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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Identify the problem to solve it 

Assuming your argument without proving it, a classic logical fallacy – is to assume the entirety of one’s case without proving it.

Rich guys owe me, it's only fair

A long time ago we arrested a young man for prying open the back door of a pharmacy and trying to steal money and drugs. (This is certainly not a unique, or even an unusual event, it’s just one from personal experience.)

He explained that “Rich guys don’t pay any taxes so I’m just getting mine.”

He was making assumptions: first, the pharmacy owner was rich and, second, the guy didn't pay taxes. And, he assumed that, as an unemployed thief, he had a personal right to some of the pharmacist’s unpaid taxes.

Occupy the sidewalk and teach 'em a lesson

Sound far-fetched? Remember “occupy Wall Street? The occupiers assumed their argument; that is, that the rich don’t pay taxes (or enough taxes). Setting up a camp on Wall Street was supposed to bring this unfairness into the public eye. As we mentioned in a previous blog noted economists have determined that this assumption isn't correctTax the Rich -- more!

However, by assuming the argument without proving it, both the thief and the “occupiers” can move on to the best way to correct the unfairness they defined in their argument. Then they can steal or camp on the sidewalk to overcome that unfairness.

Ban the hardware, save the children

Similar thinking arises when well-meaning folks argue for “denial of hardware” strategies to solve the problem of violence. They scream, “Absolutely no tolerance for weapons” as they boldly rush into foolishness.

One example is prohibiting “gun-like” symbols on campus. We have heard about the child who tried to nibble his pop tart into a mountain shape being punished because his creation looked like a gun. Officials assumed that images of guns are dangerous, so if they maintain a no-tolerance policy for gun images they’ll “save children.”

The school officials “assumed the entirety of their case without proving it.” And proceeded ludicrously.

Pear was frightened but uninjured

In a similar vein, a young girl who wore braces was punished for having a butter knife in her lunch bag. She had to chop pieces out of her pear, because of her braces, instead of biting into the fruit. But her school had a “no weapons” policy so . . .

In each of these “ban the image” situations school officials assumed hardware, or images of hardware, were the evil that they wanted to prevent. Hardware is easier to demonize than parenting or medication. It’s also much easier to understand.

Way back when hardware didn't cause shootings 

Back in our school days – and that’s a while ago – little boys all carried a pocket knife. How else could one carve a cottonwood shoot into a whistle? The teachers stopped the boys from playing “mumblety peg” which could have resulted in injuries, rather than banning the ubiquitous penknives.

And, some kids who received Christmas presents of Red Ryder BB guns -- with a leather thong -- brought their prized gifts to school for Show and Tell. So, the “guns and knives” didn't “cause” violence back then.

Hardware can't cause violence

If truth be told – or even considered -- they’re inanimate, and can’t cause violence now, either. People cause violence.

Maybe we have some causes

There’s evidence that violent video games, pretended-crisis news announcers, psychotropic medications, and poor parenting are directly associated with violence. It would seem wise, then, to look for possible “cause and effect” links in these areas, and to seek interventions that deal with those links.

However, there is a great deal of evidence that increasing the concealed carry of loaded pistols markedly decreases all violence, not just gun violence. This needs further study, too, for cause and effect links.

Define the solution you like into the problem

If we accept the tautology* used by a local columnist; “if there are fewer guns there will be fewer gun deaths” we can focus strictly on the number of guns in town. This is, again, an example of assuming the argument without proving it, then going on to solve the problem we defined in our assumption.
Actually, the violent crime rate is higher where legal gun ownership is low, such as in Los Angeles or Chicago. And it’s much higher where guns are essentially forbidden as in Britain. More guns less violence

Fences keep bad guys away

Recently in Costa Mesa we were faced with another hardware issue – school fences. Some schools don’t have intact fencing around them. Should we get those fences completed to keep the bad guys out of schoolyards?
That probably won’t be of much value, according to folks who should know, such as a retired Costa Mesa cop: "I'll tell you after 30 years of police work, fences don't keep aggressive people out . . . I don't believe it will add to security one iota." Fences won't help

Fences might reduce the number of homeless folks seeking rest rooms, sleeping spots, and salable items on campus. They might also help keep kids on campus. They’re unlikely to keep sex offenders off the campus.

Identify the real problem first

So, if we address poor parenting, violent games, and psychotropic medicines, we may be able to reduce violent crime. If we ban guns, we can be pretty sure that we’ll increase violent crime rates. If we build fences to keep out violent sex offenders we’ll probably waste money without increasing safety.

Assuming the argument without proving it – then solving the problem you've assumed – doesn't workAssuming the argument without proving it leads only to ineffective attempts to find effective solutions.

We’ll be much more likely to actually solve problems if we honestly define the problem first. Once we understand what the problem is, we can identify probable causes, and then address potential interventions.

*A series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because they depend on the assumption that they are already correct.

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