I think it was in 6th grade when I was first introduced to some of the different “logical fallacies” – errors in reasoning which are rather common in popular culture, and which one can find now listed on websites oriented to Philosophical Reasoning, such as this one or this one. Our 6th grade assignment was to create cartoons that illustrated the use of logical fallacies in TV commercials. For instance, through deployment of “Appeal to Authority” , the local Coal Industry Corporation can create TV commercials saying that Coal mining doesn’t harm the environment, because The Catholic Pope said so. Well the Pope is certainly an authority, but in the area of the Catholic church, not in the realm of carbon dioxide emissions or global warming, or any of the environmental sciences.
Or one could deploy the “Argumentum Ad Captandum” or “Argumentum Ad Populum” (types of appeal to popular presumptions) and argue that people should buy shoes from you and not from your competitor because “they are out of step with the times”. Populist political leaders make great use of such Argumentums when for instance throwing out baseless accusations that there were millions of people who voted illegally in the recent election.
In essence, there is a lot of faulty thinking out there…and as a sixth grader I found it fascinating to contemplate the huge number of logical fallacies in our everyday environment, not to mention TV ads. I am now deploying my never-failing enthusiasm for this subject in the hopes that there are some adults out there among you, who might be capable of rousing yourselves to as much passion and intellectual curiosity as I had as a young middle school student.
For the purposes of our discussion here, let me point out that there is a difference between fallacies involving reason or the thinking process, and those involving law. In fact, the idea that law itself should be honored and viewed as right, simply because it is the law, is itself a logical fallacy. This is a fallacy both because laws are not philosophical truths but social constructs, and because laws are constantly in a state of flux and change, and shift with the times. Thus, —to give an example –the male-to-female transgender individual who produces a driver’s license and states that they are in fact a woman because their driver’s license declares as much, engages in at least three Logical Fallacies — the first, being the Appeal to Authority, which seeks validation for a point of view from the wrong authority. I think most who think about it for a few moments will understand that truths about things like gender and sexual orientation are not dictated by government, at any level. Even those realms which could be viewed as providing authority on this question — such as philosophy and science — seem to fall quite short in seeking to explain such mysteries as gender.
The second fallacy, we may call the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, namely, the argument that what a government does in the name of expediency, or for some perceived common good, either represents some philosophical or ontological truth, or — that the law is simply right because it’s the law. (There’s an example of the Circular Reasoning fallacy). There’s also a cherry-picking type of logical fallacy involved here — this same individual who eagerly points to the fact that the government has validated her gender, would probably not be so quick to cite government’s possession of truth when it comes to government in North Carolina and the infamous “restroom bill”, HB-2. This we could call the “Argumentum-As-You-Please-Em” – the idea that you can be free to cite a particular authority (government) when that is convenient for you, but at other times, feel free to reject the authority of the same entity.
In this blog, I want to contrast two types of arguments, which though classed as Logical Fallacies in that landscape of Pure Philsophy, when carried into our practical landscape of short term rental hosts and government regulations, come into contrast with each other and become like two characters in a story, each freighted with a substance beyond the purely rational. There may be ethics involved — there may be pragmatism, there may be issues of freedom, or social order and harmony. You decide what you think as the forces of Argumentum Ex Necessitate battle with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum, in streets, alleys and apartment buildings of neighborhoods near you!
Let’s line up the two characters of our story and see what they have to say.
First, there is Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, an “Uncle Sam” who is telling people, or groups of people, or corporations, what they have to do. Sometimes Sam protects us from injustice or dangers, sometimes Sam causes injustice. Whether Sam is good or bad depends upon your perspective and the situation, but one thing we can say with certainty is that Sam is powerful, Sam is strong. There is no one else who can push you around or push around that group or corporation that pushes you around, quite like Uncle Sam. Sam has penalties, fines, courts and prisons on his side, and you don’t have any tools to fight back when Sam decides to fine you, incarcerate you, put a lien on your home. For you or some group or corporation may have honor and right on your side, but right doesn’t matter when Sam has the law. Sam is loved by the law-abiding, or sometimes just by those who aren’t in temperament so law-abiding, but find the law convenient to their enterprise. Sam’s followers, those of this Argumentum’s camp, often claim to believe that because something is the law, it must be right. It seems that they dont’ question the law and they don’t question their government. Although I have to wonder how it is that so many people who argue, for instance, that people shouldn’t be doing short term rentals because it’s illegal, are the same people who have those “Question Authority” bumper stickers or posters on their car or on their wall.
