I last appealed for a political candidate, of any stripe, who would prioritize constituents over party, and was met not by any outreach or advocacy, but only an accusation of bias.
While disappointing, this does prompt a segue into the use and study of valid reasoning.
Simplified, we all reach conclusions based on logic. Unfortunately, too many arguments these days are based on one or more logical fallacy.
As illustrated above, the ad hominem fallacy ignores the message in favour of shooting the messenger. A clearer example is Al Gore’s efforts to raise awareness of human caused climate change being derided not based on contrary scientific data rather than the (misleading and irrelevant) jibe he once claimed to have invented the internet. Similarly this carbon-industry-funded strategy continues aplomb in the (ridiculous) assertion 97 per cent of scientists are juking evidence to obtain grant money.
The deliberate result then is that the hard choices available to us are currently being made by not making any.
Another routine conversation piece is the slippery slope fallacy. The most egregious example of late is the, ‘what’s to stop five people, a turtle and a pig from marrying each other once same sex unions are permitted?’ Not only does this technique mock reasonable debate (existing laws against polygamy and bestiality), it overwhelms more important discussion – in this case whether pensions and life insurance payments many people rely on will be compromised by expanding the number of married persons beyond historic actuarial calculations.
Also prominent among pundits is the ‘Strawman’ fallacy, in which a conclusion is misrepresented to make it easier to attack. As seen this past week in the assertion granting parole to Omar Khadr infers being soft on terrorism, this fallacy, too, distracts from more important issues like whether a 15-year-old battlefield combatant is indeed a terrorist just because an extra-judicial foreign military tribunal uses waterboarding to label him that.
Of course, an encyclopedia could be written regarding the logical fallacies deployed to the word terrorism recently. The claim numerous attacks have been prevented by domestic government spying efforts they can’t tell us about demonstrates an appeal to authority. The presidential suggestion bull-horned from atop Twin Tower debris that ‘you’re either with us or with the terrorists’ demonstrates the ‘black or white’ fallacy. The deliberate linking of 9-11 with the invasion of Iraq demonstrates the ‘false cause’ fallacy.
As was that era’s challenge, do you want the next smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud? A great example of the ‘loaded question’ fallacy.
Yet, in contrast to these extreme examples, the use of these devices does not require the conclusions they are designed to support to be incorrect.
On behalf of our southern neighbours, the ‘special pleading’ fallacy, perhaps, legitimately infers the need for a world policeman excuses some of the consequences of U.S. militarism. As does the widely accepted ‘tautology’ fallacy, which starts from the premise Liberal democracy, and unfettered free markets are the best forms of social organization to jump to the conclusion every foreign country will benefit from implementing these systems (by bombs, if necessary).
This list is far from comprehensive (my personal pet peeve is the ‘anecdotal’ fallacy), but is intended primarily as a prompt for better public discussion.
Once aware of these tactics, they lose much of their ability to manipulate.
• By Mike Shields, who grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at the Maple Ridge Act Theater, 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.