Paul Ryan and Keenan
The whole point of this exercise is to make absolutely sure you know the difference between thinking and feeling. To be more precise, I want to make sure you know the difference between making a factual decision on the basis of mere feelings, and making a factual decision on the basis of actually thinking about the issue. The peculiar think about this distinction is that while just about everyone thinks they know the difference between thinking and feeling, very few people actually know that difference.
To understand the real difference between thinking and feeling about a factual issue, consider the following. On the social media site FaceBook people are wont to post various “news” stories about public figures. Often, these “news” stories are produced by websites that have no connection with any established news sources, and, when fact checked, turn out to be completely unsupported by any form of evidence. In other words, they are bogus stories from bogus sources. At one point, I became curious about how the posters of such rubbish came to decide to repost these easily refuted stories, and I asked two of them what their process was. Unsurprisingly, neither one of them mentioned anything that remotely resembled fact checking. Instead, each of them said something like, “I look at the story, and if it seems consistent with what I already believe about that public figure, I decide that it’s true, and I repost it.” Neither of these people had any conception of looking to see if there was any evidence supporting the story. Instead, they simply looked to see if they felt that it was likely to be true, based on their preexisting beliefs, and if it felt true to them, they decided that it was true. They were feeling instead of thinking, and, since they had fixed all of their existing beliefs the same way, everything they believed was based on feelings, over the years they had drifted further and further from reality, becoming complete morons in the process.
In my experience with students, I have noticed the curious fact that sometimes a student will tell me that he is thinking when he is clearly only feeling, that sometimes a student will swear that their thesis is supported by evidence when they clearly are presenting no evidence whatsoever, and that sometimes a student will simply make up their own false “facts” rather than think about the issue. Because of this, I developed this exercise in which the only way to get a good grade is to THINK about the issue. If you make your decision on the basis of feelings, you will fail the assignment.
If you do fail this assignment the first time you try it, you can have another go with a diferent topic, and if you get it right the second time, the first score goes away. This means that failing the first time does your grade no harm whatsoever, as long as you do okay on the second go. And failing twice won’t hurt if you do it right the third time. In fact, you can fail on all three goes, and still get a great score if you succeed on the fourth go. However, if you blow it on all four options, well, it’s best not to think about that.
What To Do
After you finish reading all the instructions on this page, you will follow ONE out of four links (Military, Let Women Die, Make It Seem, or Extreme) at the bottom of this page, to one of four very small, very different, and very specific assignments. If you follow instructions and do your chosen task exactly right, you will find it very easy to get a good grade and be done with this assignment. And if you don’t follow instructions, you will do badly, but it will be okay, because you will be able to try again with a different prompt, and will have another chance to follow instructions and do well.
Critical thinking is the consistent and careful application of logic to statements made by yourself and others. This exercise will give you practice in thinking clearly and logically about a set of claims made by one writer about another writer. You will first clearly and precisely explain a writer’s article in your own words. Next, you will clearly and precisely explain what another says about that article. Then you will take take one of the main points of dispute between these articles and figure out which of the two writers is closer to the truth on that point. If you do that last bit correctly, (by thinking instead of feeling) you will be done. If you don’t do it correctly, you will have a chance to redo the assignment with a different topic.
Here’s a big hint, if you make up your mind on the basis of evidence, you will do fine. But, if you make up your mind on the basis of feelings, you will fail, fail, fail.
Phase One: Read the article STATEMENT ON MITT ROMNEY’S SELECTION OF REP. PAUL RYAN FOR HIS VICE-PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE by Nancy Keenan, making notes as you go, and get yourself really, really clear about what exactly Keenan is saying in her article.
STATEMENT ON MITT ROMNEY’S SELECTION OF REP. PAUL RYAN FOR HIS VICE-PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE
Washington, D.C. – Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued the following statement regarding former Gov. Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice-presidential running mate.
“Rep. Paul Ryan’s extreme anti-choice record shows just how serious a threat Mitt Romney’s presidency would be for women,” Keenan said. “He has cast 59 votes on reproductive rights while in Congress and not one has been pro-choice. Rep. Ryan has also repeatedly voted to defund family-planning programs and supported the “Let Women Die Bill,” which would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she could die without it. It comes as no surprise that Romney would choose a like-minded running mate who is just as out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities as he is. The Romney-Ryan ticket is dangerous to women’s health.”
