April 14, 2006

Our problem

Every now and then, I find myself embroiled in an argument like the one that just petered out here. Every time, there are some common features.

  • One, there'll be a gathering of people, as if the call has gone out to come watch the pig getting stuck. Not all of them get involved in the argument, but they watch from the cheap seats, periodically reissuing the call themselves.

  • Two, there'll be the guys who trade only in insults; one exchange or maybe two, and I know all over again that paying them no attention is what the doctor ordered. A long time ago.

  • Three, there'll be the guys who are confident that logic and reason and facts populate every square inch of their writing, that they are bright like we would never know, and that their views are, by golly, exactly right. Therefore, they are just as confident that their opponents in the argument are illogical and unreasonable and stupid and have no facts, only anecdotes, to offer in support of their case. That arrogance also gets what the doctor ordered.

  • And four, there'll be the guys who try to engage, sometimes heatedly, but engage nevertheless. Alone in these episodes, those guys -- the owner of the site mentioned, for example -- get my respect.

    So I stroll in and offer my views. And of course I think I'm right, of course I think I have logic on my side. But I try very hard not to mistake opposition to my opinions for illogic or stupidity, however much I disagree. I try hard to remember that these guys believe they came to their views much as I believe I did: logic, reason. Why try hard? The old lesson: the quickest way to lose is to underestimate the guys you're up against. (They underestimate, their problem).

    And yet here's one thing: issues like this last one are bigger than who loses. Reservations are so vital to so many people that I don't even know in what sense I might "win" or "lose" an argument over them, or how it matters at all.

    And here's another: since they are so vital, that says something about this country. We have profound chasms that we have not bridged, injustices we have not addressed, inequalities a lot of us don't want to see. But they are there.

    One suggested solution to one of these issues is reservations. Those who find that repulsive must then offer another solution, a better solution. That is the challenge. Yet we have innumerable bright graduates from the IITs and IIMs and similar institutes. We have some stellar men and women in our corporate boardrooms. I believe that if these smart people want to, they can find creative answers to the problem that reservations claims to solve. (And to any number of other Indian problems).

    And it's more than just wanting to: perhaps they must work to find those answers. Because the inequalities cannot be wished away, and can be ignored only so long. We -- and here I particularly address the guys from point four above -- have to find ways to tackle that. This is our problem. Nobody else's.

    Ashish Gupta said...

    I am sorry to realize that you don't have respect for others except owner of the blog who watch, but not actively participate, in the debate; and their presence in the 'gathering of onlookers' insults you (which your doctor kindly advised you to ignore). For your convenience, I will no longer watch you nor converse with you any more. You win.

    Patrix said...
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    Patrix said...

    Although I don't always agree with your views, I will agree that the debate this time around was unjust [toward you] and bordered on "baying for your blood" campaign. Sadly the arguments on the site you linked to left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth. The arguments were on the fact that how should arguments be conducted with the inherent prejudices of the issue at hand. In brief, it was either you are with us or against us kinda situation and that's why I kept out of it.

    scribbles said...

    Like many others, I watched that exchange on the blog you mentioned from the sidelines, almost but never quite deciding to write in myself. I can quite see why the owner of that blog was the only one who won your respect, he was one of the very few who deserved to. Most of the other bloggers on that thread had nothing except a supreme, arrogant assurance in the infallibility of their positions, and frankly their invocations of your background, and their judgments about their 'motivations' disgusted me. i wonder why your writing seems to frighten so many people. because fear is the only thing that really explains the mccarthyite tone of some of the responses to you. there also seems to be this desire to believe that anyone who espouses views that sound 'radical' or 'left-of-centre' or just plain secular-humanist, has GOT to be motivated by something other than conviction, some tangible benefit that he or she is getting. it's as though you, and arundhati roy, and any number of other people who've chosen to support beleaguered causes and movements because you believe them to be just, have engaged in some kind of class betrayal, and the only way to fight your arguments is to fight you, as a person, on the grounds of your age, your background, whatever 'dirt' they can dig up on you.
    at one level you should take this as an enormous compliment, i think. you're obviously provoking people to anger, and if you're doing that there's a fair chance that you're also making an equal number of people, who read your work, rethink or give shape to their positions on crucial issues. not only reservations, but so much else. i read 'the narmada damned' by the way, i thought it was one of the most important commentaries i'd ever read. so thanks, i suppose, for arguing and reasoning so patiently and so well.

    Anonymous said...

    Agree with Patrix. The people who tried to argue with you with their self-proclaimed superior intellect and logic energy of sighs sounded totally like "You must be a fool; becuase I couldn't understand your reasoning".

