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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Fallacious Arguments

There is a pervasive and pernicious form of suggestive argument that is fast becoming a quotidian element of rabble rousing media. It is the weapon of choice in right-wing media, where po-faced opinion often masquerades as news. In such spheres of popular influence the fundamentally literal nature of indisputable fact can become convoluted, especially if it is inconvenient.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

The particular form of argument in question follows these lines:
Person A makes a statement they know to be false concerning person B. This, in turn, forces a denial from person B. From there person B is associated with this untruth. But B may decide not to indulge these untruths, thereby remaining tarred with these accusations.

For example “Now, I’m not saying B stole a car, but I do notice they are not denying it…” So we see two truths – we know a car was stolen, as this is presumably self-evident. We also know person B exists. Until this point they were not necessarily linked, but now they are becoming inextricable. No matter what they do, the hitherto good name of person B is besmirched by association.

Equally, B will have difficulty forcing a retraction because this logic is insidious. It always begins with a statement to say that what follows may not be true. It really is a schoolyard tactic, not much more advanced in terms of sophisticated dialectics than saying “I know you are,but what am I?” But this and similar forms of syllogistic reasoning are truly on the rise in combative opinion-based media, never mind the highest diplomatic circles.

US Justification for Iraq War

Originally the war had to be fought when it was announced that Saddam has weapons that could hit Britain in 45 minutes. Well, lots of people thought this a little dubious, to say the least. And so the logic of the western leaders went, “Well, Saddam, we hear you have weapons and unless you prove you don’t have any, then you must have some”. The burden of proof had shifted to someone whose best efforts to prove he didn’t have something turned out not to be good enough.

But this didn’t suffice, Iraq had to be linked with September the eleventh. Although the fabricated link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda has since been acknowledged as a falsehood, this acknowledgement has always been qualified by caveats. These caveats have created doubt in the audience as to the veracity of the new claims of there being no link.

Over to the masters of fallacious suggestion and association:
Fallacious suggestions, by Dick Cheney, of links between Iraq and terrorism are too numerous to catalogue.

George Bush, however, was a master of the diplomatically embarrassing and conceptually ill-conceived sound-bite, “No, we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th… al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida operative, was in Baghdad. He’s the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat. … There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties.”

Glenn Beck

This form of disputation is Beck’s stock in trade. He recently noted that social justice (public healthcare etc – y’know, standard stuff in the developed world) was a primary concern of a prominent American Nazi sympathiser, Fritz Julius Kuhn. Social justice he said was therefore a concern of nazis and communists. And so his logic ran, if anyone asks you about social justice they must be evil, so give them a wide berth. Of course, this logic neglects to mention its many philanthropic adherents, but then that’s the point. This particular case is an example of guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy.

A recent viral campaign online subverted this form of discourse against its greatest exponent. Glenn Beck was linked to, NOT accused of, horrific acts of depravity. The effort was made to shift the burden of proof to Beck himself. Of course, the prank failed due to the extreme nature of the crime he was associated with being ultimately incredible.

But this method of coercion is more effective where there is some duress, either people are scared, already have some similar suspicions that can be played on, or simply feel the suggestion is plausible.

How this technique works on a wider scale

Basically anyone makes a claim. A sympathetic media covers this, while loudly admonishing those of opposing views for not engaging with these freshly fabricated claims. In time other media outlets are dragged into covering the story, at which point the truth about the matter is truly lost. Read about it in more depth, and in relation to an actual incident here.

In other words it is creating and winning an argument in one fell swoop by shifting the burden/onus of proof.

Glenn Beck falls foul of internet meme mimicking his logic
The concept of fallacy

This article was posted by on Friday, July 30th, 2010 at 03:28.
It is archived in America, Internet, Media, Myth and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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