Fallacies Ahoy!

Last Tuesday evening, a couple of friends asked me how the Open Rights Group meeting had gone. Primarily as a response to them, I wrote the article below. Word of mouth seems to have given it an infamy it didn’t seek, and has led to a surprising number of vituperative comments. Some of the responses are considered and thoughtful. Some are entertainingly disdainful. Those that are sufficiently literate to parse, though, generally suffer from a number of fallacies.

The primary fallacy, of course, is the old favourite: Ad Hominem. “Public school teenage whinging Trot twats” and the rest, implications that none of us “get out”, kiss ladies and so on. No problem with this. Name calling is great fun, and I indulge in it in my original piece; but basing one’s whole “argument” on such outbursts is like serving a meal that consists of salt alone. It gives one logic-gallstones. Yes, I lambasted and attacked, but I also tried to provide a reasoned argument, to provoke some discussion beyond the puerile, even if just a robust counterblast. Amidst the twat-calls, some more analytical repudiation might have been useful.

Ad Hominem was not the only variety of fallacy in this bed of weeds. Danny O’Brien introduced a Straw Man with his attempted parallel of “being nasty to NHS workers”. How saying “Ah, imagine if you were being nasty to people in an organisation of which you approve. That would be nasty” relates to our suggestion that the Media Oligarchies might be made to trip on their own hubristic shoelaces is still beyond me. Perhaps others could explain. Many retorts also begged the question and engaged in the fallacy of the undistributed middle. For those few who managed to provide some actual counter analysis, I shall respond in a combined essay soon. I shall lay out what I think would need to be done in the sort of agit-prop campaign outlined in our gedankenexperiment, and how it might work in a real world. For the rest, fanboydom serves your cause no good. Your uncritical slavering does your Group no good.

The ferocity of the reaction to something that started as no more than a wry gedankenexperiment has revealed to my mind just how hostile people are to anything not shrouded in the current stifling consensual mode. Although I am playing Cassandra to the ORG, I am certainly not claiming some sort of omniscience. Nevertheless, I have helped to found a successful tech campaign which, in its whole existence, consumed about one quarter of one month of ORG’s projected income. If it is not to waste this bounty, ORG had better realise that it is displaying classic danger signs, which my friends and I have seen in several other nascent campaigns. Anyone who thinks that ORG is best served in the nauseatingly corporatist gushing that we saw in the meeting and subsequent retorts is deluded. Lewd comments by fanboys about “enticing ladies” do not bode well. A dismissal of Mr Levine’s pointed question about what comes after the press releases does not bode well. An organisation which thinks that Management Consultants are Big and Clever does not bode well. An organisation that wants to receive 5k a month, and yet cannot run a decent website does not bode well (a higgledypiggledy “blog” using the default template doth not a decent campaign website make). Lots of geeks and numeedjas are, no doubt, too excited by the fact that something is being done to realise that not all “somethings” are equal.

Another fallacy to be sliced into a thousand pieces and buried under the nearest patio is of the “If It’s So Bad, Why Don’t You Do It Yourself?” variety. Well, I have done it “myself” in the past, thanks; however, even if I were the laziest armchair punditing sod in the world, that in itself would not invalidate my criticisms or arguments. These arguments must be bolstered or shot down by logical analysis alone. The “Why Don’t You” idiocy can be illustrated quite simply:
“I don’t like Hitler”
“Well, if you can do better, why not take over a country and run it yourself!”

