What Part of Boolean Algebra Did You Not Understand?

I love rhetoric. I link to stuff here all the time that’s full of it (rhetoric that is), and I’m guilty of utilizing it myself. Maybe “guilty” isn’t the right word. I prefer “adept” to “guilty”, but it’s not my place to use that adjective. I blame it mostly on of Rhetoric in the Classical Tradition, which was required reading in a composition course I took that influenced me quite a bit. This was back when I went to class.

But it’s important to remember that rhetoric and logic, while related, are not the same thing. For example, let’s look at this tweet my buddy Alex wrote the other day:

A former professor once told me, “studies show those who demand less government score lowest on their understanding of how it’s designed.”

That’s a powerful statement, and is even more powerful given the fact that Alex was able to clearly express it in less than 140 characters. But it makes a rhetorical implication, not a logical implication. It’s pretty obvious to me that the intended implication here is that people who favor small government don’t know what they are talking about. But if we break this statement down logically, it’s pretty weak.

Some background first–there are four possibilities in a simple logical implication, which is represented by this table.


Possibility 1: Given the correct information, you come to the proper conclusion. This is an acceptable result (indicated by T). Makes sense right?

Possibility 2: Given the correct information, you come to the wrong conclusion. This is not an acceptable result (indicated by F). This means that the information was processed incorrectly–faulty logic.

Possibility 3: Given false information, you still come up with the correct answer. This is an acceptable result. Imagine blindly guessing on a multiple choice quiz–you still get credit if you fill in the correct bubble, right?

Possibility 4: Given false information, you come up with the wrong answer. This is an acceptable result. It is reasonable to expect you’d get the answer wrong if your information is suspect.

Now, let’s assume Alex’s statement is true. Let’s assume people who favor small government really do score lowest. That would mean they are basing their decision on false or faulty information. Although the rhetoric presented would lead us to believe they can’t possibly be correct in favoring small government because they are ignorant (Possibility 4) , a quick glance at our truth table shows us that it is still possible for them to arrive at the correct conclusion (Possibility 3).

Think of it this way–let’s say you fall off a ladder and break your arm. Your ignorance of the gravitational constant, the tensile strength of your bones, or even basic anatomy doesn’t change the fact that your arm is broken. Even if you are given a completely false explanation that you believe to be true as to how your arm was broken, it’s still broken.

In other words, you can be completely ignorant, yet still be perfectly capable of stating the truth.

Of course, it’s a huge leap to assume Alex’s statement is true to begin with. It brings up all types of questions:

  1. What studies, what professor, what test, and who was tested?
  2. What is this professor’s area of expertise?
  3. When was the study conducted? Where? By whom?
  4. Who funded the study?
  5. Is there a similar study on those who favor big government?
  6. Have you seen this study yourself? Does it even exist?

Although I disagree with his statement, It’s not my intention to pile on Alex here, but to point out how rhetoric is used by every side of an argument to make a point.

Videos are especially effective in using rhetoric to make points. A really popular method is to show clips of complete ignoramuses and make the implication that these fools represent the entirety of the group they are associated with. I see people post them, and I’ve posted them as well. Take a look at these two videos which represent “both” sides, and keep in mind the purpose of the person who produced them. After watching each one, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do I have true, unbiased information about this group of people?
  2. If I can’t say that my information is completely true, how much trust do I put in my conclusion?
  3. Does this video reinforce what I already believe to be true/false? Is that why I like/dislike it?

My point–there’s nothing wrong with writing, posting, plagiarizing, enjoying, spreading, dispersing, selling, buying, manufacturing and encouraging rhetoric. Just recognize it for what it is.

And if you don’t have the ability to recognize the difference, you are an ignoramus.


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