Part 3: Got Arguments? Avoid Making Bad Ones

I wasn't personally acquainted with the people arguing on the Facebook thread; I was friends with the writer of the Facebook post. As mentioned in my previous blog post, I've learned to pretty much stay out of others' online arguments. This one, however, felt different. Everyone was bullying a young white man. Apparently, he failed (in their view) to show the "proper" amount of "kindness, compassion, and sensitivity" about a particular racial issue. One white young woman called him "sub-human." Another claimed he was "evil." Others relied on the standard insults of "ignorant," "uneducated," and "lacking in humanity." Why? Because this man had dared question opinions that, in many social circles, have become a sort of sacrosanct orthodoxy. He was a heretic. And because these bullies viewed their opinions as "sacred," they justified their bullying as a form of righteousness.




Those who condemned this young man reminded me of the New Testament versus in Luke: 18: 9-14:


He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others ... The Pharisee prayed with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers ... I give tithes ... I fast ...'

As we know, Christ rebuked these self-righteous and self-congratulatory people by saying:

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted... 


With those verses in mind, I stepped into the Facebook fray and questioned the bullies: 
  • Why did they give themselves permission to bully someone in the name of anti-bullying?
  • Why did they give themselves permission to insult someone just because he didn't align himself to their exact world view? 
  • Why did they consider their views unquestionable (sacred)?
  • Why did they give themselves permission to dehumanize anyone or any ethnicity or race?
  • Why did they give themselves permission to engage in hypocrisy when their definitions of "love" and "kindness" were nothing other than permissible forms of bigotry and hate? 
  • Why did they give themselves permission to de-humanize another human being or one ethnic group in order to humanize another?
  • Why would they think their insults are arguments? 

I doubt my questions had much impact. Because these types of people don't see themselves as bullies. They don't see their faulty logic. Or, perhaps they do. But their sense of "righteous indignation" in shaming and guilting others makes them feel strong and "acceptable"--and in some twisted way, "loving." Regardless, I pose these questions with increasing frequency because to stand by and saying nothing is akin to bullying.




Where am I going with all of this? The time is now, dear readers, when we must hone our skills in constructive argumentation and dialogue in order to discern between just and unjust laws, moral and immoral philosophies, ethical and unethical methods of argument, and principles that promote the value of individual liberties and freedoms. I have seen many in academia (and obviously in government) promote injustice in the name of justice, moral values using immoral methods, and unethically adopting the idea that "the ends justify the means." 

In this post I will take up where I left off from my previous one regarding the common fallacies (or faulty logic) we all use (intentionally or not) in argumentation and persuasion. When we can easily detect and identify fallacies, we can encourage ethical dialogue to promote sound judgments and prevent destructive, tyrannical public policies. 

11. Appeal to Loyalty Fallacy

This fallacy has become very common due to the rise of identity politics and its accompanying group think. It demands that individual identity and individual liberties are subordinate to one's loyalty to the group. Action should be taken based only on the need to be loyal to the group. My above Facebook experience illustrates the dangers of the loyalty fallacy; it can lead to the verbal pitchforks and torches that create a hostile mob mentality.  

Great courage is required to stand up against popular and acceptable opinions. (Or, perhaps the opinions are morally correct, but the persuasive methods are morally incorrect.) In previous posts, I've given examples of my students who constantly self-censor and confide their fear in voicing opinions that might be labeled "offensive." I also talk to students who feel pressured to think and act a certain way because of their ethnicity, religion, family, etc. I used to think majority opinions where basically moral because "majority rules." However, after 20 years of teaching college and experiencing for myself the pressure to teach and speak only "acceptable" opinions, I now believe that majority rule is often a result of fear. 




12. Reductio ad Absurdum Fallacy:

This happens when a person extends an argument to absurd lengths. This type of exaggeration and hyperbole is dishonest and undermines the arguer's credibility. In formulaic terms it looks like this:
If X is false, then the situation would be absurd. So X is true.

















13. Post Hoc Fallacy:

Post Hoc is short for post hoc ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this"). In other words, after the event, or therefore because of the event, the consequent happened; when people mistake something for the cause or consequence just because it happened first. Remember, just because X came before Y doesn't mean that X necessarily caused Y.
Another causal fallacy occurs when people mistakenly interpret two things found together as being causally related. Two things can correlate but that doesn't prove that one thing caused the other.







14. Tu Quoque Fallacy or Whataboutism

This term is Latin for "you too," and is also considered an appeal to hypocrisy because it's a diversionary tactic by pointing to the hypocrisy of one's opponent. Dr. Ferrer, in his article "Fifteen Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Getting Into a Debate," says:

This tactic doesn't solve the problem, or prove one's point, because even hypocrites can tell the truth. Focusing on the other person's hypocrisy is a diversionary tactic. In this way, the tu quoque typically deflects criticism away from one's self by accusing the other person of the same problem or something comparable. It is an attempt to divert blame, but it really only distracts from the initial problem. To be clear, however, it isn't a fallacy to simply point out hypocrisy where it occurs. For example, Jack may say, 'Yes, I committed adultery. Jill committed adultery. Lots of us did, but I'm still responsible for my mistakes.' In this example, Jack isn't defending himself or excusing his behavior. He's admitting his part within a larger problem. The hypocrisy claim becomes a fallacy only when the arguer uses some (apparent) hypocrisy to neutralize criticism and distract from the issue (The Quad.com).






