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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Non-Sequitur News

It's a sad time for the state of communications. The media, which was once known as the Fourth Estate, has decayed from its prominence as a bastion of free speech and degenerated into a universe of digital soapboxes, where "just published" gets confused with legitimate, truthful reporting.  This is not a new observation. Ever since the internet reached puberty, the Fourth Estate has filtered the news as they dumb it down for mass consumption. This is also nothing new.  What is relatively new is the alarming increase in Non-Sequitur news.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, and those who think they know what a non sequitur is, let's agree to define it in its most accurate terms.  If you're a Merriam-Webster fan, it goes like this:

An inference that does not follow from the premises; specifically : a fallacy resulting from a simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition or from the transposition of a condition and its consequent; a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said

Essentially, what this means is that  at an increasing rate, people are having discussions and making their points using reasoning that simply doesn't make any sense. Their logic doesn't flow from one point to the next. They simply post the latest meme on their Facebook page, accompanied by some "Right on, bro" comment and leave it at that, no matter how bizarre or untrue the sentiment may be.

Let me be clear: I'm not talking about people disagreeing with each other or differing in their political or ethical viewpoints. It's America. You get to feel the way you do for whatever reasons you wish. However, in this age of dumbed-down information, non sequiturs are everywhere you look. People are linking powerful statements to specious facts that have no logical connection, resulting in strange conclusions that sound really good but are in fact, totally meaningless and often preposterous.

Before I go any further, you should know that this is where things can get politically incorrect. Buckle up.

Back in the sixties, when ethnic pride was in its formative stages, there was a lot of discussion about racism, specifically viewed through  the lens of black America. Back then, when just about all of white America's conversational efforts on topics like racism, income inequality and sociological pathologies had been exhausted, a common retort from black participants was, "You've got to be born black to know how it feels!"  This was, apparently, the impenetrable argument to which non-black people had no counter argument. For one thing, it was true:  If you're not born black, you don't know what it feels like to be black. Unfortunately, that observation had nothing to do with the arguments at hand. If the black on black crime rate is way higher than white on white crime rate, for example, "knowing what it feels like to be black" simply has no place in the discussion, because the discussion isn't about "what it feels like to be black."  On the other hand, being tailed by a cop as you're "driving while black" may have everything do to do with born black.  So I get it.  Nevertheless, for decades, the "you don't know how it feels" argument was abused as an effective non sequitur to shut down discussions because non-blacks accepted its illogic.  It didn't make any sense, but non-blacks felt so guilty about it, they simply gave in.

It gets worse.

These days, you can't get too far into the news without stumbling over stories having to do with "underrepresentation" and "over-representation," both of which are non sequiturs themselves. Take the case of underrepresentation, specifically with regard to race.  If you believe the United States census, specifically Race and ethnicity in the United States, "white Americans are the racial majority, with a 77.7% share of the U.S. population. African Americans are the largest racial minority, amounting to 13.2% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans amount to 17.1% of the population, making up the largest ethnic minority.  

Those are facts. Those are the numbers. Another number is this: The Senate of the United States is composed of one hundred members. If you believe the myth of the non sequitur, this means that 77.7% should be white, 13.2% should be black and 17.1% should be Latino. But that doesn't flow logically at all, for a couple of reasons:

Taken to its extreme, the strict logical interpretation of those numbers would have no way to account for the fractional representations, meaning that the country couldn't achieve true representation until the Senate chambers housed members of mixed races ( a .7% white, a .2% black and a .1% Latino) .  Okay, so that's a little much. But the other logical flaw is that even if the Senate were composed along those lines, it wouldn't at all guarantee anything, to anyone. Of course, it sounds great in theory. It sounds as if blacks would push the black agenda and Latinos would push theirs.  But if you really believe that, all that proves is your own racism.  You're not giving those individuals the respect for their ability to think for themselves.  You may really believe that one issue is logically linked and causal to the other,  but they're not. It may be convenient and expedient to make that connection, but the connection isn't there.  There's no logical linkage between race and representation. If there were, the Civil Rights Act -- passed by a white Congress -- would never have made it to a vote. But it did. And it passed.

You and I can agree on some issues. We can disagree on some others. That's totally fine. It's how things work. I care less about what you think than why you think it.  It has to make sense, even if we disagree. In my travels, I go hunting for non sequiturs but I never have to  venture too far. I always bag more than the limit.

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