To illustrate what I mean, consider the following paragraph:
In war it is effective to target civilian populations. A key element of strategic decision making during conflict relates to the allocation of resources to areas most likely to result in successes. Without entertaining the full possibility of strategic options, especially opportunities, military command must be considered incompetent and at fault for negative outcomes.
Did that work for you? Perhaps this one instead:
The major purposes of the fourth wave feminist movement relate to the successful assertion of female interests and prominence of femininity in society. By campaigning to increase the number of women working in scientific and technical fields, promoting equitable access to social support and advocating for legal reform in key areas such as family law fourth wave feminists hope to improve the emotional and material standing of women.
No? What about:
When people complain about the data sharing scandals like that of Cambridge Analytica or leaks such as the Ashley Madison leak they typically evoke high-sounding concepts like "privacy", "liberty", "data ethics" or "security". The reality is that fostering an effective data market is crucial to achieving productivity reforms. For the developed world, development and other macroeconomists have highlighted productivity reform and growth as the major components of sustained economic progression. Without productivity improvement in important sectors of the economy, countries are ultimately unable to support increased standards of living leaving to a host of negative social outcomes such as disillusionment, mental illness and rabies.
What I'm talking about is probably a kind of enthymeme, which is a word I've been trying to insert into casual conversation these past two weeks. In all of these examples I have made some big claims which are problematic. I haven't written, for example, something like:
The contemporary hysteria surrounding overpopulation is largely misplaced. Demographic transition theory states that countries and the world as a whole experience a consistent pattern of fertility and mortality. Basically, the concern facing society in the next 100 years is not overpopulation but the collapse of society as we know it with the inversion of population pyramids. Ever since Bismarck developed the first welfare state in the late 1800s, the developed world has worked on an industrial version of the classic model: have lots of kids when you're young so that they can feed you when you're old. As societies like Japan and Germany age, demographers and economists have become increasingly concerned about when the carrying capacity of the working age population is exceeded by the retired/elderly populace. These concerns also apply in China which in these circles is described in terms like "the first country to get old before it gets rich".
Or, more famously:
The human jaw is a lot stronger than it needs to be and this is particularly pronounced in human males. A potential explanation for this biologically expensive feature is that sexual selection has acted to result in over-muscled mandibles. By "bulking" up the face, it's possible to sustain higher and different kinds of forces, which allows the face to be used in different fashions.
Both sexual selection and the demographic transition theory are well supported positions and if you read the latter's Wikipedia article you'll notice most of the criticisms are irrelevant in the context of what I'm discussing. In the first three examples, the statements are problematic because quite aside from the level of evidence for each of the basic ideas there's not even an orthodoxy on these positions or, if there is, the idea I've quoted is heterodox. Just linking to, in this case completely arbitrary links, doesn't change this status. All it does is create the illusion of intellectual credibility.
You see, all five examples are really dodgy. Where's the reflection or even explanation of the key ideas? Is "sexual selection" something you can take just like that? What about the efficacy of attacking civilians in wars? Is that the only concern that exists? What does efficacy mean anyway? I've made some pretty big presumptions in all of these hypothetical arguments (none of which are completely unreasonable, I don't think, and generally only incidentally resemble my own beliefs1) but you're probably only going to notice them if you happen to disagree with what I'm presuming. The point is that there are all sorts of necessary attendant issues which I need to talk about, but I'm not.
Frankly, it's a bit like reporting on a survey without quoting standard errors or even response rates. Uncertainty exists in claims and the reason why statisticians try to quantify/assess uncertainty is the same reason why we hold that everyone should hold that ambition. Statisticians are lucky because usually they can just use a number or so, essayists tend not to have such a succinct statement to make but they've got to do it all the same...
Which is what brings me to this month's old Spinoff article I'm resurrecting for kicks (I wrote this in August... shh, don't tell):
You're probably already rolling your eyes (because you just know they're not going to be pointing out how reverse racism is just ordinary, conventional racism).
Except, wait. Don't.
Instead laugh outrageously. Or cry unashamedly. I'm not sure which is the appropriate response.
You see, the examples that Chapman has turned to don't actually mention reverse racism. As far as her authors are concerned, they are talking about everyday, normal racism. They don't make it into another category that doesn't exist. They're just talking about something they see as being racist (which Chapman does not).
So, that's really dumb. And Chapman has to be dumb for writing it.
(Obligatory reminder that The Spinoff wiped its comments section for completely spurious reasons. This article will thus never be confronted.)
Notice also how Chapman completely uncritically accepts her links. There's no evaluation. There's no reflection. There's barely any introduction. There's not even any "do not read this sign" stuff... which is what I've really offered here. Look at it, the article only exists because they didn't let Chapman submit the headline and the links... you could strip out everything she wrote and it wouldn't add anything beyond the headline.
Moral: if you're going to introduce an idea, don't just take it on faith... confront, compare and contest. And if that's too hard, a brief aside that others disagree is a sufficient an overture to intellectual responsibility (although if doing so gets in the entire way of what you're writing... maybe don't write it).
1 For example, I really do think privacy is just about control. So much so that I wrote it into an assignment definition where we were obviously meant to use a more conventional definition.