This is the question of the day (week/month), isn’t it? Cue the accusations of fraud, of theft, of corruption. All made without a shred of evidence to support them. Made as though such statements are self-evident. Self-evidentiary. Obviously true. The question itself frames the discussion. The question even answers itself.
Logical fallacies are bad, m’kay?
Asking, “what is Chief Spence hiding” is begging the question. It is a logical fallacy. As any forum warrior knows, identifying logical fallacies gets you ‘points’ in discussions, and so a lot of people have become somewhat familiar with them despite misusing them constantly. Nonetheless, for those of you not familiar with this particular logical fallacy, I’ll explain.
Begging the question is when the thing you want to prove is assumed to be true in the question itself. “What is Chief Spence hiding” assumes that in fact, Chief Spence is hiding something, and the real question is merely what that something is. No proof is offered to support the assertion that she is hiding anything at all, it is merely seen as obvious.
The question people should be asking if they are honestly interested in this is, “why is Chief Spence rejecting third-party management?”
If the answer turned out to be, “because the third-party manager would find out that Chief Spence if the Imelda Marcos of the North”, fine. Snap the photos of her $3million collection of designer shoes and then say, “well she was hiding this! Ha, in your FACE unpronounceably named Métis blogger!”.
However, phrasing the inquiry in a way that essentially assumes her guilt is utterly dishonest. It isn’t very effective either, if you are genuinely wondering what the heck is going on.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
This is another logical fallacy powering many of the claims being made all over the comments sections right now. The logical fallacy wizards love the latin term, argumentum ad ignorantiam. I prefer the above titled phrase because it’s just so darn catchy. It’s also a little nicer than the English term, “argument from ignorance“.
This lovely little fallacy has people making claims based on lack of evidence to the contrary. The classic, “if you can’t prove this thing I’m saying is false, then it must be true!”
It is being used like this: “You can’t show me evidence that Chief Spence isn’t lining her pockets and covering it up, therefore that is precisely what she is doing!”
Of course it isn’t phrased so obviously. It usually comes out in a series of exchanges, starting with the question/accusation in the first fallacy. If anyone dares to question such an obvious truth, then immediate proof that she isn’t hiding anything is demanded. The burden is completely shifted from the person making the accusation, on to the person who has questioned it. When you can’t provide conclusive evidence of lack of hiding/fraud/corruption/whatever, then you are told basically that lack of evidence (to the contrary) is evidence of absence.
It would be as fallacious to tell someone that an inability to definitively prove lack of (fraud/corruption/hiding/whatever) means that there is no (fraud/corruption/hiding/whatever). However, one approach is definitely more prejudicial than the other. The approach that assumes fraud and corruption in First Nations is a popular and damaging one, made all the worse for the lack of any attempt to prove the claims beyond engaging in logical fallacies.
…and knowing is half the battle!
When you recognise how the discussion is being framed (muahaahaha!), you can avoid falling into the incredibly frustrating trap of defending against something you aren’t really arguing. Why should you spend your time defending Chief Spence? Why should you spend your energy defending First Nations against charges of corruption and fraud, when there is no real evidence of such?
Forget it. Reframe the question in your own mind, and perhaps do the same for others. “What is going on?” “Why did Chief Spence ask the third-party manager to leave?”
There will be theories, there will be accusations, there will be some few reasonable suggestions. There will be more worthy discussions.
Forced to defend herself and the community
Chief Spence has made public a number of press releases since the media storm made Attawapiskat one of the few Cree words all Canadians can now pronounce accurately.
The first was released on December 1st, and dealt with the imposition of third-party management as well as accusations being made about how no one knows where ‘all that money’ goes in Attawapiskat.
The second was released on December 5th, and addressed the uglier and more bizarre accusations. I’d like to call this whole series of episodes”Zamboni-gate”.
The release I really want you to look at was published December 11. I want to note that these statements do not constitute evidence. They are not proof, nor am I conflating them with such. Nonetheless, Chief Spence attempts to address the many accusations being made. This press release provides her version of the events. If we are going to continue this trial in the arena of public discussion, then at the very least, she should be heard.
Feel free to reject her reasoning as flawed, go ahead and claim it further proves she is indeed “hiding something”. But don’t be surprised when your fellow commentators start asking you for actual evidence for your claims beyond your opinion. Such requests are overdue in this national discussion.
Update (Dec. 21): Here is a fantastic article on why audits are not the answer.
Let’s kick it up a notch, Canada
This discussion matters. This discussion has us asking questions about fundamental relationships. This discussion has us asking questions about our system and our history, and many people are realising they just don’t understand what is happening. Best of all, this discussion has us asking “why don’t we understand what is happening*?”
I submit to you that this lack of understanding can be fixed. We absolutely can take this opportunity to learn more about the background and the context that has us all talking about a tiny native community most Canadians had never heard of until now.
We can begin by paying attention to the assumptions being made, the logical fallacies clouding the discussion, and the utter lack of any principle of “innocent until proven guilty” in the national discussion. Yup, I’m appealing to all sorts of ‘western’ philosophical and procedural traditions here. I’m appealing to what I consider to be the best of what Canada has to offer.
Right now, we are stuck in an adversarial battle that is further dividing us, and I don’t just mean natives versus non-natives. There are plenty of non-aboriginal Canadians who are truly sickened by the way these discussions have developed. This path will bring false closure much more quickly than a real national discussion, and perhaps this easy way out is preferable to some. Few people enjoy having those ‘relationship discussions’.
But we’re going to have to do it someday. I see no reason to continue putting it off. Let’s just admit we had a fight so we can stop feeling defensive, and let’s get talking like we want this thing we have to last.
As Paul Simon once said, “breakdowns come and breakdowns go, so what are we going to do about it, that’s what I’d like to know. You don’t feel you could love me but I feel you could”.
Update: Here is an excellent discussion that goes beyond the surface details and too-familiar accusations. Make sure you check out the interview after the panel discussion.