| Protect Yourself from Verbal Sleight of Hand
|Don’t be fooled by these rhetorical tricks that mystify and
A few years ago I wrote about a Facebook exchange among
two friends of mine that upset me because one of my friends
resorted to name-calling instead of addressing the other
friend's arguments. In retrospect, that was mild. More
recently I've been shocked by some disturbingly excessive
name-calling, in the comment sections of articles I've read,
that was directed at other commenters. The name-calling is
bad enough, but the number of people who find that to be
an acceptable method for engaging in debate is appalling.
No one is going to be motivated or persuaded by vitriol.
Recently I wrote an article on the importance of critical
thinking in our age of information overload (see A Survival
Guide for the Era of Fake News). Developing the ability to
judge the veracity of the information we receive is important
because there are many people, seeking power or profit,
who will say anything in order to push their agenda. We
must protect ourselves from the lies, propaganda, and fake
news that we get from politicians, government, corporations,
and the media.
People seeking power and influence will use verbal trickery in
order to convince you to accept their point of view. They will
speak confidently with tones of authority so that you won’t
scrutinize their words too carefully. But, you can protect
yourself by learning to recognize their logical and rhetorical
fallacies. Here are the most common:
Ad Hominem Attack or Name-Calling: in this fallacy, the
proponent will attack their opponent by attaching a negative
label to them rather than support their argument or opinion with
Ad Populum or Bandwagon: in this fallacy, the proponent will
argue that you should agree because everyone is doing it.
They want you to feel left out, or encourage you to try to
“keep up with the Jones.” I’ll never forget my mother shutting
this argument down by asking me: “If all your friends jump off
a cliff are you going to follow?”
Appeal to the Stone: in this fallacy, the proponent will dismiss
an argument as absurd (or unworthy of serious consideration)
without giving any proof or reason for believing it is absurd.
Cherry Picking or Card Stacking: in this fallacy, the proponent
will omit key information in order to slant a position in his favor.
In this case, you are receiving a partial truth and you will have
to do your own research to find out the rest.
False Analogy: in this fallacy, the proponent will present two
things as being similar even though they are not.
False Dilemma: in this fallacy, the proponent will present only
two options as if these were the only choices. Also called an
"Either/Or" argument because it offers no middle ground and
disregards compromises, alternatives, or new ideas.
Straw Man: in this fallacy, the proponent will distort or
misrepresent their opponent’s position then proceed to attack
this false and fabricated viewpoint instead. This fallacy creates
the illusion that the opponent’s argument has been refuted,
when only a straw man has been knocked down.
Red Herring: in this fallacy, the proponent will ignore a question,
topic, or argument and attempt to shift the discussion/debate
to a separate issue which he or she is more comfortable
False Cause: in this fallacy, the proponent will suggest that
because two events are related that one caused the other to
happen. It’s important to remember that correlation and/or
coincidence do not prove causation.
Hasty Generalization: in this fallacy, the proponent will use a
sample size that is too small to support an overriding conclusion
or to declare a universal principle.
Appeal to Authority: in this fallacy, the proponent will use a
famous person to endorse his position. You must ask yourself
what this celebrity knows about the issue, and what they have
to gain from it.
It’s one thing to attempt to persuade someone with facts, but
it’s fraudulent when someone starts twisting them. Arm
yourself against these fallacies by knowing and understanding
how they work. Many times you won’t know that a fallacy has
been used until you do your own research and verify the
information for yourself. Once you have mastered these, there
are many more fallacies you can learn about by searching
Print a copy of this article and keep these fallacies handy; you'll
be able to use them every day. You can also use them for a
fun drinking game during political debates. Every time you
catch one, you get to take a shot!
Please share in the comments examples of these fallacies that
you’ve encountered recently in the news or current events.
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.