Top 10 Logical Fallacies in Politics

Aristotle.

Aristotle.

And all this time I thought politicians just spoke a different language that only sounded like English.  E. Magill writes in Open Salon:

The human brain is wired all wrong. Those not versed in logic are blissfully unaware of how much our brain messes up the most basic of arguments, leading to the mess of random thoughts, non-sequiturs, cognitive dissonance, white lies, misinformation, and syntax errors that we call consciousness. Luckily, there is one place where all of these logical misteps can be exemplified: politics. What follows is a crash course in some of the most prevelant fallacies we all make, as they appear in modern American politics. And though I consider these the “top 10″ logical fallacies in politics, they are not in order, for reasons that should become clear rather quickly.

#1.

IGNORATIO ELENCHI

The man who invented Western philosophy, Aristotle, considered ignoratio elenchi, which roughly translates to “irrelevant thesis,” an umbrella term that covered all other logical fallacies. Indeed, most of the other fallacies on this list could be categorized as subsets of the irrelevant thesis. Formally, ignoratio elenchi refers to any rebuttal that fails to address the central argument.

This happens with almost every single question during a formal political debate. For example, at a televised debate between presidential candidates, the mediator might ask, “If you become president, what would you do about the rising unemployment numbers?” to which the candidate might reply, “I’m glad you asked, because unemployment is the greatest problem facing this nation yadda yadda yadda, and my opponent’s plan to deal with the problem is completely insufficient.” Notice, in this example, how the candidate dodged the question entirely. He made an argument, but it didn’t answer the mediator’s concerns and was thus an irrelevant thesis.

Another example of ignoratio elenchi is the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy, which was recently used to great effect by the Democrats during the final stages of the healthcare debate. When asked if he thought using the reconciliation strategy to pass the healthcare bill with a simple majority vote was the right thing to do, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid–after claiming that nobody was talking about it (a logical fallacy known as the incorrect statement)–Reid released a statement detailing how many times the Republicans have used the reconciliation strategy over the last decade. Like the example above, Reid made an argument, but it was an irrelevant one that said nothing about how right or wrong the strategy is.

This kind of thing happens in cycles, because the majority party is always changing hands. When the minority party is called childish for filibustering a judicial nominee or something, for instance, they always come back with something along the lines of “You guys did the same thing a few years back, nanny nanny boo boo!” This is, of course, a meaningless argument, even though it is usually true. Even if your opponent shot somebody and got away with it, it doesn’t mean you can do the same thing.

This is why the American political “discussion” isn’t helping the country, and if you pooh-pooh the importance of logic you’re part of the problem.  (Did I just commit a fallacy?)  Read the rest of the list here.

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  • Guest

    If people were required to use some basic logic, half the articles on Disinfo would be deleted. But they don’t really teach logic in college these days. Why? Because the prevailing post-structuralist gibberish in academic (Hegel by way of Foucault) preaches that logic is “patriarchal” and “Eurocentric,” simply another means of abusing power.

    Hegel explicitly rejected the principle of non-contradiction, leading to the peculiar strain of cognitive dissonance seen on Disinfo and other postmodernist-influenced sites (i.e., the government is the root of all evil, but whenever there’s a problem the government needs to do something about it!!1!)

  • Guest

    Also, if Disinfo upheld any standards of logic, they’d refuse to take advertising money from a pseudoscientific hack like Graham Hancock.

    Go ahead and block my comments again, you hypocrites.

  • Andrew

    The only one on Disinfo that comes close to claiming government is the root of all evil, to my knowledge, is you. I don’t think it’s logical to accuse everyone here of hypocrisy because nobody agrees with you.

    If I’ve misrepresented your position, I apologize, but you regularly misrepresent others’.

  • http://disinfo.com Disinformation

    One wonders why you keep coming back, for a website you claim to detest, you can’t get enough Disinformation …

    In terms of hypocrites, let’s not rehash the past on the number of accounts that you have posted under, clearly subverting the idea of wanting to have a real conversation with the other regular visitors of the site. Up to you man,, how you want to conduct yourself here…

  • http://disinfo.com Disinformation

    Again, not sure why this is so much trouble for you, the site is not one voice. We have people who contribute on a regular basis who very much disagree with each other. If that’s too difficult to comprehend, then perhaps your energy is best spent elsewhere…

  • Greyor

    Somehow I expected a little better from a Salon.com article. It’s incredibly biased, although the biases oscillate between blaming Bush and blaming Obama for all sorts of problems — and the author seems to fall into many of the logic traps he himself details. Also, I cringed a little seeing “ad hominum” — it’s “ad hominem.” At least he got the rest of the pseudo-Latin terms grammatically correct. Always glad to take a look at Disinfo articles, though, and I usually really appreciate them; just not this time.

