You should avoid talking to bolsheviks — online, and in general. They are incapable of the rational exchanges that make debate valuable. If you must reply to them, talk at them, not to them; amuse your audience with their dishonesty and sloppy thinking. If you must talk to them, troll them; most leftists are mired so deep in lies that nothing but shame is likely to affect a direct change in outlook. But best of all would be not to reply at all. Engaging with leftists is a terrible use of your time. A leftist has zero interest in exchanging ideas. The more of your time and mental energy he wastes, the more decisive his victory. Demographically, American leftists can draw on unlimited reserves of low-IQ manpower. Due to their control of the education system, they can draw on unlimited reserves of sophomoric status-signalers. Neither a functionally retarded black nor a lazy, incurious college student can contribute much to the leftist cause, so the left embraces human wave tactics. Otherwise-useless leftwing grunts swarm gullible rightwingers and immobilize them.
Even when you are deliberately trolling leftists, consider: is your covering fire pinning them down, or is their fire pinning you down? If you are driving up the therapy bills of prominent journalists, excellent; but going back-and-forth with standard-issue ‘kwa mystery meat is probably a bad exchange. Play with your kids; hit the gym; log another 9000 hours in MS Paint; practically anything you set your mind to would contribute more to the final victory of the Right than offering yourself as cannon fodder.
It isn’t easy to put this advice into practice! If you are doing some interesting trolling, or bantering for fun, then you are at risk for being tempted by degrees into exchanges that are less-and-less effective, less-and-less fun, as you forget your original goal and get drawn into a parody of a debate with yet another shambling leftist grunt.
This danger is why I made a short list of logical tells for leftists. The list is organized into groups of distinct concepts; the “tell” is the leftist tendency to treat each group as a single fuzzy blob. The high priests of the Left use ambiguity and equivocation to patch over the weaknesses of the theories/dogmas which make up the Cathedral catechism, and then the catechumens flaunt their fashionable orthodoxy by improvising equally obtuse arguments for other leftist conclusions. Long practice with this kind of conceptual sleight-of-hand makes it a habit, even when the leftist isn’t intentionally trying to signal his status or orthodoxy; that, at least, is my best guess. But why these patterns recur over and over again isn’t my central concern. My concern is to label them. If you label recurring patterns of illogic, you will be more likely to notice the pattern when it occurs, and then to recognize that you were on the verge of trying to reason with a baboon.
I call them tells for a reason. These are signs you can use to spot leftists. I encourage you not to think of them as fallacies: not because the tells are reasonable, but because wasting time trying to convince a leftist his mental habits are unreasonable would even more unreasonable. You don’t tell a dog he’s barking, you don’t tell a fly he’s buzzing, and you don’t tell a leftist he’s gibbering.
1. All • Majority • Plurality • Many • Some – “NAXALT, bro.” Leftists sometimes seem to be working with a basic concept of “heap-big”. A staggering number of leftists genuinely feel that providing a single counter-example to a generalization (“Not all X are like that!”) refutes a claim about the larger group. What is even sadder is that almost all leftists feel that such a counter-example is at least evidence against the generalization, which of course it is not. – Leftists are particularly bad at distinguishing majority (the number of X’s is greater than the number of non-X’s) from plurality (the number of X’s is greater than the number of Y’s and also greater than the number of Z’s); and plurality from many (i.e., a noteworthy number, more than would be predicted from randomness). But broadly speaking they feel all of these concepts are interchangeable, and thus evidence against one must refute any of the others.
2. Mean • Median • Mode – As befits herd-animals, leftists have a primitive conception of “being in the middle”, and have trouble grasping why you cannot, say, base an argument about the mode on data about the mean.
3. Induction • Deduction – To say that leftists do not understand induction or deduction would not be that damning; making reliable inductions and sound deductions is difficult, even for people with integrity and ingenuity. But if you start paying attention you’ll notices that many leftists don’t even understand the difference between induction and deduction, which is more troubling. – A classic example of this is the stats/oppression spiral. Leftist: Blacks are oppressed. How so? Well, there are so many blacks in jail. But look, here are the crime statistics; they’re being put in jail for violent crimes, not because judges are evil oppressors, right? No no, those crime stats are all fabricated to make blacks look bad. But what reason do you have for believing crime stats are fabricated? Because blacks are oppressed. REEEEEEE! The leftist was speaking as though empirical facts justify his conclusion (inductive reasoning), but then suddenly reverses course. – A related leftist pathology is the “fallacy” cargo-cult. It is rare that someone who accuses you of a fallacy could explain, say, the difference between syllogistic and propositional logic. A fortiori, he won’t be able to determine whether a deductive argument is valid. So he knows nothing about fallacies. In fact, here is a rule of thumb for you: anything a leftist calls a “fallacy” is a valuable inductive technique.
