Tag Archives: logical fallacy

False Choices, Free Culture and Music.

So, NPR ran a post by an intern who doesn’t get the whole paying-for-music thing — or, rather, realizes now that she ought to, but doesn’t want to pay for physical media of specific songs or albums.

The Trichordist responded with an open letter about the ethics of file sharing, which is a great read from the artist side of the fence, but also mixes up several issues. In particular, it misrepresents a large part of the “other side.” He starts off saying that Emily White seems to have succumbed to “false choices” presented by “Free Culture,” then goes on to present his own false choices, somehow managing to characterize rampant piracy, Creative Commons*, and the tech industry as if they’re all the same thing.

The issue is not simply “pay for everything” vs “take what you want because you can.”

Among other things it’s about recognizing that distribution channels have changed, so business models must as well. It’s about trying to come up with a system that doesn’t put unnecessary roadblocks in place. It’s about enabling those who do want to share their art in different ways to be able to do so easily.

Edit: It’s also about, and here’s where the tech industry comes in, recognizing that technology does change the legal landscape. Remember the debate over whether Google should pay up for thumbnails in image search results? (Kind of like requiring card catalogs to pay to use the title of the books they refer to.) Or Congress trying to decide whether copying a media file or program from disk to RAM constituted a legal “copy” subject to copyright restrictions?

Edit 2: And then there’s the matter of opening up the gray areas, or rather the areas that most of us intuitively see as gray, but that current copyright law treats as black and white, such as fan art and fan fiction. Technically, a six-year-old’s scrawled Mickey Mouse is illegal. Technically, software companies can tell you how many backups you’re allowed to make. Enforcement is spotty (fortunately), but that means if someone wants to get you in trouble for something else, all they have to do is report you.

If you want to make music and I want to listen to it, I’m happy to pay you for it. I have a lot of music on my iPod, and yes, I’ve paid for it. My last MP3 purchase was a week ago. Heck, I’ve bought music from Jonathan Coulton, who gives it away for free (under a Creative Commons licence, I might add).

So yeah, I’m willing to pay for music. But I don’t want to have to pay separately to listen to the same music on my home sound system, on my computer, on my phone, and in my car because your publisher has decided to put DRM in place that makes it difficult for me to move that music around. If you live on the other side of the planet from me, I want to be able to give you money directly and download the song over the internet instead of having to wait for publisher A to make a deal with publisher B and ship physical media around.

Technology has presented us with new ways of distributing art. Something like Pandora or Spotify would have been impossible before broadband internet. So let’s find ways to make it work for everyone instead of characterizing everything that isn’t pay-per-song as no better than looting.

It doesn’t help to complain about one set of false choices and then present your own.

*He cites the Creative Commons’ tax return to indicate the backers of the Free Culture movement, so it seems clear he looks at them as the same thing.

Missing the Point of Organic Farming

A study recently determined that organically-grown food doesn’t contain more nutrients than conventional food. Um… okaaaay… I don’t think I’ve ever seen any advocates of organic farming making that claim. I’m sure there are a few, but the major themes generally seem to be:

  • More sustainable in the long term (less negative impact on the environment).
  • Less unhealthy residue from pesticides, fertilizers, etc.
  • Better taste.

And, of course, none of these points were addressed by the study.  In short, it’s a classic straw man fallacy.  Sure, I’ve got problems with the terminology used by the organic food sector (foremost: overloading the term “organic”), but this is just missing the point.

(Hat tip to Katie for pointing this one out.)

Primary Reactions & Binary Thinking

Had dinner at my parents’ last night, and at one point talk turned to yesterday’s primary election. It’s quite interesting that, within a matter of days, the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary chose different candidates for both major parties.

It points out something that should be obvious: State-wide primaries don’t tell you how well a candidate would do in a national election. Iowa Democrats preferred Obama; New Hampshire Democrats preferred Clinton. Iowa Republicans preferred Huckabee; New Hampshire Republicans preferred McCain. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people in different regions have different concerns.

Putting too much stock in the results of one state-wide race makes as much sense as having Oregon voters select the next governor of Louisiana.

On a related note, what is it that causes so many fields to settle into the equivalent of a two-party system, with two major players (sometimes balanced, sometimes one dominant and one major alternative) and a bunch of also-rans? Republicans & Democrats, Windows & Macintosh, Internet Explorer & Firefox (and previously Netscape and Internet Explorer), Pepsi & Coca-Cola, etc.

Sure, humans like oppositions. It’s what makes the false dilemma fallacy work so well rhetorically. But why is either-or thinking so prevalent in some fields? And what’s different about fields in which many alternatives hold each other in balance? Car manufacturers, for instance, or movie studios, or cell phone manufacturers.

Left and right

Just saw Snopes’ post on Ben Stein’s commentary on the Oscars and the politics of Hollywood, including this rather disingenuous statement:

Basically, the sad truth is that Hollywood does not think of itself as part of America, and so, to Hollywood, the war to save freedom from Islamic terrorists is happening to someone else.

Sure, he’s talking about Hollywood specifically, but it’s the kind of “You’re not really American” rhetoric we see a lot in political polemic.

Has it occurred to people on the right that us “lefties” (which seems to mean anyone who is less conservative than President Bush) do think that fighting terrorism is a good thing, but that our nation is currently going about it the wrong way? That maybe invading Iraq wasn’t the best way to curtail global terrorism? That it might be possible to spy on terrorists without bypassing that Constitutionally-guaranteed “due process of law” in a way that sets precedent for warrantless spying on citizens who aren’t terrorists?

We don’t hate America, but we’re not particularly thrilled about some of the things our government has been doing lately.

I do agree that the Academy Awards are pointless in the grand scheme of things, but I’m sick and tired of the false dilemmas rampant in what passes for political discourse these days.