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“Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. They both respond to the facts as they understand them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. Bullshitters ignore these demands altogether. They do not reject the authority of the truth, as liars do, and oppose themselves to it. They pay no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
-Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University (Paraphrased to remove gender references)
It is very difficult to communicate in the age of Trump. It behooves us all to learn and teach such basic foundations of communication as recognizing logical fallacies. What follows is a list of common fallacies found every day on Facebook. Feel free to add examples of your own.
1. “We won the election, you lost, get over it!”
This is called the “ad populum” or “appeal to popularity” fallacy. A claim is not necessarily true because it is popular. Few conservatives believed that Obama’s victory proved his principles, few liberals believe that Trump’s victory proved his principles, and they are both right. Political victory is no guarantee of ethical integrity. We must learn to communicate person to person with those with whom we disagree and forget the imaginary crowds in the back of our minds we feel validate our arguments.
2. “Oh, yeah? What about Bill Clinton/George W. Bush”
This is the “tu quoque,” or “you, too” fallacy. This fallacy consists of “refuting” what someone says by producing a bad example from that person’s group. Every group has bad examples. Finding bad apples from someone’s group doesn’t disprove what that individual is saying.
3. “That’s what I would expect a liberal/conservative idiot to say!”
Obviously this is the “ad hominem” attack where, instead of refuting what someone says, you insult the the person speaking. One response to this fallacy would be to say, “even if that were true of me, how would it refute what I said?” If someone is obviously trying to bully you, it might be helpful to point out that they would not need to resort to insults if they really believed they had a strong argument. The point is, shooting your opponent in a chess match is not the same thing as gaining a checkmate, and ridicule is not the same as refutation.
4. “We know the Bible is true because of all the miracles recorded in the Bible that prove it is true.”
This is known as “petitio principil” where speaker appears to be proving a truth claim, but are actually just rephrasing their assumptions in the form of a conclusion. This is known as a circular argument, or “begging the question.”
5. “I think the president knows a little more than you do about this.”
We rely on experts in certain fields to help us navigate through life, but no expert is beyond accountability. The “argumentum ad verecundiam” or appeal to authority attempts to end investigation by appealing to what Popes, generals, or other authority figures say. Always ask how any authority knows what they are claiming.
6. “I think you’ll understand what I’m saying better if I fill your Facebook page with emojis and articles I’ve cut and pasted from dubious sources.”
When someone co-opts a topic or produces irrelevant examples it is known as “ignoratio enlenchi” or a “red herring.” It is sometimes called the “Chewbacca defense” after a South Park episode where a lawyer distracts the jury by continually bringing Chewbacca into the conversation.
7. “Any attempt at gun control is an attack on the brave soldiers who died”/ “Any defense of gun ownership is an attack on the poor students who died”
Painful topics are particularly susceptible to what is called “argumentum ad misericordiam” or appeals to pity. The casualties of an earlier war do not justify the policies behind a war in our own day. While I would love to reduce the number of guns in our country, I know there are many gun owners who are as offended by gun violence as am I. The world is a complicated and painful place and that isn’t the fault of either side of an argument.
8. “You can’t prove that the abominable snowman DOESN’T exist!”
This is the appeal to Ignorance or “argumentum ad ignorantiam.” We are at a real impasse because conservatives and liberals are having trouble finding sources of information both sides can trust. Poking holes in someone else’s theories can be an endless treadmill. At some point we must consider what might be trust worthy sources of information for all sides of the divide. Anyone who is not open to that search for objective criteria is not serious conversation partner.
9. “All our problems began when prayer was taken out of the schools” /”All our problems began when Ted Nuggent wrote “Cat Scratch Fever.”
This fallacy is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc” meaning that just because one event happens after an earlier event does not mean the first event caused the second. It is human nature to look for simple causes, but we must help one another remember that life is never as simple as our human melodramas would pretend.
As I say these are difficult times to communicate, but for that very reason it is invaluable for us to model the kind of reasonable communication for which we aspire.
“Trump’s stunt politicizing the National Guard ‘is 100 percent about securing his base, not our border.” (Gabe Ortiz)
By now you have probably seen outtakes of a bunch of supposedly local news sources all reading from one script sent down to them from their corporate owners.