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15. Circular Reasoning (petitio principii) Fallacy

The logical form looks like this:
Claim X assumes X is true. Therefore, claim X is true.
In other words an arguer assumes as one of its premises the very conclusion it sets out to establish. The person simply repeats the claim as an argument. Dr. Ferrer further explains:

When a person's argument is just repeating what they already assumed behorehand, it's not arriving at any new conclusion. We call this a circular argument or circular reasoning. If someone says, "The Bible is true because the Bible says it's true" - that's a circular argument. One is assuming that the Bible only speaks truth, and so they trust it to truthfully report that it speaks the truth. Circular arguments..a kind of presumptuous argument where it only appears to be an argument. It's really just restating one's assumptions in a way that looks like an argument. Another way to explain circular arguments is that they start where they finish, and finish where they started.




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16. Non Sequitur Fallacy

This is Latin for "it does not necessarily follow." If your opponent is trying to connect claims or premises to his or her conclusion when there is no connective tissue, then it's a fallacy. A strong argument requires a definite linking of the grounds (evidence) to the conclusion drawn from the claim.







It's easy to get sidetracked by fallacies that involve a lot of emotion--especially topics such as open borders, immigration, abortion, etc. Remember, no matter how passionately you feel about a topic, using fallacies to persuade or dominate your opponents is not a good idea.

17. Bandwagon Fallacy

This fallacy assumes something is true (or right, or good) because other people agree with it. A couple different fallacies can be included under this label, since they are often indistinguishable in practice. The ad populum fallacy (Latin for 'to the populous/popularity' is when something is accepted because it's popular. The consensus gentium (Latin for 'consensus of the people') is when something is accepted because the relevant authorities or people all agree on it. And the status appeal fallacy is when something is considered true, right, or good because it has the reputation of lending status, making you look 'popular,' 'important,' or 'successful.'






A lot of bandwagon posts on social media are used as a form of social acceptance. And, like Dr. Ferrer said, people also board the bandwagon in attempts to shame and guilt others (mob mentality) in order to make themselves looks socially acceptable. Another name for this type of activity is "virtue signaling" where people post claims and arguments to appear virtuous and socially acceptable to others.








This tactic is common among advertisers. 'Drink Gatorade because that's what all the professional athletes do to stay hydrated.' One problem with this kind of reasoning is that the broad acceptance of some claim or action is not always a good indication that the acceptance is justified. People can be mistaken, confused, deceived, or even willfully irrational. And when people act together, sometimes they become even more foolish--i.e., 'mob mentality.' People can be quite gullible, and this fact doesn't suddenly change when applied to large groups. 








18. Misplaced Authority Fallacy

I confess. I admire Oprah. In 2008, Barack Obama was an obscure senator from Illinois. When Oprah campaigned for his presidential run, I took Obama more seriously as a candidate. I'm not saying Oprah necessarily persuaded me to vote for President Obama. Nonetheless, and right or wrong, I felt her influence.

This type of fallacy says that because a certain celebrity or expert believes X, we should believe X too.








The above underscores our need to use caution in assuming we're experts or have a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas. We also need to be careful not to mistake our opinions as facts. Just because we think we're right doesn't necessarily mean we are right. 

19. Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

This involves claiming an argument to be ignorant by shifting the burden of proof. In other words, instead of providing grounds/evidence, the arguer makes a claim asking the opponent to prove his or her claim is wrong. Thus, you argue that your conclusion must be true, because there is no evidence against it. A classic example is this: "No one can actually prove that God exists. Therefore, God does not exist." 




20. Poisoning the Well Fallacy

I see increasing usage of this fallacy. Here, the arguer commits a preemptive ad hominem attack or insult against his or her opponent. In other words, the arguer tries to prime the audience with damaging information about the opponent from the start. Consequently, the arguer's claims become more acceptable by discounting the credibility of the opponent. The form looks like this:
Adverse information (be it true or false) about person X is presented.
Therefore, the claim(s) of person X will be false.






Copies of the above flyers were posted throughout a Canadian neighborhood and on a college campus. This illustrates how a very unethical group of people attempt to demonize a professor who was scheduled to speak at the local university. They also tried to discredit his supporters by labeling them "alt-right." 

As I've stated previously, many more fallacies exist other than those listed here and in my previous post. However, these are the most useful in helping to prevent fallacies in argumentation and reasoning.

Final Thoughts About Fallacies

I'm beginning to understand how the Civil War divided family loyalties and destroyed friendships; sooner or later, people were forced to choose one side or the other. As we know, the eventual necessity of a violent civil war overshadowed any hope for peaceful resolution. Today, I see the same type of anger and division happening among families and friends--and it's depressing. (I'm fortunate that my husband, kids, their spouses, and I share the same political and moral page.)

I recently read an insightful article, "Seeking Refuge in the Embattled Center," by Genevieve Weynerowski. She aptly describes present-day America's dwindling, bedraggled political center as it marshals new political allies in attempts to define America. Even though she's too dismissive of populist uprisings here, abroad, and of supporters of President Trump, she sees the increasing value of the political center: 

All of this weirdness---the relentless pecking away at reason and common sense, the indulgence of fantasy, the attempts at shaming, and the assaults on the sensibilities of common folk and educated people alike--is sending sensible people scrambling for the exits. The center is growing, becoming populated with refugees from the places that used to contain certainties. A heartening alternative to the trenches, no-man's land is making bedfellows of strangers who find themselves turning to their former antagonists for comfort in the night. It's a place where a person can breathe, look around, and make new friends. 





She offers a somber warning: 

This isn't the first time in history that the world has produced intolerable political and moral options, or that ideological camps have retrenched and become hateful to one another. But the mood, the aesthetics, the weapons, the players and the sheer scale of today's ideological and culture wars are particular to the times. The Internet hasn't brought enlightenment to quite everyone yet, but it's certainty helped spread the gospel of the mad, the marginalized, and the malevolent. Let's hope that the center holds. (Quillette.com, May 2018).


Here's to powerful and ethical arguments,

Julie

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