Welcome to Logical Fallacies 101, an ongoing exercise to help foster more reasonable debate on Newsvine and wherever else you may find yourself discussing differences of opinion.
I introduced this idea with last week's piece, Ad Hominem (Attack the Source). I was glad to see people talking, agreeing, disagreeing, and making notes of it for later. To reiterate the objective, this series is meant to raise awareness of logical fallacies by breaking it into easily digestible chunks. As I said last week:
Put most simply, a fallacy is a rhetorical sequence that doesn't logically connect. For a variety of reasons, logical fallacies are invalid. A logical fallacy does not necessarily render the point invalid, but it means you need to rethink how you're making your point.
Now let's dive right in to this week's entry, the Association Fallacy. It's a fun double-dip, and you've probably seen it before. Heck, you've probably seen it this week.
Association fallacies are simple enough, but can get complex in their intricacies. They can look correct, but that's what makes the fallacy so easy to commit. We'll start with an easy one to get the ball rolling:
Robert went to college. Robert is in jail. Therefore, college graduates are criminals.
Easy to catch, right? Robert himself might fulfill both criteria, but then extending that association to all members of his group is a fallacy. Obviously, not all college graduates are jailbirds. Just the ones on Wall Street -- zing! So how about a more firebrand example?
Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. Osama bin Laden is a Muslim. Therefore, Muslims are terrorists.
It may not be something you hear so outright, but chances are you've heard someone making a comment similar to this, generalizing Muslims as violent.
What you're seeing is Guilt by Association: the association of a negative attribute unfairly misapplied. It happens pretty frequently, and more often you'll see it in the form of gross exaggerations and generalizations:
Republicans/Democrats are liars!
Ever tried asking someone to back up a statement like this? Usually, they tend to point to one specific lie, or even a group of lies, from a Republican or Democratic group. But claiming that means ______— are liars is silly and misguided.
As I said, this fallacy is multi-faceted, and one unusual wrinkle comes from Guilt by Association. It's especially prevalent here on Newsvine, where we too often categorize each other into neat little groups by their party affiliation. I've nicknamed it Hypocrisy by Association. As you no doubt know, hypocrisy is when a person holds views or commits actions inconsistently. For example, one might say stealing is wrong, but then steal. Hypocrisy by Association is more subtle. It assumes that a person belonging to a party agrees with the platforms or general consensus of that party. Then, when a person is inconsistent with that party platform, they are unfairly called hypocrites.
Let's look at some real-world examples.
Statement: Obama is overspending and adding to our deficit.
Reply: You Republicans didn't care when Bush spent like crazy!
For all you know, your debate opponent did care quite a bit about Bush's spending. If you have evidence otherwise, by all means pull the "hypocrisy" card. Otherwise, you're committing a logical fallacy. And on the other side:
Statement: Bush passed the invasive Patriot Act.
Reply: You Democrats don't care that Obama expanded it!
Again, for all you know, your opponent is upset about Obama's expansion of the Patriot Act. And again, if you have evidence to suggest otherwise, calling hypocrisy is fair play.
Another note: party platforms can themselves conflict. The notes about hypocrisy by association apply to individuals.
There is one other type of common association fallacy, though not nearly as common. It's called Honor by Association. As you probably guessed, it is the precise opposite of Guilt, suggesting that members of a group are imbued with good qualities. One might say, for example, that Massachusetts has the highest rate of college graduates in the country (fact), and so Bostonians are smarter than everyone else (Honor by Association). If you run into this fallacy, though, it's probably someone bragging on themselves rather than trying to bring you down in a debate.