Today, I am writing a guest blog for www.logical-fallacy.com, which has a comprehensive list of logical fallacies alongside explanations and real-world examples. We will explore some of the most common and powerful fallacies used today and how they are used to control the narrative and endanger the advancement of society. The synchronicity with today’s events will be apparent.
The biggest obstacle we face today is divisiveness. The second biggest obstacle is misinformation, which prevents unity, and the third obstacle is logical fallacy. Logical fallacies are illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points that undermine the logic of an argument. Typically, they are identified as lacking evidence to support a claim. If we can defeat logical fallacies, we defeat misinformation. Only then can we move to overcome divisiveness.
You cannot explore logic and not talk of one of the most recognized characters in the last fifty years, Mr. Spock. You have likely heard of this logic driven character even if you are not a Trekkie. We can only overcome logical fallacies by embracing the Vulcan culture of logic. Like most of my blogs, I am going to throw you into the deep end to see if you can swim. No worries, I will pull you out if I see you are struggling!
We should begin with the fallacy begging the question. It is defined as making an argument that something is true by using precursors only assumed to be true. This allows one to make an argument without sufficient evidence, a favorite of today’s politicians. It is also a bedrock for conspiracy theorists and misinformation campaigns.
A common example of begging the question is God is real because the Bible says all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This statement holds no weight in the Vulcan court. Mr. Spock would interject and say, “Self-proclaimed truth is not evidence. However, this neither discourages the existence of such a being no more than it proves the existence of one. Though the topic is…fascinating. I will investigate further.”
The Last Miracle
This approach was one of the reasons I wrote The Last Miracle. Belief drives action and we have seen religion used to bring us together and tear us apart. If we could prove beyond reasonable doubt the existence of a supreme being would it settle our questions? Think if Christ did return in today’s political and social climate where misinformation is as readily available as facts. I propose some would even suggest this being is the devil trying to fool us if he does not fall into their predisposed definition of what Christ’s return should look like. What would he need to do to prove he is God?
My story provides plenty of thought-provoking ideas, but does it provide any answers? If so, did they come from the atheist, the zealot, the agnostic, or the devout? Or did I leave the answers up to the reader? Sorry, no spoilers here, you will need to read the book to find out! I can tell you the story focuses on “every experience only has the meaning you give it.” Think of these two experiences and how they would shape one’s life. Imagine at age ten your grandfather dies, and you ask the pastor, “Why did he die.” The pastor answers, “Because you didn’t believe enough.” It will either drive the child to become a priest or drop religion all together. Now if the pastor answers, “It was God’s will and your grandfather had done everything he needed to do here on earth.” The child likely grows up taking comfort in his religion. Twenty years from now try using oral arguments to switch this person’s view on religion.
At this point your probably thinking what does this have to do with logical fallacies?
Stick with me Grasshopper. We have set the stage as to why logical fallacies work. We all have predisposition to opinion on most topics given our life experiences. The fallacies use that to their advantage.
Fallacies in Politics
Returning closer to today’s events, let us explore some additional fallacies. We should start with a politician’s favorite fallacy, Ad Hominem. There is a great article at https://www.logical-fallacy.com/articles/ad-hominem/ that dives more deeply into the topic. In short, you minimize the opponent’s argument by discrediting him or her. Disclaimer, my politics leans left, but you cannot hold that against me. Spock has my back.
President Trump is a master of Ad Hominem. He even resorts to simple name calling thinking it is enough to discredit someone, which is true, in part, when you have already vilified your opponent’s political party. He compounds his attack by using numerous other fallacy attacks that are part of the Red Herring category. Simply put, a red herring is an attempt to distract or mislead. While politicians on both sides of the aisle use red herrings, Trump has shown a particularly deft hand.
False: They are coming to take your guns.
Truth: Democrats want restrictions to bring down gun deaths while maintaining responsible gun ownership. The US has the 20th highest gun deaths per capita in the world. There is a great article here https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/theres-a-new-global-ranking-of-gun-deaths-heres-where-the-u-s-stands where researches pulled data from 195 nations using nearly 2,900 different sources.
