Dark Arts 101: Using presuppositions

post by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-27T17:16:10.541Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 87 comments

Sun Tzu said, "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."  This is also true in rhetoric.  The best way to get a belief accepted is to fool people into thinking that they have already accepted it.

(Note, first-year students, that I did not say, "The best way to convince people of a belief".  Do not try to convince people!  It will not work; and it may start them thinking.)

An excellent way of doing this is to embed your desired conclusion as a presupposition to an enticing argument.  If you are debating abortion, and you wish people to believe that human and non-human life are qualitatively different, begin by saying, "We all agree that killing humans is immoral.  So when does human life begin?"  People will be so eager to jump into the debate about whether a life becomes "human" at conception, the second trimester, or at birth (I myself favor "on moving out of the house"), they won't notice that they agreed to the embedded presupposition that the problem should be phrased as a binary category membership problem, rather than as one of tradeoffs or utility calculations.

Consider the recent furor over whether WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange is a journalist, or can be prosecuted for espionage.  I don't know who initially asked this question.  The earliest posing of the question that I can find that relates it to the First Amendment is this piece from Fox News on Dec. 8; but Marc Thiessen's column in the Washington Post of Aug. 3 has similar implications.  Note that this question presupposes that First Amendment protection applies only to journalists!  There is no legal precedent for this that I'm aware of; yet if people spend enough time debating whether Julian Assange is a journalist, they will have unknowingly convinced themselves that ordinary citizens have no First Amendment rights.  (We can only hope that this was an artful stroke made from the shadows by some great master of the Dark Arts, and not a mere snowballing of an ignorant question.)


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-12-27T17:58:03.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no legal precedent for this that I'm aware of

There's plenty of legal precedent giving special protections to journalists, on matters like naming sources and Fourth Amendment rights. When the Gizmodo reporter's house was searched after the iPhone 4 leak, there was a similar discussion of the legal protections that would have applied if Gizmodo were a newspaper or print magazine, and whether the reporter was entitled to them.

Yeah, it's an outdated historical legacy with a boundary that's no longer clear, but it is relevant within the current legal system.

Replies from: Costanza
comment by Costanza · 2010-12-27T20:14:32.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's what I take to be a good introduction to the so-called "Reporters' Privilege" here . The reference to Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972) is a key point.

I'd hesitate to say that there isn't at least an arguable legal precedent for just about any comprehensible assertion at all.

P.S. I would also hesitate to trust reporters to be unbiased in their assertions about the protections of the "Reporter's Privilege."

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-27T23:38:27.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks - but note that reporters' privilege isn't at issue in the Assange case.

Replies from: Costanza
comment by Costanza · 2010-12-28T00:13:21.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First: I basically agree. The media and the commentators are spinning the coverage out of control. Your original post makes an excellent point about how rhetoric is used, and I don't disagree.

(For those of you who don't care about technical points of legal reasoning, there's no reason to go on further. That should be most of you. If you're hesitating, then just move on.)

Second: The Assange case (by this, I mean a putative American espionage-related case) has not yet started, let alone exhausted its hypothetical appeals. The questions at issue are whatever issues that may be raised by any of the trial lawyers, any appellate lawyers that there may be, any issues raised by "friends of the court" that any of the relevant courts choose to recognize, and any issues that any of the relevant courts choose to address on their own.

This could potentially include a lot of issues.

Many of those issues may seem really, really stoooopid at first glance. But the judiciary has the authority to make them effective. The judiciary does do this type of thing all the time. If you asked me, personally, I'd say the first amendment did not contain any such thing as a "reporters' privilege" when ratified. But my merely personal opinion doesn't matter. What matters is what lawyers can convince a judge of. That judge then issues a new opinion, "interpreting" the prior precedents. Next, other lawyers, and other judges "interpret" the law in light that opinion, and so on, ad infinitum.

This is the nature of the law that governs all of us who live in a common-law (English-based) system. I understand that analogous mechanisms apply under the Roman-based systems.

comment by darius · 2010-12-28T12:32:36.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About this article's tags: you want dark_arts, judging by the tags in the sidebar. The 'arts' tag links to posts about fiction, etc.

ObDarkArts101: Here's a course that could actually have been titled that:

Writing Persuasion (Spring 2011) A course in persuasive techniques that do not rely on overt arguments. It would not be entirely inaccurate to call this a course in the theory, practice, and critique of sophistry. We will explore how putatively neutral narratives may be inflected to advance a (sometimes unstated) position; how writing can exploit readers' cognitive biases; how a writer's persona on the page -- what Aristotle might call her ethos -- may be constructed to influence her readers.

Replies from: orthonormal
comment by orthonormal · 2010-12-30T05:14:53.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


...Half the writing assignments will put into practice persuasive techniques such as these. The other half will analyze course readings (by Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, George Orwell, and others) debating whether persuasion -- in the strong sense of actually changing a reader's mind -- is possible.

