Non Sequiturs

Non sequitur is Latin for “it does not follow.” In English, non sequitur can refer to a response that has no relevance to what preceded it, or to a conclusion that does not follow from the premises.

Wikipedia has a fun example of the first type of non sequitur:

A good example of this device can be seen in Season 2 of the Micallef Programme in which Shaun Micallef hosts a game show called Non-Sequitur Family Feud. He asks the question “Name ten things you plug in”, to which Francis Greenslade answers with a list of ten random words, including mules, Lewis Carroll, 1832 and ‘I like butterscotch‘.

An example of a conclusion that does not follow the premise — If I am in Tokyo I am in Japan. I am not in Tokyo, therefore I am not in Japan. Since there’s lots to Japan beside Tokyo, the statement is illogical.

I’ve come to believe that righties think entirely in non sequiturs.

I mentioned this in a post last week — check out this bit from Friday’s Hardball:

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D) NEW YORK: I like to quote Rumsfeld, who said that he didn‘t know whether we were creating more terrorists than we‘re killing. And I think that the terrible way in which we have gotten involved in Iraq, have no clue about how to get out, inability to have any diplomatic policy, that we got young people who are Islam but of course have now found that people are being killed, and they are being recruited to do this terrorist work.

So we‘ve created an atmosphere, not of diplomatic resolution of this problem, but thinking that we can bring peace and freedom at the end of a rifle. And it‘s not working,

MATTHEWS: Your answer, Mr. Lungren?

REP. DAN LUNGREN ® CALIFORNIA: Well, we weren‘t in Iraq when we lost 241 marines in Lebanon,

Five-alarm non sequitur, that.

Khobar Towers, U.S. Cole. I don‘t think we need to do anything to radicalize these elements of Islamo-fascism, who are bent on killing Americans. I don‘t think we need to do anything to radicalize these elements of Islamo-fascism, who are bent on killing Americans. You can argue—

MATTHEWS: In each case, Mr. Lungren—in each case, sir, we were in the country where we were killed. You say it wasn‘t because we were in an Arab country, we were in Lebanon, we were killed by the Lebanese, we were in Saudi Arabia when we were attacked. And Saudi Arabia, some believe, was the trigger to bin Laden, who was in Saudi Arabia when we had 10,000 troops there.

LUNGREN: If you‘re going to argue that we‘re the ones that are radicalizing the Muslim world, I happen to disagree with you.

MATTHEWS: What is radicalizing them?

LUNGREN: This has been a commitment on the part of these radical elements for some decades. They don‘t need any excuse. The Fatwa that was published in 1993, specifically called on them to kill Americans anywhere in the world.

If the genius is referring to Osama bin Laden’s fatwa — he’s issued several, actually, although I don’t believe he has the authority to issue official fatwas — the ones I found on the Internets refer specifically to American occupation of “holy places.” As I wrote in the earlier post linked above, bin Laden’s beef with Americans dates from 1990, when American troops were moved into Saudi Arabia in anticipation of the Gulf War.

Lungren’s logical fallacy, of course, is — Osama bin Laden is Muslim; Osama bin Laden hates Americans; therefore, Muslims hate Americans. There are a couple of other Muslims in the world beside bin Laden, I believe.

Of course, there are many factors that cause Muslims to turn against the West. The Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia indoctrinates its followers, especially boys, into a radical, militant, and anti-western Islam. Muslims who grew up listening to this stuff certainly are pre-disposed to hate Americans. But Wahhabism is just one sect of Islam. To assume that Wahabism exemplifies Islam is like assuming that Seventh-Day Adventism exemplifies Christianity.

Further, to acknowledge that the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia incited bin Laden to issue fatwas against America is not to say that America “deserved” to be attacked on September 11. That would be another non sequitur. Bin Laden is a twisted bastard; just because he wants to kill us for something we did doesn’t mean that what we did was wrong. Certainly the Muslims of Kuwait appreciated us at the time, as I recall.

But it’s also nuts to deny that the 1983 deaths of 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members killed in a single truck bomb attack in Beirut had nothing whatsoever to do with what the Marines were doing in Beirut. As explained in this article by Max Bergmann,

In August 1982, Reagan sent troops to Lebanon to resolve an internal civil war and a wider regional conflict. About 1,800 Marines along with French and Italian troops formed a multinational force (MNF) to support the fledgling Lebanese government by acting as a peacekeeping force. After some initial success, however, the MNF became increasingly entangled in Lebanon’s sectarian conflict and soon was only exacerbating the problems it was supposed to resolve.

There’s a lot more to it, of course, and I’m not saying the Marines who were killed did anything wrong. The MNF suffered from muddled thinking on the part of the politicians about what the mission in Lebanon actually was. The troops dealt with the situation around them as best they could, I’m sure. But at the same time it’s illogical to offer Beirut 1983 to argue that what we’re doing in Iraq doesn’t matter; Muslims would hate us anyway.

