Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ten Logic Fallacies Used By Politicians (Part One).

Before I begin this particular post (and the one to follow), I want to thank E. Magill over at The Unapologetic Geek for compiling this list.  While the logical fallacy selections are his, the commentary is my own.

We're all aware of how most elected officials have their own way of speaking, much like lawyers do.  The best of them can turn an argument on its head or have you believing something that is completely fictitious.  Here are the first five of ten specific tactics to look out for the next time you hear any politician talk.

1.) The Straw Man Argument.

As Magill states in his article, "The straw man is a very simple, albeit potent, form of illogic. This is when someone misrepresents their opponent's position, as though they were arguing a man made of straw that they just happened to create right then and there."

The straw man argument also uses a hefty amount of exaggeration.  Let's say that you are in favor of lowering the legal drinking age to 16.  Your reasoning?  By making the consumption of alcohol legal, it becomes less of a "cool" activity for rebellious teens.  It also forces parents to be more informative about the effects and dangers of alcohol to their children at an earlier age.  With drinking less taboo and more of a thing to do in various social settings (e.g. dinner with family), the death rate of young adults from alcohol poisoning, driving while intoxicated, and inebriated decision-making will sharply decrease.

How would I, as your opponent, refute that claim?  I would first say something like, "My opponent wants to lower the drinking age to sixteen so that he/she can drink with his children."  Taking a quote out of context - check.  I would then move on to distorting your view.  "That's it.  Just passing some laws that would lower the drinking age.  Saying, 'Hey, after I sign this bill, any sixteen year old can go out and buy some tequila'.  Can you imagine the bar scene?  Do you really want your daughters hanging around shady men?  Do you want your sons to be robbed of their hard earned dollars by bartenders looking to invest in a future heavy drinker?"  I could also cite Europeans in this tirade.  See, you never mentioned how you would go about lowering the legal drinking age.  Just that you were in favor of it.  I'd capitalize on that by oversimplifying your argument and making you look like a monster.  A European, socialist monster.

2.) The Slippery Slope.

The picture says it all, I think.  But Magill points out that the slippery slope argument isn't always a logical fallacy.  If, for example, you can prove that this "first step" will culminate in your "end result," it's more of a fact than it is a fallacy (Magill uses the cyanide pill example, stating that if you take one, it will result in your death).  But in politics, the factual use of the slippery slope is rare.  Actually, the factual use of facts is pretty rare.

Rick Santorum often uses this fallacy in his stump speeches, claiming that every day spent under the Obama Administration is just one step closer to a godless, socialist, cesspool of a country.  In this world, everyone's soul is empty.  I cannot stress enough how slippery Santorum's slippery slope fallacy is.  I really can't.   

And like the picture above shows, another classic example of the slippery slope fallacy is used by people that are against gay marriage.  "Well if gays can marry, what's next?  People will be marrying their pets and their farm animals!"  Really?  Prove that.

Although, admittedly, my two cats have been looking quite sexy as of late...

3.) The Unfalsifiable Hypothesis.

Remember, logical fallacies are all about faulty arguments.  That's exactly what the unfalsifiable hypothesis creates: an argument that cannot be disproved.  Magill gives a fantastic example here. "The simplest example is solipsism, the philosophical notion that the only thing that really exists is you and that everything you perceive and experience is a figment of your own imagination. There's simply no logical way to argue against this notion."  For you sci-fi lovers out there, think about the Matrix.  We all exist in this virtual world created by machines.  The world is comforting and distracts us from what the machines are doing to our physical body - harvesting them (at least, I think that's what they were doing).

South Park showed us the full glory of the unfalsifiable hypothesis by having Al Gore insist that "manbearpig" exists.  1/2 man, 1/2 bear, and 1/2 pig (or was it 1/2 manbear, 1/2 pig?), this creature exists because nobody can prove that it doesn't exist.

No, wait, it was 1/2 man, 1/2 bearpig.  Yes.

4.) The Fallacy Of The Single Cause.

As easy as it is to do it, blaming a bad result on just one thing is irresponsible.  The kicker is that it's impossible to accurately cite everything that is, in fact, to blame.  Our failing education system can be attributed to Bush and his No Child Left Behind policy, but that isn't the only reason we're lagging behind.  I'd sit here and spout out a good dozen reasons, but it's kind of boring.  I think you get the point on this one already.

While we make these claims in every day life, politicians use it as a shortcut to emphasize their platform.  For example, Republicans have recently taken to blaming President Obama for the rising cost of fuel.  This is the single cause fallacy.  It's also fucking false, as the president has very little to do with such a thing.

5.) The Appeal To Motive/Association Fallacy.

These are two separate fallacies.  The appeal to motive is when a politicians asks, "Why does [so and so] hold this position?"  Magill writes, "There are plenty of people willing to imply that many politicians are involved in plans to thwart the American system or gain absolute power or enact Big Brother or whatever, because if we can question a politician's motives, we don't have to pay attention to what they are actually saying."

The appeal to association fallacy is better known as "guilt by association."  Fox News put the screws on Obama back in 2008 with the Bill Ayers incident.  While I could care less about Ayers or the fact that Obama knew him, the Republican base was quick to assume that, since Ayers was an extremist, Obama must be too.

Another great example comes to us from after Obama took office.  Then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was caught trying to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat.  Fox News and the righties at large implied that, as it was Obama's seat, the president must have been involved some how.  Spoiler alert: He wasn't.

What really blows about the guilt by association fallacy is that it can be very believable.  Humans are naturally paranoid creatures thanks to evolution, so be on you guard for this one.  Well.  Be on your guard for it if you take everything at face value.  You gullible nut, you.

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