Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Arguments that annoy me, mandarin edition

I've started studying mandarin again.  As part of this, I've been encouraged to write my normal type of writing and translate it into mandarin.  The original English post is reproduced first, followed by the translation.  To aid my studying, I've bolded words that are new to me.  I originally wrote this post in February of this year, link here.

I love debate.  Once upon a time, I liked competitive debate, too, and thought that I liked pounding other people's arguments into the dust.  However, as time went on I realized that what I enjoyed was not winning per se, but having conversations with intelligent people.  People with poor argumentation and poor logic not only made for poor debate, but simply annoyed me.

To this day, there are few things that annoy me more.  So I'm going to blog about them. Hah.

1.  "It is better to be consistent than correct"

Hypocrisy is an irrelevant ad hominem, but I see this all the time.  Essentially, someone argues that because person/country/organization A has done something before, but subsequently advocates against it, the argument is invalid.  A is hypocritical!  Common examples:

  • The US has violated someone's sovereignty before, therefore its advocacy against a violation of other people's sovereignty is invalid.
  • <insert political party here> did something in the past, therefore its current stand against the practice is invalid.
  • You once believed this, but now you've flip-flopped and your argument is weaker because of it.
I could go on and on.  This is a poor argument.  Accusations of hypocrisy are often valid, but the only thing that they should do is cast aspersions on the character of the advocating party - they never have any relevance to an argument itself, unless that argument is about a person or organization's character.

When presented in simple terms as above, it's easy to spot how fallacious an accusation of hypocrisy is.  I more frequently see it presented in forms more difficult to recognize.  For example, if I were to hypothetically accuse the Republican party of being obstinate in their use of the filibuster in the Senate of the US, I might receive the following reply:
"But when the Democrats were in the minority during the Bush years, they also heavily used the filibuster and justified it by claiming that they were doing the job of the minority in protecting their interests, and you didn't complain then!"
Sound familiar?  Doesn't address the issue at hand, doesn't address anything but the parties to the argument (the Democrats and the proposer), allegation of hypocrisy.  While pointing out how hypocritical a group or person is might cast aspersions on their character, it has zero to do with the argument.  Instead, it's a statement that amounts to "it is better to be consistent than correct," or, alternatively, "consistency is a prerequisite for having a valid argument."

Top places I see that argument:
  • Anti-colonial related rants
  • Chinese uberpatriots
  • American political debate 



1. "一致正确好“

  • 美国侵犯过外国的主权,所以美国的论据反对别的国家的侵犯主权行为就无效了。
  • 什么政党以前的行为象他门现在的反对,所以他们的反对就无效了。
  • 你以前相信这个论据,但是你推翻了你的决定,所以你现在的论据更无效。

  • 殖民注意咆哮
  • 中国五毛咆哮
  • 美国政治了解

Friday, October 11, 2013

A small incident (Translation)

I've started studying mandarin again.  As part of that, I am systematically reading through a book of short stories by one of China's grandmasters of literature, Lu Xun (鲁迅), who lived during early revolutionary China. To aid my study, each story I go through I'm going to post here and then try to translate it as best I canThe original text is below, the translation is presented first.

"A small incident" - Lu Xun, July 1920

The six years from when I moved from my home town to the capital have passed in the blink of an eye.  Over this time, I've heard that our so-called country has had not a few milestones; but in my heart, none of them have left any impression, and if I try to search for what I have of these events, it only increases my discontent - truthfully, it makes me to look down on people more and more each day.

But there was one small incident that for me has significance, dragging me out of my discontent, that until now I have been unable to forget.

This was in the country's sixth year's [1917] winter, with the North wind blowing hard, when for work I had no choice but to commute in the mornings.  When I started my commute there were almost no people to be seen, so it was easy to find a rickshaw, telling the driver to go to the S Gate [one of Beijing's gates].  It didn't take long for the North wind to die down and the dust on the road to clear, leaving a spotless white path, letting the rickshaw puller go faster.  Just before the S Gate, suddenly on the rickshaw's axle there was a person, who slowly fell down.

The fallen person was a woman, with grizzled hair, and very ragged clothes.  She had abruptly turned from the street and cut in front of us; despite the rickshaw puller giving her right of way, the woman's jacket hadn't been buttoned, and a gust of wind had caused it to open and finally wrap around the rickshaw axle.  Luckily, the rickshaw puller had slowed down, or else the woman would have been caught and overturned, her head struck and bleeding.

She lay on the ground; the rickshaw puller put down the handles.  I judged that this old woman wasn't hurt, and no one saw it, so I thought the stop was strange, and that he was asking for trouble and delaying my trip.

He said to her:
"Are you alright?"
"Something's broken."

I thought, I saw you fall slowly to the ground, how is it that she could have broken something, she's malingering, how reprehensible.  The he's meddlesome and asking for trouble, getting his own ideas about walking around.

The rickshaw puller, upon hearing the old woman's words, did not hesitate for a moment, suddenly supporting the woman by her arm and walking forward step by step.  I was a little astonished, forgetting to look forward to see a police station in front of us, upwind, with no one outside.  The rickshaw puller was supporting the old woman as they made their way towards the big door.

In that moment I suddenly felt an unusual feeling, like the impression in the dust from the rickshaw puller became taller, or perhaps grew ever larger, so that I had to crane my neck to see it.  Or maybe he gradually became more powerful, even as I felt my petty concerns being squeezed from underneath my leather jacket.

My life's urgent pace slowed down, sitting there without moving, without thinking, until I got off when a police patrolman approached the rickshaw.

The policeman said, "You should book another rickshaw, he won't be pulling you."

Without thinking, I pulled a roll of coins from my jacket, giving it to the policeman, saying "Please give this to him..."

The wind died down, the street was still very clean.  I walked, lost in thought, almost scared of my introspection.  With everything else in my life temporarily set aside, I asked myself, what was the meaning of that roll of coins?  To reward him? Could I still judge the rickshaw driver?  I couldn't bear to reply to myself.

To this day that incident is one I frequently remember.  I therefore always remember to put aside my pain, to strive to think about myself.  These past few years' cultural forces, like the classical aphorisms I memorized at a young age, have so faded from my memory that I can't even half recite them.  Only this small incident, which hovers just in front of my eyes, sometimes even more clearly, has taught me to be ashamed, urged me to reform, and renewed my courage and hope.

Professional Translation linked here


一件小事 - 鲁迅 July 1920


Monday, October 7, 2013

On the concurrent majority and the Westminster system

With the recent US government shutdown, there has been a lot of talk on the nature of majority rule and the way our system works in comparison to others.  I want to go over some of the things I've been hearing and my thoughts on them.