Did you notice my lack of posts? More than two weeks passed without a blog-peep from me. I haven’t shared what makes me happy. I haven’t interviewed anyone. I haven’t shared an opinion. And, I haven’t written any flash-fiction.
It’s about the Russian bots. And, although everyone involved in the investigation recognizes the Russians meddled in the election, it’s much bigger than that. It’s not Trump. It’s not Republicans. Or Democrats. Not the far right (well, maybe a little,) or the snowflake liberals. It’s about respect. It’s about decency. It’s about us.
The Russian interference seems so successful at sowing discord, splitting us into opinion camps, and shouting rather than listening. My brain began to feel like this photo.
And my heart began to match that feeling.
If you have 3½ minutes to spare, here’s an NPR clip about how the Russian government uses bots.
On top of that, the main-stream media fails to remind us of tools we learned in high school to help us sort out the good from the bad. A couple of days ago, I heard a discussion on CNN. One person started a rebuttal with “That’s a straw…” before she was cut off. She reminded me of some “pitfalls to avoid” that I gave freshmen composition writers for persuasive arguments.
Here’s a few, along with some examples of how we might apply them in the divisiveness that is ours right now. [tweetthis]These are good tools while listening to arguments and help form an informed opinion.[/tweetthis]
- Straw Man: Wetting up a phony, weak, extreme or ridiculous parody of an opponent’s argument and then proceeding to knock it down or make it out as ridiculous or absurd . For example: “Vegetarians say animals have feelings like you and me. Ever seen a cow laugh at a Shakespeare comedy? Vegetarianism is nonsense!” Or, “Pro-choicers hate babies and want to kill them!” Or, “Pro-lifers hate women and want them to spend their lives barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen stove!”Sometimes Straw Man involves labeling or name-calling. Labeling environmentalists as “Tree huggers, or feminists as “bra burners” or demonstrators as “rioters” when there are a dozen violent crazies in a peaceful, disciplined demonstration of thousands or tens of thousands.
- Appeal to Heaven: (also known as American Exceptionalism, or the Special Covenant): An ancient, extremely dangerous fallacy (a deluded argument from ethos) that of claiming to know the mind of God (or History, or a higher power), who has allegedly ordered or anointed, supports or approves of one’s own country, standpoint or actions so no further justification is required and no serious challenge is possible. (E.g., “God ordered me to kill my children,” or “We need to take away your land, since God [or Scripture, or Manifest Destiny, or Fate, or Heaven] has given it to us as our own.”) A private person who seriously asserts this fallacy risks ending up in a psychiatric ward, but groups or nations who do it are far too often taken seriously. Practiced by those who will not or cannot tell God’s will from their own, this vicious (and blasphemous) fallacy has been the cause of endless bloodshed over history. See also, Moral Superiority, and Magical Thinking. Also applies to deluded negative Appeals to Heaven, e.g., “You say that famine and ecological collapse due to climate change are real dangers during the coming century, but I know God wouldn’t ever let that happen to us!” The opposite of the Appeal to Heaven is the Job’s Comforter fallacy.
- Argument from Consequences (also, Outcome Bias): The major fallacy of logos, arguing that something cannot be true because if it were the consequences or outcome would be unacceptable. For example “Global climate change cannot be caused by human burning of fossil fuels, because if it were, switching to non-polluting energy sources would bankrupt American industry,” or “Doctor, that’s wrong! I can’t have terminal cancer, because if I did that’d mean that I won’t live to see my kids get married!”)
