Alright, so this is only about 90% off-topic, so sue me. Please. I really want to experience the whole court-room drama thing. Just to stand up and shout, "Relevancy your Honour!" or "You're badgering the witness?"
Hey, um, so one of the things lawyers do, apart from drink plasma milkshakes and grind vampire bats for food is look at logic. See? It's a segue!
Now I love logic, about as much as I love castles made of marshmallow. I don't always use it correctly, but then, sometimes I use the marshmallow castle wrong too. And yet it feels so right.
Today I wanted to examine fallacies. Not phalluses, that's next Wednesday, fallacies, falsehoods, things that are intrinsically wrong. They appear to link two statements, but in fact act as no link at all.
Before we get started though, a few quick rules.
1. Logic is a tool, not better or worse than emotion.
See, emotion has its place. I like people being all emotional, and to say they ought to be logical is basically a waste of everyone's time, since as far as we know, potentially barring a full lobotomy, there is no way to completely set aside emotionality. People who think that it is "wrong" to be emotional are probably not being as rational as they constantly tell people they are.
There is nothing wrong with basing a choice on emotion, as long as you know that's why you're doing it.
2. There is no evidence that women or men are better at logic.
Logic discussions always bring in the misogynists, and frankly, I'm tired of it. Yes, your girlfriend or ex-teacher doesn't see your "brilliant" logical argument for why you need Hustler mags, but that doesn't make them intrinsically less logical.
Many of the most logical people in the world are women. However, many are men as well. Given the complex way we're all brought up and the society around us, it is unrealistic to make generalizations even if you could dredge up relevant research.
3. Logical is not the same as "true" and also not the same as "rational"
Something can be logical without being rational. Rationalism (both classical and neo-liberal) is actually a very specific approach to the world, and not the only logical one. Something can also be true or false independent of whether you figured it out in a logical way or not. You could get to a "true" conclusion with fallacious reasoning.
See, a fallacy is like a sign that says "I am wrong, and covering it up with nonsense" except, unlike the sign, it actually cannot be right. Like a Jackson 5 reunion, it's impossible for Fallacies to be right.
That doesn't mean fallacies automatically lead to false conclusions. Far from it. A fallacy CANNOT prove a thing to be true, but that thing could be true by coincidence. For example, the following argument:
A) Obama is black
B) He won the vote in California.
Of course, the argument is ridiculous. There are many reasons why Obama won the vote in California. The argument is fundamentally flawed, but that doesn't make either of the individual statements false.
It's also possible to have an entirely logical argument that just happens to have a false (but logically valid) conclusion.
A)If it is true that pixies killed Kennedy from a castle on Mars, then Cats will Rule the Earth.
B) Pixies killed Kennedy from a castle on Mars.
C) Cats Rule the Earth
None of this is true (one hopes), but it is completely logical.
Many people though, when cornered, use as much illogic as possible to push their crazy opinions. Why? Who knows. They don't know better? They're scared?
I think in a lot of the time, it's about power. Illogical arguments generally work better than logical ones because the appeal to emotion and prejudice. Logic makes us uncomfortable because it means closely examining our own beliefs. Logic isn't easy, and a strong logical argument is easy to examine for things like validity and soundness. It's much harder if you leap all over the map.
It is pretty common, then, for fanboys of any stripe to employ illogical, emotional arguments to defend their opinion and belittle challengers. They're easy, quick, and unexaminable. The central problem for these little arguments are that they are based on fallacies, things that falsely connect one point to another in a way that seems logical or rational but isn't.
There are many famous fallacies out there, and once you know them it's easy to spot them, and thus spot poor argumentation. Some are used primarily in essays, some in newspapers, some in press releases, and the seven I'm looking at tonight, in fanboy rants.
What seven am I going to introduce you to (or refamiliarize you with)? Why read the list below, and skip to your favourite.
1. Ad Hominem/Guilt By Association
2. Appeal to Authority
3. Appeal to Popularity
4. Appeal to Ridicule
5. False Dilemma
6. Begging the Question
7. Red Herring
BONUS ROUND: Middle Ground
Let's get started, shall we?
1. Ad Hominem
I personally believe that Ad Hominem attacks are the most common form of argument online, in Newspapers, in political debates or on panel programmes. Ad Hominem works both ways, both as a negative and positive, and is really, extremely powerful.
Ad Hominem means, literally "against the man," and refers to using a personal attack in lieu of actual evidence. I tend to expand it to be "to" the man though, meaning either for or against the individual person.
For example, Obama was often the more likable candidate in US debates (I might go as far as to say "always.") Many people used this to defend his positions, mocking the fact that McCain is old or makes unusual faces. None of this had anything to do with the substantive issues.
Ad Hominem means dismissing an argument because of the character, reputation or friends of the arguer rather than the substance of the argument. In its simplest form on the internet, it comes down to name calling. "You're gay," or "You're a Nazi though," or "You're basically a Jack Thompson wannabe."
Most of the time, this has no baring on the argument. If Hitler and Jack Thompson argued that the sun was made of burning incandescent gasses, that wouldn't make it false. If Einstein and John Stewart argued that the sun was made out of cheap yellow velour, that wouldn't make them right.
Being a bad person doesn't make you wrong. But fanboys use this all the time.
"Yeah, well, you're probably a high-school angst case living in his parent's basement."
"Yeah, well, you're just a fanboy."
"Well, since you're a hypocrite, you're obviously wrong."
All of these are actually used all the time, and very effectively shut people down, even though they aren't the least bit logical and in most cases even aren't based in reality. Next time you read it, try this two word reply: Ad Hominem.
By the way, I thought I'd slip Guilt By Association here, which is basically a form of Ad Hominem lite, in which people are "associated" with the bad people.