    On the reservation issue; we all start with a premise that a meritocratic system is the most fair and ideal. While in truth, it may be the most unfair though efficient. Merit, as has been convincingly proven,is a product of nature and nurture. So a student's brilliance or dumbness is a lot dependent on his biological constitution (genes) on which he had no control. I don't think that human societies anywhere has clearly established which is more superior: Efficiency (merit) or fairness (social justice). However, in the case of politics, which is the most significant aspect of human society; social justice has been clearly given one up over merit.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Dilip,

    I thought the following may be useful. I would rather post it on your blog than anywhere else, but if you think it will be useful anywhere else, please do feel free to cut and paste. I am aware that the tone is slightly patronising, but I hope that can be forgiven. I do know some (not all!) of the answers to the "assignments" listed below, but for R2C2E I can neither reveal them, nor join the debate. In any event, the proposed exercise might be good for everyone's soul!

    How one might have an informed debate (not, civilised, not courteous - that would be unduly optimistic).

    Prelude: The IIT's already have reservations for SC and ST candididates. SC and ST students can be admitted to IIT even if their scores are somewhat lower. This does not fill the 22% quota. Hence, a still lower cut-off is introduced. Students who score above this cut-off in the JEE exam are admitted to IIT in "year zero". They are trained in IIT for a year.
    If they perform satisfactorily in these courses in year zero, they are allowed to join the regular B-Tech programme from the next year as first year students, i.e., a typical student will finish the programme in five years (including "year zero") instead of four years for the B-Tech students admitted through the "general category".

    Assignment 1: Read the above paragraph carefully and make sure you have understood it.

    Assignment 2: Decide beforehand what it means to have a "succesful" social policy.

    a) Define beforehand what compromises merit. Suppose, it turned out that students admitted under quotas did only slightly worse in IIT (define "slightly worse" than the general category, does that justify reservations or not? For instance if the median score of a student admitted through the general category was 70% while that of a student admitted through a quota was 64%is the experiment worthwhile? Decide beforehand how much this "compromises merit".

    b) Also decide beforehand whether someone getting 64% after facing significant discrimination is "better" than someone getting 70% after receiving significant societal advantages.

    c) Decide beforehand if it matters whether students entering under the quota are from a "creamy layer". Define "creamy layer". For instance, if no one in the caste has ever been an engineer, does it matter if the caste is extraordinarily rich?

    d) If in c) you decide that a creamy layer does matter, decide how much it matters.

    If you want an honest exercise, do this before performing Assignment 3.

    Assignment 3:
    a) Find out how students admitted under "reservations" fare compared to others (hint: use the right to information act).

    b) How many are from a "creamy layer"
    (hint: use the rti) - if your definition of creamy layer is very complex, you will not be able to get the requisite data. But some rough measures will be verifiable.

    If you do not oppose reservations in IIT on some purely philosophical position you will first inform yourself of the situation with regard to SC and ST candidates. Then, you will decide whether the situation for OBC's is similar in anyway and whether the experiment in reservations can have similar consequences for them.


    Bombay Addict said...

    Agree with patrix on this. "In brief, it was either you are with us or against us kinda situation and that's why I kept out of it." Indeed that's why I kept out of it.

    Here's an aside I thot was interesting - the defintion of logic, as per Merriam Webster, also includes "something that forces a decision apart from or in opposition to reason". (hehehe?)

    For the record - I'm in your camp Dilip.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Thank you Patrix. You don't have to agree with me. I appreciate your civility. Now get going to Big Bend dammit!

    scribbles, thank you too. You're kind. It's always a pleasure to run into someone who has read my book!

    And thanks anonymous 9:08 and bombay addict. Anonymous, there's something worth thinking more about in what you say about the possibility that this meritocratic system we all seem to aspire to may be unfair.

    And Ravi, that's quite a quiz there! I'm not confident I can attempt it...

    Logic said...

    You do yourself a great disservice by writing posts like this, by responding to the provocations of that cheap bunch of school kids called the libertarian cartel of Indian bloggers and their sympathisers. The cartel is also know as the Society for the Propagation of Itself. You and your willingness to engage with them is exactly what they want!

    Anonymous said...

    Honestly, I did not find the blog owner to be worthy of any respect either. The amount of paragraphs spent just to get him to agree that he was using anecdotes just like every other guy was ridiculous. It was so f**king obvious and he still hasn't conceded that itty bitty point. And the suppossed illogic of applying the same quotas to all institutions frankly speaking eludes me. And what is with all the "red herring" talk.

    It is just so f**king ridiculous that they are unwilling to have a half decent discussion without planting all kinds of labels. "Red herring", "illogical", "Anecdotal".

    This is how the game is played. You make a statement. They come along and apply all kinds of labels. You are trying to address a core issue. They jump all over every syntax and semantics and have you defending statements that Shivam Vij made and parse every peripheral sentence you typed for possible "ad hominems, lfallacy, nonsqtr and what not". They number in dozens. You are alone. So effectively you spend 10 paragraphs defending some peripheral statement. The core issue is never discussed. You also succumb to their crap and play the game by their rules and point out logical fallacies and anecdotal stuff in their posts. The worst part is they wont acknowledge it and continue bickering. This creates an absolute crapfest and senseless discussion. You are trying to find a possible solution and they are sitting there waiting to pounce on any possible cracks. If of course you make a genuine slip it will be linked to for the next decade. Each and every discussion has been like this. I dont even understand why you engage these guys. I found dk2 obscene and condescending even though he defended you in spots. He looks good just because everyone else is so gross.