4a. Credential • Authority • Expertise • Judgement – A credential is some costly signal that suggests abilities relevant to some field. Authority is the right to have one’s opinions on a particular topic treated with deference by others. Expertise is time spent acquiring information/skills on a particular topic. Judgment is a strong track record of correct opinions and predictions. A slow and ignorant person could have excellent judgment, if he were only self-aware enough to express opinions exclusively on topics he understands. Someone who has just consulted a statistical table and can parrot them back has made himself more of an expert on those data than someone with a dozen honorary doctorates. You can be an expert with poor judgment, a sage with no expertise, an absolute authority with no credentials, or a fraud with credentials whose prima facie implications are belied by total incompetence. Leftists have picked up a sort of pidgin-version of academic citation practices, with zero understanding of the underlying epistemic implications (and needless to say, no deep respect for authority or any form of hierarchy).
4b. Source • Report • Research • Assessment – A telling parallel to the leftist’s confusion about different ways of earning trust is his inability to match a sign of trustworthiness to the types of claim that call for that kind of trust. The original source for a claim (the witness to the events in question) is the one who must have healthy eyes (or ears). A reporter who relays a claim from a source need not have accurate senses (if the reporter were blind, that would not prevent his reporting accurate information from a source with good vision) but needs to be honest, precise, and a good judge of character (not gullible). On the other hand, research represents an attempt to collect information from multiple sources, so we must consider how broadly the researcher hunted for sources, what larger group his sources are representative of, what factors influenced/biased his findings, and how he chose which parts of his research to publicize and which to ignore. An assessment is an attempt to make a judgment or estimate about some point on which one’s sources contradict one another, or are vague/ambiguous, provide indirect evidence only.
4c. Observation • Data-analysis • Statistical Inference • Theoretical Interpretation – Leftists typically don’t understand the difference between a data-set full of observations, the summary statistics characterizing that data-set (basic concepts like mean or variance that any person of average intelligence can have his computer spit out), a statistical inference that calculates the likelihood of observing dependent variable Y, given independent variable X (making an inference generally calls for someone with a pretty strong grasp of statistics to choose a test that is appropriate to the data available), and the interpretation of summary statistics and inferences in terms of causal theories and conceptual frameworks (explanations of observed relationships between variables). – The “correlation does not imply causation” meme is a particular fruitful source of leftist conflations. Many well-meaning midwits know that correlation ≠ causation, and nothing else about statistics; that by itself is exasperating, since the slogan is a starting point for theoretical interpretation, not the destination. But the peculiar twist leftists put on the cliché is to reject a claim about correlation with “correlation does not imply causation”, and also to reject detailed arguments that a correlation is causal with “correlation does imply causation”… as though a statistical correlation were prima facie evidence against any causal relationship! Apparently leftists use “correlation does not imply causation” so often to mean “correlations are useless, ignore them if they don’t make good agitprop” or “causation is too hard and unreliable, there is no reason to accept a causal story unless it’s politically convenient” that they actually think that is what the cliché means.
5. Identity • Analogy • Similarity – There is a reason why the attempt to make the SATs more “fair” gutted the analogies section of the test! Some sub-groups of the population cannot follow analogies. It is extremely difficult for them to grasp that an analogy only illustrates the precise respect in which the terms are analogous; they imagine that A can be analogous to C in one respect if and only if A and C are analogous in every respect.
6. Necessary • Sufficient – Leftists typically imagine that proving a necessary condition clinches the argument, when in fact it only makes it barely tenable; and likewise for refuting a sufficient condition. This is connected to what I think of as the bolsheviks’ signature mole attack, where they burrow deeper and deeper into one detail of a larger argument, demanding their opponent go to great lengths to establish some obvious fact that is, at any rate, not essential to the soundness of his conclusions.
7. Rates, Margins, Flows, Et Cetera – I want to be careful calling out leftists specifically for being bad at calculus. Most people aren’t able to do calculus. However, there is something very peculiar about the way committed leftists immediately shit the bed when faced with any problem whose solution requires thinking in terms of dy/dx. Normal, non-ideological people will realize that the problem is complicated, and play around with different intuitions which bring them closer to an approximate solution. However, leftists have apparently trained themselves to scrounge about for whatever summary statistic supports a leftist political prescription, and then suppress any inklings they have that the reality is more complex. — The most flagrant and frequent appearance of this tell is in discussions of police searches and resulting arrest rates for different racial groups. I leave as an exercise to the reader how marginal analysis clarifies the underlying logic of police procedure.
I have not exhausted the Left’s sins against reason and good manners with this list, but I hope these tells help you identify and evade a pointless skirmish before it happens. Let me close with Proverbs 26:3-4:
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. / Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Update, 2017.01.25 — By synchronicity, Michael Pascal drew up a similar list around the time I wrote this post. (Down to the same day, if I recall correctly.) His observations complement mine in interesting ways, so with his permission I’m embedding the image here, as insurance against its disappearance.
I have since become increasingly convinced that there is something rather unique about the leftist quasi-humor we call “snark”. Additionally, I occasionally run across references to Jim’s Law of Poster Boys, which draws out a corollary from Tell #1: because the leftist always pretends that finding one outlier invalidates the average traits of a group, if you are looking at someone a leftist has chosen to represent a group, all of the representative’s worst traits are x1000 worse in the group as a whole.