since those things are what people think of when they hear the word conspiracy theorist, I added them in.

Still, this is a shockingly

Still, this is a shockingly bad response, even by Amanda's standards.

I think you're being overly generous in implying that Marcotte's usual standards are high enough to allow for anything she says to be shockingly bad.

And those last two paragraphs are despicable. Peter Thiel founded Paypal. The only thing Marcotte's ever done to justify her existence is embarrass John Edwards, and that was an accident.