Another brilliant Republican non sequitur is the one that goes If you don’t support the war in Iraq you don’t support fighting terrorism. Bob Herbert writes,

There was something pathetic about the delight with which Republicans seized upon the terror plot last week and began trying to wield it like a whip against their Democratic foes. The G.O.P. message seemed to be that the plot foiled in Britain was somehow proof that the U.S. needed to continue full speed ahead with the Bush administration’s disastrous war in Iraq, and that any Democrat who demurred was somehow soft on terrorism.

The truth, of course, is that the demolition derby policies of the Bush administration are creating enemies of the United States, not defeating them. It cannot be said often enough, for example, that the catastrophic war in Iraq, which has caused the deaths of tens of thousands, was a strategic mistake of the highest magnitude. It diverted our focus, energy and resources from the real enemy, Al Qaeda and its offshoots, and turned Iraq, a country critically important to the Muslim imagination, into a spawning ground for terrorists.

Almost three years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Jessica Stern, who lectures on terrorism at Harvard, wrote in The New York Times that the U.S. had created in Iraq “precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens’ rudimentary needs.”

Ms. Stern went on to say, “As bad as the situation inside Iraq may be, the effect that the war has had on terrorist recruitment around the globe may be even more worrisome.”

The situation has grown only worse since then. While Republicans are savoring the political possibilities of a foiled terror plot, the spiraling chaos in Iraq and other Bush administration policies are contributing mightily to the anger and radicalism in the Muslim world.

It’s true there were radical Muslims preaching hatred of America before we went into Iraq. But our presence in Iraq is making their sales pitch a lot more enticing. It’s like they’re air conditioner salesmen and we’re the heat wave.

Max Hastings:

In September 2001, most of the world clearly perceived that a monstrous crime had been committed against the United States, and that the defeat of al-Qaida was essential to global security. While many ordinary Muslims were by no means sorry to see American hubris punished, grassroots support for Osama bin Laden was still small, and remained so through the invasion of Afghanistan.

Today, of course, everything has changed. In the eyes of many Muslims, the actions of Bush and Blair have promoted and legitimised al-Qaida in a fashion even its founder could hardly have anticipated a decade ago.

Of course, it’s hard to make logical decisions without facts. But if you make illogical decisions, facts are just so much clutter.

Bush has chosen to lump together all violent Muslim opposition to what he perceives as western interests everywhere in the world, as part of a single conspiracy. He is indifferent to the huge variance of interests that drives the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq, Hamas and Hizbullah fighting the Israelis. He simply identifies them as common enemies of the United States.

The Bush Administration: Fuzzy math, fuzzy facts, fuzzy logic. One would think the recent busted plot coming out of Britain would have highlighted the fallacy of “We’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.” The neocons talk about creative chaos, which is a pretty good term for rightie thinking skills. Last Friday’s Hardball gave us a frightening example:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Does this foiled terrorism plot out of London help Republicans by refocusing the country on national security issues? Or will Democrats hammer home that the Bush administration‘s policy over in Iraq is encouraging hatred and terrorism? Our HARDBALLers tonight are here to answer those questions. Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now on the radio and it‘s on Pacifica, and on television, also the author of “Static Government: Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back” and Heidi Harris is a radio talk show host with no book out right now. Heidi you start, who wins this discussion as to the object lesson of catching those bad guys over in Britain?

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think the Republicans do, and frankly I think it‘s a good thing some people have not forgotten about our national security, thanks to MI5, working in conjunction with America, we were able to catch these people before thousands of innocent people were killed.

MATTHEWS: Who has forgotten about our national security?

HARRIS: There are a lot of people who have, like those who want to see us pull out of Iraq instantly. They have forgotten about the fact that we‘ve still got the terrorists on the run and that‘s the objective. You‘re not going to make people like us, but ultimately we can keep them on the run and keep them off-balance and try to protect ourselves.

MATTHEWS: So Iraq is making us safer?

HARRIS: Well I think it is because we‘ve got them on the run. We‘ve caught people like Zarqawi. They hated us before we went there so the argument they only dislike Americans because of George Bush and because of we‘re over if Iraq, that‘s a lie. They attacked us. We weren‘t in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: OK, we were in Saudi Arabia however when bin Laden actually from Saudi Arabia decided he hated us, we were in Lebanon when we got blown up last time. There is a connection between our location and the anger that it causes, isn‘t there?

HARRIS: Well there‘s a connection between our location and where they can below us up. You don‘t see them blowing us up here since 9-11, because they would to come over here, but we have to be vigilant. So they blow us up in Lebanon because it‘s easier than trying to come over here, that‘s why we have to be vigilant and stay on top of them. They‘re not going to like us no matter what we do.

