Last week, I took a look at some of the common logical fallacies I see a lot in the American media – be it through advertising or politics – which are used to mislead folks like us. Unfortunately, the list of fallacies is sickeningly long, and it didn’t fit in just one post, so here’s the rest:
1. Observational selection
This is when the speaker cherry picks the information presented in order to cast something in a positive or negative light.
How It’s Used
This is often used in politics to completely distort the truth, by presenting only the information that is favorable to a candidate’s position while ignoring all evidence that is against it. Just pay attention and do a little research next time you hear facts and statistics quoted in some politician’s ads; more often than not, the information is only half the truth. Of course, it’s not just the politicians who use this.
Ex. Michael Moore. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy his part in America as the liberal counter to conservative liars like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but Michael Moore is a shining example of how to use observational selection to make a point. One of my favorites occurs in Fahrenheit 9/11, when Moore lists with disdain the Coalition of the Willing, naming such bustling nations as Costa Rica and Morocco. Of course, Moore also ignores the help of countries like the United Kingdom and Japan.
Isn’t it obvious? The problem here is that you’re only getting half the truth – usually the half that doesn’t make you shiver and quake with horror. This is how politicians lie to you.
2. The Slippery Slope
This is perhaps the most dangerous logical fallacy used to subvert America, as it is the agent used to prevent change. In this, the subject makes the claim that by enacting some change or reform, we will slide down an inevitable slope to some awful, radical extreme.
How It’s Used
This is used almost constantly in politics to stop any kind of change from happening in America. It’s very easy to stop political and social reform if you convince people giving gays and lesbians equal rights will lead to a breakdown in family values, say, or that removing prayer from schools will turn our kids into fire-breathing atheist fornicators.
Ex. Did you catch any of the election coverage? Every time you heard someone say ‘socialism’ in reference to Barack Obama, this is what they were doing. That’s right: every. fucking. time. The most liberal politician this country has to offer is, at best, a moderate when put into global perspective. Considering there are only a few actual socialists left in the world, and we’re pretty damn conservative compared to the rest of the developed nations… well, you figure it out.
Yet Karl Rove’s army insisted on hammering us over the head with the knowledge that, if Barack Obama is elected, we will slide down the dangerous path to socialism. I call bullshit, Karl.
It’s a fucking lie. This fallacy often leads to the most obnoxiously retarded conclusions one can fathom. We’ve had welfare programs for the poor since the 1930s, and we’re still not a bunch of communists. What gives?
3. Weasel Words
This is when the subject uses a carefully chosen word with stark negative connotations to incite fear in the listener.
How It’s Used
This is often used in conjunction with the slippery slope fallacy. Often, the weasel word will be the loathed consequence of falling down the slippery slope. So, for example…
Ex. Barack Obama’s economic policies will lead us down the dangerous path to socialism.
McCarthyism. Ever heard of it? It was a sterling example of one weasel word: communism.
4. The Straw Man
This is one of the most oft-used logical fallacies in politics. It’s simple, really: oversimplify your opponent’s arguments to the point that they are unworkable, and it’s very easy to tear down.
How It’s Used
This is often used in conjunction with the slippery slope and weasel words to villify an opponent. We saw it over and over again during the election; both sides would paint this simplistic, kindergarden picture of the other candidate’s positions, and then show how utterly stupid said position is.
Ex. Barack Obama supports the redistribution of wealth to equalize everyone in America. This equalization will ultimately lead us to socialism.
Well, just consider that about half of our nation is convinced the Democrats in this country are preaching rampant socialism, and you may begin to see the problem with over-simplifying someone’s position.
Unfortunately, there are a lot more of these out there. There’s the red herring (Barack Obama’s citizenship distracting Americans from real issues, for instance) and the appeal to tradition (homosexuality goes against traditional family values, so gays should not be afforded the right to marry), along with a host more logical fallacies used to subvert, distract, confuse, and lie to the American people.
So what do we do to stop ourselves from being lied to? Well, the bad news is, you can’t. Politicians and advertisers have made a living out of lying, and they’ve gotten quite good at it over the years. But the good news is, you can increase your ability to fish out said lies by improving your critical thinking abilities. Never take anything you read or hear as fact; believe absolutely nothing a politician says unless you’ve verified it yourself. Perhaps most importantly, trust in your instinct; if it looks like a turd, smells like a turd, and tastes like a turd, it’s probably not a ham sandwich.
Now here’s the real bad news: generation after generation in America is educated by a system designed in every way to stifle critical thinking. We’re taught every day in grade school to believe what we read, and never question authority. Thankfully for your kids, there’s always homeschooling.