A TOUCH OF GREY

As many have pointed out with florid, statesmanlike profanity, Tom Cruise, despite confirming his status as an unmitigated ignoramus, offered a number of valid explicit and implicit criticisms concerning psychiatry: Ritalin is overprescribed, lifestyle modifications are invaluable in treating depression, and so on. More to the point, there is no reason one cannot simultaneously believe these things:

1. Cruise is an idiot.
2. Psychiatry is plagued with imperfections.

Yet in impugning (or defending) the one -- any one -- it's tempting to defend (or impugn) the other. This exemplifies the all-too-common inclination of people to weaken or hamstring their own arguments as well as misinterpret those of others by establishing false dichotomies.

Of course, dishonest people such as Paul "Some people get fat more easily than others, therefore they aren't at risk for health problems" Campos or creationists yammering about Charles Darwin's supposed racism consciously capitalize on just such modes of thought in order to advance merit-starved agendas. Either way, it can be instructive for people to scrutinize their own instinctive patterns of reasoning so that they can become more adept at sniffing out bullshit emanating from their own heads and asses as well as from other people's.

Rolling along with pet examples:
  • Advocating increases in mileage is in no way a diminution of the value of speedwork. The only reason a quantity-versus-quality "debate" is perceived to exist is because morons exist. This is the classic false dichotomy in running, but given the influx of so much rabble into marathoning in recent years, so many runners have proven themselves to be such slack-jawed, uncomprehending jackholes that I no longer find this subject worthy of expanding on. People either intuitively understand grasp the concept of supercompensation and its various corollaries or they don't.

  • Just because fat activists' "refutations" of medical truths are an utter wash doesn't mean that some people aren't all but destined to be fat or that plenty of thin people don't in fact instinctively find them repulsive, judge them as lazy, et cetera. (Different side of the coin: Just because fat people face discrimination or hectoring or find themselves genetically prone to blotation doesn't render them immune from obesity's health risks. Biology can be unfair like that.) Fattists also draw strength from painting both round and angular critics of their "movement" as "fatphobes," practitioners of starvation, fear-driven exercise addicts, or all of the above. Obviously it is possible to be anything but calorically austere while standing in support of sound research (runners, raise your hands here). Of course, a hateful anorexic with multiple neuroses and personality disorders is still as correct as anyone else in pointing out that The Obesity Myth is dreck.

  • I could spend all day highlighting the boundless futility of religious zealots' arguments, rife as they invariably are not only with false dichotomies and dilemmas but with bizarre syllogisms, arguments from incredulity, and worse. Here's one. A favorite tactic of fundies and others is to dismiss criticism of their dogma on the basis of its lack of originality: "That's been said before," "I see you've been scouring athiest [sic] websites," and so on. (Ignore the predictable irony of the complainants' believing that all of life's answers can be found in a single ramshackle volume whose chapters were written two thousand years ago.) There is nothing obtuse about this, since Godfolk, lacking any reasonable basis for their beliefs, are bound to the notion that repeating something often enough will make it true, which obviously invites a similarly repetitive brand of criticism. And contrary to fundamentalist grumbling, just as the repetitiveness of "anti-God" talk doesn't undermine its credibility, it fails to imply that atheists are amoral, shallow, angry or otherwise spiritually barren. Similarly, that the intellectually blunted often reach for religion doesn't imply that all Christians, Mormons, or Seventh-Day Adventists are stupid, nor does their blind faith in something as dumb as [insert myth of choice] make them dumb human beings in general. Were the world and its stubborn traditions so clearly demarcated by intelligence-based boundaries, religion as we know it might have been swept from the spotlight of non-primitive cultures long ago.

  • Finally, here's a timely lesson: Just because someone rubs you the wrong way when dressing you down doesn't mean you didn't screw up. Conversely, having a valid reason to tear someone a new one over a particular issue doesn't give you carte blanche to globally indict his or her personality. In theory, I learned this lesson decades ago, but in practice maybe I haven't kept it on an accessible drive at all times.
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