If this woman ever in her life were to put a logical conclusion after a premise, her head would explode. A plot originating in London is hardly vindication of the “flypaper” theory in Iraq.

Eric Leaver:

The British plot underscores the weakness in Bush’s counterterrorism strategy of “Taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” Reports note that all of those arrested in connection to the plot were British citizens. Even though many of the suspects appear to be of Pakistani descent, this operation was launched from within the country, just like 9/11.

The rising number of attacks, failure to capture bin Laden in five years, and the persistent and unabated threat of terror underscores the fact that our nation is not safer than it was before September 11, 2001. Bush has relied too heavily on military action and panic planning in the aftermath of attacks rather than addressing the root causes of terrorism, supporting effective prevention strategies and investing in the domestic infrastructure needed in case of an attack.

Every … single … time a Republican falls back on a non sequitur the Dems have got to smack it down. They’ve got to say, clearly, that is illogical. It doesn’t follow. And we’ve got to do as much as we can do to make Republican non sequiturs look ridiculous, because they are ridiculous.

Update: See also Altercation.

21 thoughts on “Non Sequiturs

  1. I think what you’re talking about – non sequitors – are more properly called logical fallacies. And you’re correct, the right constantly uses them. It hurst my brain to listen to them, and after years of this abuse, my brain hurts a lot.

    There are lots of interesting sites that enumerate and explain these fallacies – there are a finite number of them – but this particular site goes a step further and talks about using them in debate. Not only in pointing them out in an opponent’s argument, but how to point them out, and if you dare, how to use them in your own arguments.

    This – rhetoric and effective debate – is something I’ve had a long standing desire to become skilled at, because of the overwhelming volume of nonsense coming from the right. If many of us got good at it, we’d be able to create one large “no-spin” zone, that might just save our country.

  2. I think what you’re talking about – non sequitors – are more properly called logical fallacies.

    Yes, it is a logical fallacy, and non sequitor is what that particular type of logical fallacy is called.

  3. What a fantastic post! This baby blogger can’t even post relating to such logic. The undeniable liberal totally agrees that dems should smack that bullshit down, but they just don’t have the balls, although Feingold sounds good lately at calling bullshit. Anyway, here is an another example of how typically the non sequitur is being used……

    “Today on CNN Headline News, anchor Chuck Roberts discussed the impact of the foiled British terror plot with Hotline senior editor John Mercurio. Roberts asked Mercurio, “How does this factor into the Lieberman/Lamont contest? And might some argue, as some have, that Lamont is the al Qaeda candidate?”

    From my blog:
    THE FUCKING AL-QAEDA CANDIDATE??????? OMFG…… can you believe this asshole actually can be called a journalist? Pravda and Al Jazeera wouldn’t stoop this low, click on the links and see for yourself. Fox spews presenting this bullshit is one thing, but (CNN) Clinton News Network as it used to be called? And the sheeple listen and line up like the good, compliant proles that they are. The undeniable liberal couldn’t resist, and went and checked out Lush Bimbo’s site, and even HE didn’t have such low-down shit, but then again, it appears that he is on vacation. George Dumbya Bush remains the ultimate al Qaeda candidate…..there, i said it…and it is VERY true.

    Reverse the non-sequitur!!!!!

  4. There is a deliberate tactic – used by the right AND the left, when asked a question they do not WANT to respond to, they answer on a related subject thet they DO want to talk about. I listen to the question and the answer, but the popular beleif among candidates (or their coaches) seems to be that the attention span of the TV viewer can be measured in nanoseconds. IMHO, there should be zero tolerance by the media for this tactic; candidates of either party who attempt to evade a legitimate question should be brought brutally back to the original question.

  5. Well, here’s a letter to the editor from yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel.
    “Time to remember”
    Regarding the latest terror threat: It’s time to remember all the Democrats and other leftist lunatics, including the New York Times, who have been giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It’s time to make death by hanging the penalty for treason and other heinous crimes
    It’s time to honor out troops in Iraq, who make the rest of us free and safe.”
    Jim O’Brien
    Maitland FL
    Holy Batshit……..
    This lunatic’s letter dove tails quite nicely with your post regarding authoritarianism, cognitave dissonance, and the gun cult.
    Here is the problem Maha, pinheads like this guy sit around watching Hannity and punching bag, listening to Rush the junkie, and Michael the savage weiner, and get their panties all twisted up.
    I’ll be unloading my hot air on the editor this week, let’s see if it gets published!
    Great post again Maha…..

  6. Maha…
    Excellent observations AND Excellent plan of attack. The Bush opposition seems to finally have found a spine and the more I read pieces like this one (and refer others to it), the more hopeful I am that the opposition can quickly fire back when it happens instead of running for the hills..

