Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Recognizing bullshit online #1: Counterfactual Identity Swaps

I'm not saying "counterfactual identity swaps" are the first or greatest examples of bullshit; the number just means I suspect I'll add more items to the list.

Matt Breunig defines the Counterfactual Identity Swap:
The way the CIS works is you take an event in the news and you speculate on what the event would be like if the identity of the actors involved were different. Unsurprisingly, the CIS always proves that the take-maker is correct about whatever their point is. You can find CIS examples for almost any news event. Liberals and conservatives equally enjoy it.
What's lovely about the CIS is facts are entirely irrelevant. You merely have to say that something would be different if, say, left-handed philatelists were involved, and everyone who believes left-handed philatelists are treated differently will agree. I especially admire Counterfactual Identity Swaps as a sometime practitioner of alternative history—one of the things I've said that sometimes gets repeated is, "...there are no correct alternate histories; there are only plausible alternate histories."

The CIS thrives where ignorance is great so the bar for plausibility is low. The CIS is related to false equivalence, but it has one great advantage: with false equivalence, you have to offer an example that someone might dispute. The Counterfactual Identity Swap is ideologically perfect, requiring nothing more than bias to be believed.