Friday, May 26, 2017

ANS; FOUNDATIIONAL DOCUMENT -- Single Valued Logic Redux: George Bush and False Dichotomies

One of our readers posted an article to Facebook, preceded with this:  

When respected Conservative columnists like Michael Gerson, David Brooks and George Will speak out so eloquently against what has happened to the once Grand Old Party, I am amazed that few, if any, Republicans take heed of what they are writing.

Are there no Republicans left who have the intellect to read and understand their warning about the future of the Republican Party if saner minds don't start asserting themselves?
"The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them."


In response to that, I would like to post one of our "Foundational Documents" -- an older but important piece (by Brad Hicks).  What makes it foundational is that it is about how people think rather than what they think.


Hi--  Here is an article about the logic that Bush uses.  It's, obviously, called "single-valued logic", a phrase I can't remember for long.  I recommend the reader commentary, just for fun. 

The Infamous Brad

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Single Valued Logic Redux: George Bush and False Dichotomies


  • Sep. 6th, 2007 at 5:59 AM

"I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond. ... When you're responsible for putting a kid in harm's way, you better understand that if that kid thinks you're making a decision based on polls­ or something other than what you think is right, or wrong, based upon principles ­then you're letting that kid down. And you're creating conditions for doubt. And you can't give a kid a gun and have him doubt whether or not the president thinks it's right, and have him doubt whether or not he's gonna be sup portive in all ways. And you can't learn that until you're the guy sitting behind the desk." That's among the things that President Bush told Robert Draper, author of the newest Bush biography Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, as you can read in an exclusive excerpt on

When I read that, I sighed, because this is a vivid example of my least favorite logical fallacy: single-valued logic. In single-valued logic, you ask is whatever you're asking about good, or is it bad? If you conclude that it is good, then it is always good, good in every circumstance, good for everything, more of it is always better than less of it, and there is no such thing as too much of it. If you conclude that it is bad, then it is always bad, bad in every circumstance, bad for everything, less of it is always better than more of it, and there is no such thing as the right amount or even a safe amount of it.

In the mind of George W. Bush, there are only two ways of making a decision. You can either make up your own mind. Or you can listen to what other people tell you. Is it bad to listen to what other people tell you all the time? Absolutely. Even with other people paying for it and doing most of the heavy lifting for you, so much so that you get to skip the traditional entry-level jobs in politics, you don't get anywhere in politics without learning that if you get a reputation as someone who blows with the prevailing wind, nobody will take your word for anything, because tomorrow the prevailing wind might change and you might sell out everybody you just made promises to. Therefore, to a mind prone to single valued logic, changing your mind based on what other people tell you is bad. And since it is bad, it is always bad, bad no matter what the external circumstances are, bad for you and for the country and for everyone. Since it is bad, if you are vulnerable to single valued logic it must therefore also be something that you must always struggle to do less and less of, because there will never ever be a circumstance where even once it is right to change your mind because of what other people tell you.

And I sigh, because I hesitate to call him stupid because of this. I say that because I've known some very smart, very capable, and very well educated people in my life who were just as vulnerable to the same logical fallacy. That urge to rush to label things as always good or always bad, always safe or always dangerous, always friendly or always threatening, is an important reflex in living things; that reflex is very deeply rooted. To not give in to that reflex requires thinking. But not just any thinking. Someone who is still in the grip of single-valued logic may put all kinds of thinking into that initial decision as to whether something is good or bad, and be proud of their logical and analytical skill. That they then get to turn their brain off and coast on autopilot, that they never have to revisit or rethink that decision, is just a bonus. Even the ones who are smarter than George W. Bush, the ones who can be forced by external events to rethink the original good/bad decision, will not infrequently end up back where they started, back with a single value across all circumstances of good or bad.

You have to be taught to continue thinking until you come to the much more difficult answer: this thing is good under these circumstances but bad under these other circumstances, and I don't know yet whether it would be good or bad under these other circumstances. Under some circumstances, this certain amount of it has been proven to be the optimum amount; maybe more would be good, maybe not; maybe less would be good, maybe not. If you're going to learn to think like that and get any good out of it, you have to put yourself in the unpleasant situation of having to think every time, to evaluate all circumstances against all evidence of whether the thing you're evaluating went well or poorly under similar circumstances, and have some humility when you predict that things will be better if we have less of it or more of it.

I'd feel a lot safer if we had a president who could do that, though. Someone who understood that it is good to have principles when principled decisions are what are called for, and it's good to listen to other people when other people know more than you do about what's going on, who knew that it's bad to make principled decisions when your principles were formed under conditions not even vaguely applicable to the current situation and bad to listen to other people when the other people have been whipped up into some kind of irrational frenzy. A president who knew that just because having some principles that you will never compromise is good, it isn't necessarily therefore better for everything to be a matter of uncompromising principle for you. A president who knew that because you can ruin yourself and the country by over-dependence on the polls, that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen when the poll results are overwhelming, long-lasting, and consistent. As "The Preacher" said, " To every thing there is a season."

  • Mood: []good 

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