from the world's big
A Bailout for the Rest of Us
A year ago Mike Konczal noticed something stunning about the stories on the We Are the 99% Tumblr: The people in them don't sound like late 20th century consumers who just want more stuff, nor like early 20th-century union organizers in quest of decent wages and work conditions. Instead, they sound like the oppressed masses of pre-industrial times, of medieval cities and the Roman Empire—who sought what the historian Moses Finley called "perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class." Maybe it's fitting then that Strike Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy movement that spawned the Tumblr, has turned to an idea from antiquity for its latest project: The Rolling Jubilee. A jubilee, as the Rolling Jubilee site explains, "is an event in which all debts are cancelled and all those in bondage are set free. It worked in Biblical times and it can still work today."
The idea is simple: Strike Debt buys uncollected debt, in the same market where collection agencies purchase it, at a discount. But where the bill collectors will work hard to collect on the full value of the debt they bought, the Rolling Jubilee will do … nothing. The debt it buys is thus effectively cancelled, and those in bondage are now free of it. Because the Rolling Jubilee doesn't make any money on the operation, they aren't required to file forms with the IRS officially forgiving the debt (important because if that form were filed the forgiven debt would be counted as income for the debtor, and taxed).
Since the site went up yesterday, it has raised north of $200,000. Because consumer debt can sell for as little as pennies on the dollar, this is enough to abolish more than $4 million in debt already. Did I mention that the site went up yesterday?
American consumers are carrying more than $850 billion in credit-card debt alone (add medical bills, student loans, mortgages and other forms and the total is $11 trillion). So the Rolling Jubilee is not going to have a huge impact on the overall picture, at least not in the short term. However, that's not an obstacle, as one organizer told Joe Coscarelli: The project is intended to be both of real help to debtors and a consciousness-raising exercise about the extent of debt and the industries that profit from it. It's just step one in a project to build a global movement of "debt resistors" working for "a new world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits," as the site says.
How much real help will it be to individuals? Not as much as I'd first imagined, as I learned from Patrick Lunsford's story in InsideARM, a trade paper of the debt-collection industry. (Despite some mustache-twirling—"when I buy a debt it would be a cold day in hell if I ever forgive the debt"—the comments section there is pretty informative.)
I'd envisaged a hard-working family sunk by medical debt, plagued by bill-collecting phone calls, suddenly finding itself free because of my $200 donation. But, as several commenters note below the Lunsford story, debt that sells for pennies on the dollar is discounted for a reason. It's long-lasting and hard to collect on and may well have been left for dead already. Some of it may even be debt that is outside the statute of limitations—which means debtors are no longer legally liable for the "out of statute" obligation anyway. ("I have some OOS debt that hasn’t been worked in a long time and that I’ve mostly written off. I’d be happy to sell it to them for a ridiculously inflated price!" wrote one commenter.)
Secondly, when you contribute to the Rolling Jubilee you can't select any particular hard-luck case, because debt is sold in bundles. Your donation to Rolling Jubilee supports "secret random debt forgiveness," as Felix Salmon at Reuters explains here. That randomness means you can't be sure the forgiveness is going to the most deserving and needy. (OTOH, the Rolling Jubilee is currently buying medical debt, so you can be sure you aren't forgiving some jerk's five plasma televisions.) Moreover, because banks are apparently pretty lax about what they throw into the packages they sell debt collectors, the project will, Salmon says, likely "end up paying banks for debts which aren’t legitimate at all."
I'm not that disappointed, actually. On reflection it seems to me my desire for a Hollywood-ending kind of debt forgiveness is part of the problem that Strike Debt wants to address. Focusing on individual cases draws the mind away from the systematic aspects of American debt—the 40 percent of households that have used credit cards for essentials, not those plasma TVs; the one in seven of us being chased by debt collectors; the absence of forgiveness or easing of terms for us individuals even as banks and corporations got bailouts. So I guess the Jubilee has already raised my consciousness, and provided a way to do something concrete. The idea is that people will stop waiting for rescuers and help each other directly (the "rolling" part of the jubilee is the notion that people who've gotten debt relief will in turn contribute). This "bailout by the people for the people" is literally an invitation to be the change you want to see in the world.
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.