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Contra-Sequitur Watch: the New York Times Op-Ed page wins again

In logic, a non sequitur is the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which simply does not follow from the given premises. The world being what it is, I noted a while back that that isn’t a strong enough criticism for some popular arguments; we need a new category, the contrarium sequitur (or contra-sequitur for short), which is the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which is exactly the opposite of the conclusion that you should draw from the given premises.

The New York Times Op-Ed page has always a particularly fertile field for picking ripe contra-sequiturs. That’s no doubt partly a function of the sort of people they employ. But I don’t think it’s just those particular guys; it’s really a feature of the house style, and perhaps an inevitable product of the intellectual environment when Very Serious People set themselves to issuing important opinions about matters of public concern.

Any political hack can churn out something that tries to shoehorn unruly facts into a predetermined party line, but it takes a special kind of environment to go beyond mere hackery day after day, to maintain such consistency in coming up with conclusions so exquisitely opposed to what the facts obviously suggest. For example, consider the recent online battle over Wikileaks, and the ongoing government efforts — led by the Obama administration and by Senators like Joe Lieberman — to pressure corporations like Amazon, Dyn Inc. (EveryDNS), et al. into cutting off the Internet services that Wikileaks needs to keep its website running, and to pressure payment processors like PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, and Bank of America to cut off their access to funding, in the interests of national security and the alleged public interest. Many people see this and offer opinions which are better or worse informed, better thought out or worse thought out.

But only the New York Times Op-Ed page could take this government-driven campaign of intimidation to shut down Wikileaks and take it as proof of a crying need for more extensive government regulatory controls, which would allow the United States federal government to take a more active role in directing the business decisions of banks and payment processors. So that they can protect irksome bloggers, risky organizations, and unpopular opinions from being shut down by risk-averse banks, you see. This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks — so, instead, they’ll leave it up to someone you can always count on to stand up for open debate and a free press for organizations like Wikileaks — the United States federal government.

All in the public interest, of course.

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