Rep. Ryan’s anti-choice record includes:
Repeatedly voting to deny women in the military – who defend our freedom overseas – the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at military hospitals.
Repeatedly voting to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny millions of women access to comprehensive reproductive-health care and preventive services.
Cosponsoring and repeatedly voting for the Federal Abortion Ban, a law that criminalizes some abortion services, endangers women’s health, and carries a two-year prison sentence for doctors.
Voting for an appropriations bill that defunded Planned Parenthood, eliminated the Title X family-planning program, and reinstated the D.C. abortion ban.
The occupant of the White House wields more power over reproductive rights than any other person. The U.S. Constitution and American tradition give the president a wide variety of means to influence the laws and policies that govern freedom of choice. Depending on who occupies the office, that unique authority can be used either to protect or to take away reproductive rights.
“Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions,” Keenan continued. “The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women’s rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization’s priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House.”
Phase Two: Make a list of Keenan’s four or five main claims and explain each one of those claims clearly, completely and precisely in your own words. (You will not turn this in.)
Phase Three: Read the article Pro Choice Groups Launch Anti Ryan Smear Campaign by Joel Pollak, making notes as you go, and get yourself really, really clear about what exactly Pollak is saying in his article.
Phase Four: Make a list of Pollak’s four or five main claims and explain each one of those claims clearly, completely and precisely in your own words. (You will not turn this in either.)
Phase Five: Answer the following question; read article
Does Pollak prove Keenan Is lying About Ryan’s views?
If link does not work, here is what is in the link:
Does Pollak Prove Keenan Is Lying About Ryan’s Views?
If this is not your first go, don’t attempt this assignment until after you’ve read and fully understood all my comments on any previous writing. If you did wrong stuff in your previous work, doing the same wrong stuff again in this paper will definitely cost you a lot of points this time. I make comments so that you know not to do the same wrong thing in subsequent papers, so if you ignore my comments and repeat the same kind of mistakes again here you are basically guaranteeing that you will get a bad grade. If you want a good grade, you will read my comments on your previous work, figure out any and all of the things you did wrong, and not do those wrong things again. And if this is your second try, make sure you read Logic Writing Failures
Pollak seems to claim that Keenan dishonestly accuses Paul Ryan of holding extreme anti-abortion views. Is this claim proved to be correct by the information given by Pollak in his article? If it is, what evidence exists in Keenan’s article to support that accusation?
Remember that if Keenan did not mention Ryan’s views, she can’t possibly be lying about those views.
Remember that if what Keenan did say is actually a fair comment based on facts, then she can’t be lying even if you personally would not have said what she said.
Please remember that you are supposed to think for yourself here. Do not mindlessly repeat the claims of either author. Instead, look are what Keenan actually says, and compare it carefully to what Pollak says she says. If what Pollak says she says isn’t exactly what she actually says, then Pollak is wrong, and you should say so. If she does say what Pollak says she says, but what Keenan says is actually a reasonable thing to say, or an honest matter of opinion, then Pollak is wrong, and you should say so.
Your Assignment: Determine whether or not Pollak proves that Keenan said anything that isn’t true about Ryan’s views, and write a properly structured essay stating, explaining and justifying your answer.
You should treat this as if it were a mathematics problem. There is a right answer, and you have to figure it out before you start writing down your answer. If a teacher asks you “what is two-plus-two” and you feel very strongly that the answer is “seven,” you would still be wrong to give “seven” as your answer to “what is two-plus-two.” Similarly, there is a right answer to the question posed above, this answer can be determined by examining Keenan’s writing, Pollak’s writing and any other relevant evidence. If you base your answer on what you feel to be true instead of the evidence, you will very probably get it wrong and get zero points for this assignment.
1. Absolute Rules
There are certain things you absolutely must do in your paper.
After grading a couple of responses to this prompt, I realized that there are a couple of problems that need to be very specifically addressed, so I created these very specific rules to specifically direct you to do those exact things. So here is a list of things you absolutely must do in your paper.
1. Base your account of what Keenan says entirely on the actual text of Keenan’s article. If Pollak says that Keenan says something, or implies that Keenan says something, do not just take his word for it, but go to Keenan’s article, read it carefully, and determine for yourself whether Keenan actually says what Pollak says or implies that she says. If the words are not in Keenan’s article, don’t say that the words are in Keenan’s article. If the words are in Keenan’s article, you will be able to quote these (Keenan’s) exact words in your paper. If you can’t quote Keenan actually saying that Ryan has extreme views, your paper should state that she didn’t say that. (If you quote from Pollak’s article to document what Keenan said, you need to consult a dictionary about the definition of the word “say.”)