    And I am not even talking about the obvious trolls like Gaurav Sabnis. These guys are easy to ignore.

    However this is not the worst. I actually read a thread where CK mathematically demonstrated how taxation does not imply wealth destruction through a simple mathematical model (the only relevant counter argument was made by Sid). Gaurav Sabnis trolled right through the thread punching non existent holes in the model that he himself set up plus there was the standard litany of name calling. Apart from advertising his awful maths skills he actually managed to announce that CK had "lost" the argument. There is no way you can be "logical" with these guys. You can supply a mathematical proof and they will still laugh you off. It is more of a heckling, name calling, labelling riot. I dont understand how guys like you and CK actually manage to be civil amongst such hecklers.

    BTW the tax thread is here in case you missed it.
    You may think the thread is not relevant here. But I personally found that thread to be a severe example how you can supply a perfect mathematical proof and still be laughed off as illogical or as "still does not get it for the nth time". The reservation thread on dk2 is milder version of this though it is far more personally abusive. I find personal abuses easy to ignore because they mean nothing and usually makes the abuser ugly. But this kind of hair splitting (how the f**k is shivam vij's statement on lfallacies in any way relevant!!!) has the pretence of a logical discussion while being anything but that.

    dhoomketu said...
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    Umesh Patil said...

    - True that Reservation is a big issue so it is natural that there will be prolonged and intense discussion about this topic. I am surprised that this time around it has not reached the fever of Mandal of 1990's in the street.

    - I doubt if any open societies are free of any such contentious issues. If not for Mandal, for something else there will be a serious debate. As long as society at least has civil ways of conducting the discourse, it is on better track than the closed ones.

    - Reservation is a Political issue. So I am not sure how it comes to smart people of successful companies and board room to solve it. We know that Politician's do not listen even if the argument has merit when it does not buy them votes. The whole framework of debate in Indian politics is stuck with reservation and no reservation; as if that is the only way to remove the caste based discrimination. So many alternatives have been talked (other day Times of India had a good editorial asking Congress to work for universal school open to all caste members and kids of all religion and so on); but that is like Greek and Latin to our politicians. We all know how stupid these politicians can be. I mean what else to describe other than that moron Arjun Singh. These were the same people who advised Rajiv Gandhi to back Shaha Bano amendment, which he did foolishly and we all know what happened - neither that gave votes to Congress nor stability. India lost almost a decade in the whole affair. Fast forward to Dr. Singh's government - you can hardly find any more respected PM than him as well as leadership of Sonia. But you know how Dr. Singh responded to Medha Patkar and NBA appeals. Very shameful. GOI does not even want to address the simple issue of settlement of oustees when no one is talking about ROI of Narmada Project.

    So I do not think alternatives to reservation is an issue. It is a political question of how do you open the debate so that competitive political parties are open to consider alternatives, articulated by so many experts.

    And oh yes, I do oppose the reservation policy and am fearful of the possibility it may be forced on private sector in any one of these days. Competitive politics of election based system almost makes it inevitable.

    Illogical Truisms said...

    This is my response to Dhoomketu's post. I have posted it on that post of his as well. - IT


    Dear Dhoomketu:


    The problem with logical fallacies is that they reduce an argument to something akin a mathematical equation and divert from the issue. If a statement has been proved to be a logical fallacy, it becomes just that, an example of a logical fallacy. The number of entries in the logical fallacies page is so large that I would not be surprised if all arguments are reduced to logical fallacies. I mean, there’s even a logical fallacy called Argumentum ad Google!

    You don't add value to the debate by resorting to 'logical fallacies', you don't inform it with further questions and facts, you don't enlighten the subject at hand. You just read a sentence and compute which logical fallacy it is.

    You may not believe this, but the best writing in both fiction and non-fiction always has a sense of ambiguity about it, coupled like a tightrope walk with a clear narrative voice. This subconscious sense of ambiguity in expression is important especially when one has to be objective: in a truly honest argument both sides must be ‘objective’ otherwise they will never concede a fair point made by the opponent. An argument is like a negotiation: you concede some, the other person concedes some. The most important thing about a debate is not that someone will win it but that it will end up shedding light on all perspectives of the issue. In a debate about the existence of God/god, who wins? The atheist or the believer? Both positions, in fact, are rationale: may be god exists may be not. But when you bring in logical fallacies, especially the way you are using them here, you do great injustice to the amorphousness and subjectivity of arguments. More importantly, you foreclose the argument now that you have mathematically proven, in a X Is Not Equal to Y manner, that the other person’s argument is false. The word fallacy shares its meaning with ‘fallacious’ and ‘false’: just because you demonstrate that a sentence or two of an argument is one fallacy or another, the argument itself does not become completely untrue. It may still have some merit in it.