- Bandwagon argues that because “everyone,” “the people,” or “the majority” (or someone in power who has widespread backing) supposedly thinks or does something, it must be true and right. For example, “Whether there actually is large-scale voter fraud in America or not, many people now think there is, so it must be true.” Sometimes also includes Lying with Statistics, e.g. “Over 75% of Americans believe that crooked Bob Hodiak is a thief, a liar and a pervert. There may not be any evidence, but for anyone with half a brain that conclusively proves that Crooked Bob should go to jail! Lock him up! Lock him up!” “Like it or not, it’s time to choose sides: Are you going to get on board the bandwagon with everyone else, or get crushed under the wheels as it goes by?” Or in the 2017 words of former White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, “”They should either get with the program or they can go. ” A contemporary digital form of the Bandwagon Fallacy is the Information Cascade, “where people echo the opinions of others, usually online, even when their own opinions or exposure to information contradicts that opinion. When information cascades form a pattern, this pattern can begin to overpower later opinions by making it seem as if a consensus already exists.”
- Big “But”: Describing a generally accepted principle and then directly negating it with a “but.” Often this takes the form of the “Special Case,” which is supposedly exempt from the usual rules of law, logic, morality, ethics or even credibility For example “As Americans we have always believed on principle that every human being has God-given, inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including in the case of criminal accusations a fair and speedy trial before a jury of one’s peers. BUT, your crime was so unspeakable and a trial would be so problematic for national security that it justifies locking you up for life in Guantanamo without trial, conviction or possibility of appeal.” Or, “Yes, Honey, I still love you more than life itself, and I know that in my wedding vows I promised before God that I’d forsake all others and be faithful to you ‘until death do us part,’ but you have to understand, this was a special case…”
- Big Lie: Repeating a lie, fallacy, slogan, talking-point, nonsense-statement or deceptive half-truth over and over in different forms (particularly in the media) until it becomes part of daily discourse and people accept it without further proof or evidence. Sometimes the bolder and more outlandish the Big Lie becomes the more credible it seems to a willing, most often angry audience. For example: “What about the Jewish Problem?” Note that when this particular phony debate was going on there was no “Jewish Problem,” only a Nazi Problem, but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that. More contemporary examples of the Big Lie fallacy might be the completely fictitious August 4, 1964 “Tonkin Gulf Incident” concocted under Lyndon Johnson as a false justification for escalating the Vietnam War, or the non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq (conveniently abbreviated “WMD’s.” The November, 2016 U.S. President-elect’s statement that “millions” of ineligible votes were cast in that year’s American. presidential election appears to be a classic Big Lie.
- Circular Reasoning: Where A is because of B, and B is because of A, e.g., “You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.” Circular reasoning refers to falsely arguing that something is true by repeating the saaime statement in different words. E.g., “The witchcraft problem is the most urgent spiritual crisis in the world today. Why? Because witches threaten our very eternal salvation.”
- Gaslighting: Denying or invalidating a person’s own knowledge and experiences by deliberately twisting or distorting known facts, memories, scenes, events and evidence in order to disorient a vulnerable opponent and to make him or her doubt his/her sanity. For example, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?” Or, “You claim you found me in bed with her? Think again! You’re crazy! You seriously need to see a shrink.” A very common, though cruel instance of Gaslighting” is named after British playwright Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play “Gas Light.”
- Either/Or Thinking: : offers only two possible options even though a broad range of possible alternatives, variations and combinations are always readily available. For example, “Either you are 100% Simon Straightarrow or you are as queer as a three dollar bill–it’s as simple as that and there’s no middle ground!” Or, “Either you’re in with us all the way or you’re a hostile and must be destroyed! What’s it gonna be?” Or, if your performance is anything short of perfect, you are a complete failure. This also applies to falsely contrasting one option or case to another that is not really opposed, such as falsely opposing “Black Lives Matter” to “Blue Lives Matter” when many police officers are themselves African American, and African Americans and police are not natural enemies. Or, falsely posing a choice of either helping needy American veterans or helping needy foreign refugees, when in fact in today’s United States there are ample resources available to easily do both should we care to do so.
