Locating Logical Fallacies: Twitter Edition
At The Saint Constantine School, our ninth graders are required to take an introductory logic course. From time to time, the common refrain of “When are we ever going to use this in real life?” washes over the class, and this always makes me chuckle. I chuckle because logic is the area of study where the American public exhibits the most outstanding deficiency.
My social media feeds consistently fill up with people who are boldly, confidently, and self-righteously proclaiming “arguments” that are utterly illogical.
Today’s Lesson: #TakeAKnee
I will not here respond with my opinion on the issue at hand, but rather scroll through the hashtag and call out fallacies as I see them. Without further ado:
We’ll lead off with a pretty clear example of a false analogy. Analogies tend to be fraught with peril, as they can easily be misapplied. Rosa Parks protested segregation by sitting in the “Whites Only” part of the bus from which she was legally disallowed at the time. This protest is a direct, nonviolent form of civil disobedience that attacked the racist bus-riding laws head-on. This civil disobedience is so clearly connected to the segregation laws that any analysis of her actions as “anti-public transportation” is clearly ridiculous. This is intentional, as the author argues that thinking the NFL protests are “anti-flag” is just as ridiculous.
This analogy has no traction, as the protests don’t map appropriately onto Rosa Parks’ protest: they are not directly breaking an unjust law, but attempting to call attention to a particular issue through the breaking of an unrelated (or at least only tangentially related) standard of decorum. This false analogy is a type of red herring fallacy that draws dialogue away from the issue at hand by muddling the argument.
Ah, the classic argumentum ad baculum.
(Latin for “argument from appeal to the stick”). This fallacy seeks to distract from pesky things like “the search for truth” by merely threatening the opposing side in a discussion until they agree with you. Those who “appeal to the stick” ignore the vital process of discourse in search of truth and are instead content to entrench themselves in whatever they previously thought. The refusal to engage in a dialogue about why one might be wrong is especially dangerous, as it declares an end to discussion and the search for truth.
This argument turns upon the Tu Quoque (Latin for “you, too”) fallacy, an extremely popular variation of the argumentum ad hominem (Latin for “argument to the man”). You might recognize this fallacy from election season; it is yet another red herring that, instead of dealing with the issue at hand, seeks to point out that one’s opponent is flawed in some way that is comparable to how your side is accused of being flawed.
This tweet attacks those critical of #TakeAKnee as hypocrites, pretending that proving them to be hypocritical in any way diminishes their argument (Hint: it does not). The tu quoque fallacy only asserts some negative characteristic of the opposition, it doesn’t do anything to support its own case. Not only is this tweet reliant on the tu quoque, but it backs it up with a cherry-picked example of #TakeAKnee detractors: those that support the Confederate flag. A select number of a group engaging in a behavior does not say anything about the group as a whole, and to assume as much is to ignore the dictates of logic.
These guys get paid less than $35,000 a year and risk their lives (picture of injured soldiers)…So these guys can get paid $11 million a year and protest our National Anthem…because they feel oppressed (picture of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneeling).
We’re ending here with a bit of a doozy. This applies two of the most popular fallacies in the known meme world. The first is an appeal to emotion, as the image of wounded American heroes is contrasted with the image of wealthy American athletes. The inclusion of these pictures is pretty clearly meant to incite some sort of emotional response, relying on patriotism (hence, soldiers) and human decency (hence, wounded) to bring about immediate agreement before the “argument” is even read. Secondly, this “argument,” meanwhile, is nothing more than a false dichotomy, seeking to draw two largely unrelated things together for comparison and forcing the reader to choose between them. This false dichotomy is a forced choice, aiming to force an either/or choice when there are more complex viewpoints available.
Again, none of this blog post is an attempt from me to voice my opinion on these issues. Instead, I’d like to point out that, as the national social climate becomes more entrenched and isolated, the solution is not an echo-chambered repetition of faulty arguments and lazy retweeting. Instead, we must engage our world carefully and thoughtfully, attempting to follow the Logos wherever He may lead.
God, help us.