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The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson

Quality Insider

Protect Yourself From Verbal Sleight of Hand

Don’t be fooled by these rhetorical tricks that mystify and manipulate

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2019 - 12:03

A few years ago I wrote about a Facebook exchange between two friends of mine that upset me because one of my friends resorted to name-calling instead of addressing the other friend’s arguments. In retrospect, that was mild. More recently I’ve been shocked by some disturbingly excessive name-calling, in the comment sections of articles I’ve read, that was directed at other commenters. The name-calling is bad enough, but the number of people who find that to be an acceptable method for engaging in debate is appalling. No one is going to be motivated or persuaded by vitriol.

Recently, I wrote an article on the importance of critical thinking in our age of information overload (see “A Survival Guide for the Era of Alternate Facts”). Developing the ability to judge the veracity of the information we receive is important because there are many people, seeking power or profit, who will say anything in order to push their agenda. We must protect ourselves from the lies, propaganda, and fake news that we get from politicians, government, corporations, and the media.

People seeking power and influence will use verbal trickery in order to convince you to accept their point of view. They will speak confidently with tones of authority so that you won’t scrutinize their words too carefully. But, you can protect yourself by learning to recognize their logical and rhetorical fallacies. Here are the most common:

Ad hominem attack or name-calling: In this fallacy, the proponent will attack his opponent by attaching a negative label to that person rather than support his own argument or opinion with facts.

Ad populum or bandwagon: In this fallacy, the proponent will argue that you should agree because everyone is doing it. The proponent wants you to feel left out or encourage you to try to “keep up with the Jones.” I’ll never forget my mother shutting this argument down by asking me: “If all your friends jump off a cliff, are you going to follow?”

Appeal to the stone: In this fallacy, the proponent will dismiss an argument as absurd (or unworthy of serious consideration) without giving any proof or reason for believing it is absurd.

Cherry picking or card stacking: In this fallacy, the proponent will omit key information in order to slant a position in her favor. In this case, you are receiving a partial truth, and you will have to do your own research to find out the rest.

False analogy: In this fallacy, the proponent will present two things as being similar even though they are not.

False dilemma: In this fallacy, the proponent will present only two options as if these were the only choices. Also called an either/or argument because it offers no middle ground and disregards compromises, alternatives, or new ideas.

Straw man: In this fallacy, the proponent will distort or misrepresent his opponent’s position, then proceed to attack this false and fabricated viewpoint instead. This fallacy creates the illusion that the opponent’s argument has been refuted, when only a straw man has been knocked down.

Red herring: In this fallacy, the proponent will ignore a question, topic, or argument and attempt to shift the discussion/debate to a separate issue that she is more comfortable addressing.

False cause: In this fallacy, the proponent will suggest that because two events are related, one caused the other to happen. It’s important to remember that correlation or coincidence do not prove causation.

Hasty generalization: In this fallacy, the proponent will use a sample size that is too small to support an overriding conclusion or to declare a universal principle.

Appeal to authority: In this fallacy, the proponent will use a famous person to endorse his position. You must ask yourself what this celebrity knows about the issue, and what that person has to gain from it.

It’s one thing to attempt to persuade someone with facts, but it’s fraudulent when someone starts twisting them. Arm yourself against these fallacies by knowing and understanding how they work. Many times you won’t know that a fallacy has been used until you do your own research and verify the information for yourself. Once you have mastered these, there are many more fallacies you can learn about by searching online.

Print a copy of this article and keep these fallacies handy; you’ll be able to use them every day. You can also use them for a fun drinking game during political debates: Every time you catch one, you get to take a shot!

Please share examples of these fallacies that you’ve encountered recently in the news or current events.


Discuss

About The Author

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson’s picture

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson

Robert Evans Wilson Jr. is an author, humorist, and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Wilson is also the author of the humorous children’s book The Annoying Ghost Kid, which was self-published in 2011. For more information on Wilson, visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

Comments

Verbal Sleight of Hand Drinking Game

I DO NOT recommend this as a drinking game with politics or a golfing... I can't drink that fast!

Good article & reference; bad advice

If you love drinking, make a drinking game out of this, but remember, there are only so many transplantable livers to go around at any one time. Just the ad hominem attacks in what passes for political discourse could give us all cirrhosis!