On the first day, they teach you how to quote selectively...

comment by [deleted] · 2010-12-30T04:01:33.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This tactic is related to the well-known abuse termed "loaded questioning." The difference is that you describe a presupposition embedded in an enticement, whereas the "loaded question" puts the presupposition in a threat. Enticement tricks the 2nd party into accepting the presupposition; threat tricks a third party (via the "fundamental error of attribution," entailing discounting the situation and augmenting the influence of the actor) into accepting that the second party accepts the presupposition.

Embedding the presupposition in a threat doesn't work to get the 2nd party to accept the presupposition; embedding the presupposition in an enticement does. This is because threat, (in construal-level theory) induces "near" thinking; enticement induces "far" thinking—DISembedding being a "near" operation. So, this dark tactic works best when the persuader induces a "far" mentality by other means, too.

comment by peuddO · 2011-01-01T05:43:08.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find that Lesswrong yields interesting subjects for study, as well as useful insights pertaining to said subjects, both in the articles themselves and in the attached comments.

However, because of the website format, I have a tendency to succumb to Chronic Internet Distraction Disease while browsing here. To solve this problem, I would like to devise a way to transfer articles and their associated commentary from Lesswrong to my hard drive, where I can read them without the tantalizing proximity of embedded hyperlinks.

The articles themselves can be copy-pasted, but I can think of no good way to handle the issue of translating threaded comments. When I try to copy these directly, my word processor tells me to stick a finger up my nose, because producing smart looks evidently ain't in my nature.

Informed suggestions and clever solutions will be appreciated.

Replies from: BillyOblivion, wedrifid, peuddO, Document, slikts
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-01-01T11:13:17.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I use Evernote for stuff I want to save for later perusal.

As for getting distracted and following hyperlinks, you're at a computer, you're connected to the internet. Enter the role of "self discipline".

If that doesn't work you can look under (with Firefox) "File" and find the "print" entry. This will instantiate a persistent, highly portable copy of the page in such a way as to make it almost impossible to follow the links. You can then carry the copy to a place away from distractions (aka "The smallest room in the house") and spend as much time as you need. If you have the right kind if paper in the printer you can even use it to clean up when you're done.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-01T06:14:17.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The articles themselves can be copy-pasted, but I can think of no good way to handle the issue of translating threaded comments. When I try to copy these directly, my word processor tells me to stick a finger up my nose, because producing smart looks evidently ain't in my nature.

The "Save Webpage As" feature will perhaps be a better solution copy and paste, although you will still not save comments that are nested more than half a dozen or so deep (not that this is usually a problem). That allows you to read in offline mode allowing you to disconnect the net connection.

If you explicitly want to not have visible hyperlinks to click on then you have a few options to be rid of them:

  • Open the saved webpage in Word, select all and strip hyperlinks. I believe the shortcut key is cntrl-shift-F9.
  • Run the saved pages through a regex substitution. In vim that would mean typing :s/\<a /<a style="display: none" /g. On a linux command line that would mean running sed 's/\<a /<a style="display: none" /g' foo.html> foo2.html.
  • Download that lesswrong kibotzer script that was posted around here a year or so ago. Add one line in the appropriate place so that it hides other links as well as authors.

(None of the above are tested. I don't happen to have any of those pieces of software installed on this machine and would have to walk all the way to the next room to try it. I'm not sure if there is interest to warrant it but those would be my approaches.)

comment by peuddO · 2011-01-01T14:35:36.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the help. I'll see what works best for me.

comment by Document · 2011-05-06T03:36:10.998Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had some success reading websites on an Amazon Kindle. It doesn't disable links, but it takes several clicks to select and open one and you can only have one page open a a time. (Reading footnotes is a bit of a pain, though.) There may be other ebook readers or tablets that work similarly or better.

comment by slikts · 2011-01-11T11:15:42.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can use a simple bookmarklet to make links on LW non-functional, e.g.:


To use this you would just set up a bookmark with the code as the address and click on it while LW is open.

Edit: A cross-site version of the bookmarklet would look like this:

javascript:(function(){var x=document.getElementsByTagName('a');for(var i=0,n=x.length;i<n;i++)x[i].setAttribute('href','#');})();

comment by imonroe · 2010-12-30T16:30:28.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding "whether WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange is a journalist, or can be prosecuted for espionage..."

Turns out there are different kinds of legal protections for journalists -- shield laws, for instance, which protect a journalist from having to reveal an anonymous source -- which don't apply to "non-journalists", whatever that might be in a world with twitter, blogs, etc. A private citizen emailing secret documents to someone without proper clearance can be prosecuted for it; a journalist publishing classified documents that were passed to her cannot be prosecuted.

So the question should be something more like, "Should Julian Assange be afforded the same legal protections as a journalist, or is he something other than that, to which such protections do not apply."

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-21T21:31:13.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A private citizen emailing secret documents to someone without proper clearance can be prosecuted for it; a journalist publishing classified documents that were passed to her cannot be prosecuted.

No, shield laws, both existing and proposed, are only about sources and offer no protection for publishing classified information. They might offer protection from admitting that you have classified information. Also, most classified information is at the federal level and there isn't a federal shield law, so this is all hypothetical.

comment by DSimon · 2010-12-30T14:48:40.355Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also known as stealth Begging The Question.

