It has always been this way

So, as part of my academic masochism I have been reading a whole host of 911 Truth Movement-related articles (links here, here and here). Seeing that they are mostly comprised of Strawman Arguments (always fallacious) I’ve found myself groaning so often that my co-workers think I must have stomach troubles. I’m sure that I will get ulcers from this project, if only because my paranoia (a post for another time; it’s utterly irrational paranoia and its completely due to reading too much paranoiac material) is at an all time high.Still, there is profit to this, for I seem to have discovered (although not necessarily a novel discovery) that there seems to be a rather constant use of what I will call, for the time being, a post hoc fallacy, which is that behaviour now is inferred to be true of the past as well. Here is a splendid example:

The suspension of disbelief required for this outrageous concoction is only for the hard core conspiracy theorist. For a start, they conveniently skip over the awkward fact that there weren’t any Arabs on the planes. If there were, one must speculate that they somehow got on board without being filmed by any of the security cameras and without being registered on the passenger lists. But the curly question of how they are supposed to have got on board is all too mundane for the exciting world of the conspiracy theorist. With vague mumblings that they must have been using false ID (but never specifying which IDs they are alleged to have used, or how these were traced to their real identities), they quickly bypass this problem, to relate exciting and sinister tales about how some of the fictitious fiends were actually searched before boarding because they looked suspicious. However, as inevitably happens with any web of lies, this simply paints them into an even more difficult corner. How are they supposed to have got on board with all that stuff if they were searched ? And if they used gas in a confined space, they would have been affected themselves unless they also had masks in their luggage.–DEBUNKING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS’ PARANOID FANTASIES ABOUT 9/11 by Gerard Holmgren

What seems to be the case in such examples is that post-911 behaviour is inferred to pre-911 situations, so that airport security and racial profiling post-911 are assumed to have been features of the pre-911 world (when, arguably, these behaviours are features of the success of the attacks that occurred on 911). I don’t know whether it is a case of bad reasoning (itself possibly a statement of bad grammar) or a rhetorical ploy.If it is simply bad reasoning then it just seems to be another mark against the kind of reasoning you get in these kinds of social, intention-describing, discourses (which includes Conspiracy Theories, politics, economics; hell, it includes all the social sciences where behaviour now is meant to be used as an example of behaviour then) which is sometimes justified and sometimes (as in these cases where we can point to the historical record to dispute the claims) not. If it is rhetoric then it seems a little sinister; I’ve never been a fan of rhetoric, mainly because I was trained as a public speaker and thus I know how to abuse reasoning to be persuasive (a skill which I have to actively fight whenever I commence any academic activity). When I see rhetoric being used I automatically (and I shouldn’t, if I use the term in its proper context) think ‘bad argument.’ That people use such rhetorical flourishes as arguments rather than arguing properly is a sign of either desperation or mental sleight of hand and is not something we should encourage[1].This kind of move, that which posits behaviour now as behaviour then isn’t properly a fallacy, given supporting evidence; it’s just a method of reasoning that is prone to be illegimate. It is one that we should be on the lookout for; a lot of early anthropology aimed at finding out how our tribal ancestors lived was based upon the faulty assumption that tribal peoples today live like our ancestors of yesteryear (something that we no longer think to be the case now that we’re able to ascertain the kinds of foodstuffs our ancestors had access to and the ecology of their environments). A lot of economic theory rests upon very fraught assumptions about behaviours across time and cultures (as well as the postulation of ideal agents and markets, but that’s not an issue I’m going to delve into).I think I can explain a little of the ‘Why?’ We think these assumptions (about past behaviour being the same as current behaviour) are likely to be true (all things considered) because we are (in many cases sub-consciously) informed of the Sociology/Evolutionary Biology Debate. Some people think that our behaviours as individuals and as groups are mostly socially constructed; we do things in particular ways because it is tradition to do them that way (i.e. child abuse as punishment) and that this informs the why of behavours (we inherited them culturally). Others think that our genetics determine these behaviours; certain behaviours caused by genetic factors increased our fitness and thus they proliferated. As long as you don’t hold to the notion that genetics is everything (which not even Dawkin’s believes… Oh, that’s a rhetorical flourish masquerading as an argument) then the change of cultures should indicate that practices changed as well and this, the case of changing practices, means that we need supporting evidence before we can infer behaviour now as indicative of behaviour then.It isn’t enough to say that people generally behave the same across time, space and society. For one thing, it isn’t true. Marriage as a cultural practice hasn’t been remarkably consistent in our own culture, nor has the practice of ‘ownership’ of property (especially in regard to such chattels as ‘human beings’). Some features of the human psyche change, some remain stable and some are so complex we don’t even know that the base feature or factor that constitutes them really is. I’m rambling now. Anyway, just because something looks constant doesn’t, without supporting evidence, mean that we can say that it is. When it comes to human behaviours we should be especially cautious.Just thought you would like to know.1. One day I will tell the story about the academic at the University of Auckland (not in the Department of Philosophy, thank the gods) who believes the rhetoric (i.e. in the sense that we mean rhetoric now) should be taught as a vital skill to undergrads. Not to spot rhetoric but to use it not just in the ‘real world’ but also in the Ivory Pagoda.