Brown Jesus says Happy Easter

Good writing is hard to come by, so what we do with recruits at my workplace is to teach them to write well.

Being a former journalist and being one who writes moderately well, the task fell on Unspun to conduct the class.

Being a firm believer that writing is a reflection of your mental processes, I’ve always started the course with Critical Thinking 101 and the first slide in this presentation asks the participants to tell me which of the two images is a more accurate depiction of Christ.


To Unspun the comparion is a no brainer. Jesus was a Jew and a middle easterner, a native of Galilee.

People like that, as in the BBC reconstruction from a skull found there during the period of Jesus, tended to look like the chap on the right. He may not looked exactly like the man portrayed but for sure he would have been swarthy and would NIT look like an Anglo-Saxon savior right out of the paintings of Byzantine artists.

Inevitably, however, there would be one or two – sometimes more – participants in the class who said that Jesus would have looked like the person on the left. The reason? That’s the image of Jesus they’ve seen growing up and the image that adorns the churches they go to.

Which was perfect for us to begin our discourse on critical thinking, the importance of not accepting anything at face value and why we need to ask questions more.

Inevitably too, someone would raise the argument that too much critical thinking is bad for us because it makes us cynical. We should just accept things based on faith.

The answer is that too much of anything is not good for anyone. At any rate critical thinking, if practiced skillfully leads one not to cynicism but to skepticism, which is not a bad thing.

In this world, if we question more without becoming cynical (which Oscar Wilde defines as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”) we’d be enjoying oour lives more, not less; and socially and politically we would be ensuring that much of the ugliness and hate in this world we see today would be minimized.

Happy Easter everyone.



Dishonest argument #1: Use of emotionally toned words

At the request of reader BonarUnspun starts today a series elaborating the dishonest tricks used in  argument, as outlined by R.H. Thouless in his book Straight and Crooked Thinking.

The first trick Thouless talks about is:

#1 The use of emotionally toned words

This is a trick that is very common indeed, especially in hot topics where strong views are involved. We saw it early in the Rasa Not So Sayang, for instance.  It consists of using words aimed to disparage or put the other person in  a bad light, usually by imputing a negative quality or intention on th e other person.

So in Rasa not so Sayang we had these emotional words being bandied about:

Indonesians toward Malaysians: trouble maker, maling,  

Malaysians toward Indonesians: bodoh punya bangsa Indon,  indon goblok gonjol

Such words, when used intentionally or not, cause the other person to feel hurt and retaliate. The problem is that if you feel hurt and angry and retaliate, you begin to lose the argument because if you are angry the tendency is to also use emotional words back at the person. When these happens the argument starts to become a verbal brawl where both sides aren’t interested in getting any truth or understanding out of the exchange but to defend their psyches, often by hurthing the other person with similar emotional words.

The solution, says, Thouless, is to translate the statement into emotionally neutral words.

So the defense for maling might be “…without proper permission“, trouble maker could be substituted with provocative or unwittingly causing grief, bodoh and goblok could be substituted with words such as uninformed or misguided actions.

This way emotions are not inflamed and everyone has enough goodwill to find  a common understanding or solution to the issue at hand. That, surely should be the purpose of argument, to discover common ground or new understanding. Unless of course you’re iseng…

Straight and Crooked Thinking

Unspun supposes that many bloggers and commentators in blogs often face the frustration of adversaries who employ dishonest arguments when presenting their case. Some do it because they are unskillful in arguing their case, others do it because they are crooked thinkers.

In a modest attempt to contribute to better blogging and better quality conversations in blogs, Unspun is reaching back to the past to recall lessons learned from a wonderful book called Straight and Crooked Thinking  by Robert H. Thouless.

In this age of Wikipedia there is even a summary of the 38 dishonest tricks that crooked thinkers use in their arguments (see below). Anyone interested in logic and rhetoric should rush out and get it, if it is still in print. Unspun has a copy because he bought many, many years ago and has taken it everywhere with him.

If you read Thouless well, the next time someone tries to pull a fast one on you when you are putting forth your argument, you’ll know what to do. 😉

1) The use of emotionally toned words (pp 10-25)
Dealt with by translating the statement into words emotionally neutral
(2) Making a statement in which “all” is implied but “some” is true (pp 27-38)
Dealt with by putting the word “all” into the statement and showing that it is then false.
(3) Proof by selected instances (pp 32-37)
Dealt with dishonestly by selecting instances opposing your opponent’s contention or honestly by pointing out the true form of the proof (as a statistical problem in association) and either supplying the required numerical facts or pointing out that your opponent has not got them.
(4) Extension of an opponent’s proposition by contradiction or by misrepresentation of it (pp 39-43)
Dealt with by stating again the more moderate position which is being defended.
(5) Evasion of a sound refutation of an argument by the use of a sophistical formula (pp 41-44)
Dealt with by analysis of the formula and demonstration of its unsoundness.
Continue reading “Straight and Crooked Thinking”