Sunday, 24 April 2016

Offences Against Reason

In this age of online discussion we have become very familiar with the ad hominen fallacy. Instead of examining the merits of an opponent's argument a person makes a personal attack on the character of the person posting the comment. The attack is an attempt to counter someone's viewpoint by reference to some personal characteristic; the fallacy attempts to argue that because they have this characteristic what they say must be false.

Whilst reading an article in Breitbart on the increasingly anti-semitic nature of left-wing protests I came across this comment:

"Germans with Nazi Grandfathers have no right to criticize the Palestinians."

This was directed at Jutta Ditfurth, a Green politician who has become the center of resistance to anti-semitism on the Berlin Left and the person who uttered it is more than likely quite proud of it.

Unfortunately, it is very common to see this kind of nonsense. I mean that in the most literal way: it is non - sense. It is offensive to Reason.

I don't claim to be a particularly accomplished logician but there is an awful lot that is obviously wrong with such a statement.

Firstly, the phrase "no right to criticize". This displays the tu quoque fallacy. It means "you also" have done this and so you can't make this argument (or criticism). This is a fallacy because the previous behavior of the speaker is not related in any logical sense to the strength of their argument. If something is wrong then it's wrong regardless of who is saying it is wrong.

Secondly, not only is the tu quoque fallacy committed but it's used against people who are the purported grandchildren of the people who committed the original offence - because they are their grandchildren. So because your grandfathers are alleged to have committed certain offences you have no right to speak on this issue.

This ridiculous idea that guilt passes from one generation to the next is common in many contexts such as reparations for slavery and the endlessly running sore of white guilt.

Thirdly, the Nazi card. Argumentum ad Nazium is the all-too-common tactic of associating an opponent's position with the Nazis, thereby creating guilt by association. This manoeuvre often has the effect of angering opponents and thereby derailing the discussion. Mike Godwin developed the well-known "Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies" - As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Although it was probably not intended by the speaker there is a chilling implication in the statement: The Palestinians are seeking to achieve what the Nazis set out to achieve (so shut up you grandchildren of Nazis)...something of a Freudian slip.

At bottom, there is a really toxic blend of vitriol, intimidation, smearing, and illogicality in the statement I've quoted but it is highly symptomatic of our age. I realize these details about logical fallacies may seem rather pedantic but I would argue they are important indicators of the degree of unreason at work in our societies.

We need to preserve and cultivate Reason in the broadest sense for the health and well-being of our societies. Clear thinking is vital.

Raymond Ibrahim posted an article recently called "Revive clear thinking and the Jihad dies". This article makes vitally important points in Raymond Ibrahim's usual clear style. For this to happen we must distance ourselves from the garbled woolly-mindedness that is all-too-common in today's world. The way to do this is recover our reason and respect Reason's rules.