I think that if we look deeply into it, we are likely to find very few people who actually believe that any law is right, simply because it’s the law. Most people ardently support the law when the law expresses their own values, but not otherwise. So the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum can be viewed as a composition of various other types of fallacies: sometimes the Argumentum- -As- You- Please- Em (Cherry Picking one’s support for the law as truth) or an Appeal to Authority (waving one’s hand in the general direction of municipal codes and statutes when it is convenient to do so), or the Circular Reasoning fallacy — the law is true because it’s the law — or perhaps the Paternalism fallacy, which seeks to summarily dismiss those who would question the law or the moral authority of the law, as childish, immature, “crazy libertarians”, or selfish people who have no concern for the common good which is supposed better represented by blind adherence to the law (when convenient, on a cherry picked basis).
On the other side, we have the Argumentum Ex Necessitate. This character is very similar to the one styled the Argumentum Ad Misericordium, an appeal to one’s empathetic nature. In the Argumentum Ex Necessitate, the argument is that one has to do something, or be permitted to do something, because of one’s need. Hence, the need of the individual is counterpoised to the forces that would oppose the individuals’ action, such as those of law or ethics. One might view the character of this Argumentum as a humble being, small and not very powerful, who is threatened in their existence by powerful surrounding forces which they have little to no ability to abate.
In our times, we are seeing an increasing number of people or groups of people who find themselves in this Argumentum Camp. Whole nations are being transformed by this Argumentum taking place in Europe, as thousands of refugees pour in, from Syria and several African or Middle Eastern nations, demanding or hoping for asylum and some “exception” to a nation’s standard immigration policy, on the basis of their need. In the US, we have had migrants from Central and South America crossing our southern border for decades, under the same Argumentum: namely that their need should take precedence over immigration laws.
In the US, homeless individuals have long struggled with the fact that municipal codes and laws seem to have been designed without giving thought to their dilemmas. Hence, laws which would prohibit people sleeping in public places, when alternate shelter does not exist, have been found unconstitutional on 8th Amendment grounds . In Berkeley California at present, there is a group of homeless individuals who are protesting what they view as a lack of suitable shelter in that city (they insist that all homeless should be given permanent housing), and their Argumentum seems to be that since they are people in need, they have a right to camp anywhere, including street medians in the middle of thoroughfare. (They also partake of the Argumentum Ad Lazarum, which states that something must be true, because it is argued by a poor person) The City of Berkeley has other views on this and continues to move them out of street medians, upon which the fervent advocates of the homeless (as well as an array of entrenched anti-authority forces) will heave down as far as they can into this Argumentum, and portray the police who remove the homeless from camps in the middle of the street, as an array of militaristic- imperialistic forces.
Indeed, the housing issue is one where we are seeing a great deal of this Argumentum appearing in our times. There is a real crisis in affordable housing in many areas of the nation. In many urban areas, artists have long sought out creative ways of living that offered affordable alternatives. Some of these settings have been commerical warehouses, which they “illegally” renovate and reside in. This has worked for them for many years, but a recent catastrophic fire in an artist warehouse community in Oakland, the Ghost Ship Fire caused the Argumentum Ex Necessitate to collide full on with the Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum. The supporters of Ad Bureaucraticum drew on the very size of this catastrophe, wherein 36 lives were lost, and the grief of parents, relatives and friends of the victims, to pressure the city to do more to ensure that fire inspections and building inspections were carried out as required, to help avoid such tragic loss of life. Yet at the same time, the artists in their corner had Ex Necessitate, arguing that it was owing to escalating housing costs, gentrification, loss of affordable housing, that they had to live in warehouses, which were, in fact, probably the only place left for them to live in the entire city, unless they slept in their car.
The lawsuits which followed lent strong support to Ad Bureaucraticum, demonstrating how the concentrated power of government and state and law, regardless whether right or wrong, can often grow in an exponential manner, simply through the power of the lawsuit to shape outcomes.
In the days following the Ghost Ship Fire, many warehouse artist’s communities in the Bay Area and around the nation, began to recieve eviction notices, (and here )as the warehouse owners were duly frightened by Ad Bureaucraticum, seeing how lawsuits were flying, and realized that they could easily lose their property in such a suit, should a fire break out in a warehouse they owned, and it be demonstrated that they had known of people residing there illegally.
Artists then amped up for a direct challenge of Ex Necessitate to Ad Bureacraticum, complaining to cities about these eviction notices, even asking cities to stop the inspections, which they viewed as causing them to lose their housing.
I present all of this to set the stage for the discussion of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate as it effects those doing Airbnb Hosting or short term rental hosting. Even though those doing Airbnb hosting — being people possessed of real housing — are clearly not as down and out or poor as the homeless, or comparable to artists living in a warehouse because they can’t afford area rents, they still come under the umbrella of this Argumentum to the extent that they may find that their options for housing and/or for generating income have grown more limited in recent times, while financial pressures on them have increased.
