To Conflate or not to Equate


          In debate, and especially in internet debate due to the open, egalitarian nature of the web, conflation is a regular problem, and a constant issue, where even the ubiquitous strawman argument has to take second place in the hierarchy of fallacies. But of course, the assumption that two things are the same when they’re not is only one mistake. There is also the error of assuming things are different when they’re not; there is the inability to tell when two things are really the same.

          Of course, for anyone who’s seen my blogs, you know I’m a one-song jukebox.

          You know what I’m going for here: people need to conflate punishment with abuse a whole lot more; this is a case of extreme over-differentiation.

          We differentiate these two things only by our intentions and our wishes. If we hit a kid with only the intention of hurting it, that is abuse; if we hit a kid to teach it something, to increase his skills and knowledge and thus improve its life forever afterwards, that is not. This formula works for all acts that can fall on either side of this difference, punishment or abuse: blows, confinement, isolation, confiscation, loss of privileges.  If we wish it to have positive effects, it’s punishment; if we only wish for negative effects, it’s abuse.

          Is this how other things work?

  1. If we only hope to destroy the environment, that’s environmental terrorism, but if we wish for positive effects from our factories, then it’s industry, economic growth? Does our wish for positive things in industry mean we are not polluting?
  2. If we only wish to wipe out fish stocks, that is, let’s say, specicide, but if we are hoping to feed the world’s people with the fish, then that is food production? Does our wish for feeding the world mean we are not wiping out our ocean life?
  3. If we only wish to vilify and make war on other cultures and faiths, that is xenophobia, warmongering and intolerance, but if we wish to preserve and promote our own culture and/or faith, that is conservatism, tradition and loyalty, a social form of self-love? Does declaring our faith and our way of life to be correct and proper mean we are not asserting the other side of the coin, that other faiths and cultures must be wrong?
  4. If I only wish to pay no taxes at all, that is tax evasion and selfishness, but if I want keep as much of my salary as I have a legal right to and use every possible deduction available, that is simply providing for my family, being a responsible provider. Avoiding the political discussion, avoiding issues of government waste and corruption, would the government not be in a better position to do its work with more revenue, if I missed a few deductions? Does my healthy self concern and family concern not have its downside in the bottom line for a government that is operating on a deficit?

          I think I’ve made the point by now, and it’s a simple one really – everything has a measurable downside, life is a trade-off in many ways. But working backwards through my list, it still needs to be laid out as clearly as possible, some things need some conflation, some “differentiation” is false and needs to go away.

 – less taxation IS government deficit;

 – preservation of culture IS xenophobia;

 – resource extraction IS depletion of the environment;

 – industry IS destruction of the environment; and

 – punishment IS abuse

          Our wishes do not change these facts, intentions do not somehow invalidate the effects of our actions. Causality, cause-and-effect, happens in the real world and our wishes do not change that fact.

          The science is in regarding the effects of abuse and corporal punishment, and the effects are the same; they include practically all of the problems people suffer generally, they are simply shown to be more common and more severe in people who have been documented as having suffered abuse or corporal punishment.

          The emotional, psychological and cognitive effects of abuse and corporal punishment have their roots in the emotional, psychological and cognitive functions of punishment, in the betrayal of trust and love and in the convoluted “logic” of punishing (such as hitting a child to teach it not to hit, or hurting a child’s feelings in an effort to teach the child not to hurt another’s). These effects cannot be wished away.

          Reporting of these effects can be suppressed, children can learn that they mustn’t point these effects out to their caregivers, but the effects themselves remain.

          Conflate this things, abuse and punishment, please. Wishes do not make for a real differentiation.