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In the public arena, vehemence usually trumps logic, because fluency is trusted, and vehemence is usually fluent.


“In this world it is necessary to adopt the principle pursued by the plaintiff in an action for damages, and to demand ten times more than you are ready to accept. If you can feel satisfied with a hundred, begin by insisting on a thousand; if you start by suggesting a hundred you will only get ten.”
— Jerome K. Jerome

Small fines, and faint damnation

In USA Today for 22.Apr.2019, columnist Ken Fisher pointed out that small fines are really a buy signal.
So, adding my two cents: The dynamic of imposing a small fine is similar to the dynamic of praising via faint damnation.
The ‘small’ fines Fisher refers to are actually large sums of money – sometimes billions of dollars, but are small in relation to the wealth of the companies concerned. This is a good example of the nature of ratio data (the four types of data – or, ‘levels of measurement’ as they are more technically called – being nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio). That is, items of ratio data are most appropriately compared, just as their designation says, via ratios. Since we are talking ‘small’ billions here, it is apropos to include a couple famous references along that line:
1. ‘Only a Billion’ is a title used somewhere by Isaac Asimov (as a chapter title, I believe, in his book ‘On Numbers’);
2. “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
— Senator Dirksen (attributed)

Background and foreground

Distinguishing between background and foreground dispels a lot of confusion. Here, we will focus on the dynamic that the difference between these two realms gives rise to between the two logical connective of ‘and’ and (inclusive) ‘or’. What happens is that the sense of these two connectives flips across the boundary between foreground and background (much like the sense of a mathematical inequality flips when you multiply it through by -1). For example, if you’re the IT person in your company and the boss says to you, “Give me a list of all our salesreps living in Chicago and Boston.”, then you know that as you pass the salesrep file, you change the boss’s intuitive “and” to logical “or”. That is, you output the salesrep’s information if, and only if, the salesrep lives in Chicago OR the salesrep lives in Boston. (The boss was being ‘illogical’, because the boss is always in foreground, and foreground, the terrain of ‘natural language’, is governed not by symbolic logic, but by its own logic of perception and convenience.) So, a foreground ‘and’ becomes a background ‘or’. Also, a foreground ‘or’ becomes a background ‘and’. For example, if you are the hospitality agent for your company and the boss says to you, “We want to offer each guest the choice of coffee or tea.”, then in background (that is, in the company kitchen) you have to prepare a batch of coffee AND a batch of tea. So, a foreground ‘or’ becomes a background ‘and’. Also, problematical situations are alluded to or acknowledged by using this flip-phenomenon. Specifically, tautologies are highly complaisant (indeed, trivial – although the determination that something is a tautology can be highly nontrivial), and the natural habitat of tautologies is, of course, background. Therefore, foregrounding a tautology (by, for example, saying it in the presence of others) alludes to or acknowledges a problem, because the flip-side of complaisance is severity. For example, it is a tautology that boys will be boys, but if you happen to overhear someone actually SAYING so, you can be pretty sure it’s not good news that they are commenting on. A foregrounded tautology is virtually always a vector of bad news. So, when someone says, “Boys will be boys.”, it’s highly unlikely they’re reporting a merit-badge boy-scout activity. To take another example, someone wearing a shirt that says, “It is what it is.” is endemically unhappy about something in the world. Some other thusly-used tautologies are “Kids will be kids.”, “Facts matter.” and “Enough is enough.” (and its over-the-top version, “Too much is too much.”) The purpose and technique of foregrounding some tautology in order to make a negative point in a passive-aggressive manner is understood by everyone at the gut level, but it deepens cognition to treat this matter explicitly. So, if someone says, “We’re going to have some weather next week.”, you know that that implies “We’re going to have some bad weather next week.”, because a foregrounded tautology implies some kind of mischief, and therefore you should ignore those who say that the word ‘bad’ should have been explicitly included.