Thursday, 15 January 2015

15/01/15 - Fallacies, etc

A fun and exciting feature of living in the internet age is that you can have endless, constant arguments with people you’ve never met, over things that really don’t matter. You can, of course, fire abuse to politicians on Twitter about real issues if you so wish, but you’re also free to argue with nerds on forums about who directed the pilot of Thunderbirds, what really killed River Phoenix, or which shade of purple the mkII Cortina 1600E was available in. At time of argument, the issue under debate must become the single most important thing in the world. Never let your commitment waver.
Being an accomplished and technical liar will ensure that your bullshit spreads as widely as possible, but it’s not enough to simply make shit up and fire it into the ether; no, you’ve got to understand just how your mendacity works. For that, you’ve got to learn how to argue – and fight dirty. Really dirty.
Key to this is mastering the art of the fallacy – that is, an argument that is logically incorrect, necessarily lending it a lack of credibility or soundness, but which you can spit with enough vitriol to position yourself as an internet bastard champion. Here are some handy types of logical fallacy to try:

Argumentum ad hominem
You’ll have seen this one in the playground. You’ve basically got to attack your opponent on a personal level – cast aspersions over their genetic provenance, laugh at the colour of their hair, or remind people that this is a person who once shat themselves on the Tube when they had a gastric bug. It’ll totally undermine their argument. People won’t believe a word they say. Who wants to be associated with a Tube-pooper?

Argumentum ad ignorantium
Suggest that if something’s difficult to understand, it probably can’t be true.
Sure, electricity might make sense to some egghead scientists, but are we really supposed to swallow the idea of magic power leaping through wires and making light bulbs illuminate? That’s got to be bullshit. I don’t understand it, so it must be a lie.

Straw man
If your opponent’s argument seems flawless, you can just misrepresent it to make them look stupid – e.g. if they say ‘I love London in the winter,’ you can tell everyone that they have an unpleasant southern bias, hate the Scots, and wish for us all to be trapped within a perennial big-freeze without ever emerging, eyes blinking, into the glory of the spring sunshine. Totally unfair, but very effective.

You can misrepresent the facts by muddying the terminology. Exploit the double meanings of words to your own advantage.
‘When I told my kids about this idea, they were really engaged.’ ‘Your kids are engaged? To each other? Christ, I’m calling the Daily Express…’

Misleading vividness
You can use flimsy anecdotal evidence about your own experiences of the thing in question in order to discredit the argument.
‘Of course you can’t die bungee-jumping – I’ve done it loads and I’m fine.’

Gambler’s fallacy
Also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy, this is a misguided belief that if something’s happened a few times, it’ll keep happening. Like, if you have three cats that all die from cat AIDS, you can never have another cat because it’ll happen again.
Or, conversely, that if something’s happened a few times, it’ll definitely stop happening – like, if you’ve stopped at three red lights in a row, the next traffic light must be green.
There is no order in the cosmos. But you can pretend that there are patterns if you find it helpful.

False dilemma
In a false dilemma, only two possibilities are presented as, er, possible. There’s no room for anything else.
‘You’re either a Republican or a Democrat,’ American voters are encouraged to believe. Ignore the Libertarians, Greens, Communists, Objectivists, Modern Whigs, they’re not real.
Refusal to acknowledge deviations from your two proposed realities is the only way forward.

No true Scotsman
Diminish your opponent’s power by questioning their purity or properness. The name of this fallacy comes from the notion that Scotsmen don’t put sugar on their porridge. ‘I put sugar on my porridge,’ they might say. To which you respond ‘Aha, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on their porridge’.
The Daily Mail does this all the time. It seems to work.

Burden of proof
Let’s say you’ve told a lie. Someone on t’internet has called you out on it, suggesting that it’s clearly a load of horseshit. Your response is to suggest that it’s up to them to prove you wrong, rather than you to prove yourself right. Saves a lot of work. Quite often they can’t be arsed.

Slippery slope
A pseudo-logical device in which certain events are perceived to be a given if something else has happened; e.g. anything Nigel Farage says about immigrants (‘if you let a hundred in, we’ll be flooded by ten million and none of us Brits will have any jobs’, or whatever).
Harness those non sequiturs, make them work for you.

Fallacy of origins
Making up shit about provenance, genetics, or geographical location can be a handy tool in the internet bullshit scrap.
‘What, you heard that on the BBC news? You can’t trust the BBC, they’re the ones who employed Jimmy Savile.’

Special pleading
You’ve basically got to assert that you’re an exception to a commonly-held belief or rule, without explaining the exception.
What does Uri Geller say when you question his ability to bend spoons? Probably something like ‘You just have to believe that I can do it’.
Just be pig-headed. And shout LOUDER.

Argumentum ad passiones
You don’t need to have any grounding in fact or logic as long as you’re able to make some form of relatable emotional appeal. That’s why so many thickos are voting UKIP – they don’t understand what they’re doing, but they’ve seen that bloke having a pint on telly and he seems to be a friendly smokescreen for their inherent casual racism. He’s helping us, isn’t he? That’ll do. Job done. Next…

Questionable cause
You need to suggest that a relationship (real or otherwise) between two things means that one has caused the other. Check out
‘Spurious Correlations’ for plenty of stimulus.