    See this: "You have to be careful with fallacies. The reason things are fallacies is because they're an invalid form of what's usually a valid argument. So it's not always clear whether something is a fallacy or not. In addition, some fallacies are only fallacies given certain other assumptions ."


    Jokes apart, let’s begin. Let’s begin with anecdotes. Shivam quotes an anecdote to make a point and Dhoomketu proves it to be logically fallacious. Now, does that mean that Shivam's anecdote is not true? Or that Dhoomketu's is not true? Instead of reducing it to a 'logical fallacy', let's analyse both anecdotes and see what conclusion we come to. Shivam says that some quota students in his college are doing better than he is, despite him being a general category student. Dhoomketu says that in the same college some years ago, all the "toppers" were general category students. The conclusion we come to is that while quota students may not be toppers, they may sometimes excel general category students. What can this prove? That the issue of merit is fluid and more complex than saying that it is facetious (as Shivam does) or that it is going to 'destroy' the IITs and IIMs as many have been saying.

    See, by doing this much thought analysis we have added some value to the argument. You can still say that these are anecdotes and we probably need a scientific survey to establish such generalisations.


    By the way, in your story #1, are you saying that all those slow-trackers and those who didn't get placement were SC/ST quota students? If not all, how many were? The answer may shed some factual light in the absence of scientific studies. But when you say it's anecdotal evidence, you have 'won' the 'argument' on the basis of that branch of the subject of Logic, 'logical fallacies'. It does show that you may have studied Philosophy well in college.


    As for the Desipundit plug, they on their part may simply be willing to bring some objectivity in their coverage, which is a good idea for a site like that. Desipundit is after all not a cartel member and does not have the burden of propagating libertarianism. You have to see the way Desipundit links to Gaurav Sabnis' ordinary posts every now and then, calling them excellent each time until someone embarrassed them by pointing out the back scratching bias that Gaurav Sabnis' friend Saket was indulging in.


    The 'pro-reservation in higher education' bloggers who I have read till now, basically try to argue using ad hominen [sic] and other fallacious arguments

    I am not sure about this, but are you using the logical fallacy of generalisation here?


    "Lastly, all those opposing “Mandal II” should tell us whether they are non-OBC. Upper castes are no doubt meritocratic (which is why sons inherit fathers’ businesses), and they are no doubt oblivious to caste (just see the matrimonial pages), but there is the hint of vested interest here. And if you are opposing reservations because admissions will become tougher for you, you won’t get the point of affirmative action anyway."
    It is like saying, "All those who oppose drug trafficking should tell us whether they have ever had a friend who used to do drugs. For then you obviously have vested interests and are..." In fact not only is it a clear ad hominen argument, it also is ambiguous.

    It is no doubt ad hominem. And thus a logical fallacy. But which type of ad hominem is it? It is “ad hominem circumstantial”. Now the following excerpt in Italics is from the Wikipedia page on ad hominem.

    Ad hominem circumstantial
    Ad hominem circumstantial involves pointing out that someone is in circumstances such that he is disposed to take a particular position. Essentially, circumstantial ad hominem constitutes an attack on the bias of a person. The reason that this is fallacious is that it simply does not make one's opponent's arguments, from a logical point of view, any less credible to point out that one's opponent is disposed to argue that way. Such arguments are not necessarily irrational, but are not correct in strict logic. This illustrates one of the differences between rationality and logic.
    "Tobacco company representatives are wrong when they say smoking doesn't seriously affect your health, because they're just defending their own multi-million-dollar financial interests."
    "He's physically addicted to nicotine. Of course he defends smoking!”

    In the following example Jennifer's comment is ad hominem circumstantial attack against Chris's statement:
    Chris: "Women should be able to be topless everywhere men can be."
    Jennifer: "You're just saying that because you want to see women's breasts."

    The bit that compares logic with rationality is particularly important, unless Gaurav Sabnis can prove that Dilip D’Souza edited the Wikipedia page and edited it! (Now which fallacy am I committing to further my baseless argument? Does it matter? I am just joking yaar!)

    But now that you have labelled it ad hominem, I suppoose you've won the argument and there's no more room for debate?

    Wait, it could be another fallacy: the logical fallacy of appealing to motives!

    I have heard so many people say, "Reservations se saari seat yeh log le jaatey hain, hamara kya hoga?" (These people take away all our seats; what will happen to us?) That is a civil-service-aspirant friend's chief argument against reservations. Then again there was a photograph in the papers of a girl standing in an anti-Mandal II protest in Delhi, saying "Disowned by my own country". She is merely expressing what she feels. Could Shivam be responding to such widespread reactions by saying, "And if you are opposing reservations because admissions will become tougher for you, you won’t get the point of affirmative action anyway"? If Shivam were to say this to that girl or that civils aspirant, wouldn't it make a lot of sense?