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-30T15:04:14.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't know that was the original meaning of that phrase.

Wikipedia has pages on begging the question, and on circular reasoning. Each of them says they are different from each other; but both of them are given nearly the same definition. So what's the difference?

Replies from: DSimon
comment by DSimon · 2010-12-30T18:08:37.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

AIUI, in begging the question a questionable proposition is slipped under the radar by putting it in the premise of some other argument. In circular reasoning, the silliness is taken a step farther, by using the conclusion of an argument to support its own buried premise.

T-Rex seems to disagree, though; the way he defines it, it's only begging the question if the thing being proven is itself in the premises, whereas I use Wikipedia's broader definition of "when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof."

Assume as an axiom that being always friggin' awesome implies being a pretty sweet dude, and also that the stated premises of the arguments are true:

Example 1: Premise: No one ever questions T-Rex's perpetual friggin' awesomeness. Conclusion: Therefore, we know that he's a pretty sweet dude.

Problem: Begging the question. There is an unspoken premise that T-Rex is always friggin' awesome. If the argument stated outright that "because nobody questions T-Rex's perpetual friggin' awesomeness, therefore he's always friggin' awesome", the flaw would be obvious. So it leaves this premise unsaid.

Example 2: Premise: No one ever questions T-Rex's perpetual friggin' awesomeness, and he's also a pretty sweet dude. Conclusion: T-Rex is always friggin' awesome.

Problem: Circular reasoning. The argument requires that being a pretty sweet dude implies being always friggin' awesome, which isn't the case. It tries to hide this problem by begging its own conclusion.

Note that even if it were the case that being a pretty sweet dude implies being always friggin' awesome, the argument would still be kind of broken: the unquestioned friggin' awesomeness is unnecessary. Unneeded premises are a sign of an argument that's not well thought out.

comment by Raw_Power · 2011-07-11T14:01:31.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But... Assange is not a US citizen, so why should he be protected by their constitution??? Or is there a clause that extends the same civilities to foreigners?

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2013-09-21T21:09:14.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rights guaranteed by the US Constitution -- with a few exceptions, such as the right to vote -- have generally been held to apply to everyone under American jurisdiction, not just to citizens. Though Assange is not a US citizen and lives outside the United States, First Amendment protections would in theory apply if the US government attempted to prosecute him under its laws, e.g. following an extradition request.

comment by Divide · 2011-01-03T16:34:45.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We can only hope that this was an artful stroke made from the shadows by some great master of the Dark Arts, and not a mere snowballing of an ignorant question.

Actually, I'd hope quite the opposite. Perhaps it'd be a sad conclusion, but yours strikes me as potentially more dangerous.

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2012-03-21T22:56:35.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was adopting the persona of a Dark Arts instructor.

comment by icebrand · 2011-01-02T20:00:46.945Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For a potentially positive version of this, see my blog. I deliberately assume that the reader is an advocate of cryonics, despite an awareness that some (most?) potential readers are not already interested in advocating cryonics. My working assumption is that this will influence a substantial portion of fence-sitters to define themselves as cryonics advocates in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance -- more so than e.g. directly arguing that people should become cryonics advocates.

I wouldn't be doing this if I thought people are likely to become cryonics advocates by rational processes or that being a cryonics advocate is irrational. Rather I see it as a form of defense against the dark arts previously being employed in favor of the status quo (i.e. ignorance and apathy on the subject). I wouldn't want to see this sort of thing become the Less Wrong norm though, as it would confuse people. Less Wrong is an environment in which Dark Arts are combated routinely and directly, indeed doing so is its primary focus.

But to abstain from the dark arts in my little advocacy blog would require shifting the focus to epistemic rationality itself and losing most of the potential audience, who would find it boring and uncompelling. From an instrumentally rational perspective it just does not make sense in the situation. Fighting fire with fire (or ice with fire, if we want to improve the metaphor) makes more sense.

Replies from: orthonormal
comment by orthonormal · 2011-01-02T20:48:54.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'd never make it in Slytherin, sorry.

To expand: your blog is what happens when a non-neurotypical person reads about a subtle trick routinely done by smart neurotypicals, then tries to emulate the trick as they consciously understand it. It doesn't come across as natural, and only hurts your cause (it's way too easy to make fun of; what it most reminds me of is the style of Stuff White People Like, and I don't think that's the tone you were aiming for).

Unless you've had substantial practice with marketing or politics, you're better off telling it straight than consciously intending to manipulate people's biases (again, aside from the ethical issues involved).

Replies from: topynate, icebrand
comment by topynate · 2011-01-02T21:15:26.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really not that subtle a trick. If it sounds unnatural it may be more a consequence of a lack of practice in persuasive writing generally (in which case, bravo for practising, icebrand!) than of special brain chemistry that irreparably cripples and nerdifies you if you try anything socially 'fancy'.

