Plan for Tonight
- Critical Thinking Essay Prodding
- Mastering Logical Fallacies (1st and 2nd thirds…maybe)
- Highlights from Introducing American Politics
- Kanopy Access Via Atkins
- Doomsday Clock—90 seconds to midnight
- Stop WOKE Act banning books
- In the name of children…
Critical Thinking Essay Prodding
Your Weekly Discussion Post is to jump start your Critical Thinking Essay (draft due next week, 2/07), but I’d like to provide some thoughts on what you think you might do. Remember, college isn’t to reinforce your beliefs or indoctrinate you (contrary to what DeSantis says). Asimov tells us that having a right to know is irrelevant if we don’t have a desire to seek out information. The anti-intellectual stance (which isn’t synonymous with unintelligent, stupid, moronic, [insert pejorative here], etc.) not only denigrates the experts but also favors a closed worldview. I will argue throughout the semester that having a closed worldview is a way to cope with meaninglessness—a rather scary concept to many. “Fear” as a survival technique is for ancient hominids probably helped us evolve to what we are today, but being afraid of a condition and developing or adapting a coping mechanism may also be a survival technique. For instance, creating imaginary friends after a traumatic experience or to “help a child navigate social relationships and cope with hard times in the real world” (“What to Know About Imaginary Friends”). Likewise, one could ado(/a)pt a mystical worldview to counter the fear of the unknown. We spend lots of time in class focused on how other’s manipulate us, but let’s not forget that we also lie to ourselves…
I constantly have to defend the value of a college degree. I hear “a college degree is worthless,” “it’s a waste of time,” “who cares about a piece of paper”? Those statements—depending on context—may all be true:
- A degree from an online for-profit institution is probably worthless;
- Attending classes when you don’t want to learn is absolutely a waste of time;
- Reducing a degree to a mere piece of paper ignores the steps taken to earn that accolade, so, if your do not care about learning, you won’t care about a “certificate of learning.”
The most true statement I hear is that “college doesn’t teach you what to do on the job.” That’s true. College isn’t vocational training. Although you will probably learn things the help you on the job, your day-to-day responsibilities and future situations cannot be learned in a classroom. College isn’t the exclusive place to learn: one can obviously learn outside of the classroom, and we encourage you to continue learning, thinking, struggling with ambiguity. Once you see the world as black and white, as either-or, or once you know everything, you’ve significantly limited your ability to learn new things. Not everyone has a college degree—in 2021, only 23.5% of people over 25 years of age in the US had a bachelor’s degree—and billions of humans have lived and died without one. In fact, it’s easier to defend that not having a college degree is the norm…
Michael Withey’s Mastering Logical Fallacies (pp. 16-64)
This book provides us with the vocabulary of logical fallacies and many good examples. I hope you bring to class examples of fallacious communication. Whereas Wreen was arguing (ha! love a pun) that ad baculum isn’t necessarily (or even primarily fallacious), Withey is detailing arguments that are fallacious. These lack substance when scrutinized. The appeals might be able to provide logical conclusions, but these appeals are rhetorical chicanery and attempt to move audiences based on unsound logic. If I haven’t mentioned the Ancients’ views on truth, I’ll do that now.
How about we at least try to find examples of the following:
Appeal to Anger (p. 40)
This next example could be a red herring (p. 162) or appeal to fear (p. 58), but I’ll present it here as an appeal to anger. These categories are for an academic exercise and not to claim that pure fallacies exist and are self-evident. Consider this practice.
While campaigning for U.S. Senate in 1964, papa Bush dodged the issue of rampant discrimination (red herring) and implied that he would look out for the white majority that wasn’t protected by the Act. In the context of his speech to an audience of white workers (Carter xiii), Bush was also trying to appeal to the anger of the workers, who might believe minorities would be getting so-called special rights from this act. Bush’s strategy is typical of those who claim an oppressed group is trying to gain “special rights”—rights that somehow supercede their rights. Sometimes people of a majority argue against civil rights by (fallaciously) claiming that they—people of the majority—aren’t being helped by a certain piece of legislation. A politician spotlights this supposed injustice and evokes anger from a group. Here’s the quote:
“The new civil rights act was passed to protect 14 percent of the people. I’m also worried about the other 86 percent.”–George H. W. Bush quoted in Carter
So that’s it. We have incontrovertible evidence that the 41st President of the US was an absolute racist…well, let’s offer another example that might mitigate that statement. During the 1991 Louisiana Governor’s race, George H.W. Bush came out against the Republican David Duke (a long-time KKK member) in favor of the Democrat Edwin Edwards. Bush also provided the following unequivocal statement about David Duke:
“When someone asserts the Holocaust never took place, then I don’t believe that person ever deserves one iota of public trust. When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society.”–George H. W. Bush quoted in Suro
Here’s another political example. Jesse Helms was running for re-election to the Senate in 1990, and Charlotte’s own Harvey B. Gantt opposed him. Helms ran this infamous “White Hands” ad. Although North Carolinians may take some solace in the fact that Jesse Helms never won overwhelmingly against Gantt, but he never lost, and retired in 2003 having been in that Senate seat since 1973—30 years!
