Political fallacies

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is both looking forward to and dreading the coming of autumn – and the inevitable political camp- aigns.

(LANGE) You’ve no doubt noticed that you have a lot more fun with commentaries you agree with than those you don’t. To any logical process all of us bring very powerful predispositions.

And we probably agree that a lot of the information we receive through the media is actually innuendo, half-truth, or character assassination. With an important mid-term election approaching – one that threatens to be a little rugged in Vermont, at least – it be- hooves us active voters to try to analyze logically what we hear. For those of us who had the chance in high school to study logical fallacies, it’ll be a field day.

Virtually all politicians employ illogic in arguments. They may not know it; or possibly they’re doing it on purpose, to dupe those of us who can’t spot it. I don’t catch it all, by any means, but I do try to identify the fallacies as they stream forth.

The most common during campaigns is the Glittering Generaliza- tion. It expresses ideals “to which we all aspire.” We all want to “move America forward”, but when asked what that means, have trouble defining it. If it means, shall we say, amending the Consti- tution to proscribe same-sex marriage, some might feel we were headed backward. Another one is, “Stay the course!” This as- sumes we’re headed in the right direction, but its proposition is arguable. Look up Pete Seeger’s “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy”, written during the Vietnam War.

Another common one is Argumentum ad hominem, or attacking the person. It’s easy, when someone’s argument is too powerful to defeat, to attack the person who’s making it. He’s a “notorious lib- eral elitist” or a “right-wing ideologue.” Those attacks may wound their victims, but they kill the debate.

Then there’s the Domino Argument: “If you let this one pass, first thing you know…” It’s the fallacy that sold the Vietnam War. You’d think there were enough of us still left to remember that lesson.

The Black-and-White fallacy: “You’re either with us or agin us!” In the presence of hundreds of shades of gray, this is the weapon of bullies.

Argumentum ad lazarum. This is employed most by candidates from blue-collar districts. It implies that poor folks are the custod- ians of wisdom. I can tell you from experience this isn’t true. It’s the opposite of Argumentum ad crumenam, the notion that the rich are wiser. I doubt that, too, but am willing to submit myself for a test.

My nomination for the most odious is Argumentum ad nauseam. It was a favorite of Heinrich Himmler’s. It’s a lie repeated over and over, until it becomes part of the general consciousness.

All these are fascinating and worth knowing, but in the end may have little practical value. As Adlai Stevenson once observed, “Americans are suckers for good news. Given the choice between disagreeable fact and agreeable fantasy, they will choose fantasy every time.”

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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