What are logical fallacies? Ross Weisman’s article, “Is Your Reasoning Sound? A Look at Logical Fallacies,” published at Smerconish.com, gives us this definition: “Flaws in our reasoning, that, when we’re having a spirited debate with someone, we don’t notice.” It’s usually unintentional and we are usually not aware of it.
We all go through mental gymnastics to justify our opinions. Such gymnastics are often the result of pride – we don’t want to admit we might be wrong. According to Weisman, there are three logical fallacies: slippery slope, strawman, and the fallacy fallacy.
Slippery slope fallacy: Fear is the main motivator of this fallacy. The chief question that is asked is, “What if?”
Democrats used this type of thinking to shout down Republicans whom they strongly disagreed with. They must have asked themselves the question: “What if I don’t speak out against the Republicans’ control of Congress and the presidency? If I don’t interrupt and delay the Senate confirmation hearings, then conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Then Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, and gay marriage and then….”
President Donald Trump used this fallacy of fear to stir up his base by asking, “What if the caravan of Central American refugees tries to “invade” the country? I need to protect the nation from this threat by sending 5,200 soldiers to protect the border.” No matter that the caravan was 1,000 miles from the border and the refugees were unarmed.
The use of hypotheticals is a form of deflection of the real issue. By bringing up an extreme scenario in both of the above events, the real issues were changed into fearmongering. That way, a person could continue to debate without admitting his/her thinking is wrong. Instead of asking if there is causation between the issue and the hypothetical, the argument might be derailed or sent off on a different tangent. Sometimes the debater needs to admit their argument is flawed.
Strawman fallacy: Weisman’s definition is, “You try to articulate a point, but you get something similar-sounding but altogether different thrown back in your face.”
You make a point about the need for prison reform but, instead of a rational discussion, someone shouts back, “So you want a bunch of murderers roaming the streets?” Again, the specter of fear rears its ugly head to derail the debate. Most difficult issues require a sense of nuance, not black-and-white answers. People who use the strawman fallacy tend to turn complex issues into simple solutions. Emotions dominate, not reason.
The person who brings up the strawman fallacy may, on the surface, seem like the rational one. But in reality, the person who argues for prison reform is turned into someone who lets killers loose on society. The argument has shifted from prison reform to one of lawlessness and murder. It’s difficult to argue against the strawman fallacy. The strawman attack is a form of verbal bullying, which demeans the speaker’s original intentions.
The fallacy fallacy: Weisman’s definition is, “The fallacy fallacy goes into the dangers of writing someone off completely because of their argument’s structure; if you listen closely and process what they’re trying to convey, the intent could come out.”
An example of this happened on a message forum board that I contribute to. I had brought up the name of a Republican senator who disagreed with one of President Trump’s assertions. Rather than respecting what the senator had to say, this person wrote him off completely, labeling him as a “liberal” and a RINO (Republican in name only). Even our opponents have something to say if we are willing to listen to their intent.
Becoming aware of these three fallacies makes us more aware of speech patterns we unintentionally resort to. I’m constantly reminded of what Stephen Covey said about creating links with people: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” We need to look past the arguments that we disagree with and search for a differing perspective that might help us grow and see another’s point of view. Doing this requires self-awareness, humility and self-control, all of which are in short supply in our politics and our nation today.
Richard Elfers is an adjunct professor at Green River College and a columnist for Reporter newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.