Replies from: icebrand, icebrand
comment by icebrand · 2011-01-02T23:02:49.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn't thought of it specifically in terms of persuasive writing. But that's essentially what I want to do; persuade cryonics advocates to take more action, and persuade fence-sitters to become advocates. Perhaps reading some formal persuasive writing literature would be instructive to getting a more natural feel. But as you say it is likely to be more a matter of practice. My normal style is more explanatory than persuasive.

comment by icebrand · 2011-01-02T21:37:55.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess my trouble is I don't have much practice with this particular kind of writing where I'm being selective about relating just the details (and context) that will get the result I want. I'm normally very good at explaining exactly what's on my mind, i.e. communicating when the result I'm shooting for is solely conveying my point, and perhaps winning the argument. In this case the desired result is to define the argument "properly" to begin with.

There is certainly a part of my mind that keeps whispering "you'll never make it in Slytherin..." whenever I try stuff like this. I'm trying to ignore it and see what happens. If it's really just a practice issue it should clear up eventually.

comment by icebrand · 2011-01-02T21:02:16.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know of other examples where this approach has been attempted and backfired? There's plenty of literature for cryonicists which tells it straight, I'm not convinced that more of the same will accomplish more.

Note: In case anyone's wondering, I'm not actually attempting anything deceptive.

comment by gmweinberg · 2010-12-28T19:20:58.008Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't yet seem anyone assert that the First Amendment should only apply to journalists. I occasionally see implications that members of accredited news organizations should enjoy immunity from prosecution for espionage, libel, etc. but that's not quite the same thing. If you mean to imply that the existence of espionage laws is a clear violation of the First Amendment, you probably should state it explicitly, since that is not a commonly help proposition.

Or was this a deliberate illustration of the phenomenon the post was describing?

Replies from: PhilGoetz, curious
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-28T21:50:09.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Use Google, and you'll see many people asking whether Julian Assange is a reporter, and therefore protected under the first amendment. Such as "Why Julian Assange is a journalist - And why WikiLeaks is entitled to the same First Amendment protections as the New York Times ". And you will also find people responding to the implied argument, like Reason magazine.

No one has explicitly said the First Amendment should apply only to journalists. But posing the question "Is X a journalist, and therefore protected by the First Amendment?" has that implication.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2010-12-28T22:16:35.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should use DuckDuckGo instead of Google; I find that it gives better search results (which was surprising to me), and they don't keep any records of your search history.

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2010-12-29T18:51:35.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should use Google instead of DuckDuckGo; I find that it gives better search results (which was unsurprising to me), and they keep searchable records of your search history.

comment by curious · 2010-12-30T21:11:34.154Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

whether assange qualifies as a journalist is/could be relevant because the first amendment specifically protects the freedom of the press. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press"

ergo, if assange is a member of the press, it's constitutionally harder to go after him than if not.

no one is saying that if he's not a journalist, the separately-mentioned freedom of speech doesn't apply to everyone else.

comment by David_Gerard · 2010-12-27T20:41:55.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Got any more good examples to hand?

Replies from: b1shop, PhilGoetz, Eugine_Nier, Morendil
comment by b1shop · 2010-12-27T23:52:36.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My girlfriend and her roommate were having trouble deciding between apartments to move to. I visited the girlfriend's favorite with the group and asked the roommate "Which bedroom do you want?"

The more she thought about that question, the more she imagined herself choosing that apartment.

Replies from: nhamann
comment by nhamann · 2010-12-28T09:56:54.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things like this make me think I should be practicing the dark arts in the name of instrumental rationality.

Replies from: HughRistik, shokwave
comment by HughRistik · 2010-12-29T19:35:36.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should ;)

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-30T09:53:05.706Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding HughRistik's comment. If possible, use dark arts to convince people to play positive-sum games. But often you must play zero-sum games (status, winning over third parties, securing the correct apartment); use dark arts to dominate these games. Defense against the dark arts is good epistemology; using dark arts against people increases the chance they will seek out rationality training. Probably does not increase the chance enough to justify using it outside of zero-sum games though.

Replies from: nerzhin, katydee
comment by nerzhin · 2010-12-30T18:55:03.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Using dark arts against people increases the chance they will seek out rationality training

Also, beating up my son makes him tougher so that he can handle himself better in a dangerous neighborhood.

Scamming investors out of their savings makes them smarter and more discerning. They have to learn the lesson sometime, might as well be from me.

Stealing from the local 7-Eleven makes them improve their security. I'm really doing them a favor.

Replies from: shokwave, bcoburn
comment by shokwave · 2010-12-31T00:11:10.998Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, beating up my son makes him tougher so that he can handle himself better in a dangerous neighborhood.

Not applicable. I said

Probably does not increase the chance enough to justify using it outside of zero-sum games though.

So if your son picks a fight with you ... beating him up makes him tougher.

comment by bcoburn · 2010-12-30T20:52:31.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voted down because this is a really bad way to make a point.

On the other hand, the basic point is a good one: "they'll learn from it" is not in general a good reason for doing things that hurt people in whatever sense.