False: Democrats want to impose socialism that will bankrupt our country.
Truth: Capitalism can and does co-exist with socialism in many countries.
The latter example is one of the most divisive in America. Republicans often cite Venezuela as proof socialism is a failure. The problem there was a dictator, not socialism.
Forbes magazine ranked the ten happiest countries in the world. Money Smart listed the ten most socialist countries in the world. Seven of the ten are on both lists: Finland, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Canada. One can argue the Money Smart list a little as Venezuela is definitely “more” socialist and did not make their top ten. That said, the seven listed are considered to have strong socialist attributes, particularly the Norwegian countries. All are in the top 25 best economies listed by GDP per capita. Why are these “socialist” countries successful where others fail? The republicans in the crowd will like the answer. They are market driven and some of the freest countries in the world according to https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/human-freedom-index-2019-rev.pdf . Six of the seven rank above America (15th) in freedom, with only Norway (17th) coming behind. There certainly appears to be opportunity to explore instituting some aspects of socialism.
Again, what does this have to do with fallacies? Politicians and right-wing news media have used logical fallacies to paint socialism as a dirty word akin to communism, despite an overwhelming compilation of data to the contrary.
I am going to use a logical fallacy called the slippery slope, defined as a relatively small action that inevitably leads to a chain of events resulting in disastrous outcomes and therefor should not be permitted. https://www.logical-fallacy.com/articles/slippery-slope/ . If I said the following twenty years ago you would dismiss my claim as a slippery slope argument. Opinion disguised as news would eventually lead to most news sources providing a left or right leaning opinion that eventually leads to an abolition of the truth. There is room in the slippery slope argument for evidence-based scenarios that one step leads to the next. While rare, it does happen. My claim above would have been deemed insufficient at the time. It appears to be true in hindsight.
We have reached a point where a large contingent is no longer interested in the truth. They turn to whatever information source backs their position. The bastion of right-wing leaning news stories, Fox News, is now under attach for reporting the facts of the election and choosing to turn away from Trump briefings that blatantly undermine the bedrock of American elections. Granted, Fox probably called Arizona too soon, as did the Associated Press. Both used their data requirements, not opinion, to call the race. Pro-Trump supporters in Maricopa County, AZ led chants of “Fox sucks,” and start up news service Newsmax is a common landing spot for these angered viewers who think Fox has betrayed them and are becoming the fake news themselves.
Has civil discourse been sent the way of the Dodo? Have too many abandoned facts and embraced Ad Hominem? Read any comments section on the web and it sure feels like we have hit the bottom of the slippery slope. Is there a way back? Maybe. Embrace logic. Identify logical fallacy in speech and in writing. If you see them, even those supporting your argument, dig deeper. Find reliable sources of information, hopefully more than one. Is the research sponsored by an entity looking to make a point, like the oil lobby or environmentalist group? Take the information with a grain of salt and cross reference multiple sources. You may have heard the idiom freedom is not free. For some that is joining the military and putting your life on the line. That is not the only way to do your part. Educate yourself on facts, wherever they may lead. Thomas Jefferson had plenty to say on an educated and informed electorate. An excellent resource can be found here famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/ThomasJefferson/jeff1350.htm
I particularly like this quote.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
–Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816.
I will leave you with this. Be diligent. Be civil. Be logical. Make Spock proud.
Live long and prosper.
Robert W. Adams
Rob is the author of the metaphysical thriller The Last Miracle.
He was perfectly happy as an IT executive until the universe rudely interrupted a meditation by strongly encouraging him to begin writing thrillers around life’s biggest questions. Where do we come from? What is consciousness? When do you sacrifice one to save another? Big questions need big stories it said. The universe did not provide a lot of direction. Challenge accepted.
In this plane of existence, Rob lives in Calgary, AB Canada with his wife and family.
Follow his blog at robertwadams.com.