Saturday, November 7, 2009

Molestus Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Updated Nov. 8

Every once in a while, I see someone use what I refer to as the molestus hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. A play on the phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc (more or less literally "it follows, therefore it is caused by"), this variation uses the verb molestus, which means "annoy", or "anger". This version of the post hoc fallacy is a common one these days - people assume that events are caused by whatever it is that annoys, angers, or frightens them, whether there's actually any reason to or not.

Yesterdays shooting at Ft. Hood has yielded a treasure trove of such speculation. Blue Texan described some of it this morning at FireDogLake:

The Anchor Baby [Michelle Malkin]:

Political correctness is the handmaiden of terror.

Atlas Juggs [Atlas Shrugs]:

They knew this guy was a jihadi. They knew. But they sacrificed American lives at the alter [sic] political correctness.

Jihad Watch:

Yet there was, and what’s more, Major Hasan’s motive was perfectly clear — but it was one that the forces of political correctness and the Islamic advocacy groups in the United States have been working for years to obscure.

The Corner:

This is not the first time American soldiers have been victims of politically correct policies.

It takes a particularly demented type of crazy to blame the US military for a tragedy like this. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing here.

Right-Wingers: “Political Correctness” to Blame for Ft. Hood Shootings
I don't know what's more offensive, the notion that the Army would deliberately allow this sort of thing out of a spirit of political correctness, the idea that tolerance is killing people at a faster rate than intolerance, or the pathetic conceit that these assclowns are the only ones "courageous" enough to point this out. Whatever it is, they're wrong. The guy who did this, who is probably the only one who actually knows why he did it at this point, hasn't been talking publicly. And while these people are at turns deceitful, stupid, and feckless, they are not courageous.

They're frightened of a religion that's different from their own. Since it frightens them, to them it's obviously responsible for anything done by any Muslim, or anyone who is influenced in some way by Islam, or who advocates tolerance of it. They're ignorant cowards. Unfortunately, they have a lot of company.

Less pernicious, but equally misguided, is the attempt to explain this incident as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has been a notable increase in the incidence of PSTD in the last few years, and a rise in both violence and suicide among service members. That is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. At the moment, though, there is no direct evidence that Maj. Hasan suffered from PTSD. He may have had some psychiatric problem, and he may not.

For the record, combat isn't the only way to contract a case of PTSD. Insisting that Hasan couldn't have it because he wasn't in combat is wrong. Many forms of stress can cause it, as Medicinet notes:

Virtually any trauma, defined as an event that is life-threatening or that severely compromises the emotional well-being of an individual or causes intense fear, may cause PTSD. Such events often include either experiencing or witnessing a severe accident or physical injury, receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis, being the victim of kidnapping or torture, exposure to war combat or to a natural disaster, exposure to other disaster (for example, plane crash) or terrorist attack, being the victim of rape, mugging, robbery, or assault, enduring physical, sexual, emotional, or other forms of abuse, as well as involvement in civil conflict. Although the diagnosis of PTSD currently requires that the sufferer has a history of experiencing a traumatic event as defined here, people may develop PTSD in reaction to events that may not qualify as traumatic but can be devastating life events like divorce or unemployment.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What Causes PTSD?
Here's a story of someone who contracted PTSD doing mortuary work for the Army. It can happen, even to people who only experience the pain of war through others.

People saddened by the stress our soldiers are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan might see this as another example, but as yet there isn't proof.

My own conclusion about what's happened is that it is apparently the work of a single individual. Given that, its origins probably lie in the mind of that individual. Certainly, whatever the motivations are will be something we'll have to learn through interviews by law enforcement and mental health professionals. Until such interviews are done, speculating about what caused this is both pointless and potentially dangerous.

Hasan was wounded four times during his rampage. He is most likely not yet in a condition to give a coherent account of his reasons for doing this. I feel safe in asserting that no one has yet determined why this event occurred, beyond the obvious fact that Hasan felt the need to shoot people. I could come up with alternative explanations to PTSD or Muslim rage that fit the facts, but that doesn't mean it would be any closer to the truth. Speculation isn't fact.

I’d like for some serious investigation into Maj. Hasan’s state of mind to have taken place before I decide who, or what, is to blame. By the time that happens, of course, some white woman will have gone missing, or some big explosion will have happened somewhere other than Iraq or Afghanistan, and the TV news will have forgotten all about this. That's sad, because there may be important lessons we can draw from this.

It's just clear that as of yet, we don't know what those are.

UPDATE: Over at Political Animal, Steve Benen adds a postscript:

A tragic part of American life is that, from time to time, we learn of horrific shootings like the one at Fort Hood yesterday. There was, apparently, another shooting this morning, this time in Orlando, in which one was killed and seven were critically wounded. The gunman wasn't a Muslim.

Likewise, last year, 32 people were shot down in Virginia Tech. In March, 10 were killed in a shooting rampage in Alabama. In April, 13 were killed in upstate New York. In each instance, the gunmen weren't Muslim.

Bringing Out The Worst In Small, Sad Minds
The fact that some of these people were Christians, and may have said something like "God help me", or whatever, won't be taken by the Islamophobes as proof that Christians are a source of danger.

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 8): I didn't see this until today, but Greg Marx at the Columbia Journalism Review seems to have been thinking along the same lines I am:

It’s been just over twenty-four hours since Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood—more than enough time, clearly, for our pundits to begin opining on what it all means. And though those interpretations are varied, there is one headline that could apply to nearly all of them: Tragic Massacre Vindicates My Pre-existing Political Convictions.

Jumping To Confusion
He then goes on to detail how confused the initial reporting of this event has been, as well as how many folks were willing to jump to the conclusion that this has something to do with islamofascism or PTSD. Worth a read, I think.

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