Their script read:
“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
After watching this horror, Dan Rather tweeted, “News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda. It’s Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”
Most Americans weren’t paying attention over the years as unscrupulous politicians slyly removed protections against public sources of information being taken over by monopolies.
Now that there is a authoritarian President in place, decades of hard work begin to pay off as more and more news sources discredit real investigative journalism, as well as scientists who dare reveal the damage being done to the earth, or actual doctors who challenge the misinformation told about abortion, or any intellectual whose critical thinking skills might shed light on what lies behind the corporatist party line.
Sinclair Broadcasting Company now owns or manages something like 170 television stations. Unscrupulous politicians are helping them purchase 42 more stations which will give them a foot in the door of 72% of American households.
As always we must keep a cool head and not rush into the trap of trying to counter rightwing propaganda with leftwing propaganda. The real problem is not conservative verses liberal. The real problem is group think, and a lack critical thinking skills. We need to learn and teach each other to ask certain questions of any news source. Like:
-Are they giving me information I can trace to its source, or are they trying to manipulate my emotions?
-Are they trying to get to the roots of our problems, or are they continually scapegoating vulnerable parts of the population?
-When I tune in to this news program, do I already expect to feel righteously angry.
-Does this news source present unproven accusations and untestable conspiracy theories?
-Does this news source reduce controversial issues to a moral melodrama of villains vs. heroes?
Nothing would make our “corporate overlords” happier than for us to get frustrated and to give up. Instead, let us use this time to learn and teach the thinking, artistic and ethical skills that actually would make America great- because they would make us fully functioning members of the world community.
Spiritual growth is like a tree, it must be balanced. The higher the branches grow toward the sun, the deeper the roots must dig into the earth.
Painful memories may resurface after a time of growth, or we may become aware of some painful aspect of ourselves. These are not setbacks to our growth, but are a different kind of growth- that of our roots into the dark hidden recesses of our being.
Osho taught the following:
“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches.”
A tree is the marriage of heaven and earth, of fire and water, of light and darkness. So are we.
Every moment that does not prompt us to stretch joyously toward the light, is an invitation to grow into the dark rich roots of our earthy wisdom.
According to the World Health Organization the main causes of maternal deaths are these:
-severe bleeding (mostly bleeding after childbirth)
-infections (usually after childbirth)
-high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
-complications from delivery
And the factors preventing women all over the world from getting care during pregnancy and childbirth are:
-lack of information
Now, consider the legislative focus of the “pro-life” Republican Party in Texas. They have made it more difficult for women to get reproductive health care by introducing the very factors that threaten the lives of women in other parts of the world.
Their draconian restrictions and funding cuts have closed over 50 women’s health care clinics in Texas. What isn’t often reported is that none of the Texas clinics forced to close actually provided abortions. Instead, the “pro-life” movement has cut off access to contraception, cancer screening and preventative care for many women in Texas.
When 300 Texas women with unwanted pregnancies were asked why they had not used contraception they listed “cost, lack of insurance, inability to find a clinic or inability to find a prescription.” In other words, for all intents and purposes, these Texas women might as well have been living in an impoverished nation.
If you are one of those who believes in forcing anti-choice laws on others, consider the following: According to the CIA World Fact Book, between 1990 and 2013 the global maternal mortality rate declined by 45%. Meanwhile, here in Texas, governed by “pro-life” Republicans, maternal mortality rates have risen- some claim they have quadrupled in the last 15 years.
We can argue about what those statistics mean, but this much is clear- forcing women into giving childbirth is also forcing them to take a greater risk than terminating a pregnancy under medically safe conditions.
I am sure most people working against safe and legal abortion are sincere and do not mean to endanger women, but when we force others to take a risk, it is an act of violence- even if we do so because we are “pro-life.”
Simple answers in a complicated world can kill.
When Jesus spoke of “truth” I do not believe he could have been referring to the Bible nor to the creeds of the church because these had yet to be written. I believe that Jesus, like the Buddha, was calling us into a deeper sense of reality. Those who reduce religion to a system of belief are sometimes escaping from the real relationships into which they are actually being called.
Piety can be the perfect mask for bullying. The bible can be memorized for use as a social crowbar and, sometimes, the phrase “I’ll pray for you” is little more than the dagger of shame draped in liturgical velvet.