Replies from: shokwave
comment by shokwave · 2010-12-31T00:12:23.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"they'll learn from it" is not in general a good reason for doing things that hurt people in whatever sense.

"They'll learn from it" is most definitely a good reason for doing things that hurt people in the specific case of people trying to hurt you (and learning not to). That is why I specified zero-sum games above.

comment by katydee · 2010-12-30T11:24:00.263Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Status isn't zero-sum.

Replies from: shokwave
comment by shokwave · 2010-12-30T13:22:57.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Controversial. Status games in conversation are zero-sum; you gain attention by taking it off someone else, and social dominance / ranking hierarchies are ordinal as far as I have observed - so moving up a rank involves moving someone else down a rank.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2010-12-30T17:20:41.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I'm the 5th wealthiest person in my cohort and I move up to 4th, that means someone else moved from 4th to 5th; absolutely agreed. And as long as we don't pay attention to anyone outside our cohort, that's a zero-sum game; also agreed.

Of course, if I do look at the rest of the world, I might discover that in going from 5th to 4th in our cohort she also went from Nth to N+1000th in the world... in which case it's less clearly zero-sum.

Similarly, if you join my conversation and end up getting most of the attention, I lose status within the conversation. If in the process the conversation becomes more interesting to others, I may gain status within the community

Of course, the same thing goes the other way... I can gain status locally while we both lose it globally. I can take over a conversation while making everyone dismiss me as a crank not worth listening to.

And I appreciate that recalibrating ranks to the local group is often useful; I don't mean to say one should never do that. Merely that it's worth being aware of both the local and the global context.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-28T02:10:35.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really just the pattern "unspoken premise", which happens all the time, usually accidentally. Rarely can you know whether the person did it intentionally, except when a salesman asks someone contemplating a purchase, "Would you like to take it home today, or have it shipped?"

Sales and marketing are the Dark Arts.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-27T23:44:38.007Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One common example is that whenever there's a real or perceived national problem, the question that gets asked is what are we going to do about it.

Where "we" implicitly means the government and the "do about it" means creating a new law and probably a new bureaucracy whose job will be to "do something about it".

comment by Morendil · 2010-12-28T09:36:37.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When did you stop beating your wife?

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2010-12-30T08:15:29.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I prefer ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’. And when they start to answer that they've never beaten their wife, interrupt and demand ‘Yes or no, please.’.

comment by quanticle · 2010-12-27T18:15:20.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this a restatement of the circular argument fallacy?

Replies from: PhilGoetz, NancyLebovitz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-27T19:19:45.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No - a circular argument tries to prove its presupposition. This method assumes its presupposition, then draws attention away from it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-12-27T19:25:00.269Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a classic circular argument, the circularity is explicit-- God exists because it says so in the bible, the bible is true because it's the word of God.

Identifying presuppositions takes more work.

Replies from: Dr_Manhattan
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2010-12-28T04:05:09.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or as the joke goes

How do you know that Jakob wore a Yarmulkeh? For it says "And Jakob went out from Beer-sheba"

  • and is in conceivable that he went out without a Yarmulkeh??
comment by falenas108 · 2010-12-30T02:39:12.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My question about this article is when can this technique not be used as a Dark Art?

It may be true that this is the best way to spread a belief, but isn't getting people to accept beliefs without thinking the opposite of what we are trying to do on this site?

comment by DanielLC · 2010-12-28T08:22:17.917Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think everyone will agree that a zygote is, strictly speaking, human from the beginning. What they're arguing about is when it becomes a person, i.e. when it has rights to life. Also, they're probably deontologists.

Replies from: Tesseract
comment by Tesseract · 2010-12-28T23:54:22.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Human" is a word with many meanings, interpretations, and implications, not all of which are satisfied by the condition of possessing human DNA. "Person" is likewise disputable.

And I hate to sound like a style guide, but the phrase "everyone will agree that [x]" is false almost without exception and should probably be avoided.

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-30T11:22:24.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Human (noun) =//= human (adjective), though. The former is hotly a contested term. The latter is a scientific term, if not perfectly at least much better defined as "possessing a certain type of DNA" (e.g. "human person", "human hair").

comment by Marius · 2010-12-28T03:39:46.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's particularly interesting because journalism and espionage are being set up as a dichotomy here even though espionage is a subset of journalism.

Replies from: PhilGoetz, BillyOblivion
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-28T21:56:14.307Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spies are journalists? I think you can at most say there is a non-empty intersection of the activities of journalists and spies.

Replies from: Marius
comment by Marius · 2010-12-29T20:30:32.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is espionage? "The act of obtaining, delivering, transmitting, communicating, or receiving information about the national defense with an intent, or reason to believe, that the information may be used to the injury of..."

And, what's a journalist? Someone who publishes information/analysis. Some focus more on information-gathering, and then publish their discoveries. Others focus more on promoting a specific narrative, leaving information-gathering as a secondary concern. But a journalist who happens to obtain or publish information against their nation's interest is not automatically a spy.

