Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ten Logic Fallacies Used By Politicians (Part Two).

Before I finish this list off, I again 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 five remaining tactics to look out for the next time you hear any politician talk.

And yes, I saved the cool Latin ones for last.

1.) Ignoratio Elenchi.

Ignoratio Elenchi roughly translates to "irrelevant thesis."  According to Magill, it can be separated into two little subsections.  The first is "any rebuttal that fails to address the central argument."  Politicians do this all the time.  Romney recently did it to John King during one of the Republican debates.  When King called him on it, Romney said, "You know, you get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want."  Instead of growing some balls and telling Romney that that isn't how shit was going to work, King merely smiled and said, "Okay."  Okay?  Okay?!  No it is not okay.  Journalists are supposed to hold politicians accountable for their actions and, as the moderator, King should have slapped Romney right in the mouth. 
The other example of ignoratio elenchi is the "two wrongs make a right" fallacy.  As any nine year old can tell you, two wrongs do not make a right (but three rights do make a left *ba-dum-pah!*).  When I was younger, I witnessed a friend doing something that I was not allowed to do - ride his bike without a helmet.  When I confronted my mother with this information and demanded to know why I couldn't ride my bike without a goofy looking helmet, she nailed me with the classic one-two parent punch: "You aren't allowed to do it because I said so," and then "If he jumped off a bridge, would you?"  No, I suppose I wouldn't.  That's probably not the best example, but my mom loves it when I mention her.  I think.

2.) Ad Hominem.

Why attack your opponent's well-crafted argument/idea when you can attack his character?  We see this one all of the time, especially in the last three years under the Obama Administration.  President Obama puts forth an idea only to have people that disagree with him say that he wasn't born in America, that he's a Muslim, that he's a Socialist, etc.  They aren't attacking his policy, they're attacking him.  And it works.  Well, for people that subscribe to that kind of tomfoolery.

Rush Limbaugh is extremely guilty of this.  Instead of coming up with an argument to debate Sandra Fluke's testimony, he attacked her character, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute."  You know who else is guilty of ad hominem?  People that returned fire against Limbaugh with more petty name calling.  Rather than explain why he is wrong, people just called him a disgusting human being.  While that is an honest and accurate accusation, it doesn't prove him wrong.

I should also point out that ad hominem isn't an absolute - just because you attack an opponent's character once does not mean that you are forever guilty of it.  It just means that, in that circumstance, you are/were.

3.) Argumentum Ad Populum.   

Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy that assumes that if a majority of people hold a certain belief, even if it's a bit outrageous, then it must be true.  I am going to use Christianity as an example here not because I want to pick on it, but because it's the largest religion that uses this fallacy.  "How can billions of people be wrong?" It asks rhetorically when backed into a corner.

The answer to that question is actually pretty simple, but a lot of people faced with it either don't want to burst that bubble for billions of people, or show mercy when they realize that their opponent just played their last resort card.

4.) Argumentum Ad Metum.

Argumentum ad metum is a combination of several logical fallacies designed to play to the fears of a politician's audience.  In post 9-11 America, this is done a lot.  If we slash the defense budget, the GOP argues, we open up America to attack.  Never mind that we put zounds more dough into the military than any other department combined. 

This is a nasty tactic, usually because the fear being played to is either irrational or extremely unlikely (e.g. "Legalizing gay marriage will lead to legalizing beastiality").  In the grand scheme of a debate, argumentum ad metum is unnecessary because it doesn't prove any points.  It's underhanded.  Some may be justified, as Magill writes, but there's really never any need to appeal to them. 

It's unfortunate, then, that it's both effective and dramatic.  Politicians use it often to get what they want.  Hell, look at Congress.  Most of what makes it through the filter separating our world from theirs is nothing but mean-spirited commentary about what the other side is doing to weaken this country.  Hide your children.

Or the terrorists win.

5.) Argumentum Ad Nauseam.

Ever watch Fox News?  It's tiring.  It's a perpetual cycle of lies being spouted, one after another, by pundits and politicians alike.  Like a poop fountain.  These lies are told so often that if a viewer watches nothing else, he or she believes them to be fact.

That is argumentum ad nauseam.  It is my least-favorite favorite (does that make sense?) of the ten logical fallacies presented because of how subtle it can be.

Think about it.  A pundit says something that is 95% true.  You believe it, but know that there's a sentence or two that can be reworded in order for said statement to be factually accurate.  Next time you hear that statement, it's 90% true.  Then 88%...then 84%... until it's only half true.  Keep in mind that with the amount of air time pundits and presidential candidates get, it's not unlikely that you'll hear the same statement twenty or more times (if you follow the news a lot) in a week or so.  Argumentum ad nauseam is similar to grammar mechanics.

How something is said means a lot.  Just like how something is written.  You know the saying... There's a big difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse, and helping your uncle jack off a horse.     

More importantly, the more often someone gets away with telling a lie, the more often they are going to lie.  Those lies will, in all likelihood, get bigger and possibly more out of control.  Like the lie that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S (he was).  Or the one that he's Muslim (it wouldn't matter, but he's not).


That wraps it up for this post!  Next I'll be tackling Kirk Cameron as per a friend's request.  Make sure to find the fan page over at A Sane Break on Facebook for more updates!


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