Of Cartoons and True Scotsmen

While you can certainly debate whether ubiquitous internet access is a good or a bad thing, I suspect anyone with a weekly blog commitment to SLAW is looking forward to WestJet’s and Air Canada’s plans to roll out wifi on Canadian flights in the very near future. It is, I’ve learned, very near impossible to write a blog without an internet connection.

Yesterday I instead found myself sitting in seat 12E looking wistfully from my mute and helpless laptop to the pillowy white dunes just beyond the wings of flight WS697. “Cloud computing”, it struck me, was an oxymoron—that and a rather annoying irony since I was literally in the clouds and unable to compute a thing.

Nonetheless I was grateful today when, having not yet written my Monday post for Slaw, I saw this cartoon from the July 7, 2014 edition of the Globe and Mail—a twist on that famous “It’s just a flesh wound!” scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. The cartoon features Stephen Harper as King Arthur facing down the Supreme Court of Canada dressed as the Black Knight. Instead of the Court floundering limbless, however, it’s Harper’s King Arthur, evidently surprised that the mêlée could have gone so off-script. (It’s clear that Monty Python is the key influence on Canada’s political Zeitgeist this summer considering the recent anti-spam laws and “spam” nomenclature’s debt to the legendary sketch comedy troupe.)

Anyway, it reminded me of another cartoon-based work, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.

The author, Ali Almossawi, is a San Francisco-based computer programmer. Inspired by his own experiences arguing with strangers in online forums, he began studying the tools and paradigms that promote good reasoning and productive debates. He wrote this book as a visual guide to logical fallacies, featuring short descriptions and pithy woodcut illustrations with Alice in Wonderland-style creatures engaged in classical errors of reasoning and bad arguments.

As we all aspire to sound critical thinking, it is a fun and—I’d say—motivating read. You may recognize something from a debate (either something they said or something you said) with a client, friend or opposing counsel: a straw man argument; appeal to hypocrisy; a false dilemma; some slippery slope reasoning; composition and division; or, everyone’s favourite, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. All the best ones are laid out in this quick read.

The book has been around for about a year as an online work at www.bookofbadarguments.com, and was released under Creative Commons. It was printed in a small run late in 2013 and just sold out of its first edition run this May. It is still a non-profit venture. The six or seven thousand dollars which it netted during the first edition is being ploughed back into Almossawi’s next book, tentatively titled Hand in the Land of Bards, which promises to teach us all a thing or two about algorithms. I would like to see his cartoons on Charter analysis, but I’m thinking this will have to wait.

The second edition of An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments is scheduled for release in late September 2014 and became available for pre-order on June 1, 2014.

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