Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Common Sense Proverbs & Foam Fingers

"Haste Makes Waste"
"A Stitch in Time Saves Nine"

"A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned"

I was in my twenties before I realized how much sense classic proverbs make. No, really. Basically, John Maxwell took every proverb stitched onto a wall hanging in the
early 20th century, put them in executive, masculine verbiage, and made millions off Aunt Hattie's maxims.

Common sense is so rare.
Especially when you turn on the news - from about two weeks ago, til early November. Oh, common sense, how we miss thee.
Statement on the environment? "Haste makes waste."

(fast-paced culture encourages disposable items)

Statement on disaster relief? "A stitch in time saves nine."
(mend things early or the job will be bigger later)

Statement on economics and retirement funds? "A penny saved is a penny earned."
(lower taxes to help ensure wealth)

You'll notice that campaigns are currently embodying ye olde poeme, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," with everything from running ads to ensuring labels stick to opponents. And you'll also observe a veritable smorgasbord of fallacies. Big fallacies, little fallacies, tall fallacies, short fallacies, everybody has a fallacy. So let's review a few basic informal fallacies in discourse, so that you can point and say, Ack! A fallacy! Kill it, quick! no matter which side you're on.

1.) the ad hominem. This means attacking the person instead of using a logical argument. Everybody always says they'll never do it but then they all do it eventually anyway. (How's that for a hyperbolic example of an ad hominem?) And there's a fine line between analytical inquiry and ad hominems sometimes. For example, for better or worse, not only are candidates' religions under scrutiny, their denominations are now examined with a fine-toothed comb. It can be somewhat helpful to know the general worldview of a candidate; that is appropriate. What is not appropriate in rhetoric is statements like the following: "Obama eats babies and hates the Bible" "Palin prayed about God's will in foreign policy one time, which means she is going to lead us into innumerable, indefensible wars all in the name of the Divine, just like Hitler."

2.) the straw man. (not to be confused with "the scarecrow" from Wizard of Oz.) This refers to when a person beats down a substitute argument and then pretends they've defeated the real argument. Like this: "I'm sure you're saying A (even though they may being saying B), and A is flawed in this way, therefore you're wrong." Or like this: "Your foreign policy is flawed, therefore your economic policy must not be good, either."

3.) the slippery slope. Note that the slippery slope has a closely related, legitimate argument of sequence. The slippery slope, however, is the illegitimate assumption of sequence. For instance: "If you elect A, the country won't be safe, we'll all be bombed out of our houses, we'll all be forced to memorize the Koran, and the U.S. won't ever really exist again." A legitimate version might be this: "If you elect A, foreign policy will take a drastic turn from it's present course; the results of this are difficult to predict, but could possibly lessen the security of our borders...etc. etc."

4.) the appeal to emotion. Now note that fallacies sometimes flock hand in hand like mischievous pixies. The slippery slope example above is full of emotional language. A straight forward appeal to emotion? "My dad saved a puppy once. Isn't that sweet? Now vote for him." Or, if the McCain campaign were to run constant footage of Piper Palin straightening her baby brother's hair during her mom's speech. That would also be straightforward appeal to emotion. Caviat: some legitimate arguments, illustrations and examples will inevitably render an emotional response. But it is not their primary purpose to evoke emotion to gain a result; it is, rather, a byproduct.

5.) the hasty generalization. pretty self explanatory.
Now, another category entirely also exists: the shock jock method. A rather unfortunate example is found in Ann Coulter's statement that she wishes the ability to vote would be taken away from women. Why? Because they vote in Democrats. Wow, Ann Coulter. Wow. Well, saying that kind of thing pays for your vacations, manicures, and luxuries, so I guess it's practical for you, anyway. But while we're on the subject of womens' rights, I wish somebody would remove your right to be given a microphone.

So there are a few of your basic species of fallacies. But as you get ready to put on your foam finger, paint your face, and do the wave at the season's upcoming political debates, don't forget that ever-important accessory: yep, I'm going to say it. Wait for it. Here it is: the thinking cap.

Let's clear something up: critical thinking is not the same as negative thinking. I just wanted to put that out there. Critical thinking just means analytical thinking. And it is EVERY AMERICAN'S DUTY TO ENGAGE IN CRITICAL THINKING TO THE BEST OF HER OR HIS ABILITY. Wow, it just feels so good to say that.

Ways to avoid sloppy thinking (ie, making yourself look like an idiot):

*expose yourself to the source, not the commentary on the source. Please, don't make me listen to an argument that starts like this: "well, I didn't actually hear the candidate's speech, but if what I hear about the candidate is right, then I could never vote for them." Wow. That is both lazy and intellectually irresponsible. Your brain is a valuable natural resource, people. Be a good steward of your cognitive environment. Failing to do so is as bad as walking around with toilet paper on your shoe or lipstick on your teeth.

*expose yourself to the source, not the commentary on the source. You wouldn't believe how much goes on in government and politics that is never reported, or surfaces briefly and then disappears. Example: a few years ago a certain president was at a Latino news briefing about immigration. It was a diverse gathering, to say the least. The president was encouraging brotherhood among cultures and practical ways to approach the undocumented immigrant problem. The only place I ever saw coverage of this? C-Span. I wouldn't have known about it if I didn't stay on the channel for a few minutes.
*expose yourself to the source before you listen to the commentary. Why?

"If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough." - Citizen Kane

Also from Citizen Kane:
Charles Foster Kane: Are we going to declare war on Spain, or are we not?
Jed Leland
: The Inquirer already has.
Charles Foster Kane
: You long-faced, overdressed anarchist.
Jed Leland: I am not overdressed.

So ready your barbecue, prepare your debate night tailgating shindig. Put on your foam finger and jersey and enter into the fray. Just don't leave common sense behind.


Unknown said...

That was for me! I knew it when I saw it, and you even put it in italics. I feel very special right now.

If it wasn't actually for me, then don't tell me. I'm enjoying my moment.

Bob said...

"You long-faced, overdressed anarchist." ha ha ha ha ha ha....that's funny... even when I saw the movie. More people should see that movie and more often. It's really a gripping, sad,and humorous portrait of humanity.

Unknown said...

As always, your editorial comments are entertaining, rational, and relevant! I am sharing your link with everyone today!!!!