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Asian American Market Essay, Research Paper

Part I

“Everything you know about the Littleton killings is wrong. But the truth may be scarier than the myths” (Cullen 1999, p. 1). This is the title of an article that claims that “what was reported last spring about the motives and methods of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was untrue” (Cullen 1999, p. 1). The question that arises from this claim, is how can that be so? How can the “most notorious events from the shooting spree – reported over and over in news reports, on TV chat shows and now in a bestselling book…” (Cullen 1999, p. 1) be false and in fact, to simply have never occurred? Using critical reasoning principles from English philosopher, Anthony Flew, one may begin to understand why everything we learnt through the media about the Littleton killings may well be incorrect.

This paper will concentrate on one “myth” – the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. It will use two critical reasoning principles from Flew; namely Denying the Consequent/Affirming the Antecedent, and Affirming the Conseqent/Denying the Antecedent, to understand “the truth” behind “the myth”.

The two boys responsible for the killings were said to be part of the Trench Coat Mafia. Apparently, eighteen students from Chatfield High School associated with the group, were identified as acquaintances of Harris and Klebold. “They were kind of friends of fringe members” said one investigator (Cullen 1999, p. 3). Klebold was known to wear a trench coat occasionally. However, district spokesman Rick Kaufman stated, that “no students can recall ever seeing Eric wear a trench coat, other than once, this past fall [1998], other than the day of the shooting” (Cullen 1999, p. 4). In addition, the conclusion made by investigators was that the killers were not trying to evoke some echo of the Trench Coat Mafia by wearing their trademark coat on the day of the shooting. Instead, the investigators believe that “the reason they wore coats was for logistical, practical reasons” (Cullen 1999, p. 4). Despite of this somewhat reasonable conclusion, organisations such as Sears and CNN, continuously relate the Littleton killers to the Trench Coat and its’ Mafia. For instance, CNN Headline News was recently referring to “the two Trench Coat Mafia teens who were responsible for the Columbine High School massacre last April” (Cullen 1999, p. 3).

English philosopher, Anthony Flew states that “for if from any hypothesis… you can validly deduce some consequence…and if the consequence thus validly deduced is false, then it follows necessarily that the hypothesis itself must be false, too. One must decide whether simply to abandon the hypothesis or whether instead to reinterpret it so that it does not entail the kind of consequence which one had thought to be validly deduced therefrom” (Flew 1998, p. 33). Relating this to the association of the killers to the Trench Coat Mafia, then one will argue: Since the killers were “kind of friends of fringe members” and Klebold was known to wear a coat occasionally, and since they wore coats on the day of the killings, then it follows necessarily that the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. One must accept this argument as valid. But the investigators have denied the truth of the conditional propositions, which function as the premises of that argument. “The form of the argument, and it is a valid form, is: If This is so, then That is so; but That is not so; therefore, This is not so either…Putting…symbolism to work…we can express the present valid form of argument as follows: If p then q, but -q, therefore -p” (Flew 1998, p. 34). However, there are two other forms that must be distinguished from this valid form. The first of the two invalid forms is if one lets the conditional propositions be granted, then “the premises so far provided do not preclude the possibility of some alternative explanation” (Flew 1998, p. 35). The second invalid form is “that such conditionals say nothing about the situation on the alternative assumption that their antecedents are not true” (Flew 1998, p. 35).

Flew proposes four possible moves to make with such conditional propositions: two valid and two invalid. Firstly, the valid move of If p then q, but -q, therefore -p. In other words, “Denying the Consequent” (Flew 1998, p. 35). If the killers were “kind of friends of fringe members”, and Klebold was known to wear a coat occasionally, and they wore coats on the day of the killings, then the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. However, the killers were never part of the Trench Coat Mafia as concluded by the investigators. The investigators are “denying the consequent (the “then” bit) of the conditional to disprove the antecedent (the “if” bit): hence, Denying the Consequent” (Flew 1998, p. 35). Secondly, the invalid move of “Affirming the Consequent” (Flew 1998, p. 36). The killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia because they were “kind of friends of fringe members”, Klebold was known to wear a coat occasionally, and they wore coats on the day of the killings. If p then q, but q, therefore p. This invalid move affirms “the consequent in the baseless hope of thereby proving the antecedent: hence, Affirming the Consequent” (Flew 1998, p. 36). Thirdly, the valid move of “Affirming the Antecedent” (Flew 1998, p. 36). The killers were “kind of friends of fringe members”, and Klebold was known to wear a coat occasionally, and they wore coats on the day of the killings, so the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. If p then q, and p, therefore q. This valid move involves affirming “the antecedent in order to prove the consequent: hence…Affirming the Antecedent” (Flew 1998, p. 36). Fourthly and finally, the invalid move of “Denying the Antecedent” (Flew 1998, p. 36). If p then q, but -p, therefore -q. If the killers were “kind of friends of fringe members”, and Klebold was known to wear a coat occasionally, and they wore coats on the day of the killings, then the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. However, investigators have concluded that they were more “outcasts” of the group than “friends of fringe members” and “the reason they wore coats was for logistical, practical reasons”. Therefore, the killers were never part of the Trench Coat Mafia. The investigators are denying “the antecedent in the baseless hope of thereby disproving the consequent: hence…Denying the Antecedent” (Flew 1998, p. 36).

Were Harris and Klebold ever part of the Trench Coat Mafia? “If such and such a proposition is true when it follows that, and we may validly deduce that, some other proposition is also true” (Flew 1998, p. 138). The investigtors are believing the “other proposition”, whereas organisations such as Sears and CNN are ignoring it. The investigators, whom are producing an official report about the massacre, say that Harris and Klebold were never part of the Trench Coat Mafia. “Whereas the truth of such a validly drawn deduction does not guarantee the truth of the premise from which it is thus validly deduced, its falsity does decisively demonstrate the falsity of that premise” (Flew 1998, p. 138). Klebold and Harris did not wear coats to evoke some echo of the Trench Coat Mafia. They wore coats for logistical and practical reasons; in fact to cover the “daunting arsenal of weapons” and “military web gear” they harnessed. (Cullen 1999, p. 3).

The investigators reached the reasonable conclusion that Klebold and Harris were never closely involved with the Trench Coat Mafia. This conclusion disagrees with “the myth” put forward by most of the media covering the tragedy. Neverthelesss, one must bring to mind T.H. Huxley’s observation that “The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact” (Flew 1998, p. 37). In other words, no open proposition can ever be confirmed with “corresponding decisive finality” (Flew 1998, p. 37), without genuine counterexamples casting doubt. A viewpoint about science by Sir Karl Popper is some consolation. He is quoted as writing that science is “a matter of endless striving and of endless inquiry” (Flew 1998, p. 37) to reach the point at which “even Homer sometimes nods” (Flew 1998, p. 38).

Cullen, Dave. Everything you know about the Littleton killings is wrong. But the truth may be scarier than the myths. Salon.com: Sept. 23, 1999.

Flew, Anthony. How to think straight: An introduction to critical reasoning. New York:

Prometheus, 1998.

Macke, Frank. Reading images. Macon, GA: Mercer University, 1999.

Toulmin, Stephen. The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.


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