The way that Airbnb renting is presented in the media, it often seems as though it is only tenants in a city who can legitimately stand behind the banner of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate. They will use this Argumentum to push for things like Rent Control, or expanded rent control, or for more restrictive regulations on Airbnb renting (which, they are certain, is causing the cost of housing to increase). They may even support the city government to engage in violations of the 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment when it would punish people for advertising, or would allow warrantless searches of people’s homes under the argument that “that is the only way” that we can enforce the law on short term rentals. (an End Justifies the Means style fallacy)
But there is a fallacy in the view that only tenants can be in possession of the Ex Necessitate fallacy. This is the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent, namely, “if A, then B; B, therefore A.” We can say that if someone is a tenant A, they are at the mercy of increasing housing costs B — but we cannot turn around and then draw the conclusion that if someone is at the mercy of housing costs B, they must be a tenant A. For homeowners too are sometimes quite afflicted by housing costs and the increasing cost of living.
When they hear of homeowners making the argument that they should be permitted to do short term rentals so that they can afford their housing, tenants sometimes express incredulity and anger, and respond that the homeowners could simply do long term rentals, and preferably to rent to a renter like me, someone in need of permanent housing, instead of doing short term rentals. This argument is fallacious on two grounds — one is the argument we often see in the media, which seeks to tie together two phenomena which happen to have arisen simultaneously, and draw a causal relationship between them where none exists. This is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy — the assertion that Airbnb rentals are responsible for the loss of housing, even when studies such as summarized here and this one show that there is no causal link here. The second fallacy is the Non Sequitur — the idea that simply because one is in need of something, that some random person should be obligated to provide you with that. Of course, there is also the third fallacy — we might call it Argumentum Ad Nauseatum — the bizarre idea that a property owner would ever choose to rent to a tenant who tried to bully his way into that person’s home.
Many of the things people are now arguing for, Argumentum Ex Necessitate, based on their presumptive need, are things which involve space or area that the public has a claim to (as in public space that the homeless seek to appropriate for their own campgrounds) or lines that the public has drawn which protect the nation as a whole (immigration laws, asylum laws, limits on numbers of immigrants or sites for refugee camps) . Some , such as warehouse artist collectives, are arguing to be permitted to live in spaces where people aren’t allowed to reside, and which cities could be subject to liability if they reside, because of their abundant Ex Necessitate, as well as what we might call the Argumentum Ad Eximia, or the argument that owing to being a Special Snowflake one doesn’t have to follow the laws that other people are subject to.
By contrast, the struggling middle or working class homeowner who wants to engage in short term rentals is not asking for public land, is not asking for changes to laws that would effect their whole nation, and is not asking to create a situation which could result in liability, or fire dangers, for the city, or their neighbors. It may be more difficult to see their Ex Necessitate because they have a house, which others may not have, but it is also easier to see that they are not pushing so hard for a toppling of Ad Bureaucraticum.. Many cities in fact have not had clear rules/laws about the difference between long or short term rentals. Some cities allow such rentals in some parts of the city, but not other parts. Viewed from the outside there is often very little difference between renting to people on a longer term basis, versus renting to people on a short term basis: particularly when such rentals are occuring in a freestanding home, as opposed to an apartment in a multi-unit building,. and when the homeowner is living there, along with the renters/guests — and as issuing from Ex Necessitate, this is the kind of circumstance we are looking at — not that of an Airbnb “Tycoon” or Investor who owns many properties, but rather the homeowner who owns just one, their own home.
One of the least compelling arguments from the Ad Bureaucraticum side, (and the most fallacious) is that a law is right simply because it happens to exist. The argument for the law is much more compelling when one can demonstrate a good reason why it exists. The fact that a mistake may have been made a few years ago, or a century ago, is no reason to continue with that same mistake today. A good many of the laws which prohibit short term rentals, could, if studied through the lens of Logical Fallacies, be demonstrated to be constructed on a whole edifice of numerous fallacies.
(1)There is the Exception Fallacy, which is when the city government, hearing about a problem with loud parties at one Airbnb rental, decides that this one problem situation is more characteristic of Airbnb rentals than the other 3000 Airbnb rentals in the city where no problems exist.
(2) There is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy as mentioned before, whereby cities reason quite lamely that since Airbnb arose at the same time that an affordable housing crisis became intensified, therefore, ipso facto ergo propter hoc, Airbnb has caused this housing crisis.
(3) There is what may be called Argumentum Ad ControlFreak whereby petty bureaucrats become alarmed when they see people doing something which they dont’ know about and can’t control — such as, what people do in/with their bedrooms– and then get hysterical about needing to control those people who have the nerve to do what they want in their own home. We might also call this the “Argumentum Ad Invidia” or argument from jealousy, since I suspect that petty bureaucrats who have boxed themselves into living a narrow little cramped-in type of life, have a great deal of resentment and jealousy towards those who live more freely.
