A = Z ~cough cough~ logic – Marc MacYoung


I’m currently working on a model to explain the difference between ‘what you actually know’ vs. ‘what you believe.’

In ye olde good ol’ days it was fine to admit that something was a belief. “Hey you believe in a different God? Good for you.  Don’t bring it to our business dealings.” “You believe your people are superior to others? Sure, whatever. Just don’t cross this line and we’re fine and dandy.”

Now contrary to what you might believe, while things could be fucked up on a bigger level, on a day to day level, things worked. That’s because people had their beliefs and mostly went about their lives — surrounded by people of similar beliefs. More than that though, the reason it worked is your folks stayed on your side of town and those folks stayed on there side. When we interact, there are specific rules and behaviors we follow.

Well now days you have a lot of folks who think it is their divine calling to come running over, kick the crap out of your beliefs and beat into you accepting theirs. Which is bad and rude enough, but it’s made worse by the fact that what they believe is so obviously full of shit.

I’m going to propose that you BOTH may have fallen into a trap of biases and heuristics. But more than that, you’ve encountered what I call A = Z logic.

Before I go on, let me point out a few things. First, formal logic and rhetoric are — demonstrable — ways of thinking. There are standards. It’s a proven process that gets your neurons chugging along in a certain way. Kind of like being trained to be a lawyer or a scientist. This process is NOT the truth. (Hell, there’s even different types of logic.) But the study of forensics is a good way to get past some of the hiccups that come with organizing your thoughts along the lines of belief. This in order to get to something close to agreeing on the rules and components of issues that we need to discuss. Then comes the debate.

The key point of this can be summed up in a lie to children: Logic/science/rhetoric are not the truth. They are ways to get into the neighborhood.  But the map is not the territory. That’s something many folks have lost sight of.

Second, I tell you that because a whole lot of people believe they’re being logical and citing proofs when they aren’t. Stop and reread that last sentence, I snuck a word in there — believe.  What does it take for us to believe something? Really nothing. All we have to do is tell ourselves it’s true.  As long as this belief is not challenged, we’re fine and dandy.

Where things get interesting is when we self-certify ourselves as something (e.g., rational, informed, intelligent, open minded, or ‘a good person’) and then proceed to act in ways that are completely opposite to that. Hold onto this thought, you’ll see it again.

Third, among faux intellectuals there is a trend to dismiss with great prejudice ‘belief.’ A belief is wrong, stupid, evil and is the source of all that is wrong in this world. So, by extension, theirs’ are NOT beliefs, but proven facts, logic and truths based on science and studies.  (Incidentally, look up the woozle effect. The rest of this will make a lot more sense when you have it under your belt.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woozle_effect )

This is a great excuse for your wrongs to make things right. Just like you can tell yourself that something is true and believe it, you can believe you’re not talking about your beliefs, but logically arrived at conclusions. In extremis this can create a form of zealotry comparable to a Grand Inquisitor — with the added benefit of you can deny that’s what you’re doing because you’re being logical and talking about unquestionable –and proven — truths.

That last point is what brings us to A = Z logic. A very common methodology/tool for these folks.

Many folks (and we’re not above doing it ourselves, so keep an eye out for it) will present a prepackaged conclusion as both incontrovertible and an overwhelming truth. This will be the foundation of their entire argument (where they’re coming from). Now that in and of itself, isn’t a problem. Where it becomes a problem is when you’re an idiot, evil, wrong, racist, sexist, capitalist oppressor when you do not automatically accept the obviousness of this glaring truth. And since you’re all that you have to be shouted down — or legislated against.

Don’t even think this fast summary covers the whole of the subject of belief vs. knowledge, but A = Z logic is one very specific branch. A branch that I’m going to help you keep from getting smacked in the face with.

Often A = Z logic comes in the form of “this is the problem, this is the answer.”

Thing is, if you scratch the surface, you’ll see this isn’t logic at all, but rather belief parading as logic.  If you recognize this, it’s a LOT easier to deal with because you know it’s not about logic, reality or working solutions. It’s about that person’s beliefs and the stories (narrative) they organize their lives around. Another way to look at it is it’s not about the way the world is, it’s about how they want the world to be. The conclusion is not based on facts, evidence and real life considerations, instead specific beliefs, assumptions and tailored data lead to what appears to be — a simplistic, self-evident conclusion. Except that isn’t how real life works.

Pick a hot button topic, any hot button topic. You picked _______ (fill in the blank). Let’s apply A = Z logic to it.

A = B, B = C, C = D, ….. therefore A = Z

A = Z logic looks like actual logic. (Well at least a certain kind.) More than that it looks like a straight 26 step shot from A to Z (and Z back to A). But it’s missing a small but critical word.  A word that blows out of the water the idea that it’s been a straight shot to get there. That word is ‘if.’

Here’s classic logic “IF A = B, if B = C, then A = C”

A = Z logic does away with that pesky ‘if.’  If it pretends not to, then the ‘if’ is given a hand way. “Well, if A = B, but of course we know it does.” (If is just a mere formality.)

Why is if not a mere formality? Because inside your head, in the context of your beliefs, there is no doubt that these things are equal. But that doesn’t make it so. We self-select the information we want (that supports our conclusion) and dismiss, ignore and — again– reject with extreme prejudice anything that would call into question our assumptions.


