Errors and Examples of Ideological Illogic
- 12 February 2012 by Author 0 Comments
Errors and Examples of Ideological Illogic
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 02/12/12
“The ability to identify logical fallacies in the arguments of others, and to avoid them in one’s own arguments, is both valuable and increasingly rare. Fallacious reasoning keeps us from knowing the truth, and the inability to think critically makes us vulnerable to manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.” Thus reads the homepage of an excellent website dedicated to logical fallacies. And the relevance of that statement has perhaps never been more self-evident than in society today.
I read with interest the letters to the editor citing my weekly missives. Those of substance that address the topic, and manifest some cognitive functionality while disagreeing with my theses usually get a personal letter in response providing more detail, data, and qualified sources that I was not able to include in the limited space provided in the Journal.
Others, however, are so specious and vacuous that serious consideration or response is unjustifiable. Sometimes, however, in spite of their inanity, they warrant special treatment for they provide didactic opportunities, a “teaching moment” if you will.
Such was the case with two letters this past week. The most exemplary for its instructional value was one that typified something we see too much of; attempt at humor to mock, trivialize, and minimalize contrarian perspectives. Such writing sometimes is entertaining, but sacrifices substance and logic for the sake of “humor” and says much more about the narrow-mindedness and lack of cognitive substance of the writer than it does about their intended target.
In exemplary fashion, one writer’s entire letter was a casuistic ad hominem logical fallacy. Comparing me with a fictional Chauncey Gardiner, the writer asserts, “He is wrong all the time. About everything. It seems comically absurd that Larsen is incapable of writing a column that is not factually, conceptually, historically, and literally inaccurate.”
Translated from the Latin literally as “against the person,” this logical error sidesteps arguments and substance, and instead targets the messenger. As one website dedicated to logical fallacies explains, “An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First is an attack against the character of person making the claim. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making.”
Many of you occasionally find yourselves in the position of being criticized or pilloried because you see things differently than what political correctness and social conformity otherwise dictates. Take solace in the fact that when they attack you instead of your articulated position, their logical “quiver” is empty. They can’t argue with substance, so they resort to attacking you. And regrettably, the practice seems to be proliferating.
That letter also typified another logical deficiency that is symptomatic of our culture of conformity and “group think” mentality; Confirmation Bias. This common practice “refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs,” according to the Skeptic’s Encyclopedia. To those so afflicted, any contrarian evidence, facts, data, or perspectives are anathema, heterodox, and “wrong.”
Ronald Reagan, perfectly characterized this problem when he said, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”
In this technological era of informational abundance, even the search engines foster confirmation bias. Author and blogger Eli Pariser, illuminates how the “algorithmic personalization of our information diets” limits search results based on our personal online reading and searching patterns. The result is personalized optimization that taints results, and if people are not aware of that fact, their searches deliver only what they want to see.
The other letter manifested those logical anomalies, and introduced another that is increasingly common in a society that’s taught more what to think than how to think. The writer unwittingly introduced the Etymological Fallacy, which superimposes contemporary perspectives on historical fact.
She said, “…for me, liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness mean freedom from organized religion — especially a state religion, freedom from social conservatives who push their agenda down my throat, and freedom to have some government programs for the greater good and for those less fortunate — Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits.” That’s clearly and contextually not what the Lockean Creed and our Founding Fathers meant. To ascribe contemporary values on historical verity is intellectually disingenuous, that’s why it’s a logical fallacy.
If we are to be an enlightened citizenry, it’s incumbent upon us to be skeptical, to read and research beyond what the conformists and mainstream media spoon feed us, and to identify their logically fallacious tools intended to intimidate nonconforming thinkers into submission. Their arguments fail with their spurious illogic.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at email@example.com.