I’m someone that can’t help but get pulled into internet arguments. I just can’t help it, guys! This blog came about partially because we at Be Young & Shut Up read the Youtube comments lately and don’t care about pissing off people from high school. I’ve had more than a couple people unfriend or block me on Facebook, and as long as it took place over the course of an argument, that’s cool with me. Here’s what’s not cool with me: people spewing out the names of logical fallacies they think I’ve committed. Not because it so wounds my ego to learn I’m arguing in bad faith, but because it’s lazy, annoying as all fuck, and more than likely irrelevant. Plus, gross, spewing.
Bad arguments are everywhere. Fallacies are everywhere, and it’s helpful to know what those fallacies are to improve your own arguments or counteract people who make use of them. They’re a way of identifying weaknesses in someone’s argument. It makes you more effective. Here’s what I’m talking about though:
While it’s important to know what constitutes fallacious thinking, it’s a tool, not a weapon. Naming fallacies isn’t a magic bullet, and it’s certainly not an argument. Have you ever noticed how the people who have the weakest, stupidest position pull out their list of fallacies once you start speaking widely or being not-so-nice? Yeah man, I know, white people don’t literally “rule the world.” A fallacy doesn’t make someone wrong. Are you going to go any further than that, or just point out I said something technically inaccurate? No? That’s your stopping point? Then you lose.
The problem with calling out fallacies is that it ignores the bulk of an argument. Not just in that users of the fallacy fallacy tend to use the presence of a fallacy as proof against a point, but it’s used to derail discussion and shift focus to how the opponent is less skilled in the fine art of internet shit fights. Since it applies to the use of all arguments from fallacy, just append this conclusion to each of the following: Nobody cares, the heart of the matter is being ignored, you are lazy, boring, and incapable.
Homophobes commit this fallacy regularly, saying that if we legalize gay marriage, then who knows what kind of crazy marriages will be legal next. Obviously, gay marriage is legal in a ton of places, and there’s been no moves towards legalizing human-animal marriages or whatever. Fortunately, basically everyone knows this is bullshit, and nothing need be said, really.
But slippery slopes do exist. The “slippery slope fallacy” is a fallacy because it turns the concept of a slippery slope into a universal “Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile” statement. Gay marriage is a bad application of the concept, because gay people aren’t in a position to snatch up more power than what they’re given. On the other hand, police becoming more and more militarized, holding the line for moneyed interests, have every opportunity to abuse and expand their power. The threat of things getting worse there is actually quite likely.
A lot of arguments in the BYSU context are about systems, which are simultaneously rhetorical and very real. It’s hard to talk about this stuff without employing so-called logical fallacies. It contradicts “reality” because the systems themselves are artificial and defy logic. An internet favorite, the calling out of this fallacy is employed to discredit such theories.
“Not all men” is a low-key version of this objection. The theories of toxic masculinity and patriarchy are also incorrectly called out as strawmen. They’re general statements, but that doesn’t make them less true, just less precise. The same can be said about any oppressive class. There’s always exceptional examples that make it logically fallacious to assert a specific group’s place and behavior in a harmful complex, but that doesn’t mean the complex doesn’t exist.
“Where did you learn that black people have a lower chance of being called back for a job interview? From the TV??” This shit is so irritating. This fallacy is rarely called out by name, which is good, but the spirit of it, which is pretty important, is abused like whoa in the name of waving away statistics, trends, facts, basically all evidence in general. The user takes on the role of a skeptic who’s gone so far in their distrust of official channels that they can no longer absorb information unless they saw it with their own eyes. In practice, it allows them to hold up their proof, and only theirs, as the truth. But not in a shrewd, stealthy way, or anything. Just in a spoiled brat way. That’s a pretty bad look.
Cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian are often accused of this. Gathering evidence to support a thesis? That’s not science! Well, no, it isn’t. Science isn’t equipped to deal with questions of rhetoric or social systems. Deal with it, not everything is scientific. This is how people build theories on topics science can’t.
The issue shouldn’t be “you found evidence for your claim and not mine,” it should be “your thesis isn’t supported by that” or “my thesis is stronger.” To take the Sarkeesian example, she cherry-picked a bunch of small bits from games to make the claim that video games have a trend of objectification and violence against women. But her thesis was so tiny and basic and obvious that there’s almost no way you could reasonably object to it. All she needed to prove her point was what she gathered up. Point proven. It’s not objectively an important point, or necessarily as harmful or dire as she makes out, but she went for the low-hanging not-cherry fruit and picked it handily.
People who disagree could argue back that games don’t use women as props to be kidnapped or killed or turned into robot spiders, but, well, what evidence are they going to cherry-pick for that?
Ad hominem means attacking the arguer instead of their argument. This is often misinterpreted to mean “be nice to me or you’re wrong,” basically tone derailing. It’s pretty goddamn rare that I see this used properly, and it usually comes after a long round of arguing in too-good faith to the point that someone gets fed up and just starts calling names.
Look, name-calling is juvenile, and can be criticized on its own terms. But I didn’t nominate you for the 2014 Most Oblivious Person Awards because it’s proof for my claim that black people still face institutionalized discrimination, I nominated you because you’re the most oblivious person I interacted with today and I want to insult you. Sue me, I enjoy being mean to people who are maliciously wrong.
More like post hoc er-go fuck yourself.