    Or would you rather have Shivam read up Wikipedia and identify a logical fallacy in the girl's statement?


    Secondly, they assume that just because some bloggers are opposing the reservations in higher education, they also must be against affirmative action.

    I don't see Dilip or Shivam having said this in so many words. Quote them. If your argument does not bear the burden of proof, you are putting words into their mouths. Now which logical fallacy would this be? You are probably building a strawman here but more importantly it is intellectually dishonest to attribute things to your opponent that your opponent never said.

    As for Falstaff's post on affirmative action, Dilip and Shivam don't seem to have said anything about it in the posts that you link to. If your intention (see, appeal to motive! ) was not malafide, you were probably committing the fallacy of hasty generalization.


    This is clearly another fallacy of composition. This is in fact the most common fallacy in these blogs. Just because I am against a part of something, I must be against the whole.
    "You are against reservations, then you must be against the the increase in opportunities to the poor".

    Again, prove this with links, quotes. Where have Dilip and Shivam made an with-us-or-with-them statement? Quote it. Where have they said, ""You are against reservations, then you must be against the increase in opportunities to the poor""? By putting quotation marks on a statement made up by you, you are only furthering Strawman. Those who don't care about logical fallacies call it intellectual dishonesty or such like.


    Thirdly, as I have stated before, they only offer anecdotal evidence.

    You've made the point in the beginning of the post. Repetition may not be a logical fallacy but it is Bad Writing. Wait, it may be a logical fallacy as well! “This logical fallacy is commonly used as a form of rhetoric by politicians, and it is one of the mechanisms of reinforcing urban legends. In its extreme form, it can also be a form of brainwashing.”


    "In my college 22 or so per sent seats are reserved for Christian students. Fair enough: the college was established by Christian missionaries and wishes to preserve its Christian character. As a result I have Christian classmates who got much less marks in their Class 12 exams than I did. But many of them are performing much better in their academics than I am. Quotas and the issue of merit is much more complicated than what it is being made out to be. Quota doesn’t mean that an absolute nutcase is going to sit in an engineering class. It means that a student with 65% marks could be studying in a class with a student who got 95%. To say that the two can’t co-exist is absurd."
    Yes, and "in my college, a monkey used to destroy the windows in our bathrooms. As a result, we had to shave without mirrors. Monkeys and mirrors are a much more complicated issue that what it is being made to be. Unshaved doesn't mean that I am careless about my bearing. It means that I might not have shaved well, because a monkey destroyed my mirror. To say that the it can't be generally true is absurd." By the way, the monkey story is true.

    You could also be committing the fallacy of juxtaposition over here.

    Once again, all you do is cite the fallacy and give an analogy. By this time your post has begun to degenerate into a mudslinging match. By bringing this monkey business you are also making a mockery of Shivam's argument - not the best way to engage in an argument or conversation even if it produces humour or amuses bystanders. In this case and other sentences in your post, could you be committing the informal logical fallacy of appealing to ridicule? But look at Shivam's argument: he's saying that quotas don't mean that a 'nutcase' will be given the seat but someone with lesser marks. In some of the anti-reservation coverage in the media it has indeed been made out that a quota student will be as good as illiterate: haven't you heard the clich├ęd anti-reservations question, "Will you go to a doctor who got his seat through quota?" (Incidentally, Shivam and others answer it here.)

    Now you could say this does not prove that merit is not compromised by reservations; it just proves that quota students do not necessarily fail; or that they are not necessarily unemployable; but it does not prove that merit is not compromised, or that the guy with 95% would not have performed better. To this Shivam would have typically responded that some compromise with merit is okay for the larger social good. To which you could have responded: how much compromise? 50%? Is there such a thing as larger social good? Isn't the compromise with merit a value loss and is it adequately made up by the value addition in quota students?

    And so we could have seen a broader discussion on the ideas of India. But for you it all ended at logical fallacies and anecdotal evidence and ad hominems and monkey business.

    And what do you mean when you say he's probably not working as hard as you did in college? Assumption? Ad hominem?


    Fourthly, they appeal to the gallery and exhibit a special case of arguing from ignorance.
    "I wish we lived in a world where there was no need for reservations. This wish informs the way I react to them. But of course, I know we don't live in such a world, nor do I think we will get to such a world any time soon. (I honestly wish, too, that I am wrong there). Therefore, all things considered, I think reservations are the best answer -- or the least bad answer -- to a thorny problem."
    This is like saying, "I wish we live in a world where India will win every cricket match. But of course, we don't live in such a world, nor do I think we will get to such a world anytime soon. (I honestly wish, too that I am wrong there). (Loud applause at this moment) Therefore, all things considered, I think playing all matches against Zimbabwe is the best answer -- or the least bad answer -- to a thorny problem." If I don't have any other solution, refuse to think, then this must be the correct answer. All that is left is shifting the burden of proof.

    Which gallery, by the way?
    Now again, you are committing the fallacy of juxtaposition.