2. Don’t let Pollak (or Keenan) do your thinking for you. Think independently. If Pollak says that Keenan implies, suggests, or makes it seem that something that some false thing that she did not say is true, you should go to Keenan’s article and see if there is actually anything there that, in and of itself makes it seem that this false thing that keenan didn’t say is true. Remember that the answer to this question is not determined by what Pollak thinks. You have to look at the things Keenan says, and think about what a reasonably intelligent person, fluent in English, who hasn’t read Pollak, would naturally think Keenan was saying. If someone who hasn’t read Pollak would think what Pollak thinks, then copy Keenan’s exact words into your notes, and make a note of whatever is implied or suggested by those exact words so you will be able to support your conclusion with evidence later. If a normal reader wouldn’t necessarily think the same things as Pollak, you should note down that Keenan did not make it seem as if this false thing was true.
3. Don’t try to protect Keenan. If you’re sympathetic to Keenan’s side of the argument, don’t let that sway you. Your job is not to write a paper that makes Keenan come out all right. Your task is to independently and dispassionately determine if she actually did what Pollak says she did.
4. Don’t try to protect Pollak. If you’re sympathetic to Pollak’s side of the argument, don’t let that sway you. Your job is not to write a paper that makes Pollak come out all right. Your task is to independently and dispassionately determine if Keenan actually did what he says she did.
5. Do not hold Keenan responsible for any mistake that Pollak might have made while reading Keenan’s article. If Pollak says that Keenan says something she doesn’t say, or that she implies something that her words don’t actually imply, then he is responsible for misreading Keenan’s article. No writer is responsible for readers who fail to read carefully. If Pollak gets the meaning or implications of Keenan’s article wrong, you should attribute the error to Pollak, and not blame Keenan for “failing to rule out” the wrong interpretation that Pollak put upon her words. It is very, very important that you make this decision based entirely on the actual meaning of the actual words that Keenan actually wrote.
6. Support all your claims about Keenan with evidence taken from Keenan’s article. If you say Keenan says some particular thing, you should in your paper provide an actual quote from Keenan’s paper where she actually says what you say she says. If you can’t provide such a quote, don’t say that Keenan says that particular thing. If Pollak says she said it, and there’s no quote, you should say that Pollak is wrong. If you say Keenan implies some particular thing, you should in your paper provide an actual quote from Keenan’s paper that actually implies what you say it implies. If you can’t provide such a quote, don’t say that Keenan implies that particular thing. If Pollak says she implied it, and there’s no quote, you should say that Pollak is wrong.
7. You absolutely must start your paper with a thesis. This thesis must represent a conclusion about the basic question of this assignment that you came to after considering all the issues mentioned in this prompt, and it must be the first sentence of your paper. I am aware that many English instructors teach their students to withhold basic information from their readers, and to write a bunch of unrelated and unimportant material before they state their theses, but I’m gettinng on in years, and I don’t have the time to wade through nonsense to get to the stuff that actually matters. Start your paper by stating your thesis. If you haven’t figured out your thesis yet, don’t start writing until you’ve figured out which thesis is best supported by the available evidence. (For this particular assignment, your thesis could range from “Pollak proved Keenan lied when she accused Ryan of extreme anti-abortion views,” through “Pollak proved that Keenan was wrong, but didn’t prove she lied,” through “Pollak was mistaken when he said that Keenan was wrong about Ryan,” to “Pollak’s accusation that Keenan lied about Ryan is completely groundless,” or anything in between.)
All of these points are very, very important. If you deliberately do things differently from these requirements, you will be deliberately failing the assignment.
2. Pre-Writing Analysis
Before you start to think about what you’re actually going to write, I want you to return to the original texts, and, in your notes, answer as many of the following questions as you can. I’d like you to consider these questions in the order I present them, although if you have trouble with a particular question you can skip it and (perhaps) come back to it later. Some of these questions concern the specific content of these articles, while others concern rules of logic. In questions of content, it is important that you go back to the original article to see what it actually says. It is not acceptable to assume that something is there because you believe it is there. It is not acceptable to assume that something isn’t there because you feel that it’s not there. Look at the words in the article and just figure out if it’s actually there or not.