Appeal to Authority (p. 43)
We ought to call this appeal to false authority because it often happens when an authority with expertise in one area tries to speak on a topic in an area outside their expertise. I do this all the time.
- As a parent, I believe books about LGBTQIA+ themes are dangerous for children; therefore, we ought to ban such material.
Straight from the headlines. What’s the problem with this person’s authority? After all, they’re a parent, so they must be an expert on raising children…
Appeal to Celebrity (p. 45)
When speakers put their support behind an argument (or product as the case usually is in our ferociously consumerist society) that they have no expertise in, it’s fallacious. This fallacy is also called “borrowed authority” because the speakers are often experts (or just popular) in one area, but they support an issue or product for which they have no expertise. Consider the following examples:
- A prominent basketball coach endorses a local jewelry business, so the jeweler must be a great place to buy precious gems.
- A celebrity uses a certain acne medication that gives her a shiny, clear complexion; if she looks good after using it, you will too.
- Tons of celebrities are hopping on the anti-poverty bandwagon and asking for money to help poor people in Africa; if all these important people are doing it, their organization must be beneficial.
We see these statements and endorsements often. A great basketball coach can probably help improve
your jump shot, but they have no expertise of jewelry quality or service. Supermodels may
be considered beautiful women, and the acne medication may have cleared up the very celebrity’s complexion, but read the fine print—”individual results may vary.” It’s not likely that any acne medication is going to transform a person’s complexion the way make-up, airbrushing, special lighting, and cosmetic surgery will. Finally, celebrities who endorse social issues are trying to do their part to make this world a better place for you, me, and the entire human race, but they have no authority when it comes to sociology, economics, history, or even diplomacy. Reality is often more complex than just having things taken care of by sending in money to an organization. As I stated before, character is an extremely important rhetorical appeal; however, good or bad character (or popularity) is no substitute for sound argumentation.
Appeal to Desperation (p. 50)
This fallacy likes to assert that there’s only one solution, making it similar to to the either-or/false dilemma fallacy, but it’s slightly different because it actually proposes one solution.
- Government spending is getting out of hand; therefore, we must cut entitlement programs.
Let’s pick this apart.
Appeal to Emotion (p. 53)
Not all appeals to emotion (or other aspects we’ve covered) are fallacious. The fallacy is when emotion is used as the ONLY support.
- Violent video games harm children; therefore, in order to protect them, we must ban this trash.
I assure you no harms come from video games (although game play could be a source of injury). Also, the average age of a video gamer is md-30s, making children only one component of the video gaming world.
Speaking of emotional appeals, what do you think about this one: “Breaking: Bad News for Slaughter-Bound Birds.”
Appeal to Fear (p. 58)
We will examine many fear appeals this semester, but I want to focus on Withey’s two types of appeals to fear: “Justifying a conclusion by instilling fear against alternatives….Alternatively: justifying a course of action by playing on the audience fears” (p. 58).
Fear of alternatives syllogism:
- Major Premise: Third parties bring unknown change into politics.
- Minor Premise: Unknown changes will destroy the fabric of civilization.
- Conclusion: Therefore, do not vote for third parties if you care about your well being.
Playing on the fears of the audience:
- Major Premise: Nuclear power produces toxic radioactive waste that is dangerous to the environment for thousands of years.
- Minor Premise: Nuclear power plants produce this harmful waste.
- Conclusion: Therefore, we ought to dismantle and never again build such dangerous power plants.
Fallacious or not? Ought to keep us busy for a minute…
- Major Premise: Children must be protected at all costs.