    But also, a fundamental problem in your analogy, regardless of which fallacy it is. ‘Playing all matches against Zimbabwe’ (that is, not playing with any other country) is an absolute. The analogy would have held if Dilip were saying that all seats at the IIMs and IITs should be given to SCs, STs and OBCs. He’s not arguing something irrational as that. He is just saying that reservations are bad in an ideal situation but that we are not in an ideal situation.
    This is like saying that despite all its faults, democracy is the best system of running a country. Or that despite all their demerits, unregulated free markets are the best possible mechanism for an economy. Now, to these two statements, try saying, “If I don't have any other solution, refuse to think, then this must be the correct answer.”

    (As for the burden of proof, where is the burden of proof when people claim that reservations have not helped? Not that the lack of evidence on this side justifies Dilip’s lack of evidence – I am committing here the fallcy of Tu quoque, by the way. In simple English, non-cartellians refer to it as saying two wrongs don’t make a right. )


    On Red Herrings:

    Fifthly, the blogs introduce red herrings in the argument to confuse us. Two examples:
    "...How long should we carry on with reservations? This is a prickly issue, and I don't have a good answer. My feeling is -- maybe this is wishful thinking -- that when reservations have benefited some critical mass of people, they will themselves call for an end to them..."
    "Lastly, as an aside, will you believe me that I have met Mandal? No, not Justice BP Mandal but Ashok Mandal. He is a rickshaw puller in Delhi University and hails from Murho in Madhepura. Just where Justice Mandal came from."
    Largely irrelevant, just as irrelevant if I was to tell you suddenly (in between why reservations in higher education is not needed) that my mother tutored two kids of my maid-servant and she's paying for one of them's education. They are poor, but not a SC/ ST or OBC.

    Red Herrings are irrelevant points in a debate that seek to distract from the central issue. In the first one where you quote Dilip, he is merely responding to the popular criticism against reservations: for how many years will we see reservations? This criticism is often accompanied by the reminder that the Constitution intended SC/ST reservations for only ten years. Now if Dilip didn’t reply this point, he would be accused of evading it. Now that he does, you call it red herring.

    In the second one, Shivam himself says it’s an “aside”, but that’s not important for you. He’s just telling an anecdote about the serendipity of meeting someone from Mandal’s village with the same surname. But you must subject it to the logical fallacies tst, thereby proving that his case for reservations is bogus.


    Sixthly (!), these blogs are guilty of the straw man fallacy. They will misrepresent someone else's position so that it can be attacked more easily, knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished.
    "Merit is left to rot. Maybe so, but for one thing, how much have we truly valued merit anyway? Why should we assume that those who benefit from quota admissions, say, will all automatically be poor students?... There's rampant abuse. But any system will be abused. But that some people take advantage of a scheme is not, by itself, reason to throw out that scheme...."
    Yes, as also, if I assume that two wrongs will not make a right, then your entire argument fails. "Two wrongs never make a right. Hitler's holocaust to protest against centuries of alleged oppression by Jews and the Babri Masjid demolition to protest against alleged temple demolition being cases in point. Hence, no two wrongs will make a right. Hence, there is no reason to introduce another wrong (reservation) to set the wrong of Dalit oppression right." Makes sense, no?

    Firstly, what do you mean by that bracketed exclamation mark after Sixthly in the opening sentence?

    Secondly, see points 6 and 7 of this comment as far as Strawman is concerned: you are yourself indulging in it. But just because Dilip commits strawman doesn’t mean you will do it as well, or the other way round, because two wrongs don’t make a right. (Reminds me of a famous statement about racist discrimination against Chinese in UK: "Two Wongs don't make a white". This is not a red herring, just a joke yaar!)

    Thirdly, Dilip’s argument that “that some people take advantage of a scheme is not, by itself, reason to throw out that scheme...." makes perfect sense to me. He’s just saying that you don’t cut off your head if you have a headache. His question about merit is an important one even if it is ‘logically fallacious’. For instance, why is there no merit-based outcry when students are able to buy medical seats by paying huge capitation fees or by paying huge fees under NRI quotas?

    Your analogy with Hindutva is again incorrect and misleading. It would have held if Dilip had argued something like: Dalits should be allowed to murder and rape and loot upper castes because for all these years upper castes have done that to Dalits. Then you could have said: do two wrongs make a right? Where has Dilip argued that reservations are dalits’ way of oppressing upper castes? Now, I’m sure you are committing some logical fallacy or another over here but I won’t bother finding it on Wikipedia. But at the very least you are again committing the fallacy of juxtaposition and also the fallacy of appealing to ridicule.


