A Lesson in Logic
I know I said I was going to say more about the Republican debates of two nights ago, but really-- what more is there to say? Plenty of people have already blogged about it, and I don't really have anything to add to my conclusion from the other night-- Silent Hill was much less scary than a bunch of people who want to nuke Iran, but don't seem to understand that Iraq and Iran are two different countries.
I was pleased to see, however, than Jon Stewart identified one of my favorite moments of the debate for mockery on last night's Daily Show. One of the moderators asked the candidates, "If you knew then what you know now, would you still support the war with Iraq?" Good question. No sensible person could possibly say that the war and subsequent occupation has been good for our country, but the occupation and its place as part of The Global War on Terror is so central to conservative talking points these days, how could a reasonable conservative possibly answer the question? More importantly, how could a candidate deflect such a direct question?
Mitt Romney figured it out, though. When confronted with a question one can't answer, it's always best to answer with utter nonsense and hope that no one in the audience actually understands the words you're using. Romney described the question as a "non sequitur" and a "null set" that he couldn't possibly answer, then launched into one of those, "We acted with the best of intentions with the best intelligence we had..." kinda bullshit non-answers. Even when the moderator tried to get him to answer the question that was actually asked, Romney declined. He doesn't do "non sequiturs" nor "null sets."
The more intelligent amoung you probably realize that the question is neither a non sequitur nor a null set. It also was not a red herring, Avogadro's number, or a lhasa apso. None of these words or phrases comes close to describing the question that was asked. A non sequitur is a logical fallacy, from the Latin meaning "It does not follow." In common usage, it tends to refer to a statement that has absolutely no relation to the statement that preceded it. As Jon Stewart pointed out last night:
“First of all that was not a non sequitur. A non sequitur would have been, ‘We’ve lost 3400 troops in Iraq. Do you consider a unicycle furniture?”
A null set is a bit more difficult to explain, on account of the fact that I know very little about math (for those of you who don't know, it took me five years-- beginning in the eighth grade-- to get through three years of high school math). But here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
"In mathematics, a null set is a set that is negligible in some sense. For different applications, the meaning of "negligible" varies. In set theory, there is only one null set, and it is the empty set. In measure theory, any set of measure 0 is called a null set."
So... yeah. I won't even begin to understand what this means, but I can pretty safely say that it has nothing to do with hindsight or reconsidering bad decisions that have been made in the past.
Anyway... if you want an example of a non sequitur as the term is most commonly used (the phrase that follows does not relate to the phrase that preceded it), you might take a look at what Roger Ailes had to say at The Erin Breindel Awards about Democrats boycotting Fox News. "The candidates that can't face Fox," he said, "can't face Al Qaeda."
Fox News, as I'm sure you're aware, is a conservative propaganda mill designed to look like a legitimate news source. Serial misinformers at the network include Bill O'Reilly, Brit Hume, and Sean Hannity. The one moderately progressive voice regularly featured on the network is Alan Colmes, and they don't let him talk. These are the people who have regularly allowed Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Dick Morris, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic] to distort the record and make up lies about any public figure who finds herself slightly to the left of Dick Cheney. They run softball interviews with members of the administration, and launch smear campaigns against progressive and liberal politicians. A Democrat has about as much business going on Fox News as a gay couple has going to Westboro Baptist Church to see about getting married. It's pointless and can only cause harm. Fear has absolutely nothing to do with it.
Still, it's fun to play this "associate the unassociated game," so here are a few of my own:
Any politician so duplicitous as to employ a comb-over in an attempt to fool people into thinking he's not bald can't be trusted with matters of national security-- if he can't come clean about his baldness, we don't know where he stands on anything.
Any president too afraid of public opinion to come clean about his own history of drug abuse is too much of a coward to prosecute a war on terror.
Any head of a cable news agency who employs logical fallacies is too stupid to be issued a driver's license.
Create your own, kids!