The Logic of “The Ballad of Cliven Bundy”

So I thought, in honor of Stephen Colbert’s promotion, to go over the logic of “The Ballad Cliven Bundy.” Per Stephen Colbert’s report, in a clip Cliven Bundy asserted:

I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.

Colbert formalized this, bless him, into a logical statement:

You can’t pay a government if it doesn’t exist. Especially not with the money that it issued.

Nice. So let’s write it out as a formal syllogism:

1. Consider my grazing fees,
2. I don’t have to pay them,
3. Because the United States government doesn’t exist.

Not bad. Let’s look at it. Does it pass test #1? Okay, if the United States government does not exist, then it wouldn’t make any sense to pay them grazing fees. Right? Of course, you would object: the United States government does exist. Really? Are you sure? Have you seen it lately?

What about test #2? If the United States government does not exist, must it be true that you do not have to pay them? I think that one’s okay too.

So we’re got the makings of a pretty good syllogism here; all we have to do is prove the United States government does not exist.


I imagine Mr. Bundy actually isn’t really saying the government does not exist (although that might be a more interesting debate); I’m expecting he’s saying that said government does not have the right to act as the United States government (I’m guessing he didn’t vote for Obama). So let’s try that. Say you disagree with syllogism #1, because it fails test #1 (the US government, for you, does exist). So you would say to Mr. Bundy, rtags ma grub–your reason is not established (meaning, your syllogism fails test #1).

Okay, so what does Cliven have to do next? The structure of debate is, if the defender (you) says “reason not established,” then the attacker (Cliven) makes a new syllogism: #1 (the subject) stays the same, #3 (the reason) becomes the new #2 (assertion), and then they give a new #3 (reason). So:

1. Consider my grazing fees,
2. It is so true the United States government doesn’t exist,
3. Because I don’t recognize the US government as legitimate.

Okay, what about this one? Test #1: did the government you don’t recognize as legitimate issue you grazing fees? Okay here. Test #2: Is it true that because you don’t recognize something as legitimate, it must not exist? Not bad. If you think that’s not true, what’s your example? Let’s try test #3: If the US government doesn’t not exist, does that mean you must recognize it as legitimate? Okay, well here, I think Cliven is his own example.

But you go Cliven! Beat them with logic.

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