- Stacking the Deck: Consciously selecting, collecting and sharing only that evidence that supports one’s own standpoint, telling the strict truth but deliberately minimizing or omitting important key details in order to falsify the larger picture and support a false conclusion. For example, “The truth is that Bangladesh is one of the world’s fastest-growing countries and can boast of a young, ambitious and hard-working population, a family-positive culture, a delightful, warm climate of tropical beaches and swaying palms where it never snows, low cost medical and dental care, a vibrant faith tradition and a multitude of places of worship, an exquisite, world-class spicy local curry cuisine and a swinging entertainment scene. Taken together, all these solid facts clearly prove that Bangladesh is one of the world’s most desirable places for young families to live, work and raise a family.”
- I Wish I Had a Magic Wand: Proclaiming oneself powerless to change a bad or objectionable situation over which one has power. For example, “What can we do about gas prices? As Secretary of Energy I wish I had a magic wand, but I don’t.” Or, “No, you can’t quit piano lessons. I wish I had a magic wand and could teach you piano overnight, but I don’t, so like it or not, you have to keep on practicing.”
- Just Plain Folks: This modern argument argues to a less-educated or rural audience that the one arguing is “just plain folks” who is a “plain talker,” “says what s/he is thinking,” “scorns political correctness,” someone who “you don’t need a dictionary to understand” and who thinks like the audience and is thus worthy of belief, unlike some member of the fancy-talking, latte-sipping Left Coast Political Elite, some “double-domed professor,” “inside-the-beltway Washington bureaucrat,” “tree-hugger” or other despised outsider who “doesn’t think like we do” or “doesn’t share our values.”
- Othering : A , discriminatory argument from ethos where facts, arguments, experiences or objections are arbitrarily disregarded, ignored or put down without serious consideration because those involved “are not like us,” or “don’t think like us.” For example, “It’s OK for Mexicans to earn a buck an hour in the maquiladoras [Mexico-based “Twin Plants” run by American or other foreign corporations]. If it happened here I’d call it brutal exploitation and daylight robbery but south of the border, down Mexico way the economy is different and they’re not like us.” Or, “You claim that life must be really terrible over there for terrorists to ever think of blowing themselves up with suicide vests just to make a point, but always remember that they’re different from us. They don’t think about life and death the same way we do.”
- Red Herring: An irrelevant argument, attempting to mislead and distract an audience by bringing up an unrelated but emotionally loaded issue. For example, “In regard to my several bankruptcies and recent indictment for corruption let’s be straight up about what’s really important: Terrorism! Just look at what happened last week in [name the place]. Vote for me and I’ll fight those terrorists anywhere in the world!” Also applies to raising unrelated issues as falsely opposing the issue at hand. For example, “You say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but I would rather say ‘Climate Change Matters!'” when the two contentions are in no way opposed, only competing for attention.
- The Slippery Slope: Arguing that one thing inevitably leads to another.” For example, “If you two go and drink coffee together one thing will lead to another and next thing you know you’ll be pregnant and end up spending your life on welfare living in the Projects,” or “If we close Gitmo one thing will lead to another and before you know it armed terrorists will be strolling through our church doors with suicide belts, proud as you please, smack in the middle of the 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship service right here in Garfield, Kansas!
If you want a crash course in “logic self-defense,” click here. There you can find out about “Follow your heart,” Alphabet Soup,” “Alternative Facts,” “Confirmation Bias,” “The Polyanna Pricipal,” and more.
For a simpler approach click here, where I have a quick picture of some critical thinking tools.
[tweetthis]I beg the mainstream press to point out these false arguments to their audience. Sometimes we need a little help.[/tweetthis]
Ahh… I feel better now.
Wait. Mr. Rogers was a Sniper and he had more tattoos than Adam Levine?
That can’t be right. Here’s the link to follow for that one. Wasn’t Mr. Rogers a Sniper? ( Big Lie, although I admit I kinda like the idea of Mr. Rogers covered in tattoos under his button down shirt, tie, and cardigan.)
I’ll leave you with this Mr. Rogers quote. It made me feel better.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.” (From The World According to Mister Rogers)