How Logic’s Supposed To Work/How It Actually Is Used. (Warning: Pointing Out Of Conservative Flaws Ensues.)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The traditional view of logic is that people look at the facts and use them to build a theory that fits all the facts. Which is why logic, when used correctly, is probably the best tool we have for finding the truth.

But unfortunately, logic can be bent to justify emotion – and, I’d argue, that’s how it’s usually employed.

Take masks.

There was a little doubt in the beginning whether wearing masks was useful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but as time has ticked on the evidence has become increasingly pro-mask. Are masks perfect? No. They’re like condoms. A lot of the success depends on them being used correctly, they do not provide perfect safety even when used perfectly, but in general the more people wearing masks, the slower the spread of the disease.

Now, this is not an attack against everyone who’s skeptical of masks. Some medical professionals have studied the data extensively, come to their own opinions. (Me? I’ve spent roughly 15-20 hours just studying mask efficiency, listening to pandemic-focused professionals, and I’m pretty sure anyone who’s scorning masks now is wrong – but I’m also open to the fact that maybe more information could change the course of my path.) It’s entirely possible to use logic properly and come to two different conclusions.

But if you hated masks to begin with…

Part of the resistance is, of course, political. Modern conservatives, which is to say the ones in power, no longer identify themselves by any stable ideology. They currently define themselves as “Whatever liberals hate,” or, more properly, a philosophy of, “Owning libs” – whatever, or however, bad that may be.

All you have to do to see that is watch the spread of the pandemic. Originally, it was “We must save every life we can,” but unfortunately modern conservatism is so steeped in liberal opposition that joining forces to save lives started to make them itch like a rash. And so soon enough, you had conservatives going, “We can’t be in favor of saving lives because that’s what liberals do!” and sure enough, the message mutated to “People should be proud to die to keep our economy going.”

Likewise: masks. For about four or five weeks, it was like “Hey, wearing masks is good,” but then enough liberals started wearing masks that conservatives came to resent looking like liberals… and, inevitably, there came a backlash of “Muh freedoms!” that led to conservatives shucking their masks to protect their identities as “Not-liberals.”

And what you’re frequently seeing when conservatives try to justify not wearing masks is logic being used to justify emotion. Because you’ll see ’em pulling out all kinds of comparisons that seem logical, but don’t actually function in real life – “The CO2 buildup is toxic!” Yes, that’s why surgeons routinely pass out in the middle of long operations. “The mask is too porous to prevent viruses from passing through!” But it’s not too porous to prevent most drops of spittle from passing through, the spittle in which the virus is contained. And, of course, the inevitable “I can smell farts through a mask, so obviously a mask can’t help.”

These are all facts that seem pretty good at first blush, but each of them are pretty easily disproven. And you’d think that once you dismantled those facts, these folks would acknowledge that they were wrong and change their mind.

Problem is, they’re not using logic to come to conclusions, they’re starting with an emotional conclusion (“I do not like masks”) and piling whatever facts they can find in front of them to justify that conclusion.

You can’t take away their facts. Either they’ll find new facts to justify their mask-hatred, or they’ll probably just ignore your disproving of the old facts because those facts were emotionally useful to them and no amount of logic will take them away.

That’s not to say that this usage of logic is an exclusively conservative one, of course; liberals do it, too. But it gets to be a problem in national debate when the fundamental thought behind conservative philosophy is “If the libs are for, I’m against,” and liberals think “Oh, they’re using logic to come to a conclusion, I’ll just talk them out of it through spirited debate!” Which is what mainstream America would like us to do, but unfortunately, it’s no longer possible.

I don’t have any grand conclusions here to fix America. Right now, the only consistent thing I see convincing mainstream conservatives of anything is “This will totally own the libs,” and it’s hard to have a working country when literally any solution we suggest, or even adopt (like, say, Romneycare, which was the conservative fix for health care) will eventually be reviled.

But in the short scale, what it means is that yes, facts are good. But beware of how people use facts. Because if you disprove a couple of their talking points and their attitude doesn’t shift, well, chances are that they’re actually not reachable.

It sucks, but that’s when you abandon or ban or ignore those folks, because – at least on this topic – you’re not equipped to get ’em out.

And if you’re one of those enraged “logic” users who’s screaming, “WHY IS NO ONE WILLING TO ENGAGE WITH ME?!?!”, well…. ponder that you may be that person, and the people who are blocking/ignoring/abandoning you are actually perfectly logical in refusing to engage with someone who’s never going to have their minds changed.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Jul 17, 2020

    You’re not wrong, but I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I love a good discussion as much as the next person (probably more), but I’m bone tired of being admonished for failing to engage with people who clearly aren’t arguing in good faith.


  2. Scott Van Essen
    Jul 17, 2020

    Great analysis. So true.

    I find it amusing (and also right in line with your point) that you needed to include a trigger warning for the people who accuse us of being “snowflakes”. 🙂

  3. Raven Black
    Jul 18, 2020

    Related, I was suggesting the other day that maybe we could get positive change by having prominent liberal/socialist/communist people endorse things they actually dislike, to trick knee-jerk lib-owners into being against those things.

    Like have people say “I really admire Trump, the way he works is totally like my communist hero Lenin!” (After saying it I realized it’s not even untrue, apart from the Lenin being anyone’s hero part.)

    But I realized you couldn’t just have a figurehead do it, you’d need to somehow get *many* liberals to endorse a bad opinion in order to turn right-wing maniacs against it. And then you’d risk the liberals accidentally coming to really believe the nonsense they were supposed to pretend to believe.

    The only other path out of America’s current quandary I could think of is to have someone decent run as a republican. Republicans will apparently get behind anything their figurehead endorses no matter how opposed to their own previous beliefs, and will strongly oppose anything the other side does no matter how in line with their own previous beliefs, so there’s no getting out of this situation by electing a “good democrat”, that will just make things worse at the next backlash. So what we need is someone who is actually into fairness but *plausibly* right-wing, to run as the republican candidate. My best pick for this role is Oprah.

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