The fallout from the election has been ugly. It seems as though critical thinking has been replaced by divisive sound bites, conspiracy theories, and victimization complexes. I have recently been called a Right-wing misogynistic racist and a Left-wing pro-Clinton bleeding heart out to destroy America. Perhaps one of those accusations is true, but probably not both at the same time.
So, rather than focusing on whether or not Trump will make America great, I want to focus on making America think. This applies to Republicans and Democrats alike. So let’s take a look at some of the logical problems going around and what we can do to fix them.
First, America needs to learn what a false dichotomy is. I did not support Clinton or Trump. As a result Clinton supporters thought I supported Trump, and Trump supporters thought I supported Clinton. In reality there was a third option. I supported neither. A false dichotomy is assuming there are only two options when the reality is that there are more (and possibly better) options.
Second is the tu quoque fallacy. That sounds fancy but it basically just means “you too” in Latin. You can think of it as the finger pointing game. If I hypothetically claim that Trump is corrupt and therefore unfit to be president and you respond by saying that Clinton is also corrupt and equally if not more unfit to be President, then you haven’t proven me wrong. You’ve only suggested that both candidates are unfit to be President (what a radical idea).
Next we should talk about hasty generalizations. Let’s just say that someone saw a Trump supporter being a racist, and therefore concluded that all Trump supporters are racist. It is taking the characteristics of one person in a group, and applying it indiscriminately to everyone else in the group. For example we could say that serial killers drink water and you drink water, therefore you are a serial killer. That is a bad line of thinking, but I’m sure nobody would be foolish enough to make that kind of assertion in such a sloppy way so let’s just move on.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing I’ve seen is what’s called the red herring fallacy where someone responds in an argument with a completely unrelated assertion that only distracts from the issue. If I try telling you that Trump exploited blue collar workers and you respond with something about Benghazi, you probably committed a red herring fallacy.
Last but not least, let’s talk about straw-man arguments. A straw man argument is trying to win an argument by twisting your opponent’s position into something that is easier to knock down — kind of like knocking down a man made of straw instead of your real opponent. Let’s suppose I voice discontent at Trump’s election and somebody fires back by accusing me of thinking that Clinton would be better. I didn’t say Clinton would be better. I said nothing about Clinton. So the person trying to argue with me is knocking down something other than what I said. (Notice the similarity to the false dichotomy fallacy)
So what should you do with this? Don’t worry about memorizing the terms and examples. Learn from the principles. Look at what somebody says, think about what it would take to actually discredit what they are saying, and honestly evaluate if you have good evidence to do that. So share this message with your friends, instruct your children in these principles, and shout it from the rooftops.
For the love of our sanity, let’s make America think again.
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