    I can point out various other fallacies in what some of these reputed blogs are saying. But I have work to do (alas!). In case you would like to demolish their (for that matter, my) arguments, go read this.
    Alas, you end abruptly without finding fallacies in all their statements. Like the jobless cartellians, you have also started giving angle about how busy you are. Worse, you haven’t pointed out the fallacies in the dozen or so pro-reservation posts they have made since you wrote this post: you must counter them all for their unreason is going to persuade the govt in the favour of a socialist policy in hallowed B-Schools that train you for the free markets!
    I allege that in your illogic-demolishing post you have ignored some points even within those two posts. At least three important points which I quote below, and a fourth one by Dilip on the issue of “access”. But first the three points:

    a) "There are more than enough seats for all higher education students in the country. Be it engineering or medicine or management or plain old BA courses, there are more than enough seats in this country. Why then are the anti-reservation alarmists painting a picture that some general category people will go without an education?"

    b) "I wonder if Mr Sarma is planning to contest Delhi University Students' Union elections next year. That's what Rajiv Goswami had done after attempting to immolate himself in 1990. Goswami finally succumbed to health problems in 2004. Do you see the irony here: by the time his immolation killed him, Shining India had arrived. The picture they had painted in Mandal I - that 'we' will be left unemployed, uneducated - is the last thing you see today."

    c) Why not a purely economic basis for reservations, instead of caste? Actually, the truth about Mandal that should be better known is that it had very little to do with caste, and much to do with various other factors. The economic well-being of a community was one, but other social and educational factors also figured. So on the one hand, it is not true that reservations don't have an economic basis. On the other hand, I think Mandal had it right -- you have to look at more than just economic factors, more than just caste.

    Now ignoring points like these amongst your tales of monkeys and fallacious juxtapositions – ignoring important points of the other side’s arguments amounts to a logical fallacy by itself. The fallacy of cherry picking, committed all too often by those who go about winning arguments with the help of logical fallacies.


    In the end let me point out the supreme statement made by a blogger, in the heat of the moment. "If Aditya Sarma does immolate himself, all those of you igniting this unwarranted frenzy - all the bloggers and editors and the chai-shop gossipers - you will be responsible for it." Huh? How did that happen? Make your own conclusions.

    You haven’t quoted the paragraph about Rajiv Goswami above this. To me it seems that Shivam is suggesting that mass hysteria can lead to violence. Is that logically fallacious?


    I have responded to your post, Dhoomketu, but it seems I will take another few thousand words to respond to the 60-odd comments here. Boy, I’m loving it!

    But before I sign off, some more points.

    Everybody, see a post Dhoomketu made just one day before this one.

    Gaurav Sabnis asserts that "The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average brahmin. They are miles and miles better than the Dalits who led a sub-human existence." If only he would have done some fact-checking first.


    In fact, OBCs are closer to Dalits than forward castes, unlike what Gaurav argues. For an informed point of view on this, please read the Economic & Political Weekly article. OBCs and SC/STs are clearly much poorer than forward castes (this does not include only Brahmins, by the way) in the three states surveyed*.

    So, Gaurav Sabnis was factually incorrect, right? Now, does Gaurav accept his mistake? No. He first discusses another issue (red herring! red herring!), that of reservations at the PG level versus the UG level. Then he goes on to say, “As I said, I drew from my anecdotal evidence”. I don’t know what he means by “As I said” because he’s never said this before, not in his original post. As-I-said is his old defence line, he thinks everyone’s a fool and he’s god’s gift to Logic.

    If Shivam can’t use anecdotal evidence why is it fine for Gaurav Sabnis to use anecdotal evidence to make a generalisation as sweeping as, “"The OBCs, over the years, have had similar access to a livelihood as an average Brahmin”? And why is the language of that post and the comments there so sober as compared to this post and its comments?

    At least Shivam’s anecdotal evidence can be identified as such! In his clarification here, Gaurav Sabnis says:
    “As I said, I drew from my anecdotal evidence which shows that most OBCs in my class were folks with economic backgrounds similar to mine, and frankly, with academic aptitude not much different from mine. Which is why i dont think OBC reservations will lead to a "massive drop in academic levels" or anything, at least at the UG level.”

    In fact even after Dhoomketu’s posts he has not made the correction/update there. Why? I see, so OBCs are as well off as Brahmins without any clarification that the Godfather of logical arguments is resorting to the logical fallacy of anecdotal evidence without saying as much. Who will know that the second sentence in this quote (from this post) comes from ‘anecdotal evidence’:

    “Dalits are very different from OBCs. According to the Hindu caste system, hindus were divided into a caste system. It was based on professions and one's profession was determined by his birth. These 4 castes were brahmins, who did schoalrly work, kshatriya, the warrior caste, vaishyas, the traders, and shudras, the manual labourers.”

    So then Gaurav Sabnis made this clarification on his blog:

    Update: Dhoomketu has a slightly dissenting viewpoint here.
    My clarification - I admit that what I have stated about the opportunities for OBCs is largely anecdotal, and based on the experiences I had. There will certainly be a vast number of OBCs who will be very poor economically. What I am saying is that the level of oppression of these was nowhere as close to Dalits whose poverty can be almost exclusively blamed on the caste system. Many OBCs would be poor too, due to various circumstances. But a large number of OBCs are not poor. And the number is large enough to soak up all the benefits of reservations.

