Archive for March, 2010

Tractatus Logico-Politicus

March 18, 2010

“There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?”


The idea behind fallacy spotting is simple: you just try to catch the author of a text trying to use illogical (and therefore illicit) means to prove his point. And there’s no better training ground for the novice fallacy spotter than political rhetoric; the source material is abundant and the frequency and variety of fallacies is so bewildering that even the untrained can spot a few straight away.

Probably the most rewarding situations are that of a government official caught in an  incompetence-complicity trap. That is, if he knew about the wrongdoings going on in his organisation, he’s complicit and must resign, but if he didn’t, he’s incompetent and must resign. All we have to do is sit back and watch him trying to wriggle free.

A more subtle mistake is accusing another party of being divisive. “The other party is divisive, ours isn’t”, goes the well-known line. Never mind the faint but piquant odour of  self-contradiction it radiates, but if your party isn’t trying to divide the general public, then what exactly IS your party doing?

But it would be unfair to claim that political rhetorics are about nothing but fallacies  there are some really delightful logical constructs to be found too. The leader of a practically defunct Hungarian party that has been dealing in casual racism for OAPs (a niche market, if there ever was one) has recently announced: “They say our party is dead. Yet I’m  standing before you, so our party cannot be dead after all.”

Which is brilliant, because we’ve never had Cartesian politics before.

However, not even the strongest and most impeccable reasoning can avoid being crushed under the jackboots of bureaucracy. The mayor of a Transylvanian town called Pecica ordered the installation of new, highly expressive road signs warning motorists of drunken citizens crossing. He argued that even though ideally the drunk should be warned,  in practice this wouldn’t work, on account of them being, well, drunk. So up went the road signs in the name of public safety and common sense over the letter of the law.

Sadly, the signs cannot be seen anymore because the local police claimed it was violating EU regulations and suggested a much less inspiring “Other dangers” sign. Sometimes you just can’t win.

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March 12, 2010


The target man

March 1, 2010

I am alone.

Of course that isn’t technically true, there are defenders all around me but they don’t count. Isolated from my team, I’m ploughing a lone furrow as a second-rate-pro-turned-pundit would say.

I’m alone and I’m dreaming.

Oftentimes I dream I’m a soldier in a trench. All the others have died but I’m still here, knee-deep in mud replenished by the drizzling rain, sitting on the shoulder of the last defender, waiting for the order to charge the machine gun nests mounted on the goal line. I know the order will come, in five minutes or in fifty, who knows when? But it will come, it will surely come one day.

Suddenly, the artillery fires a ball high above me. The signal! “Chase it, chase it!”, the words are ringing in my ears, but I’m already up and away, running through an imaginary curtain of bullets, leaving the defenders behind, leaving everything behind. By the time I dare open my eyes, I’m almost there, two more steps, one…I see a sudden yellow flash to my right, I stumble…

I was offside again.

The assistant’s flag descends on me like an axe to put me out of my misery, but of course it doesn’t. I have to pick myself up from the dirt, surrounded by the same defenders, they grin at me with their right arms still raised; “You don’t have to do this, you know” I keep saying to myself, but I know I’m lying. Like a modern Laocoon, I’m locked in my eternal struggle — for 90 minutes. Or less, if I’m shown a red card for stamping on an endangered serpent.