Let’s Play the Fallacy Game!

Steve Colbert eating popcornWith tomorrow being Election Day and all the presidential “debates” happening, I can’t help but think how politicians actually use the false arguments we warn our writing students against.

We tell our writing students they must follow good logic when arguing a point. In politics, logic seems more an afterthought than a necessity.

For the next debate, break out the popcorn, create a scorecard, and see how many times the candidates use the following false logic strategies.

Non sequitur – This means “it does not follow” in Latin, so this is when someone makes a statement and follows it with another statement that isn’t logically connected.

We need a strong national defense. Immigrants are taking all the jobs.

Circular reasoning – This is when the topic rolls back on itself.

We need a strong national defense because a country can only be strong with a good defense system.

Slippery slope – This is when dire consequences are predicted from a situation.

If we don’t increase the defense budget by 80 percent, America will collapse into chaos.

Hasty generalization – This is when the writer or speaker makes a general statement that isn’t supported with facts.

A strong military means a prosperous America.

Ad populum – A favorite of politicians, this means bypassing logic by just appealing to the emotions of the readers or listeners.

Our great country is made safe through the sacrifices of our military.

Ad hominem – Here’s another favorite of politicians. This is when the debater attacks the person instead of his argument.

My opponent, who never served a day in the military, is against a strong national defense.

Either/or – Wouldn’t life be easier if there were only two ways to look at an issue? Apparently politicians think so, too.

We need to increase the defense budget by 80 percent or our security as a nation will be in jeopardy.

The red herring – This is where a writer or speaker throws in an irrelevant point to divert the reader’s or listener’s attention from the main issue. (Think Dug and squirrels in Up.)

We need to increase defense spending 80 percent so our children will have a brighter future.

The bandwagon – We’ve all heard our parents’ retorts to this argument. We say, “Everyone’s doing it!” and our parents say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” This is when people are urged to accept a position just because it is popular, not on its own merit.

We must increase our defense budget by 80 percent because we all want a strong America!

Instead of groaning with despair as your television is taken over by politicians vying for Commander-in-Chief throughout the year, snuggle into a sofa, pop some popcorn, and get a pen and paper.

How many of these false logic strategies can you catch?