    So you see the facts that Dhoomketu were quoting was just his viewpoint, and there is no 'burden of proof' but an outright declaration that "the number (of non-poor OBCs) is large enough to soak up all the benefits of reservations" without any evidence whatsoever. But since the comments on his blog are closed, we can't question him there, leave alone make below-the-belt postings about how such stupidity and hypocrisy of his deserves to be satirised in a comic book. I mean, does he realise he is making a sweeping assumption - admittedly based on anecdotal evidence! - about as large a number as 52% of India's population or more than 50 crore people? (50 crore - sounds like a great market size. Sec A or B?)

    Then, in his clarification, a red/blu/green/purple herring in the form of anecdotal evidence: "I went through the 'creamy layer' criteria. When I was applying for engineering, or for IIM, I did not fit in a single of those criteria. i.e if I was born an OBC caste, then with the resources I had, I would be considered a non-creamy-layer candidate. Yet, growing up, I had access to everything needed to place me on equal footing with any other kid vying for an engineering or management seat." Wha?! The one thing that both sides match punch for punch, apart from their obsession with each other, is their lack of humility. They can never get themselves to say these three words: I Was Wrong.

    By the way, also compare Gaurav Sabnis’ understanding of the caste system with these links I got from Youthcurry and then try finding the fallacies in his post. Then also match his post, sentence by sentence, with Logical Fallacies.
    Or perhaps, in asking these questions, I am committing the logical fallacy of trivial objections?

    Some more stuff on logical fallacies, even if it does not have to do with Dhoomketu (I love the name, btw, is it your real name? Now, this is not a red herring, just curious you know!)

    There have been times when I have seen libertarians pointing out, in the course of an argument in a comment box here or there, grammatical errors. In doing so they could well be committing the logical fallacy of style over substance.


    This long comment here was just to express my disappointment. Disappointment that a blog like yours, known for its clarity of thought*** has gone down the path of cartellians and their childish obsession with logical fallacies to make your case. Posts like this one sometimes become so popular that even Amit Varma of India Uncut (“India’s Instapundit”) plugs you – and not once but twice, the second time bringing people’s attention to even the comments here, some of which are in bad taste.

    (If you don’t get it, I am trying to take a dig at your dig on Desipundit, and I don’t know if taking digs are logically fallacious. Dig-diga-dig! )


    In the end, to demonstrate for the one last time why it is downright stupid to base arguments only on the basis of logical fallacies, see the Wikipedia definition of the fallacy of doublespeak.

    Now, try comparing it with the fallacy of appealing to motives. Are the two contradictory?



    In the end I have made enough logical fallacies here to give many of you some work to do. Please point out how my arguments in this rather long post are illogical. I'll be happy to acknowledge them: and I know I have made many even apart from the ones I admit. Amongst other things I am trying to show you that the excess reliance of Logical Fallacies in unsustainable, undesirable and reductive. This is not to say that you cannot use logical fallacies, just that to use them alone to counter an argument is to be unfair not just to your opponents but also to Logical Fallacies.

    Arguments, debates, views are many-faceted - so much so, as I have shown, even you guys commit logical fallacies. Just that you should have the humility to accept your own mistakes before embarking on a witch-hunt against those whose views you do not agree with. The prblem with uni-dimensional logical fallacies-based style of arguing is not only that you end up coming across as arrogant, immoderate and smug, but also that you restrict your worldview, as Chetan Kulkarni had writen in his famously long comment:

    I had a hearty laugh when Amit linked to the New Yorker book review of Expert Political Judgment by Louis Menand. I just kept laughing at the irony of him linking to that review. I couldn’t think of anyone but the chest thumping Libertarians of the blogosphere and the neocons while reading that review. It was a damning indictment of all theory extenders, who are called the hedgehogs who have one large concept and try to apply it to all areas of life. They are contrasted to Foxes who know a lot of theories and are fine with their incompatible goals and choose their loyalties carefully rather than following any ideological doctrine. According to the book the hedgehogs score the lowest when it comes to predicting where the future is going. They score even lower than rats! And in case you are wondering, libertarian pundits were part of the study too.


    *** Beware, I may just have used the logical fallacy of appealing to flattery!

    Illogical Truisms said...

    Dilip, you haven't told me what you thought of my comment? Not that I love you, but I was playing the devil's advocate - I've defended you and not a word of appreciation! Now which logical fallacy are you committing?


    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Illogical, you've defended me in that post? I thought it was all directed at me! And you don't love me?

    Well, seriously: it needed to be said. There's a lot of guys out there who have no substance in them, and therefore fall back on pointing out (what they think are) fallacies and strawmen and non-strawberries sorry non-sequiturs and the like. I have no problem with those things, always provided there's the substance too. So thank you, and may your comment get us all to introspect.

    Mridula said...

    Non-strawberries! Now this is a nice one.