You may choose to count saboteurs and assassins as spies, contrary to the dictionary definition, but consistent with popular usage. If you do, these represent a vanishingly small proportion of the overall number of spies, and are not germane to most discussions of espionage laws (laws against murder, theft, destruction of property, etc are not particularly controversial.)

For the most part, spies gather information and publish to a small audience. They are, essentially, doing journalism for a specific group and refraining from broader publication of their work.

The second most common espionage activity is propaganda - essentially journalism with a bias that is paid for by a foreign power. The audience may again be limited, as in spies dedicated to propagandizing only specific useful targets. But the goal is the transmission of information (false or true) rather than the gathering of information.

What distinguishes espionage from ordinary journalism is that the spy is paid by (or has her loyalty otherwise secured by) a power (nation, corporation, or other conspiracy) that we regard as hostile, and is willing to violate journalistic ethics in support of that employer. Simply limiting the scope of publication does not make one a spy; nor do violations of journalistic ethics; nor does targeted propaganda. It is the motivation that makes one a spy.

Replies from: NihilCredo, TobyBartels, PeterisP
comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-30T11:38:37.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the most part, spies gather information and publish to a small audience. They are, essentially, doing journalism for a specific group and refraining from broader publication of their work.

I cannot remember ever reading the word "journalism" used to refer to the act of providing information to a small, closed audience. Publication is an essential part of journalism, not an afterthought. And nobody says that handing over a report to your superiors constitutes "publishing".

If I watch a wealthy couple having sex for my enjoyment, I'm a voyeur. If I tell a few friends, I'm a gossip. If I tell it to the absent partner of one of them, I'm a private eye. If I tell it to the readers of the Sun, I'm a journalist.

Wikipedia: "Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues, and trends to a broad audience."

M-W: (a) : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media (b) : the public press (c) : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium

I agree that the practice of espionage and [investigative] journalism are pretty much identical when it comes to acquiring information. But what they then do with that information is very different and is, indeed, the very reason why two separate concepts exist in the first place.

Replies from: PhilGoetz, Marius, ChristianKl
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-30T15:07:54.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, if you write for a small local paper, you're not a journalist?

If there's a qualitative difference, it may be that anyone can access something published by a journalist, if they pay for it. Whereas you can't buy the video feed from an Army UAV.

But if a spy sells secrets to anyone who'll pay for them, is he/she a journalist? :)

Replies from: ChristianKl, NihilCredo
comment by ChristianKl · 2010-12-31T17:55:27.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually the Army UAV's publish their video steams unencrypted and make them accessible to a broad public who has a video receiver.

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-01-02T04:19:03.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So they're not spy planes; they're journalist planes!

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-30T15:35:43.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, if you write for a small local paper, you're not a journalist?

More like if it's an internal paper that only selected employees are allowed to read. A small local paper can still be read by anybody in the world.

But if a spy sells secrets to anyone who'll pay for them, is he/she a journalist? :)

If it is broadly known that she's willing to sell those secrets to anyone, AND if she allows the stories to become widespread i.e. everyone can buy the story, not just the highest bidder, then yes, it seems to me that she's essentially operating a (probably) very expensive bulletin.

comment by Marius · 2010-12-30T23:53:50.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you go to Washington DC, you will find a variety of newsletters with high prices and limited readership on very specialized topics involving impending government regulation. I've never heard it claimed that the people researching and publishing such newsletters are not journalists.

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-30T23:59:59.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you need to fulfill certain requirements, other than money and interest, to be allowed to buy one?

Replies from: Marius, DSimon
comment by Marius · 2011-01-02T02:08:54.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, so I think you are getting to the crux of the matter: where the money/motivation comes from. The kind of journalist we like gets his money/cred/etc from the audience. If he writes articles that her audience values, he does better. The audience can be broad or narrow, but the important thing is that he'd like to broaden it if she can do so without lowering prices. This model is the most ethical because it puts the audience's and journalist's incentives in alignment.

But it's not the only model. For instance, many journalists get their money/motivation from the message rather than the audience. In the most extreme form, this is advertising/propaganda. Without getting that extreme, a journalist may be attempting as much to get a certain viewpoint out there (Coke is delicious, trade with China is dangerous, whatever) as to benefit her audience. She may well believe what she is saying; this makes such activities more ethical. But yellow or unethical journalism is still journalism.

A specific form of the above is espionage. If you write lots of articles for the NY Times about how important it is to invade Iran, that's propaganda. If you do so because the Saudi government is paying you to, you're conducting espionage. The Nazi regime paid a large number of "pacifist" authors in Europe, for instance. It's the dissemination of information/analysis on behalf of a foreign government, and it is (and was) considered to be espionage just as information-gathering on behalf of a foreign government is espionage.

I am certainly not promoting the prosecution of Assange as a spy, or the prohibition of unethical journalism. My point is that because espionage is a form of journalism, attempts to prevent espionage are always likely to result in the censorship of articles we'd like to see permitted. Likewise, restrictions on propaganda or advertising always ends up inhibiting free speech. We should be weakening rather than strengthening such laws.

comment by DSimon · 2010-12-31T00:15:48.114Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, to be pedantic, doesn't that then include your example above of private eyes?

