It seems like in modern times, chances for civil and intellectual debate has become increasingly slim. Most of our discussions on politics, religion, and other topics have been bombarded with the most visceral of responses and sloppy use of rhetoric. In many cases, people will engage in what are known as logical fallacies. Statements in an argument that, as the name suggests, fails to make any logical sense and it includes either inaccuracy, generalizing, or going off topic. When someone resorts to using one, it is usually a clear indication that the person’s argument is falling apart and becoming invalid, so they choose to use simplistic tactics in order to appear that they are still relevant in a discussion. Unfortunately, this happens to work most of the time, as either one, the other debater(s) are too polite to call out these illogical statements, or two, the fallacy is undetectable.
Knowing the logical fallacies is a great source of information not just to gain an advantage against the opponent, but also to self-check in your own argument to make sure that you do not fall victim to a case of bad rhetoric. Here are a few of the more important ones to learn and memorize:
Ad-Hominem: Talk about a doozy. The Ad-Hominem is the weapon of choice of the sloth internet troll that enjoys meticulously pinpointing random, unrelated observations about another user. It is essentially a ridicule of an opponent’s looks, past, or character that is meant to berate them and use these as an excuse to claim their argument as invalid.
Example: “Well I don’t know how someone with glasses can see things more clearly than I.”
Strawman: The “jumping to conclusions” fallacy. This offers a skewed understanding of an argument in order to make the other side’s seem more rational. The fiery, paranoid advocate’s favorite tactic, and is either a product of over thinking or complete fantasy.
Example: “Charles want’s to chop down every last tree in the Midwest and prop up nothing but Walmarts and stripmalls in their place!” (When Charles said that he wants to increase infrastructure spending.)
Anecdotal: Sob stories and “when I was your age” talks. This fallacy uses a personal story of the debater in order to further prove their argument to be true. The problem arises when one uses this as a solid argument instead of using broader data and statistics to validate if your story is not an isolated incident.
Example: “Last year I went to Iraq before Team America showed up. It was a happy place! They had flowery meadows and rainbows skies and rivers made of chocolate where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles.” – Sean Penn, Team America
The Texas Sharpshooter: Choose wisely, the misconstruing of data to randomly correlate with the argument that otherwise would not be related. The most wishy-washy of the fallacies, but a very deceptive one, especially to those who value logos.
Example: “9 out of every 10th person on the street didn’t know when the Mongol Empire collapsed, therefore our local school system is underfunded.”
And finally the best for last…
Bandwagon: Consider this conversation:
“Hey have you seen that new Netflix series Stranger Things? It’s like really goooood!!”
“Um, yeah like only one episode”
“What? Why did you only watch ONE?!!”
“Well because I wasn’t really interested in the the story, characters, or direction enough to make me interested in watching the rest.”
“But wasn’t the first episode like so thrilling and creative and well made?”
“If you mean by ‘thrilling, creative and well made,’ a copy of literally every Spielberg movie trope from the eighties mixed in with some Goosebumps, Goonies, and John Hughes all with a healthy splash of tokenism? Then I guess it was. But I thought it was overrated.”
“Oh well literally EVERY one of my friends LOVES Stranger Things and have no complaints. Therefore it is objectively the best show ever and you literally have the worst taste in television.”
“We’re entitled to our opinions, but you can’t say that one show is objectively the best just because a lot of people liked it. Plus you also cannot berate my opinion just because I didn’t have the same opinion as apparently ALL your friends.”
“Whatever just stop talking. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Nothing more needs to be said. (And yes this also is my opinion on Stranger Things.)
So I implore you to take a mental note of these and other terms that can help you gain an advantage in an argument and actually have a civil discussion with your peers. Just remember, the key to solving problems lies in the ability to communicate, and this is done correctly when avoiding the traps above. #makedebategreat.
Picture Credit: Your Logical Fallacy