- Minor Premise: Firearms kill more children than cancer. (Wadman)
- Conclusion: Therefore, we must ban all firearms in order to save our most precious group.
Remember the subtle difference between a fallacy and a strategy. A fallacy is false, bogus, deceitful; whereas, a strategy is neutral and employed to help persuade an audience. If you recognize the potential problem with this distinction, good! We’re not going to solve it tonight, next week, or ever. This is the ambiguity we must deal with in order to engage in higher-level critique. Buildings and makeup need foundations; intellectual exercises need dialogue.
Michael Withey’s Mastering Logical Fallacies (pp. 65-130)
By nature* of my position in the room, I’m going to move the more “statistical” and “probabilistic” fallacies to the third third of the book, which we won’t get to tonight. Maybe we can cover these:
Appeal to the Moon (p. 65)—myth of linear technological progress
Appeal to Nature* (p. 67)—what is natural?
William Speed Weed’s “106 Science Claims and a Truckful of Baloney”
Argument from Ignorance (p. 83)—the “problem” with extraterrestrials…
Begging the Question (p. 90)—often misunderstood as “suggesting” a question or logical follow-up
False Analogy (p. 119)—A is to B as Alpha is to Beta…
False Dilemma (p. 122)—Either do or do not; there is no try…
Just Because (p. 128)—”I talk so all the time, so”
Highlights from Introducing American Politics
Everything you ever wanted to know about the government now in a convenient graphic guide. Although I hope this is a refresher for you because you got all this in 8th-grade civics and 11th/12th grade US History/Government, it might be your first time with these particular concepts. Because people invoke the US Constitution, specifically, or laws, in general, a course on rhetoric benefits from having the vocabulary of jurisprudence and the concepts assumed in these texts. Laws are in place because the powers that be need to develop reasonable standards for both identifying our responsibilities and recourses for grievances. They are agreements, often based on tradition, in place to assist in adjudicating disputes that may arise. In the pseudo-democracy of the United States, representatives develop, debate, and decide what laws should be “on the books,” and the courts interpret those laws and can even nullify a law (and change their minds 50 years later). The important thing to remember for a class on rhetoric is that laws are based on the societies (and the hegemons of those societies) from which they come. As Locker & Scheele point out, “…governmental institutions…[are] the product of a mutually transformative interaction between state and society. Politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum” (p. 3).
- p. 6: “A political ideology can be held by an individual or group, but it tends to contain values, understandings, and beliefs about how the political and social world can and should work.”
- p. 9: “Generally, conservatism centers around preference for tradition and social order, and a distrust of change.”
- p. 13: “…based on their party affiliation, we can usually make a number of assumptions about their stance on key issues.”
- p. 19: American exceptionalism
- p. 24: In the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party “was the majority party for all but 4 years in a 62-year period (1930-1994).”
- p. 31: “As we go about our daily lives, our actions are constantly being shaped by political rules and institutions….institutional stickiness—the persistence of an institution even if it no longer provides for optimal outcomes.”
- p. 34: “…the Constitution itself was shaped by the shared norms and understandings that existed at the time it was written.”
- But whose? Think hegemony.
- p. 41: “ensuring that a government can’t use the legal system to punish dissenters.”
- p. 45: First Amendment—express yourself…but watch what you do.
- p. 46: “…protesting is about disruption with a purpose.”
- p. 53: “The 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, for example, implies that we have the right to privacy of information about ourselves.”
- pp. 56-57: The Electoral College
- p. 59: “The United States maintains the largest military in the world…”
- p. 64: “The type of rhetoric that different presidents use when taking on world challenges tends to reflect both their personal style and how they interpret the state of critical world affairs.”
Keep up with the reading. Introducing American Politics is more of a reference, but it is required, so, if the bookstore can’t get it, you might need to go through Amazon.
Carter, Dan T. From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1996.
Suro, Roberto. “THE 1991 ELECTION: Louisiana; Bush Denounces Duke As Racist and Charlatan.” The New York Times, 7 Nov. 1991, p. 18. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/07/us/the-1991-election-louisiana-bush-denounces-duke-as-racist-and-charlatan.html
Wadman, Meredith. “Guns kill more U.S. kids than cancer. This emergency physician aims to prevent those firearm deaths.” Science, 6 Dec 2018. doi: 10.1126/science.aaw2877