If this is how you are looking at it, then it’s easy to connect A and Z

Except A does not equal B, but rather can mean 1,2, or 3.

Or if B does not equal A, but can mean blue, green or red.

C does not equal B, but — again — can mean earth, air, fire, or water.

That’s real life and real complications. This is why I say while A = Z looks like a straight shot, it’s really not. In order for it to be a straight shot, you HAVE to limit things. The chain HAS be just letters, and just the Roman alphabet. Hence ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. But even then, it’s 26 very specific steps to get to that conclusion. Throw in variables and A is no longer a straight and unquestionable shot to Z.

When A equals 3. B equals blue. C equals both fire, or water. All of a sudden Z is no longer a self-evident conclusion.

That’s a big part of why that pesky if is dropped from A = Z logic. It opens the door to too many variables. Variables challenge belief. That’s because belief is simple and easy. Wrestling with all those damned variables isn’t.

This is the branch someone is going to try to hit you with. But recognize the way to mess up their swing is not by arguing their conclusion (Z). It’s by bringing back that pesky ‘if.’

As in “You say that A = B as if it is an unquestionable and obvious fact. I don’t agree. The variables in just those two points are …”

This is where you’ll really run into the Woozle Effect. (Remember the link I gave you?) Because the smart ones will fall back to quoting some soft science paper or study that (they feel) legitimatizes the term/point/contention/assumption that A = B.  And straight up, if you look at it from ONLY that perspective, it does.  (Right there is the mechanism that makes A = Z look like a straight shot rather than a 26 step process that requires some very specific thinking and assumptions.)

The not so smart ones will fall back on them being of that sex, race, social class, education or ideology as proof of their qualifications to recognize the truth about the subject. Which if you aren’t, your opinion doesn’t matter.

By not arguing their conclusion, but questioning the methodology they used to get there, you can easily tell if someone has actually knows (and has thought about, researched and experience with the subject) or is just parroting A = Z logic.

Because  A = Z logic completely falls apart with the introduction of variables and other factors. It can only be maintained by limiting it to ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Whereas someone who actually knows the subject will acknowledge the influence of other factors relating to the subject and can explain BOTH how they are relevant to, but do not take priority over the elements he is talking about.

Having said that there’s a short, fast, rule of thumb you can use to spot A = Z logic. That’s when you bring up a variable, alternative or important influencing factor how fast it turns to…

A – Appeals to your compassion (“Think of the children!” “It’s the right thing to do!”)

B – Appeals to authority (well so-and-so said and he/she/it is an expert)

C – About a person’s feelings and/or rights (“Well I feel…” or “I have a right…”)

D – The person ‘shoulds all over themselves’  Basically talking about how the world should be. (Here’s a hanky, you just should all over yourself.)

E – Brings up a narrative that it’s ALWAYS about (especially past oppression and wrongs done to a special little group or oneself)

F – Goes ad hominen (e.g., calls you a racist, sexist, conservative) and dismissive of the points because you’re a _____ (fill in the blank). Wait, because I’m a _____(fill in the blank), economic reality doesn’t matter?

Here’s a free hint. Someone ‘shoulding all over themselves’ is closely tied to A and B. This especially when it comes to how you should have empathy (A)  and listen to them because the noise coming out of their mouth is the same as an expert (B)  Be very careful about this because when you run into this you’re over halfway there to being attacked (F).

In closing let me mention three things.

One is although I’ve been talking about  A = Z logic in terms of the other person, we’re all susceptible to falling into it. So check yourself before you wreck yourself. Go out and talk to other people about their different point of views. Not to win them over. Not to defend your beliefs, but to honestly try to understand where they are coming from and why they think the way they do. Often this is a great way to find out stuff that you don’t know. Like “Oh. Yeah, that is kind of important isn’t it? I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

Two is beliefs are VERY closely tied into our self-identity and anger.  As in if you are challenging someone’s beliefs (conclusions) the odds are you’re going to get into a fight — or at least an unpleasant discussion.  I long ago learned to acknowledge “You’re right. IF A = B and B = C then A = C.”  It’s a lot easier and safer to bring up variables that were overlooked in the person’s methodology than to challenge their beliefs.

And this includes even when the person has completely and totally drank the Kool-Aid.  (For example, I’ve actually said, “So let me get this straight,  you’re saying that  the reason you don’t learn about the legal consequences of using a knife on someone don’t matter because — in your mind — everything boils down to survival. That’s the ultimate issue?” If that person says ‘yes,’ the conversation is over.) In which case, once that’s revealed it’s time to change the game plan. Mostly because you can’t argue someone into changing their minds and pissing them off …well it’s turned into a fight, not a discussion.

Third is just for full disclosure.  Part of what set off about writing this is I just personally witnessed someone demanding the exclusion of anyone who-didn’t-think-the-same as the writer from a ‘conversation’ that MUST be had.  That isn’t a conversation, hell it’s not even monologuing, it’s creating a flock of A = Z parrots to send out to attack the world. I was both stunned and appalled about this call for exclusion because an aphorism that I believe in (yes, I’m not afraid to admit I have beliefs) is “If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends. Talk to your enemies.”

So there you go. Watch for A = Z logic. It’s out there … in more ways than one.

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