Friday, April 15, 2022

The Principle of Explosion


Classic XKCD.

A weird little detail on BBC this morning from their Moscow correspondent doing what Moscow correspondents need to do a lot of nowadays, watching TV: In re the sinking of the Moskva, state television is denying, as you'd expect, that Ukraine had anything to do with it (yes, there was an explosion of ammunition on board that damaged the ship's hull but more or less no attempt to explain what could have caused the explosion, and the ship sank after "losing its balance" as they were towing it back into port), but in the middle of this discussion some talking-head military expert says that this is an act of war for which Ukraine will have to be severely punished—not if this is Ukraine's responsibility, but making the unspoken presupposition that it is, sitting inside a conversation in which everybody agrees it isn't.

Reinforced by the subsequent news of the Russian bombing of the Vizar plant near Kyiv where the Neptune missiles, which as we understand actually sunk the Moskva, are made, which we're clearly meant to read as a very precisely targeted response to the sinking, but the Defense Ministry issues a very precisely targeted assertion that it is something else:

"The number and scale of missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or sabotage committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime on Russian territory," the Defense Ministry said. 

"As a result of the strike on the Zhulyansky machine-building plant 'Vizar', the workshops for the production and repair of long-range and medium-range anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as anti-ship missiles, were destroyed," the ministry said. (Via Moscow Times)

No, it's not about the Neptunes at all, missiles for attacking watercraft at sea, but these other missiles for attacking aircraft over land (Russian territory)—it's the exact opposite of this thing we're not going to mention but you know exactly what we mean. And these attacks (what attacks? reported Ukrainian incursions on Russian territory are with helicopters, not missiles, and not against aircraft, or are you saying that it's all Russian territory since Ukraine doesn't exist?) are not an act of war but a terrorist act, since there is no actual war, but the Neptune attack on the Moskva, which did not take place, is an act of war, because Ukraine has started one. Maybe.

This is such a rich but compact illustration of what we mean by the concept of a post-truth society. Rather than a world in which the truth can change unexpectedly at any moment, as in 1984 (when "We have always been at war with Eastasia" suddenly becomes "We have always been at war with Oceana" or the other way around), we have a world in which the authorities have equal access to both sides of a contradiction, literally "alternative facts", whichever one you happen to need for a particular argument, or even both at once (typically asserting one and presupposing the other). You don't make a claim that either one of them is true, let alone both at the same time, just that both are deployable, mad libitum if you know what I mean.

Beginning logic students are often bemused to learn that any proposition can be formally derived from a contradiction, by the "principle of explosion", e.g. to prove that unicorns exist—

  1. Assume that "Not all lemons are yellow",..
  2. Also assume that "All lemons are yellow".
  3. In that case, the two-part statement "All lemons are yellow or unicorns exist" must also be true, since the first part "All lemons are yellow" of the two-part statement is true (as this has been assumed).
  4. However, since we know that "Not all lemons are yellow" (as this has been assumed), the first part is false, and hence the second part must be true to ensure the two-part statement to be true, i.e., unicorns exist.

—which seems like a kind of party trick, or frivolity, because why would anybody introduce a contradiction into an argument anyway?

But as you see, the principle of explosion is an empirical one: it's a social fact that unscrupulous debaters sometimes introduces contradictions into an argument precisely because of that feature, to frame the lies they want to tell in a fortress of logic that sometimes seems impregnable because its weak spots are so well hidden, and whole systems of argumentation can be built out of it, not just Putinism as discourse, as we've noted before, but also Rovism, as in the quote we keep coming back to

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Russia's an empire now, too, because it's always been an empire, even when it isn't, and will continue forcing old realities to coexist with the new ones, no matter how many battlecruisers you blow up. Or at least they'll keep trying.

Video via Reddit:

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