The relevant part of Pollak reads: “In a NARAL press release being circulated by Democrats and women’s groups, the Catholic, pro-life Ryan is accused of “extreme” anti-abortion views. NARAL isn’t simply content to disagree with Ryan’s views; it resorts to lying about Ryan.” This seems to say several things:
Pollak says Keenan does not simply make a claim about Ryan, she makes an “accusation,” which means that what she says about Ryan is at least very negative.
Pollak says Keenan specifically refers to Ryan’s views, rather than his statements or actions.
Pollak says Keenan refers to Ryan’s views as “extreme.”
In his next sentence, Pollak says that NARAL (Keenan) “resorts to lying about Ryan,” which seems to imply that calling Ryan “extreme” is one of those lies.
If you think I’ve misinterpreted Pollak here, please discuss this in your paper. Provide textual evidence and reasoning to support your interpretation of Pollak, and be sure to discuss what this means for the specific issue we’re focussing on here.
If you think Pollak is not at least implicitly accusing Keenan of dishonesty in the way that she characterizes Ryan’s record as “extreme,” please provide textual support or other reasoning to support the claim that Pollak accepts Keenan’s characterization as reasonable, or at least as honestly mistaken.
The relevant part of Keenan reads “Rep. Paul Ryan’s extreme anti-choice record shows just how serious a threat Mitt Romney’s presidency would be for women,” . . . “He has cast 59 votes on reproductive rights while in Congress and not one has been pro-choice. Rep. Ryan has also repeatedly voted to defund family-planning programs and supported the “Let Women Die Bill,” which would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she could die without it. . . . Rep. Ryan’s anti-choice record includes: Repeatedly voting to deny women in the military, who defend our freedom overseas, the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at military hospitals. Repeatedly voting to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny millions of women access to comprehensive reproductive-health care and preventive services. Cosponsoring and repeatedly voting for the Federal Abortion Ban, a law that criminalizes some abortion services, endangers women’s health, and carries a two-year prison sentence for doctors. Voting for an appropriations bill that defunded Planned Parenthood, eliminated the Title X family-planning program, and reinstated the D.C. abortion ban.”
Questions to think about before you start your paper.
Did Keenan specifically refer to Ryan’s views? (Did she ever even use the word “views” in the bit that was about Ryan?)
Is Keenan primarily discussing Ryan’s ideas, statements, or actions?
Did she make a big deal about Ryan being “extreme,” or did she just mention it and move on?
Does she back up her claim with evidence, or did she just say he was “extreme” without saying anything about his record regarding reproductive rights?
Would it be completely unreasonable to describe someone who’s “as pro-life as a person gets” as holding “extreme” anti-abortion views?
Would I be lying if I said that Nancy Keenan holds extreme pro-abortion-rights views?
If one situation can reasonably be given two different descriptions, would you be lying if you use the description that I don’t think is appropriate?
If you and I disagree about what constitutes “extreme” views, would you be lying if you called someone “extreme” who I thought wasn’t extreme?
Based on information from NARAL and the Wikipedia article linked above as “as pro-life as a person gets,” would you personally call Ryan a “moderate” on abortion? If you would say that Ryan is not extreme, please explain the kinds of views that, in your view, would make constitute “extreme” anti-abortion views?
Does Pollak go beyond saying only that NARAL disagrees with Ryan’s views?
What exactly does Pollack say about NARAL?
Does Pollak back up his claims with evidence?
Can you find any evidence that what Pollak says is true?
DO NOT TURN IN A “PAPER” THAT CONSISTS OF YOU SIMPLY ANSWERING THESE QUESTIONS, ONE AFTER THE OTHER, OFF THE TOP OF YOPUR HEAD!
The above questions are things for you to think about as you consider your response to the question of does Pollak prove NARAL lied about Ryan having extreme views. You are supposed to answer the questions in your notes for this assignment. Don’t treat them as a framework for your answer. Do not repeat them in your paper. This is a writing assignment, and you have to write a paper to fulfil it. Nothing else will do.
Here’s what I want you to do:
Figure out for yourself whether or not Keenan lied, based on things she actually said, the relevant evidence, the rules of logic, and common sense.
(Taking Pollak’s word for it does not constitute figuring it out for yourself.)
If you think that Keenan did lie, quote her lie verbatim from her article, explain why it’s false, and explain why it’s a lie rather than just a mistake
If you decide that Keenan did not lie, and that she merely made a mistake, say so, and explain your reasoning as clearly and completely as possible.