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-31T00:26:20.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could be wrong as I have little experience with the category, but I am under the impression that they are expected to maintain confidentiality with their clients, in a similar way to lawyers, doctors, priests and psychotherapists.

So if A hires Mr. Bogart to spy on B, and then C comes to Mr. Bogart and tells him "I'm interested in B, and a little bird told me you spied on B for someone", basic professional ethics would require Bogart to refuse to discuss anything related to A's case with a random stranger, potentially costing him his licence should he fail to do so (depending on what regulations apply in Bogart's country).

comment by ChristianKl · 2010-12-31T16:27:08.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

With Wikileaks we might soon live in a world where the information that spies gather get read by more people than a small, closed audience. Does that mean that those spies stop being spies?

Replies from: NihilCredo, wnoise
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-01-01T18:46:36.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I send a secret report to my boss, and Mr. Smith manages to read it and publishes it on the Times, the journalist is Mr. Smith, not me,

comment by wnoise · 2010-12-31T19:43:58.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's still not intended to be broadcast beyond that closed audience. Most information of that nature becomes far less useful when your opponent knows that you know.

comment by TobyBartels · 2010-12-30T08:22:45.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Limiting the scope of publication the way that many (most, I think) spies do puts one well beyond what most people think of as journalists.

If, in the days before the Internet, I observe an event and then write a report about it for school, I'm publishing to a very small audience, much as any spy would. (If it's a good report, someone other than my teacher and my parents might even read it.) But nobody thinks that I (in this fantasy a schoolchild) am a journalist.

These days, I might post my report to my blog and claim to be a citizen journalist; some people will accept this claim, while others will reject it out of hand. Even stuck with this controversy, this puts my audience (at least in the sense of the people who have the report available to them to read) far above most spies'. And even today, if I don't put it on my blog but only turn it in to school, nobody will think that I'm a journalist.

So I don't agree that spies are journalists.

comment by PeterisP · 2010-12-30T11:26:50.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spies by definition are agents of foreign powers acting on your soil without proper registration - i.e., like the many representatives in embassies have registered as agents of that country and are allowed to operate on their behalf until/if expelled.

As far as Assange (IIRC) has not been in USA while the communiques were leaked, and it is not even claimed that he is an agent of some other power, then there was no act of espionage. It might be called espionage if and only if Manning was acting on behalf of some power - and even then, Manning would be the 'spy', not Assange.

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-12-30T15:09:21.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know whether that's the definition used by the espionage act?

Replies from: PeterisP
comment by PeterisP · 2010-12-31T04:04:27.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not an expert on relevant US legislative acts, but this is the legal definition in local laws here and I expect that the term of espionage have been defined a few centuries ago and would be mostly matching throughout the world.

A quick look at current US laws (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/usc_sec_18_00000793----000-.html) does indicate that there is a penalty for such actions with 'intent or reason to believe ... for the injury of United States or advantage of any foreign nation' - so simply acting to intentionally harm US would be punishable as well, but it's not calling it espionage. And the Manning issue would depend on his intention/reason to believe about harming US vs. helping US nation, which may be clarified by evidence in his earlier communications with Adrian Lamo and others.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2010-12-31T18:27:34.914Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whether Assange is intent on helping the US nation or damaging depends on how you define "the US nation". Assange likes the US constitution but hates the current US government.

If you try to let the government crumble with the goal of regime change to get a regime that honors the US constitution is that damaging the US nation?

Assange wrote in one of the interview that founding Wikileaks was a "forced move". Why is it a forced move? Because otherwise the war was lost. Which war? http://events.ccc.de/congress/2005/fahrplan/events/920.en.html gives you the talk in the year before the founding of Wikileaks that resembles the admission that the war is lost.

It's not really an accident that the CCC congress that happened in the last week had a keynote by a person who's involved in Wikileaks and gave the "We lost the war"-talk I mentioned above was titled "We come in peace": http://rop.gonggri.jp/?p=438

Then groups that challenge the status quo get generally misunderstood and the mainstream media pretends the idea that Wikileaks is simply Julian Assange and therefore ignores the intellectual environment that produced Wikileaks. Yesterday Daniel Domscheit-Berg said that Wikileaks got 600 applications as volunteers after their talk at the CCC in 2009. A CCC foundation manges Wikileaks donations.

Even the the CCC distanced itself a bit from Wikileaks in the last year it's still the intellectual basis from which Wikileaks rose.

A good soundbite from the keynote of the CCC: "People ask me “Anonymous… That is the hackers striking back, right?” And then I have to explain that unlike Anonymous, people in this community would probably not issue press release with our real names in the PDF metadata. And that if this community were to get involved, the targets would probably be offline more often."

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-01-01T11:48:25.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's nonsense.

