The trouble with binary thinking, illustrated

This actually appeared on the Fox News website last month. See a problem?

It’s the same problem exhibited by commenter “Suzie Q” here:

Someone who hates [sic] republicans isn’t a democrat?

It’s tempting to just laugh at stuff like this (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t). But clearly, there are people who actually conduct their lives on the basis of this kind of “logic,” and some of them participate in our democratic process. Here’s the thought process that led to this howler, broken into its simple-minded steps:

Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals;
Protesting military funerals (or anything military) = BAD;
BAD = ‘Left-Wing,’ ‘democrat’;
Therefore: Westboro Baptist Church = ‘Left-Wing,’ ‘democrat.’

It’s perfectly logical, if you happen to be stupid, or find the stupidity of others useful in achieving your ends. (Detractors: You may now commence loudly complaining that I am an “elitist” and “intolerant” of others’ “worldviews,” bypassing the need to address the inconvenient fact that the thought process illustrated above is real and leads to conclusions that are materially false.)

What Westboro Baptist Church has created is actually a variant of the fundraising mechanism used by fraudster Eugene Delgaudio. Instead of raising money directly from ignorant targets, whose numbers are waning, the WBC model is to incite violations of its own First Amendment rights. The more outrageous and offensive its behavior, the more its leaders can rake in via “damages.” WBC has been effectively neutralized using the technique of the Phelps-a-thon. Binary thinking (and its cynical exploitation) can only be neutralized using education.

18 thoughts on “The trouble with binary thinking, illustrated

  1. Barbara Munsey

    David, as I commented to Liz on FB when she shared this (back when it happened?) calling Phelps a Democrat is an easy “mistake” to make, since every time he has run for office it has been filed as a D (most recently in the Kansas D primary for gov, I believe 1998 or 9).

  2. Epluribusunum Post author

    If there’s any truth to this, it’s a very interesting data point vis-a-vis what we are discovering about your troubled Mr. Delgaudio. It also means that, if they are consistent, Fox “News” refers to Public Advocate USA as a “Left-Wing group.” Do they?

  3. Barbara Munsey

    http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/08/05/kansas.results/

    Here are the Kansas primary results per CNN (a reliable source? I DO hope so!) for 1998 showing that Fred Phelps (D), a minister aged 68 from Topeka, received 14.7% of the vote out of the two filed as D in the race.

    So I’d say there’s some truth to it. Kind of like the UK press covering the courthouse issue last year listing Jonathan as a member of Rick Wingrove’s atheist group because you’re both on the members page of their meetup listserve.

    That’s not “binary” thinking, it’s sourced.

    Are you providing an example of binary thinking by calling Delgaudio “mine”? Like you, I don’t vote in Sterling, and like you, I don’t belong to the LCRC.

    I don’t know how Fox refers to Public Advocate, and do not consider myself a source on that, as I do not work for them. More “binary” thinking?

  4. A.E. Gnat

    Silly David, you have it backwards. Barbara is Eugene’s, not the other way around.

    I was going to provide links to a few of her comments so I, too, could write, “That’s not binary thinking, it’s sourced,” (that would have been clever, no?) but Goddess knows we’ve all seen enough of them to know.

  5. Epluribusunum Post author

    What an odd story. Thank you for sharing. Do you suppose that the Kansas Democratic Party was as powerless and inept in the mid-90′s as the party is now in Tennessee? I don’t suppose you’d consider yourself a knowledgeable source on Kansas primary procedures, either. Oh, well.

    It also seems that Phelps supported Al Gore in 1988, supposedly on the basis of Gore’s anti-gay statements during his 1984 Senate campaign (although, unfortunately, the only sources I can find for this information are things like “World Net Daily,” and you know how they are). This was around the same time that he (Phelps) started spinning fantastical stories about “homosexuals” trying to recruit his children – very much like your friend Mr. Delgaudio does (magisterial district and/or LCRC membership being irrelevant to your consistent defense of his behavior). He also seems to harbor intense venom for the Bush and Cheney families, although it’s a little hard to differentiate – as I’m sure you know, there’s something of a ceiling effect with Mr. Phelps where venom is concerned. Even Conservapedia isn’t nutty enough to refer to his group as “Left-Wing,” though. Their preferred term is “far right,” although one of their sources allows as how “Phelps is probably more appropriately described in psychiatric than political terms.” Probably quite true.

