Sunday, October 6, 2013

Logical Fallacies and the 9th Commandment

The most valuable course I took in my entire education was Introduction to Informal Logic. I took the class my second quarter of college simply because it fit in my schedule and didn't look horribly boring. I loved that class so much that I changed my minor to philosophy and almost decided to go on for a PhD in the subject.

When I taught freshman composition, I made sure to introduce my students to the logical fallacies so that they could identify and guard against them. They're pernicious and tend to crop up everywhere.While there are several logical fallacies, there is one in particular that I'm going to discuss today that is unbecoming a Christian.

That fallacy is the straw man fallacy. The straw man fallacy is where someone argues not against their opponents' position, but against a ridiculous, false, or weak characterization of their opponents' position. Wikipedia summarizes it nicely:
To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged, emotional issues. In those cases the false victory is often loudly or conspicuously celebrated.
Here is an example from real life:

True position: Feminists believe that men and women deserve an equal opportunity to develop and use their talents and gifts both inside and outside the home.
Straw man position: Feminists hate babies and want to become men.

See how they're not even remotely similar? But many people skip right over the true position and go knock down the straw man because addressing the true position is harder than defeating an argument that you made up yourself and that nobody actually subscribes to. It's bad logic.

It is also a sin.

The ninth commandment states "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16. Going around misrepresenting your opponents' arguments in order to make them look bad is the very definition of bearing false witness. So, in the words of President Utchdorf, "Stop it."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I'm a lawyer now

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

I started law school in January 2005, fresh off my mission, with $77 in my bank account. Since I had no money and no job, I lived with my parents in San Jose. I was going to school in San Francisco. My daily commute was 2 hours each way. My dad dropped me off at the train station at 6:30 in the morning on his way into work, and he picked me up at the train station around 5:30 in the evening on his way home from work. It was thoroughly exhausting.

I kept that up for a year before I was fed up enough with the commute that I moved out. I ended up in Fremont, which was still a 45 minute train ride away, but it was much better. A few months later, my law school education was unceremoneously interrupted due to a whole bunch of bureaucratic nonsense that was out of my control. The day that I found that out, I also lost my job.

I spent the next two years working and trying to figure out what to do with my life, and then I went back to law school somewhere else. (At a school that was far better run and treated the students as respected colleagues instead of as obstacles.) Then I graduated.

Then I took the California bar - and failed it - three times. (Seriously, if someone reasonably intelligent with a law degree can't pass the [expletive deleted] test after three attempts, maybe there's something wrong with the test!) Then I decided that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So I took the Arizona bar in February. I found out in May that I passed it. In fact, I knocked it out of the park. It really was California and not me.

I've been waiting for my background check to clear, and I found out yesterday that it did. Most law schools have big ceremonies a few weeks after exam results are released where all of the alumni who passed the bar are sworn in en masse. Since I'm being admitted to the bar in a different state, and I'm being admitted off schedule, I don't get that.

I went to the UPS store on my lunch break today to get sworn in. So, nearly eight years of toil and effort was culminated by signing a piece of paper in front of a notary and dropping it in the mail. I'm practically allergic to ceremony, but it still felt a little anticlimactic.