Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let Me Count the Fallacies

The facts: A few high school kids in California, protesting certain issues regarding immigration, ran a Mexican flag up a pole with an American flag under it, upside down.

One result: A frantic glut of emails hastily sent out by countless Internet users to everyone on their mailing lists. (Those who felt this item was worthy of my time and attention happened to be, somewhat to my surprise, well-educated adults.)

The much-forwarded email shows pictures of the kids and the flags. The text accompanying these photos is so full of fallacious reasoning that it would be humorous, if it weren’t so dangerous. Here’s a sample (fallacies added, in italics):

  • ”I predict this stunt will be the nail in the coffin of [sic] any guest-worker/amnesty plan on the table in Washington.” (ad hominum and hasty generalization)

  • ”Pass this along to every American citizen in your address book and to every representative in the state and federal government.” (bandwagon)

  • ”If you choose to remain uninvolved [by not forwarding the email], do not be amazed when you no longer have a nation to call your own (slippery slope) nor anything you have worked for left since it will be ‘redistributed’ to the activists while you are so peacefully staying out of the ‘fray.’” (appeal to emotion, straw man, misrepresentation, exaggeration)

  • Check history, it is full of nations/empires that disappeared when its citizens no longer held their core beliefs and values.” (non sequitur)

Speaking of core beliefs and values, how does instigating hatred against a few teens who have the guts to try to make a political and moral statement square with the values of a country that purports to value free speech?

Some months ago, many Muslims throughout the world became enraged because a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad appeared in Danish newspapers. Swarms of Internet messages circulated in the U.S., denouncing their attitudes as examples of extremism and hypersensitivity.

I suppose it’s safe to assume that those who denounced the Muslims are not the same people who forwarded the email about the California teens. After all, to criticize the Muslims for overreacting and then do so themselves would be—well, illogical. Right?

3 comments:

The Tarquin said...

It seems like, increasingly, there's also an implied No True Scotsman fallacy. (vis. the _________ )

A: Pass this along to American citizens, surely they will be as shocked and outraged as I am! (Note the inherent trust in the Wisdom of Repugnance (aka Emotivist fallacy). Fallacies within fallacies, the mind boggles.)

B, in response: But I'm an American citizen, and I see nothing wrong with what these kids did.

A: Well, pass this along to all TRUE American citizens . . . And don't be surprised if you "American Citizens" don't have a country left when these kids take over blah blah blah.

Similarly, the whole thing is rife with appeals to consequence. "If these kids are right, then we'll have to [admit we were wrong / let more immigrants into the country / etc. ] and I don't like any of those consequences. Therefore these kids are wrong." Well, I don't like thermonuclear apocalypse, but that doesn't make nuclear fission and atomic weaponry "false."

Anyway, it's dangerous to get me started on "spot the fallacy." I tend to get carried away and could be here all night. Besides, it's been my unfortunate experience that, where politics are concerned, fallacies are the exception, rather than the rule.

The Tarquin said...

(vis. the _________ ) - Sorry about that, I meant (vis. the second and third arguments. I left the underscores there so I could check the original post to see which order you'd put the arguments in, and then totally forgot to go back and replace them.

Citizen Jane said...

When you go on about fallacious reasoning, the result is always interesting. Have at it!

(With respect to politics, didn't you mean that fallacies are "the rule rather than the exception"?)