(Note: Be sure to check in tomorrow – big things on tap. So excited.)

As my friends over at Non-Sequitur point out, some logically flawed arguments are so bizarre, convoluted, and flat-out…wrong that they defy description. We've all been there, confronted by an argument so incoherent and stupid that we don't even know where to begin responding. Non-Seq and other logic-oriented writing dump these arguments into general categories with names like Unclassifiable, Uncategorizable, Inexplicable, Things that are False, or Plain Bad Argument. Ending up in this netherworld means that one or more of the following is true of an argument:

  • It is so nonsensical that it doesn't even rise to the lofty height of being a logical fallacy. Fallacies, after all, have rules.
  • It is internally inconsistent and therefore not an argument.
  • It contains so many different fallacies that it's impossible to pick one that defines it.

    Now, if you're particularly cynical you might feel a slight tickle in the back of your head that says, "Ha ha! What is Ed going to do now, bring in David Brooks?" Yes, here comes David Brooks. If you've ever visited this site before, you'll know that I hate very few people like I hate this blob of penile cancer. I actually smell sulfur in the presence of his columns. Leaving aside the fact that he's condescending, disingenuous, and boring, the guy also can't construct an argument to save his soul. Look (if you dare) at his latest, a 600-word explanation/solution of the entire subprime crisis. You might think it's a complicated issue, but as usual David explains just how simple it all is – alongside the proper conclusions to be drawn. Let me summarize if you dare not read it:

    1. No one is responsible or to blame for the subprime mortgage crisis – it just happened, apparently independent of any actor or action.

    2. There's no reason it should be a campaign issue, since it is no one's fault.

    3. It will fix itself, so long as we are willing to be Good, Reasonable People and let the infinite wisdom and majesty of the market fix it. As it fixes all things.

    It's amazing how many different fallacies he manages to incorporate. A college instructor could make an excellent assignment out of this. See if you can count'em all, kids! David's editors sure can't. And you're brighter than the people who hired Bill Kristol, aren't you?

    One more example, which was my original inspiration for this post a few weeks ago. I ran it by amateur logician and regular commenter Matthew L., hopeful that he could categorize it for me. I believe his response was "I'm really not sure that this is sophisticated enough to be a logical fallacy. Unless you count being an idiot as a fallacy." Indeed, Matthew. Indeed. Consider the following argument made by sportswriter Dave Buscema, who is arguing why a particular player should not be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

    I can let the mediocre win-loss record go a bit because he played for so many poor teams and excelled in the postseason when given the chance, but ultimately I still would have liked to have seen at least a little better winning percentage … and more than one 20-win season in 22 years."

    Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ. Fortunately we are only talking about sports here and not something important. The writer does not mind the player's mediocre Wins vs Losses record, but his winning percentage (Wins / Wins + Losses, obviously) is too low. And he didn't win enough games. Folks, this is how an argument negates itself through the sheer brute force of its idiocy. And that's how an argument can be so bad that its incorrectness can scarcely be described.


    • You know, being referred to as an "amateur logician" made me realize how much I would enjoy being able to refer to myself as a "professional logician."

      I have a goal!

    • I disagree with you about the baseball quote, though I do fault the writer for using unclear terms.

      mediocre win-loss record = 16-15

      AMAZING win-loss record = 320-300

      Guess who had 324-292? Nolan Fucking Ryan.

    • Not sure I agree with you about the baseball quote. I think "win-loss record" and "winning percentage" are different things. Though I certainly fault the writer for not defining his terms clearly. To wit:

      16-15 is maybe a mediocre win-loss record, but
      320-300 is an AMAZING win-loss record with the same winning percentage.

      Who had 324-292 lifetime win-loss record? Nolan. Fricking. Ryan.

    • Let's say I give you an exam with 100 questions on it. You get 75 right and 25 wrong. And then I tell you "I'm OK with your mediocre number of correct to incorrect questions, but your percentage (75%) is just too low."


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