If you decide that Keenan spoke only the truth, and that Pollak got it wrong, say so, and explain your reasoning as clearly and completely as possible.
If you have figured out the answer for yourself, here’s how you should write your paper:
Your first sentence or couple of sentences should be your thesis. (Don’t put anything before your thesis!) This would be “Pollak did prove . . . ” or “Pollak did not prove . . .”
The rest of your first paragraph should summarize your basic reasons for thinking that your thesis is true. (Basically, summarize the high points of the next three paragraphs.)
Your second paragraph should first quote the sentence or sentences from Keenan’s article that you think Pollak is talking about, and your own best interpretation of what those sentences mean.
Your third paragraph should first quote the actual words of Pollak’s accusation against Keenan, and then restate and explain that accusation in your own words.
Your fourth paragraph should paraphrase the reasons (if any) given by Pollak in support of his accusation against Keenan.
Your final paragraph should clearly and completely explain your reasons for thinking that your thesis is correct. (This may very well be your longest paragraph.)
If you follow instructions, this may very well turn out to be a very short paper. If you’ve found that you’ve only written a page or so, go back over your notes looking for relevant points you may have missed, and add any relevant points you find into your paper. While I’m looking for two- or three-page papers, a one-page paper will be fine if it includes all the relevant details and nuances.
Other Things To Think About
Suppose Senator Liberace has stated that is he is “as pro-choice as you can get,” and that he has consistently voted to allow women, including minors, unrestricted access to abortion under almost all circumstances. Would an abortion opponent be lying if she said that Senator Liberace held extreme pro-abortion-rights views? Would it constitute a smear if she said this? Explain your answers.
Suppose a Democratic presidential candidate who originally supported some gun rights has in recent years switched to making harsh anti-gun statements, and saying that if he were in power he would favor laws and constitutional amendments making it extremely hard for people in the USA to own firearms, and would only allow private gun ownership in certain very, very restrictive circumstances. Suppose also that this candidate actually voted many times to restrict gun ownership, and had never voted against any gun control measure. Would a gun-rights advocate be lying (rather than, say, merely exaggerating or speaking loosely) if he said that this candidate held “extreme” anti-gun views.
I want to emphasize that this is not a “matter of opinion” in the sense that different people can have different opinions about this. This question is a matter of cold, hard fact. Either Keenan did something dishonest or she did not. If you have a feeling that Keenan is dishonest, that is not a basis for a rational judgement. If you have a feeling that Pollak isn’t thinking clearly, that is not a basis for a rational judgement. You have to look at what Keenan actually says, and at what Pollak says to back up his claim that “In a NARAL press release being circulated by Democrats and women’s groups, the Catholic, pro-life Ryan is accused of “extreme” anti-abortion views. NARAL isn’t simply content to disagree with Ryan’s views; it resorts to lying about Ryan”
I should mention that this is more of a thinking exercise than a writing exercise. Your paper here may turn out to be considerably shorter than some of your previous papers. This will be okay as long as your logic is good, and all of your reasoning is clearly explained. (A paper supporting Keenan might turn out to be considerably shorter than a paper supporting Pollak, since a paper supporting Pollak will have to document and explain the evidence supporting his accusation against Keenan, and explain how this evidence supports the accusation, whereas a paper supporting Keenan would only have to assert that no such evidence exists, and explain how this lack of evidence undermines his accusation. Thus whether you write a shorter or a longer paper will probably depend on which side you decide is right, after you have thought through the issue from both sides.)
Remember, you are required to write a paper that states a thesis and then sets out the reasoning by which you support that thesis. You will be graded on how well you do this, so doing other things instead will hurt your grade.
Remember to follow the important rules:
Base your account of what Keenan says entirely on the actual text of Keenan’s article
Don’t try to protect Keenan.
Don’t try to protect Pollak.
Do not hold Keenan responsible for any mistake that Pollak might have made while reading Keenan’s article.
Support all your claims about Keenan with evidence taken from Keenan’s article.
Start your paper with your thesis.
Remember that I am not asking you to preserve any previously expressed or privately held opinions. You can change your mind about anything at any time. If you previously thought that the evidence supported one side, but now see that the evidence supports the other side, you are supposed to go with what you see the evidence saying right now. Your most important cognitive faculty is your ability to change your mind. If you think you have to stick with some previously expressed thesis, you are not exercising free will, and you are not thinking for yourself.
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