  • Greyor

    Somehow I expected a little better from a Salon.com article. It’s incredibly biased, although the biases oscillate between blaming Bush and blaming Obama for all sorts of problems — and the author seems to fall into many of the logic traps he himself details. Also, I cringed a little seeing “ad hominum” — it’s “ad hominem.” At least he got the rest of the pseudo-Latin terms grammatically correct. Always glad to take a look at Disinfo articles, though, and I usually really appreciate them; just not this time.

    • aaroncynic

      It’s not actually Salon.com proper, but Open Salon, which is their blog platform that anyone can post under. Salon does pick a handful of articles to be featured on their main page, but they’re few and far between.

      • Greyor

        Ahh, okay, that explains a lot. I was thinking “wait, this needs a good editor!” Should have looked more closely at the source; just looked at the URL and saw Salon.com.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not actually Salon.com proper, but Open Salon, which is their blog platform that anyone can post under. Salon does pick a handful of articles to be featured on their main page, but they’re few and far between.

  • Manny Furious

    Anybody who has done any actual study of logic and its systems knows that logic isn’t really taught all that often because logic doesn’t really solve anything. There are mathematical “proofs” that say 1+1 doesn’t equal 2 that are utterly sound and valid. Logic is just another form of symbols being manipulated to fit the manipulator’s agenda. The closest anyone has come to creating a perfectly logical logic are the Positivists, and understanding their “modals” is like trying to understand some advanced calculus, and even then, they’ve failed to “prove” anything.

  • Greyor

    Ahh, okay, that explains a lot. I was thinking “wait, this needs a good editor!” Should have looked more closely at the source; just looked at the URL and saw Salon.com.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

    Ironically, this article itself seems to misstate Reid’s argument. Reid was pointing out specifically that reconciliation has been used before **by the same people who are now opposing it** – the Republican party that was now saying it was wrong.

    Democrats didn’t like it when the GOP did it. But the Democrats didn’t take the extra step of saying it was morally wrong or subverting constitutional authority, as many conservatives did once reconciliation was possible for passing health care reform.

    I know this article was written at Salon, so I’ll post over there too. Just correcting the bad info when I find it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

    Ironically, this article itself seems to misstate Reid’s argument. Reid was pointing out specifically that reconciliation has been used before **by the same people who are now opposing it** – the Republican party that was now saying it was wrong.

    Democrats didn’t like it when the GOP did it. But the Democrats didn’t take the extra step of saying it was morally wrong or subverting constitutional authority, as many conservatives did once reconciliation was possible for passing health care reform.

    I know this article was written at Salon, so I’ll post over there too. Just correcting the bad info when I find it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

    Yeah, that whole article is full of false equivalencies that always benefit the right. Yeesh. Sorry, Michael Moore =/= Glenn Beck, and Obama =/= Bush, by any stretch of the imagination.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_425GVKQCLFZMQYYENR7CJBRDVA jb

    Yeah, that whole article is full of false equivalencies that always benefit the right. Yeesh. Sorry, Michael Moore =/= Glenn Beck, and Obama =/= Bush, by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Yeah, there were a few things that could have been edited for improved flow.

    And no, I didn’t agree with the political orientation of each example offered. In particular I think they wrote off the man-made climate change thing pretty lightly by adhering to a pretty silly, narrow definition of the term, and not giving due consideration to the overwhelming unanimity of opinion of peer-reviewed papers on the topic.

    But I’m tempted to write that off has the writer’s ignorance on the topic than an effort to deliberately set up a straw man. It’s so easy as almost to be natural, the tendency to go-off half-cocked without doing your homework that I am not inclined to equate that with deliberately creating an edifice of lies and half truths. The two dynamics may be hard to distinguish from one another, especially in a heated debate.

    And that’s why I think this was a good idea for an article, at least. It takes a more formal, objective approach to analyzing logic that can be useful for people of good will in examining their own biases. That,however, will always be an iterative, learning process. We’re so fucking blind to half of our own biases that it’ll take some time indeed to make any realistic headway.

    Which is probably why I’m so impatient with fucknards who display a fifth grade reading level and expect that over-simplified and misleading Fox News talking points are going to give them some brilliant contribution to the discussion. We need to have an empirical standard here, folks, and a good 70% of America (AT LEAST) is nowhere up to snuff.