  7. Has anybody gained any empathy for Galileo? I certainty have. This whole war on terror has allowed me to tap into the sense of frustration he must have experienced in trying to express reason in an intellectual vacuum. I assume frustration is the natural result of trying to comprehend mindlessness.

    The most complete description of Bush’s war on terra is…”It’s a fucking joke”. But not is a funny sort of way.

  8. The most common form of falacious argumentation used by republicans no longer has a name. The phrase “to beg the question” used to mean “to assume the conclusion as a premise”. But several years of astoundingly sloppy diction by just about everyone has changed the meaning to “to invite a question”. Too bad.

  9. Non sequitors are those devices used by those who want to remain mindless [thanks, Swami] because these folks are so ‘stimulated’ by doing harm to others. They won’t give up their addiction to such negative pleasure, which substitutes for real joy and happiness…. the life qualities snuffed by authoritarianism [which Maha wrote about recently].

  10. Muslim(?) Americans…purchasing large quantities of cell phones…a picture of the Mackinac bridge…it follows that they are terrorist and they plan on blowing up the bridge…

    That’s not a non sequitur…that’s sound detective work.

    Remember Richard Jewel?…You know, that emotionally crippled oaf who had a severe need for recognition as a hero.

  11. beg the qestion … well, you could just use the latin name of that fallacy, petitio principii … that’s not been debased … or use the circular argument fallacy rather than the beg the question fallacy, as they seem to be pretty much the same … or if ya wanna get fanchy there, circulus in demonstrando …


  12. A couple things to remember about the marines killed in Lebanon during Reagan’s presidency. One is that they were supposed to have anti-truck barricades around their barracks months before, but the barricades weren’t installed — incompetence on the part of the Republican leadership they were under, so much like today. And another odd and upsetting parallel to today is that when faced with this fact, Reagan joked about it. Joked about the cause of our marines’ deaths — just as Bush joked about the lack of WMDs in Iraq.

    These GOPers are real cards.

  13. QrazyQat — I don’t remember Reagan joking about the Marines, although I do remember that RR deflected attention from Lebanon by invading Granada.

    At least Ronnie and Nancy met the caskets at the airport and took part in a memorial service for the marines. They didn’t try to hide the caskets from public view. Credit where credit is due.

  14. We weep and we mourn…and we sneak the bodies back home under the cover of darkness. It shows me that our fallen heroes honor and sacrifice is secondary to political expedience. I’m glad it ain’t my kid coming home in a box and having some politician feign sorrow with empty words to gain political capital.

    I remember the memorial service for the men of the 101st Airborne who were killed in the disaster at Gander, Newfoundland. Reagan had the courage to look their families in the eyes..I was moved by his courage and his sincerity… And Bush is a decietful coward void of any moral substance or compassion.

  15. I don’t remember Reagan joking about the Marines, although I do remember that RR deflected attention from Lebanon by invading Granada.

    He brushed off the inexcusable months-long delay in setting up the barricades with a joke about how you always have problems when you do renovations.

    Yes, the Grenada invasion was suspicously “convenient”. Not to mention that one reason we invaded Grenada was because there was supposedly absolutely no civilian use for an airport the size of the one that Grenada was building with Cuban help, but after the invasion one of the top priorities was finishing that same airprot, the same size, because the same people who’d the week before said was unneccessary now said it was vital for tourism.

  16. Pingback: The Mahablog » Moving On

  17. “Lungren’s logical fallacy, of course, is — Osama bin Laden is Muslim; Osama bin Laden hates Americans; therefore, Muslims hate Americans. There are a couple of other Muslims in the world beside bin Laden, I believe.”

    That substantially misrepresents the man’s statement. In each reference, the extremist nature of the terrorists involved in the attacks was demarked. You can debate whether Islamo-fascism is an apt term, but you cannot truthfully represent Lundgrun’s remarks as painting all Muslims with the same brush.

    As for the tactic of answering the question you want to instead of the question you were asked, Clinton operative Ann Lewis may not have invented the technique, but she raised it to a science. Go back and read the transcripts of her appearances on Tim Russert’s program. The difference is that Tim let her get away with it many times, in ways he would never allow any Bush spokesman.

    In case you haven’t noticed, all politics is bs.

  18. you cannot truthfully represent Lundgrun’s remarks as painting all Muslims with the same brush.

    I guess you are referring to the Lundgrun from the alternate universe. His assumption is that Muslims hate America no matter what America does, which I say is bullshit.

    The difference is that Tim let her get away with it many times, in ways he would never allow any Bush spokesman.

    Holy shit; you are from the alternative universe. I understand the sky is green and grass is blue there.

    In case you haven’t noticed, all politics is bs.

    It didn’t use to be.

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