1) There is quite a bit of journalism that has nothing to do with exposing other peoples secrets. This would include reporting on natural events (storms, snow, earthquakes, politicians lying or accepting bribes), human activities (that a murder happened, who the police claim to be interested in etc., business information (stock prices, sales, etc.)) all of which and more require no subterfuge, burglary, or other morally or legally questionable activities to learn about and create a report of.

2) Almost no espionage (as a percentage of the total amount created) is intended for eventual exposure via "the press", be that a real press, the internets, or various video outlets. I've been (tangentially) in the espionage industry (providing non-espionage (and non-interesting) support to people doing electronic intelligence gathering) and I have some feel for the amount of data gathered this way. I've also been (at a different time) in the Media Industry (providing similar non-interesting support to a much more interesting set of artists) and there really is NO similarity between the two, other than some journalists also providing some humint to military and civilian intelligence sources. (Note, I've never been on the humint side and know nothing of this that isn't already out there. It could be disinformation, it could be real.)

Very few journalists are aware and disciplined enough to be intelligence assets. Most who are are egotistical f'wits (like the aforementioned Assange) who just want more money and fame and don't care who they kill to get it.

What Assange did was neither espionage, nor journalism. He simply accepted material someone else had stolen (Manning was the one committing espionage with the Iraq documents.) and then published it (as far as I know) unedited.

The big fallacy being committed here is that Assange is not, or at least shouldn't be subject to US law, and as such is not covered by the Constitution. I believe our constitution to be the least-bad construction of a government yet implemented in a pluralistic society, and that in general our government is at least as transparent (given it's size and scope) as there is.

But we do not (yet) own the world and trying to try an Australian citizen for something that isn't clearly a crime in America (vis the pentagon papers case) and didn't actually happen in America (unless I missed something Assange isn't here in the states and didn't receive the materiel here) is really a fucking stretch folks.

A US citizen cannot be tried and convicted in an Australian court for the crime of owning a handgun IN THE US, even though it would be a crime in Australia (handwaving some legal details here, the point is jurisdiction). Now, if there is a statute in Australia that makes what Assange did illegal, then THEY need to try him, and I can tell you for certain that there ain't no constitutional protections there.

Replies from: wedrifid, waitingforgodel, waitingforgodel
comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-01T12:39:39.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe our constitution to be the least-bad construction of a government yet implemented in a pluralistic society, and that in general our government is at least as transparent (given it's size and scope) as there is.

That is... interesting. Is that a commonly held belief among citizens of your country, personal patriotism or something that non-Americans can be expected to agree with? As an outside observer I've been given the impression that the construction of your government is a mixture of comical, quaint and scary. It isn't terrible but 'best' is a big claim to make.

Replies from: katydee, TheOtherDave
comment by katydee · 2011-01-01T13:01:59.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This belief is very common among Americans.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-01-01T19:35:29.114Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that a commonly held belief among citizens of your country,

It's complicated.

A similar team-affiliation notion (e.g., "America is the greatest country in the world," etc.) is pretty common, even among people who would never actually say that out loud, but is not specifically associated with the U.S. constitution... indeed, is strongly held among many Americans who don't have a clear grasp of the difference between our constitution and various other elements of our government.

I suspect this is equally true for a great many countries. Team affiliation is something humans are good at.

OTOH, there's a kind of fetishism that ensues around the Constitution as a document, wherein all endorsed things and no rejected things are attributed to it, even by people who have never read the document itself. So it's not always easy to tell what people believe about the country, what they believe about the government, and what they believe about the constitution, or when they are even drawing a distinction.

There's also a more narrowly targeted belief that the U.S. constitution is exceptionally least-bad as national constitutions go. My unreliable sense is that this is believed by many people who would not describe U.S. political institutions the same way (and indeed, many Americans will at the same time defend "America" and criticize "the government" in the strongest possible terms).

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-01-02T04:28:28.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the national religion of the United States, the Constitution is like the Bible. Everyone reveres it, few read it, and none follow it.

comment by waitingforgodel · 2011-01-01T14:49:41.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Wikileaks has published less than 1% of the diplomatic cables[1]. It goes thorough and removes sensitive and personal information before posting them online[2]. Except for a handful of exceptions, they only publish information that one of their newspaper partners has already published[2].

  2. In the US we don't say people are guilty until proven so -- Manning has made no public confession, and has not been tried. He's being held solely as the result of one man's (Adrian Lamo's) testimony, to the best of our knowledge[3]. That man was forcibly checked into a mental institution 3 weeks before said informing, and has made several inconsistent statements about his relationship with Manning, and what Manning told him to the press[4].

comment by waitingforgodel · 2011-01-01T21:52:02.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LOL, how did I miss this:

1) There is quite a bit of journalism that has nothing to do with exposing other peoples secrets. This would include reporting on natural events (storms, snow, earthquakes, politicians lying or accepting bribes).

Are you under the impression that a politician wouldn't consider his accepting bribes to be a secret?

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2011-01-01T21:57:33.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it was being classed as a "natural event".

Replies from: waitingforgodel
comment by waitingforgodel · 2011-01-02T08:32:00.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He says that natural events are included in the category of journalism that's not about exposing other peoples secrets....