Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Law of the Ridiculous Reverse

Simon Hoggart
British journalist Simon Hoggart is credited with coining 'The Law of the Ridiculous Reverse', sometimes now referred to as 'Hoggart's Law', which holds that "if the opposite of a statement is plainly absurd, it was not worth making in the first place". He used it to illustrate the meaninglessness of politicians' claims. To quote his examples:

"An economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded", or in the least gracious alternative, "an economy crafted to benefit lazy skivers who would rather watch Jeremy Kyle than turn an honest hand".
"Reduce the burden of excessive regulation" or "tie up business with yet more red tape".
"A fairer society that rewards people who work hard" or alternatively "an unjust society that rewards bent bankers and speculators". Oh, hold on, that's what we've got. So perhaps there really is a policy change there.

Since no one is arguing for the second alternative, is the first one, the quotation from a politician, really adding anything to the discussion? No, not really.

So, try it with the latest speech of the US election season. (Results in the comments section, if you please.) Since there have been so many ridiculous claims made by some candidates, it might be interesting to see if they made sense when reversed.

5 comments:

  1. The Republican electorate in the US this year seems to have rewarded candidates that make substantive claims. The Donald, for example, has had great poll numbers even after saying things like, "Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people." Regardless of whether you agree, these are substantive claims, and their opposite isn't obviously false. And his reward has been good polling numbers.

    Compare with a quote (pulled at random from BrainyQuote) by Jeb!: "Life teaches you that you need to make decisions in the right time - not too early, not too late." Its opposite -- "You should make decisions at the wrong time" -- is obviously ridiculous. And his poll numbers are dismal.

    I'm curious if you have any thoughts about the relationship of Hoggart's Law to Niels Bohr's famous quote: "The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one great truth may very well be another great truth."

    Also, is Bohr's quote a great truth?...

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  2. This comes just as I'm having a Facebook argument with a philosopher about whether there are knowable facts.

    Hoggart's talking about politicians and they rarely (these days) utter great truths. I'm trying to think of any great truths I may know. Not sure what qualifies a truth as being 'great'.

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  3. My favourite type of text illustrating this law is school mission statements, eg.
    "We aim to foster excellence in all areas of learning, to enable pupils to achieve highly, to develop their individual character skills and therefore equip them to succeed in this competitive world." @lexicoj0hn

    -->

    "We aim to foster mediocrity in all areas of learning, to discourage pupils from achieving highly, to neglect their individual character skills and therefore make them ill-equipped to succeed in this competitive world."

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  4. I think this is an oversimplification. Such claims can be made to change the status quo, where a perfectly viable alternative is to do nothing. So, to take one of the listed examples, "A fairer society that rewards people who work hard", a reasonable alternative is "Our society is plenty fair and people are already plenty rewarded for working hard".

    Or let's take one of today's campaign slogans, "make America great again." The alternative is not to "make America horrible" or something. It's to challenge the premise that America is not great now.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think this is an oversimplification. Such claims can be made to change the status quo, where a perfectly viable alternative is to do nothing. So, to take one of the listed examples, "A fairer society that rewards people who work hard", a reasonable alternative is "Our society is plenty fair and people are already plenty rewarded for working hard".

    Or let's take one of today's campaign slogans, "make America great again." The alternative is not to "make America horrible" or something. It's to challenge the premise that America is not great now.

    ReplyDelete