(4) There is the Argumentum Ad Populum, whereby city officials play on or exploit public prejudices to regulate against innocuous activities — such as by characterizing those who welcome guests into their home as “engaging in commercial enterprises in a residential area” (not true: renting accomodations is a residential, not a commercial use of property), or playing on provincial xenophobia by saying hosts are “bringing all kinds of strangers into our neighborhood” who “will disrupt the social fabric and destroy the character of the neighborhood”.
(5) There is the Argumentum Ad Traditionem, the argument that since there are existing laws on the books which are “old” or “have been there for some time”, or “that’s the way we do it”, that these must be right. Some of these supposedly right and honorable laws, for instance, express considerable bias and prejudice against single individuals and living arrangements which are not nuclear family arrangements. Many cities for instance have zoning laws about what is permissible in “single family residential neighborhoods”, and those laws incorporate an inbuilt bias in favor of married individuals with children (“single family residence” is a term which contains this implicit bias) and against single individuals. For instance it may be perfectly fine for a married couple with 10 children to live in a “single family dwelling” , while it would not be permitted for 6 or 7 unrelated adults to live in that very same home. A friend told me of such a case in Connecticut: 6 unrelated adults bought a home together, because, guess what, housing is expensive and pooling resources is the way of the future. Well, their neighbors sued them, alleging that they had no right to live in their own home, because they weren’t a “single family” but just a group of unrelated adults. The neighbors would have won, save for an obscure law that authorized live-in servants. So the only way these 6 adults were able to legally live together in the house they collectively owned, was to characterize 4 of their number as live in servants. It strikes me that such laws are just as perverse and wrong as the old race based property covenants which forbid owners to sell to non-white individuals. Now the “those people” that some want to keep out, are those who aren’t nuclear families!
I think you’ll have gotten my point that there are numerous logical fallacies, as well as prejudices, in the various arguments which would disallow short term rentals.
On the Ex Necessitate side, some claims are more convincing than others. It’s not very convincing when a wealthy real estate investor argues Ex Necessitate in favor of their being able to do short term rentals at all their 25 properties. It’s too easy for people to say they must be confusing need with greed. Also, when the tenant living in an expensive apartment in an expensive city like San Francisco, argues with this Argumentum that she must be permitted to do short term rentals in violation of her rental agreement with her landlord “because how else can I pay my high rent”? I think many would see a Cart Put Before the Horse type of fallacy as well as the A Priori Argument fallacy in this case. However, some may also have trouble understanding why a homeowner who is in need of rental income to afford her home, couldn’t just as well rent to long term tenants.
To understand that question, it helps if we know something about landlord-tenant laws, and how they impact landlords. Yes, homeowners can rent to long term tenants, but for many, particularly those who have experienced serious problems with long term tenants (see my 7-part “Goodbye to Roommates” series here on this website) , that’s sort of like saying, “Yes, you can build your house anywhere — as long as you build it on the sand.” Giving people a right to do something that too often results in situations that make them miserable, and decrease their autonomy in their home, and in essence undermine their ability to live in freedom and comfort in their own home, is not adequate. If homeowners (or tenants who have permission to sublet) have other choices than renting to long term tenants, who in their experience too often begin to become possessive about their homes, why should they be limited by the law to those which make their life harder or pose more legal problems for them?
In Summary — in many places in the nation, the Argumentum Ex Necessitate is in the ring, squaring off with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum. Airbnb hosts are arguing from their necessity — and Airbnb too continually puts out PR statements supporting the right of “middle class hosts” to make a living (even though, by so doing, Airbnb may be engaging in the Half Truth fallacy, since a good number of its “hosts” are real estate investors.) This argument may be more “politically correct” (Argumentum Ad Populum and The Politically Correct Fallacy, #78 in this list of 116 logical fallacies) when these middle class hosts are not white middle class hosts — but not less compelling in terms of Ex Necessitate . Both sides have their supporters and their opponents. Yet notwithstanding these multiple caveats, it’s my view that there is much more moral authority to be found in the Ex Necessitate, than in the Ad Bureacraticum argument that something is right just because it’s the law, or because “we’ve always done it that way.”– as well as in the whole cascade of errors of reason that lead to city prohibitions on short term rentals in the first place.
Also, since today is Christmas, I am reminded of something once said by a wise man, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In seeking to find our way forward on these questions, I hope that we dont’ simply try to force round pegs into square holes, as if the there is virtue in retaining antiquated approaches to new issues — or as if human beings were created solely to fulfill the purpose of The Law. I hope that in particular for those finding themselves in the boxing ring with Ad Bureaucraticum, that flexibility, ingenuity, and a focus on the pragmatic and beneficial may win over stale custom and empty shibboleth.