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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Lose an Argument: Ridiculous examples of logical fallacies

I tell you what, I am getting real, real goddamned sick of this gun control debate. It just doesn't go away -- all these people spouting the same crap over and over and over and over again. Yes, it is important. I know that it is important. But there's a big difference between thinking something is important and wanting to talk about something constantly.

What annoys me even more than the ENDLESS LOOP this debate goes through is the fact that most people aren't even arguing intelligently. They're either spouting off talking points (as I illustrated in this comic), or else they're utilizing the laziest, cheapest kinds of fallacious logic. And it drives. me. crazy.

So, today we're going to learn about some of the logical fallacies that people keep using to try and "win" the gun control argument! But don't worry -- I'm not going to make this whole thing about gun control, because, as I mentioned, I AM SO SICK OF HEARING ABOUT IT I WOULD PUNT A KITTEN IF I THOUGHT IT WOULD GET EVERYONE TO SHUT UP.

Errrrhh ... yes. So ... on to the fallacies, then?

1. The Red Herring

Red herrings are the most common kind of logical fallacy. They're so common, they're even considered an effective debate tactic, provided the person you're arguing with doesn't notice what you're doing.

A "red herring" is a point that is irrelevant to the core of the argument being made, but SEEMS like it is relevant, and it is tossed in to distract away from the core argument -- almost like the arguer is trying to change the subject.

So let's say we've got two people arguing. Specifically, they are arguing about whose music is superior: Justin Bieber's, or Taylor Swift's. Let's take a look:

BUZZZZZZZZ -- we already have our first red herring! The core argument is over whose music is better. Who writes the music is not relevant to the discussion. It would be relevant if they were arguing over which of them is better overall, but they aren't.

BUZZZZZZZZ -- here comes another red herring. While I don't doubt that Bieber is a heavenly dancing gazelle whose eyes could see into my soul (IF ONLY I DARED TO LOOK!), that is also irrelevant to the discussion of whose music is "the best ever."

While redhead's got a point about the hairstyle, that is also, unfortunately, a red herring. Since they can't seem to stay on topic, I guess we'll never know whose music is truly the best ever.

Now it's up to you to make sure not to let anyone get away with this argument sleight-of-hand. Keep the debate focused on the core argument, and maybe-just-maybe you'll actually get somewhere.

2. The Straw Man

A "straw man" argument is when you ignore the ACTUAL position your opponent is arguing, replacing it with a much more ridiculous and exaggerated version (the "straw man"). You then proceed to beat the living sh*t out of this "straw man," making it look like your opponent has been utterly destroyed. 

... which is great, except for the minor fact that at no point did you "beat the sh*t out of" your opponent's ACTUAL position.

To illustrate this point, we have a young couple, Fred and Jeannie, arguing about a decision we all face at some point in our lives: whether or not to adopt a pet tiger.

You see, Jeannie's actual position is that Fred should not adopt a tiger, because they are dangerous. But instead of refuting Jeannie's claim with lots of statistics about how tigers actually make wonderful pets and are great with children (WHICH THEY TOTALLY ARE), Fred responded by pretending Jeannie's position was against all pets in general. He then refuted THAT position, even though nobody in the room actually said that all pets are bad.

Jeannie won't let you have one of these, Fred.

... but she thinks THIS is an acceptable alternative. You gonna stand for that, Fred?

People usually resort to the Straw Man when they don't actually have the facts they need to refute the other argument. Fred knows that Jeannie has seen The Jungle Book, so there is just no convincing her of the awesomeness of tigers as pets. Hence, he turns to the Straw Man to help him out and put Jeannie on the defensive.

If I recall correctly, these two were not especially close.

3. Appeal to Ridicule

The Appeal to Ridicule is, quite frankly, one of the most annoying, lazy, and condescending methods of 'argument' that has ever existed. Whenever someone uses this means of 'proving a point,' I want to reach out and clock them right in the jaw. So we're all going to learn what it is so that we can all agree together to STOP F***ING DOING IT.

With the Appeal to Ridicule, Person A does absolutely nothing to refute the argument of Person B. They use no logic, supply no facts, and state no examples. Instead, they just act like a piece-of-sh*t high school bully and turn to mockery, insisting that Person B's position is "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my entire life, and I went to middle school with Kim Kardashian."

The thing about Appeal to Ridicule that pisses me off the most is that Person B is left with no way to respond. Since Person A has offered no logic or evidence of their own, the only thing Person B can say is something like "is not!" 

After all, what can you say to someone who, with a quick wave of the hand, dismisses your entire well-thought-out argument as if you've just suggested the world might be a better place if the dinosaurs were still alive (DUH, IDIOT -- haven't you seen Jurassic Park!??!?!!?)





Look for Volume 2 in a few days, in which we learn about the False Dilemma, the Ad Hominem fallacy, and the Slippery Slope (to sucking at arguing).

Also, did you remember to "like" the Patent's Patented facebook page? Just do it already.

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