    Do you understand what I mean by binary thinking? I thought that the “Suzie Q” example was quite clear. As you can see, however, from the Fred Phelps example, reality is rarely as simple as “if someone isn’t A, they must be B.”

  6. Epluribusunum Post author

    I don’t work for him either.

    Understand how carefully these words are chosen. “Work” in this context could be construed as a very specific condition of employment, for example. Not to worry, Barbara. That’s not what you’re being accused of (my, but that would be a scandal, wouldn’t it?) No, the behavior we have all observed is just your public defense of and rationalizations for the indefensible behavior of an established hate group director. Nobody suggested it was anything illegal. No need for you to be nervous.

  7. Barbara Munsey

    David, ascribing nervousness is right up there with viewing failure to enthusiasticlly support your views as enthusiastic defense of the opposite.

    As we’ve discussed many times before, absence of a negative does not prove a positive.

    Except perhaps in binary asteroid land.

    I don’t know why he files as a Dem every time he has run for something. maybe that is how he sees himself?

    I think you’d get a lot more lileage out of disputing Westboro as a left wing group (which does not make him a de facto right wing one either–I think he and his family are their own little asteroid, and may even see themselves as “reality based”, if they consider their world all-encompassing. A common failing among ideologues, at least IMO)

    But your own progressions from “protest military” to “must be dems” simply shows your own prejudices. Phelps ran in multiple races on the D ticket, so there’s more gounds to at least say that he has identified as one than that that makes him a “left winger”.

    Whether Democrats consider him a good example of the party, or claim him as part of it is another story altogether–and I don’t think either party is on line to claim him.

  8. Epluribusunum Post author

    There are no absences with regard to your consistant defense of Mr. Delgaudio, so whatever you’re going on about is a non-issue.

    I hope you had a nice Christmas and New Year’s celebration.

  9. A.E. Gnat

    Ewww, David.

    Thanks for the visual. Good luck getting *that* out of my head. Not you, btw, Barbara, Eugene.

  10. Barbara Munsey

    Thanks, aeg, and yes David it was a nice holiday–Christmas eve at my inlaws had four generations at the table; I think that was the best gift my MIL could have had: 3 of her 4 children, 5 of 8 grandchildren, and 2 of 5 great grands, all together sharing traditional foods from family recipes going back to generations now gone.

    “What I’m accused of”–yes, I understand, and already referenced it (confirmed in your continuing contention that failure to get on your bandwagon is “defense” of your foe.)

    Reread, going back to your original post: your own contention that “Here’s the thought process that led to this howler, broken into its simple-minded steps:

    Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals;
    Protesting military funerals (or anything military) = BAD;
    BAD = ‘Left-Wing,’ ‘democrat’;
    Therefore: Westboro Baptist Church = ‘Left-Wing,’ ‘democrat.’”

    Your own assumption that everything Fox News says is wrong allows for you to fail to check that Phelps has run in numerous political races filed as a Democrat over a period of years, which opens the door to call him one. The state of Kansas allowed that, by accepting his filing and tracking his results.

    That is what I responded to, with a source, and not the Underwear Gnome contentions about SuzyQ’s thought processes (as mapped incontrovertibly by you) or a connection to Delgaudio.

    It makes for useful memes, I understand. And this is your asteroid after all.

    It also illustrates the next part of your original post: “It’s perfectly logical, if you happen to be stupid, or find the stupidity of others useful in achieving your ends.”

    I don’t think you’re stupid–far from it. But you employ the same techniques you project onto Fox here, and seem to be relying on others who share your biases to swallow them whole, loose associations and all, simply because of the label pasted onto the meme.

    I too hope your holidays were happy.

  11. Greta

    Is Fred Phelps a “democrat” like Lyndon LaRouche is a “democrat?”

    I guess Barbara Munsey just can’t quit you.