As it happens, I am ready to put my money where my mouth is. My company is quite willing to support and fund an organisation that truly has a hope. I would realistically have been happy to sign a company cheque doubling ORG’s monthly budget at a stroke, had I thought it had a chance of spending that money wisely. I would have been able to provide a full litany of lawyers prepared to work pro-bono, had I felt they wouldn’t have had their time wasted. I don’t say this in some empty branch-dragging cockery, but as a serious indication of how I genuinely would react to an organisation I felt had the remotest chance of anything other than counterproductive tinkering. I, and those who remain unconvinced, but do not write smarmy reports, will not find ORG the least bit convincing. Sorry ORG, but you, like the AFFS and others before you, just don’t seem to have it in you. To quote Larry Lessig, you’re in a battle with all the money and power in the world. You don’t fight that with press releases and Getting Your MEPs on Board. But, hell, I could be utterly, totally wrong. That would be a truly pleasant outcome. It would, without irony, delight me. Oh, despite it all, you’re probably worth a fiver a month bet. But only when you can at least get your arse in gear at least to receive credit card payments online, as we in CUT were able to do eight years ago.

7 thoughts on “Fallacies Ahoy!

  1. Unlobotomised: have you read the final sentence? Your “website” is a disgrace? Do you need hosting on your own server? I can get it to you for free, if you wish – anything to help it out of its currently disgraceful state.

  2. Yes, the website is a disgrace considering the original pledge has been up set up since the summer, and ORG are looking for around £60,000. WTF has been going on over the last few months before the first meeting?

    This fact alone shows that while the heart may be in the right place (and I am not convinced about that yet) execution needs to be improved. There are a lot of people with technical skills who are able to contribute to setting up the infrastructure of an organisation fighting in their interests. And for free.

    You should be offering your help to ORG. Not me. I only turned up at the meeting. I am not a board member. I have not contributed funds. Why you would think that I am in anyway responsible for ORG or it’s web-site is beyond me. Oh well. Let the banter continue.

  3. In the absence of any statement from anybody in a position of ‘authority’ that ORG is going to do anything at all, we must assume that it intends to remain a flaccid talking shop.

    Mailer, I and Levine would be happy to be “digital rights extremist” rent-a-quotes, if that would be of help to ORG.

    Rather than the vapid “media hub” outpourings of Sue and her flappy ilk, we’d be happy to give people something meaty to chew on.

  4. I left a comment on their blog:


    Comments on the site, not the above post:

    As someone with an amatuerish interest in these issues, and given that ORG’s stated aim is to “raise awareness” of DRM I’m disappointed to see a blog but no kind of “For Dummies” style guide to the issues. Has any thought been given to the idea of a simple guide to how DRM effects a person who isn’t technically savvy?

    I’ve written For Dummies style guides in previous office jobs “How To Use the Accounts System” etc. I might be willing to take something of that nature on for a derisory payment. I’d be happy to produce the beginnings for free and put it before your organisation for review and you can see if you’d wish me to pursue it.

    On other site issues: Although, since you’re a single issue pressure group, it’s going to be hard to categorise your posts clearly I still think having “uncategorised” / “stuff” AND “entirely frivolous” is rather off-putting and lazy.

    Mission statement: Light grey on white? Have a thought for visitors with impaired sight.

    Full disclosure: I’m personal friends with the troublesome Nick Mailer and Martin Coxall (I assure you he rubs ME up the wrong way far more than he rubs you), they of the Trotskyite wing of the Soho launch.

    (Way to talk yourself out of a small commission, Bod… I always back the wrong horse).

  5. Does the NHS analogy make more sense if you consider that most people consider media companies a good thing; that they quite like them and understand their need to make money to fund new bands etc. But they do not wish them to overstep the mark in DRM issues?

  6. I can’t speak for Danny O’ Brien, but if I understood his comment correctly I believe the NHS analogy (which I don’t necessarily endorse) was supposed to work thus:

    ORG and the NHS are both deeply flawed and imperfect institutions, but they’re staffed by people attempting to do some good in the face of substantial obstacles and opposition. You may consider them naive and misguided, but to turn up and give them stick for trying is a wanker’s game.

    This is, of course, just my interpretation of Mr O’ Brien’s comment, and I may not be representing his views accurately.

    If he really was seeking to compare ORG to the NHS, then I’d say he and his ORG colleagues are suffering from delusions of grandeur. Chances are it wasn’t intended as a serious comparison though.

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