“But You Own An iPhone”

Bad Arguments Vol. 1


Find yourself arguing in favor of liberty, economics and any other political issues popular in current discourse? Well, bad news. You’re doing it wrong. Let’s dig into these “Bad Arguments” and learn how to address common rhetoric and positions effectively. In this series, we will be deconstructing why each of the listed arguments is poor to use, and why they need to leave the sphere of the conversation. These articles will be punching in all directions and hopefully serve to improve the quality of debates and discussions you, the reader, may have in the future

For those of you who engage in regular debate or conversation with those to the left, general critics of capitalism, or even just follow some noted conservatives you likely have either made or heard the criticizing soundbite “but you own an iPhone.” Perhaps in response to a comment against capitalism, you may have retorted with “he said on his mac book drinking his Starbucks.” At the time you may have felt like you had a great “gotcha” moment on your hands having successfully called out their hypocrisy. I’ve got good news and bad news: the bad news is that it’s a terrible argument, the good news is that I’ll be showing you why.

The first issue with this argument is the product itself. iPhones have come to be a symbol of capitalism at work leading to innovation and advancement, but there are several issues with this. The first is that the initial cellular technology that we use wasn’t purely market creation but rather mixed with a state one. To understand the development of what has become a key product (especially in the ever-exploding world of tech) you need to trace things back to their primitive origins. The origin of wireless technology can be tied back to the work of James Clerk Maxwell, and later Guglielmo Marconi. While individuals working on their own spawned the start of wireless technology it didn’t truly receive funding or evolve until the state invested. Between the desire to advance the technology for wartime communications and the tech race with the USSR much of the advancements in the world of cellular devices can be contributed to state involvement through direct research funding. The second is that iPhones serve better as the symbols of IP laws rather than true free market capitalism. Almost every aspect of the Apple brand is incorporated, patented, and trademarked, with severe penalties to those that attempt to violate those state protections. As such if the attempt of your argument is to defend free-market capitalism against criticism it’s a poor product to highlight.

The second issue here is the hidden assertion that one cannot participate in a society while simultaneously critiquing it. To put it another way if one were to say “he’s an anarchist but he goes to the public library” would you immediately consider that person to be a hypocrite? Of course not. The same argument could be made to call a free market capitalist a hypocrite for using Office Word rather than some opensource alternative thus participating in IP enforced markets. The same claim could be made about a business disagreeing with minimum wage laws while still following them and paying their staff the required amount. Obviously, we would consider all of these poor claims of hypocrisy because the stances and actions are not diametrically opposed. The necessity or advantages of participation do not invalidate their arguments.

Lastly, the issue with this argument is that it is a fallacy from the get-go. We have a name for claiming that an argument is correct or false based on the person claiming it rather than the argument itself, and its one of the most commonly quoted: “Ad Hominid.” The “but you do X” argument, even if it did somehow successfully showcase the hypocrisy of the individual being called out, does nothing logically to prove or disprove the argument they made leaving it as little more than an attack without real bearing on the discussion.

Calling someone a hypocrite for engaging in the society they were born in is simply a poor argument, both logically and for the intents of debate. It’s an argument I’ve heard used almost as often as I’ve (correctly) heard that taxation is theft. The difference here is that whatever intents you may have in a debate (other than baselessly attacking the other person) this argument will not serve you well, will leave you open to easy criticism for this use of poor logic, and will ultimately backfire at the end of the day. All in all, it’s a phrase we in the liberty movement need to put to rest and overall a Bad Argument.

Read more articles from Killian on Think Liberty here.


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