Argumentum ad populum
In 1959, RCA Victor released an album entitled ‘50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’. Fast-forward thirty years or so, The Simpsons parodied this with a poster for Laramie Cigarettes: ‘50,000,000 smokers can’t be wrong.’
Just because lots of people are doing something, it doesn’t mean it’s right. Still, it’s an easy manipulation technique.
Of course, your teachers always used to say ‘If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, you wouldn’t, would you?’ To which the answer is ‘Er, yes, probably. There must be a reason why they’re all doing it. Is the cliff on fire? Is there a lion up there?’

Complex question/loaded question
An easy tactic here to catch out the unsuspecting. Ask a question that contains an implied answer, so that it can’t be answered without suggesting guilt or culpability. Try loudly asking ‘Isn’t your brother a paedophile?’ There may be no truth in it, but it doesn’t matter what they answer – everyone in earshot will be thinking ‘Ah, right, paedo brother. No smoke without fire. Add that to the file.’

Tu quoque
Classic schoolyard stuff, this. Don’t try to defend yourself with anything as petty or finicky as a fact – simply fight criticism with criticism.
‘You’ve done a really poor weld on that sill, it looks dangerous.’
‘Fuck off, look at your welding. That’s going to kill someone.’

Argumentum ad temperantiam
Beware the ‘middle ground’ – even a burgeoning argument bastard like you should avoid this one. Let’s say person A is insisting that eating at Burger King causes blindness. Person B counters that such a concept is absurd. Person C, growing weary of the debate, decides that eating at Burger King sometimes causes blindness, and insists that this is the real truth in order to shut everybody up. Stupid persons D & E believe C, and an urban myth is born.
Lazy arguing, this. Rubbish.

Argumentum ab auctoritate
Oh, this one’s quite fun. If someone’s pushing back hard against whatever your argument may be, simply cite a similar argument from a celebrity, notable scientist, or other authority. (It doesn’t really matter if they actually said it.)
‘Yes, of course gravity is a myth – everyone just has really heavy feet. No, shut up, I read a thing where Tom Cruise said it, and he knows a thing or two about clumpy shoes.’

Appeal to nature
Claiming that things are good because they are natural. ‘All natural ingredients.’ ‘Zero additives.’ A mad form of logic, of course – pure, natural heroin might not do you a lot of good, whereas you do things all the time that aren’t natural (flying, wearing glasses, being vaccinated, shitting indoors) that don’t harm you.

Fallacies of composition & division
A fallacy of composition posits that if something is true when it relates to a part of a thing, it must also relate to the whole. ‘Atoms are invisible. James Bond’s Vanquish is made of atoms. Therefore, James Bond’s Vanquish is invisible.’ This was possibly the thought process of the writers of Die Another Day.
Conversely, a fallacy of division suggests that if something is true of the whole, it must also be true of all of its parts. ‘Google’s driverless car can drive itself unaided. Google’s driverless car has wheels. Therefore, one of the car’s wheels can drive itself unaided.’
If all else fails, belligerently repeating non sequiturs over and over again will see you through.

Texas sharpshooter
Picking and choosing which bits of data might support your argument is a game as old as time itself. A poster for Mamma Mia might feature a quote that says ‘Amazing’ in huge letters, although the full quote might be ‘It’s amazing how I sat through all of this without punching someone’. Although there’s more to the Texas sharpshooter – you need to ignore the data you don’t want, and really accentuate the bits you do. What if Rolex started shifting more units in Malawi and Rwanda? Can we assume from this that these are wealthy countries…? We can if we’re prepared to ignore all the poor people.
(The name, incidentally, comes from the image of the Texan shooting holes in the side of a barn, then painting a target around the strongest cluster. A lesson for us all, there.)

Begging the question
You find a lot of this on the internet – circular arguments in which the answer is tied up in the original premise. You can get the whole thing done in one statement of truism – ‘opium induces sleep as it has a soporific quality’ – or you can draw it out a bit, in a sort of ‘Jesus was never wrong, and we can explore this by reading this particular passage of the Bible in which Jesus is quoted as saying that Jesus was never wrong’ way. (n.b. the modern usage of ‘it begs the question’ generally actually means ‘it raises the question’, which is entirely different; the origin of ‘begging the question’ in the traditional sense dates back to a 16th-century mistranslation of the Latin
petitio principia, meaning ‘assuming the initial point’. Y’know, in case it comes up in a pub quiz or something.)

The fallacy fallacy
Thanks to the frequently illiterate nature of online arguing (just scroll down to the comments under any YouTube video for evidence of this), the ‘fallacy fallacy’ is the strongest form of internet shouting. It’s based on the notion that if an idea is poorly argued, it’s probably wrong. If they sound a bit thick, they’re probably talking shit. This is the strongest weapon in your arsenal: condescension. 

There you are, go and cause some mischief. You bastard.

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