Sunday, February 07, 2016

General Ization battles truth

Originally published in
Reader Weekly
April 26, 2007

I meant to write about the General’s sister Globa L,. but several articles, including in the Reader Weekly, made writing about the General seem more timely.

Generalization is taking something specific and applying it to many other situations that might not have any relation to the original event or idea.  One of the worst examples is calling Jews “Christ killers” because a mob called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus.  But does a mob in one part of one city represent all the people of a country?  Is every child in that country responsible for the actions of a mob?  Should these children’s descendants be responsible for something they had no say in?

We certainly don’t like certain Muslims deciding all Americans should die because of the actions of governments that we can’t always control.

One of the most frequent generalizations is “the media is liberal”, seen most often in the letters to the editors of daily papers.  These letters are often written by someone who has a “conservative” agenda and doesn’t want to see anything published that contradicts his or her viewpoint.  Ironically, the publication of these letters proves the writers are correct; publishing many different viewpoints is a liberal action.

On the other hand, many so-called liberals complain that the media is conservative.  The Reader Weekly publishes the views of two columnists who often level this charge.  I long ago gave up on reading Norman Solomon because he derides “the media” for not covering news as he thinks it should.  Jim Hightower recently complained about media bashing Democrats for investigating the Justice Department using two publications as an example.  Then he uses a poll by USA Today to show popular support for continuing the investigation. (1)  The papers that I read, all called “liberal”, report that even Republicans are dissatisfied with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony.

“Mallard Fillmore”, the conservative duck drawn by Bruce Tinsley, bashes liberals and government mercilessly.  One of his favorite targets is the U.S. Postal Service.  One of his recent strips was a reply to an “irate postal worker” asking when Mallard would stop bashing the Postal Service.  Mallard’s reply was “When they stop bashing my packages.”  My question is when is Mallard going to bash UPS or other package carriers for bashing his packages. (2)

I’ve probably received more damaged packages from UPS than I have from the Postal Service.  Does that mean UPS bashes packages more?  No, I have to take into account that I probably receive more packages from UPS than any other source.

Ad hominem arguments are a form of generalization, that is, an idea is not very good because a certain person said it.

I would suppose that the income tax is a bad idea because Marx and Engels called for it in “The Communist Manifesto”.  Oh, but conservatives in Britain imposed an income tax in 1799.  The British Government needed all the revenue it could get in its struggle against Napoleon’s France.  Despite income and property taxes going from 1.67 million pounds in 1799 to 14.6 million pounds in 1815, the British economy prospered. (3)  Napoleon had to rely on indirect taxes because the French were resistant to more direct taxes.  Guess who won the war.

Many conservatives seem to use ad hominem thinking to formulate their positions.  They see global warming as a liberal cause, and therefore they must oppose it.  Some of these global warming skeptics use generalizations to support their arguments.  Many letter writers say the cold weather in March proves there is no global warming, mixing up meteorology and climate (weather today and weather trends spanning decades and centuries).

Global warming skeptics also use “positive” ad hominem thinking.  If someone who seems to have some scientific stature supports his or her viewpoint, then that person must be correct.  (Like all those liberals who are praising Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which I haven’t seen and don’t intend to.)  One of these global-warming skeptic documents was supposedly signed by 17,000 (or was it 20,000) scientists stating “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide … is causing, or will, … cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” (4)

But who are these 17,000 scientists?  Are they all climatologists or chemists employed by oil companies?  Are there even 17,000 climatologists in the world?  It turns out that these scientists are anybody with a degree who signed a certain petition. (5)(6)  I think I would rather go with the opinion of people who regularly study weather and climate. (7)

If climate change is not happening, why is the corporation liberals love to hate, Wal-Mart, going green, saving itself and its customers money? (8)

Generalizations about conservative and liberals certainly don’t always work out as expected. Truth takes a bit more work.

P.S. Do your own search on "17,000 scientists" and "Marshall".  I did and found the "Global Warming Petition Project".  I looked for a unique name in the A section and found "David Acerni" and did a search for him.  There is only one "D Acerni" at  He lives in Kittaning PA.  According to a Department of Energy spreadsheet from 1999, he was the contact for the Rosebud Mining Co. of Kittaning PA.  I can find no current professional reference to him.

(1) “NYPD’s ‘intelligence’”, section titled “Why media companies get no respect”, Jim Hightower, Reader Weekly, April 12, 2007

(2) “Mallard Fillmore”, Bruce Tinsley, Star Tribune, April 13, 2007

(3) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy, p. 130

(4) “Gore causes lobal warming in area middle school brains”, Budgeteer News, April 15, 2007

(5) “What the skeptics don’t tell you”, Woods Hole Research Center

(6) “The denial industry”, George Monbiot, The Guardian, September 18, 2006

(7) Climate Change: An information statement of the American Meteorological Society, Feb. 1, 2007,

(8) “The Power of Green”, Thomas Friedman, New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2007

See also "General Ization's power grows".

©2007 Melvyn D. Magree