    P.S. About the equivalence between Moore and Beck, I don’t know. I don’t spend much time following either of them. Beck gets more print, and he has without a doubt issued many howling, bald-faced lies. But I’ve not seen enough of Moore to give him a clear bill of health on the bullshit-ometer, either. Even though I identify myself with the Left, I do recognize the possibility of people on the Left advancing shitty logic in order to support what I might think is a pretty good policy. To the extent that a lack of respect for facts or logic undermines the quality of public debate, I think that is a moral failure just as bad as anything Right Wing shitheads try to pull.

    But let’s not put up straw men here: The Right Wing have a much stronger bullshit generating machine here. Even if there are a few Left Wing bullshit artistes out there, it’s a fucking joke to equate them. No one on the Left has the type of media steamroller that Fox does.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Yeah, there were a few things that could have been edited for improved flow.

    And no, I didn’t agree with the political orientation of each example offered. In particular I think they wrote off the man-made climate change thing pretty lightly by adhering to a pretty silly, narrow definition of the term, and not giving due consideration to the overwhelming unanimity of opinion of peer-reviewed papers on the topic.

    But I’m tempted to write that off has the writer’s ignorance on the topic than an effort to deliberately set up a straw man. It’s so easy as almost to be natural, the tendency to go-off half-cocked without doing your homework that I am not inclined to equate that with deliberately creating an edifice of lies and half truths. The two dynamics may be hard to distinguish from one another, especially in a heated debate.

    And that’s why I think this was a good idea for an article, at least. It takes a more formal, objective approach to analyzing logic that can be useful for people of good will in examining their own biases. That,however, will always be an iterative, learning process. We’re so fucking blind to half of our own biases that it’ll take some time indeed to make any realistic headway.

    Which is probably why I’m so impatient with fucknards who display a fifth grade reading level and expect that over-simplified and misleading Fox News talking points are going to give them some brilliant contribution to the discussion. We need to have an empirical standard here, folks, and a good 70% of America (AT LEAST) is nowhere up to snuff.

    P.S. About the equivalence between Moore and Beck, I don’t know. I don’t spend much time following either of them. Beck gets more print, and he has without a doubt issued many howling, bald-faced lies. But I’ve not seen enough of Moore to give him a clear bill of health on the bullshit-ometer, either. Even though I identify myself with the Left, I do recognize the possibility of people on the Left advancing shitty logic in order to support what I might think is a pretty good policy. To the extent that a lack of respect for facts or logic undermines the quality of public debate, I think that is a moral failure just as bad as anything Right Wing shitheads try to pull.

    But let’s not put up straw men here: The Right Wing have a much stronger bullshit generating machine here. Even if there are a few Left Wing bullshit artistes out there, it’s a fucking joke to equate them. No one on the Left has the type of media steamroller that Fox does.

  • Paul Panza (who are you)

    Logic is like God: no proof of existence. Who can be chosen as an example of being logical.

    • tooCents

      Aristotle.

  • Paul Panza (who are you)

    Logic is like God: no proof of existence. Who can be chosen as an example of being logical.

  • Anonymous

    Aristotle.

  • Andrew

    The only one on Disinfo that comes close to claiming government is the root of all evil, to my knowledge, is you. I don’t think it’s logical to accuse everyone here of hypocrisy because nobody agrees with you.

    If I’ve misrepresented your position, I apologize, but you regularly misrepresent others’.

  • http://www.disinfo.com Disinformation

    Again, not sure why this is so much trouble for you, the site is not one voice. We have people who contribute on a regular basis who very much disagree with each other. If that’s too difficult to comprehend, then perhaps your energy is best spent elsewhere…

  • Manny Furious

    Anybody who has done any actual study of logic and its systems knows that logic isn’t really taught all that often because logic doesn’t really solve anything. There are mathematical “proofs” that say 1+1 doesn’t equal 2 that are utterly sound and valid. Logic is just another form of symbols being manipulated to fit the manipulator’s agenda. The closest anyone has come to creating a perfectly logical logic are the Positivists, and understanding their “modals” is like trying to understand some advanced calculus, and even then, they’ve failed to “prove” anything.

  • http://www.disinfo.com Disinformation

    One wonders why you keep coming back, for a website you claim to detest, you can’t get enough Disinformation …

    In terms of hypocrites, let’s not rehash the past on the number of accounts that you have posted under, clearly subverting the idea of wanting to have a real conversation with the other regular visitors of the site. Up to you man,, how you want to conduct yourself here…

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