"That's the kind of thing a fat loner would say." for example, or "I hate ignorant bullshitters like you." You actually aren't calling the other person a name, but associating them with something bad. "I think Jack Thompson said something similar once" isn't actually an argument against somebody's opinion. It has nothing to do with substance, and everything to do with avoiding the issue.
Ad Hominem. Remember it and call it out. You'll be surprised how much it comes up in even the most revered news sites.
2. Appeal to Authority
The fact that Mark Rein likes your favourite game doesn't make it good. Lawyers thinking that Mumia Abu Jamal is a murderer doesn't make it so. It doesn't matter who your authority is, they can always be mistaken.
That doesn't mean logicians don't trust authority at all. Without access to all the research, sometimes you have to trust somebody in a relevant field. But that somebody in the field has an opinion isn't actually evidence. It's just an indication that there MAY BE evidence. If they're not in the field, though, they certainly should have no influence on the argument at all.
A few scientists dispute the existence of Global Warming. However, since few of these are actually currently educated climatologists, they should be studiously ignored unless the evidence they provide is itself compelling and relevant. The President might think children are being abused at camp, but that does't make it so. And just because Miyamoto thinks some games are too violent, that doesn't mean that they are.
Authorities can be useful resources, but saying that they agree with you isn't an effective argument. Relying on authorities without any other evidence is a major fallacy, and very common from the fanboy.
3. Appeal to Popularity
Ever hear the statement "20 million people can't be wrong?" Guess what. They can be.
No matter how popular something is, it has no baring on whether you are right or wrong. An appear to popularity is a fallacy in which somebody says, "X number agree with me, therefore I'm right."
But it is just as possible to be right and alone as it is to be in total agreement in a crowd.
The fact that game A is more popular than game B does not make it "better," only more popular/more well advertised. The appeal to popularity is a ploy, and quite frankly, a bad one.
4. Appeal to Ridicule
This is a common one on forums, where people drop a bomb and just leave
The appeal to ridicule is similar to the Ad Hominem attack, but could apply just as easily to the argument itself. Basically, it means making fun of an idea or a person instead of addressing the substance of the argument. For example:
"This the stupidest thing I've ever heard"
"I'm not even going to dignify this with a response."
All of these depend on a quick leap in and out, and basically take the place of actual arguments. Ridiculing your opponent isn't the same as actually proving them wrong, but it does make you look like you've got more than you do.
You probably don't.
5. False Dilemma
This is also known as the false dichotomy. It basically boils down to looking at the world in simple binary ways. Either thing A is true or thing B is. Which is it?
There is almost always a C, or D or E, it just may not be as clear as A and B, but people often use simple A/B dichotomies to try and force their opinion, often combining it with other fallacies, such as straw men.
"Okay wait, are you saying it's good, or that you hated it?"
"Well, did it have bugs, because if so, it can't be a good game."
"Either you love Spore, or all you care about is Gears of War."
Often these dilemmas are hard to spot, but far too often, they're there, and there is no room for them in an effective or meaningful debate. Nothing is either or, even basic facts of atomic physics. Shrodenger's cat may be both alive AND dead. Surely it is possible to have a nuanced view of the world?
6. Begging the Question
"You have to enjoy Gears of War 2, it has the best multiplayer out there."
This begs the question. Do we even want a game for the multiplayer? Sure some do, but you can't just assume we agree on a major issue as part of making your point.
Begging the question is NOT asking
the question, raising the question, or demanding that the question be asked. It is ignoring the obvious question. An argument that takes a major problem for granted.
This is a major fallacy you find pretty much anywhere. Basically, your argument assumes some major premise that is yet to be proven or even presented. Economists are especially bad for this. During the NAFTA meetings, Canadian economists assumed that all Canadians would rather buy Canadian than American, even if the prices were better in the US, thus meaning no net job loss for Canadians. Of course, they had been begging the question, since this premise was far from proven, and in the end, they were wrong.
Begging the question means assuming some unproven premise of your argument on which the rest hinges. For example, "Final Fantasy games are the best games out there because their plots are the most mature."
Hang on, are their plots mature? This sort of thing is far too common and needs to be called out from time to time.
b]7. Red Herring[/b]
Red Herrings suddenly change the subject, but in a way that tricks your mind into thinking the non sequitor is somehow connected, when really you're deflecting the argument. For example:
"You ought to play Resident Evil 5, after all, ignorant people accused it so much of racism."
Wait, I don't want to help those who call wolf, but what does that have to do with whether I should play this particular game or not?
Another use of the Red Herring is to take you onto a totally different argument. This is most often done actually within a rebuttal. For example:
Person A: I liked Kings Quest 5 because it was non-violent.
Person B: So you think we should ban violent games?
Person B has actually changed the subject. This red herring is going to derail the whole argument and probably allow the original point (that he liked Kings Quest 5)to be forgotten.
The Red Herring is a great way for fanboys to derail discussion, pouring a lot of energy into a peripheral issue. Once you admit to one largely unimportant aspect of your argument being false, people are less likely to believe the rest, however much sense it will make.
BONUS ROUND - Middle Ground
Just a quick statement to say that this is also a common fallacy, especially by so-called "centrists" in political debate. Just because something is in the centre of two perceived extremes doesn't make it true. It doesn't even necessarily make you more reasonable. You can be stubbornly in the middle when the truth is actually closer to one of the extremes. Middle Ground is politic, and polite, but not an actual argument.
These are not all the major fallacies. There are many. In some cases I have employed some of these fallacies in their own description and analysis, but I hope that either way, you've found something useful here. Next time you're in an internet nerd debate or reading a newspaper or watching Fox, search for those fallacies, and see how many of the most obvious ones you can find.
Logic is a game! Play along!
And now, if you couldn't recognize these before, or had recently forgotten, I hope this helps.