  12. Barbara Munsey

    Greta, read back. I note that the only reason someone could say he is is because he ran as one, and go on to say that I don’t think either party is in any hurry to claim him, because I agree he’s nuts.

    I’ve no doubt I’ll quit for good if and when David modifies his habit of pronouncing as incontrovertible (and moral!) fact his fanciful (and binary) opinions.

  13. Epluribusunum Post author

    So you admit that Phelps isn’t really a Democrat, just as LaRouche (the guy with the Hitler-mustache-on-Obama posters) isn’t really a Democrat, and the Fox “News” identification is pairing the term with “Left-Wing” to make a rather deliberate misrepresentation. Kind of like the video they posted of “demonstrations in Wisconsin” that had palm trees in it. Very good. People can call themselves anything they like, can’t they? See “or find the stupidity of others useful in achieving your ends.”

    I do thank you for engaging in this foray into the history of WBC, though. I’ve learned that the comparison, made by Delgaudio’s own attorneys, between WBC and Public Advocate USA may run deeper than I had realized, and that’s very useful information. It sheds more light on where he got the idea for the running-as-a-Democrat scam.

    And you’ll be able to quit me (lol, Greta) if and when I only say things of which you approve, or shut up entirely? Fantastic. The irony just continues to elude you, doesn’t it?

  14. Barbara Munsey

    David, again with the rewritten pronouncements–lol back at you.

    I’ve no idea if Phelps is a “real” Democrat. I’m not a Democrat, so why would I be an authority?

    Linking him with LaRouche is entirely your construct as well–I didn’t.

    Wisconin and palm trees? I said that had something to do with Phelps’ record of running for office on the Democratic ticket? no.

    The editorializing of “left wing”, as I said, is probably more easy to successfully dispute than the rest of the melange you’ve stuck together, but if you actually go to your link on Fox News, it is itself a link–to a blog. Not a hard news source. So, attack Fox for linking a blog that editorializes left wing, and I’ll agree that what you’re linking is not a primary news source and thus has flaws. The fact remains, Phelps has run, and been allowed to run, as a Democrat. Take it up with whoever was running the Democratic party in Kansas ten years ago, maybe? Might be an instructive history lesson.

    As for only saying things of which you approve, or “shut up”? Yes, seems to be your standard MO, which is why I don’t do either. Carry on! :D

  15. Greta

    Barbara, you’re the one who said “the only reason someone could say he is is because he ran as one.”

    I’m the one who brought up LaRouche, because he also claims he’s a Democrat and I think ran as one. My point was what Epluribusunum said, that anybody can call themselves anything, and anyone who believes that either of those men are endorsed by the democratic party must be stupid. That’s what Fox implied and that’s dishonest. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Off-topic, but why are you calling Epluribusunum David? You must have a history or whatever, but it’s confusing to other readers. I don’t know who else you call by a dfferent name and I’d appreciate the courtesy of addressing people with the names they use themselves. I think that is the standard practice.

  16. Barbara Munsey

    Yes, I understand that Greta. Again, read back.

    You may have brought up LaRouche, but David reiterated it with a demand to me, and that’s what I was responding to.

    To your point, yes, anyone can call themselves whatever they want (short of identity theft, I guess), but as for being endorsed by the party, maybe the filing that allows someone to run as whatever they want is something the party would like to clear up? According to the ballots the years he ran, he was a Democrat in the election.

    As for history, I don’t think calling David by his name is disrespectful–it certainly isn’t intended to be, and it is how I have always addressed him here and elsewhere. If he wishes me to stick to his handle, I’ll be happy to comply. (unless you are a new mod I haven’t–virtually–met yet?)

  17. Epluribusunum Post author

    ..if you actually go to your link on Fox News, it is itself a link–to a blog. Not a hard news source.

    Yes, and I can totally understand why you’re pointing this out. It is not a hard news source, only the Fox “news” blog, and therefore can be forgiven for having flaws. Flaws like saying things that aren’t true. Ok.

    In other news, did you know that the vice president of “Public Advocate” “ran as a Democrat”? It’s all the rage, I hear.

Comments are closed.