We've barely a fortnight left until election day. The direct mail campaigns are kicking into high gear and both my mailbox and my compost pile are filling up rapidly. It reminds me of another election season back when I was in college. I was taking a course in Logic nights. As an exercise, the instructor asked us to apply the 12 fallacies of argument to election speeches or ballot proposition arguments. It was both entertaining and enlightening.
I am listing them here with a simplified description of each. I suggest you print it out in a large font and keep it handy as a reference for the campaign ads. You will be surprised, nay astonished, by what you find.
1)Argumentum ad Baculum: (Appeal to force) Use of a threat to coerce the target into agreement. The jack booted thug obviously, but also a lobbyist threatening to give campaign funds to an opponent or the threat of "the terrorists will win if you don't..."
2)Argumentum ad Hominem: (Abusive) Calling your opponent a Communist, tax and spend liberal, or a Fascist.. Strictly speaking none of these things rule out competent leadership. They have little or no bearing on the issues. In short, they are name calling in a suit and tie.
2b) Argumentum ad Hominem: (circumstantial) Basicly, "you have to do "A" because you believe "B". For example "You have to vote against all taxes because you are a Republican." or "You have to be pro-choice because you are a Democrat." While it is true that most of each group seem to go that way in Congress, it is not a requirement.
3) Argumentum ad Ignorantium: (Argument from Ignorance) "It must be true because no one has ever been able to prove it is not." The lazy man's proof of the existence of God. It is impossible to prove something does not exist. The best you can do is show that it is very unlikely.
4) Argumentum ad Misericordiam: (Appeal to Pity) "Every time you vote Republican, God kills a kitten."
5)Argumentum ad Populum.: (Argument to the Gallery) "It is your patriotic duty" "Real Americans will..."
6)Argumentum ad Verecundiam: (Appeal to Authority) Famous people or people you admire do it so you should too. All endorsements fall under this fallacy. While I may admire Robert Redford as an actor and agree with much of his political views, He may be terribly wrong about candidate "X".
7) Accident: Applying a general case to a specific. "Because he voted for a sales tax increase in 1974 he will raise your taxes if you vote for him."
8) Converse Accident: (Hasty Generalization) Making a general statement based on a non-representative sample. Because people abuse narcotics we have made it very difficult for doctors to use them to alleviate pain and suffering.
9) False Cause: "The tinfoil hat keeps the elephants away." or "The Patriot Act is the reason we haven't had a terrorist attack since 9/11."
10)Petitio Principii: (Begging the Question) A circular argument. " People with good taste in literature prefer Shakespeare." "You can identify a person who has good taste in literature by asking him if he likes Shakespeare."
11) Complex Question: "Have you stopped beating your wife." A question that forces an implied assumption.
12)Ignoratio Elenchi: (Irrelevant Conclusion) Since 90% of all marijuana smokers smoke cigarettes, tobacco is the gateway drug to marijuana.
So, there you have it.Have fun! You will be surprised how little is left after all the fallacies are stripped away.
For an advanced exercise, try it on Glen Beck.
Be seeing you.