Friday, March 31, 2017

The Tim Tebow Effect in Current Politics

Bethany calls it the Tim Tebow Fallacy, and she has a point. “The tendency to increase the strength of a belief based on an incorrect perception that your viewpoint is underrepresented in the public discourse.” I am using Effect instead because I tend to think of the larger spectrum of people digging in against the tide, not all of which rises to the level of fallacy. Yet as a practical matter, it absolutely can get to that level, and quickly. (She also has a Forrest Gump Fallacy, if you want to amuse yourself with that. She’s still young, and may develop a whole stable of named fallacies by the time she’s finished.) It sprang from a Chuck Klosterman comment about the Tebow discussion.
both groups perceive themselves as the oppressed minority who are fighting against dominant public opinion
We often hear it in our political discourse. We certainly hear it about Trump now. A great part of his swing vote was giving voice to people who felt had been routinely not listened to. Boomers considered themselves to still be fighting against The Man even after they had been The Man for twenty years and were on their way out. He, and they, still carry that chip now. Understandable, I suppose, as these attitudes take a long while to develop and won’t disappear overnight. Yet really, you won. You can’t say that no one’s listening to you anymore. It’s your hand on the ship’s wheel at present. Okay, the last guys won’t let go of the wheel and people are trying to disengage it from the rudder and pummel you every chance, but that’s what always happens. Much worse than usual this time, but normal. You can’t just stick it to the man anymore, because now you are the man.

The opposition is sending the same wails into the night. “No one is listening to us!” It’s absurd, of course, because these are the elites who the general populace, from the Trump side, the Johnson side, and the Sanders side all decided have too much control.* The 60’s counterculture disguised itself and become The Man, but they still think of themselves as young warriors battling against the old establishment, now turned away at the gates. The Clintons are such a stereotypically good example of this that one almost suspects the whole game is fixed, like pro wrestling.

The reality is that any reduction in their power is a Narcissistic Injury . It is quite obviously painful, but that does not imply that they are oppressed. Actually, that is trending over to a related fallacy, that suffering is proof of oppression, which proves one is being treated unfairly, which proves one’s perspective is the true one.

This is where I wanted to go. It is not just an ever-increasing paranoia of being progressively convinced that one’s POV is being shut out, which is proof, PROOF, that someone is suppressing it. Why would someone suppress it? Because they know it’s true. SEE? That’s where it gets to fallacy level. We need not go that far. In milder form we might think that people are ignoring our point because it is uncomfortable. As all of us do that sort of ignoring at times, and intellectual history seems to record little else, it is certainly plausible to think that others are doing this now.

Also, sometimes we take something of a contrary stand just to prevent our own group from going too far. A young acquaintance of mine, editor of the local arts-and-event newspaper The Hippo, used the phrase, “balancing the room.” I get that. Even if you think they’re right, they aren’t going to be 100% right. Particularly in the area of attribution of motive to what the opposition is doing, even the most right of us can be badly wrong. Bethany also mentions a certain positioning effect within groups, of needing to both belong but also stand out. Lastly, political declaration is something of a positional good

There is another aspect to the Tim Tebow Effect which must be deeply related, though I can’t identify the precise cause and effect. People can talk for hours, adding nothing to the conversation, unable to stop. There is always one more thing that needs to be said, or some greater-than-usual need to have the last word. A TV executive at the height of the Tebow controversy said he could put up nothing but two guys arguing about Tim Tebow for all of his programming, and no one would turn it off. People would call the station to complain, tweet insulting things about the network and its banal pointless, shows, email everyone in the industry they could think of to Just stop. No more. I can’t take it. Yet they wouldn’t switch channels. Everyone knows this about politics in general and doubly so in the age of Trump – nothing is being added, yet we are drawn back in repeatedly, fish to lures, moths to flames.

This need for the last word, or perhaps even need to have extracted at least some concession, is not true for everything we do in our lives. All of us let most things go, with little difficulty. I don’t know what makes something a hobbyhorse for each of us, needing to be ridden endlessly, and even less do I know what makes a particular topic a more universal hobby horse. We know we are affecting nothing, yet somehow a great deal seems to be at stake.

*Here is the next level of irony. Those who support traditional culture in one of its many forms have been doing the same thing for years but are sneered at for having such an ignorant attitude now. WASP culture was dominant from the start of America (and in Northern Europe before that) and did give itself privileges and advantages. They signed on to an aggressive form of egalitarianism that they didn’t project would result in such a loss of power, but there it is, and they have gone along with it, however sullenly. (This will be a subsequent post.) A different group, largely secular but still drawing on religious ideals, used that system effectively in order to get power for themselves. Now that the latter group is having its power taken it is reacting similarly. I’m not commenting on which powers should be lost or gained by which groups, I’m just noting the irony.


james said...

Is there some sampling bias in the Tebow/whatever debates? The ones who say "Enough already" and mean it go somewhere else, leaving the field to the ones with itchy egos.

Grim said...

...Effect instead because I tend to think of the larger spectrum of people digging in against the tide, not all of which rises to the level of fallacy.

A fallacy, properly speaking, is an error in logic that disrupts the ability of logic to guarantee truth preservation. There aren't really levels of this; it's binary. Either it's a valid logical form, meaning that truth is guaranteed to be preserved through the transformation, or it's a fallacy.

The formal fallacies are obvious. Assuming the truth of the premises, the logical form guarantees the truth of the conclusion. Compare these two forms:

"If P, then Q.
"Therefore, Q."

That's valid, but a nearby form is fallacious.

"If P, then Q.
"Therefore, P."

What's wrong in the informal fallacies is less obvious. The slippery slope is a good one. "If you agree to that logic, continuing it through these several steps leads to this conclusion." Well, not necessarily: people could refuse to take any of those several steps. And yet, often, it really is true that people who accepted the logic in the first case really will follow it through to the horrible conclusion. Happens all the time. It's just not guaranteed to happen -- so it's a fallacy.

To your point, it's a fallacy even if the slippery slope proves true 90% of the time. It's a binary thing, not a thing that admits of degrees.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, fallacy isn't the right word, as that has a precise meaning. It's something more in the range of "bad thinking that leads you to bad conclusions."