The Discussion Doctor: Syndromes, Symptoms and Succor
I will be travelling for almost a month from now on and email access if any will be sporadic. I will miss the hectic debates on Desicritics that get my intellectual juices flowing and sometimes even my stress levels escalating.
Before I left, I wanted to leave somewhat of an open discussion that I hope other authors will be kind enough to keep going in my absence. So that when I return next month I will be delighted to see a nice long thread.
I racked my brains quite a bit on what topic would constitute a good discussion and then I realized: the topic of "discussion" itself makes fertile ground for discussion. Did I say "discussion" too many times? Confused? Let me explain.
Ever since I started writing on this forum, which is suitably blessed by the freedom of speech awarded to authors as well as commentators, I have begun to wonder about what really constitutes a good discussion and what kind of an article leads to this type of productive exchange. Sensationalism, satire, media coverage, current topics and ones that involve either politics, religion or of course, how can we forget feminism, are ones that receive the most attention.
While ocassional movie reviews receive some responses, the more debate worthy topics are ones that affect human beings in general and are open to perception. Why? Because only then we do have disagreements. Interpretations, perception, different takes and individual opinions should ideally be molding aspects of any fruitful discussion.
Through this post, I attempt to address some of the common fallacies that marr good discussions on Desicritics. Since my own experiences of such fallacies were from discussions about feminism on Desicritics, my examples will be heavily biased by those illustrations. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
1. My favorite is "Argumentum ad hominem" No, no, don't get bowled over by the Latin! This term simply implies that the person guilty of this fallacy has lost grip of rationale and has begun attacking the author or commentator for lack of a better logical argument. I sometimes like to call it "winging a blind baseball bat". On a public forum such fallacies are committed mostly by people who have been named "trolls". Before this writing experience, trolls for me were the large, scary ones in Harry Potter books. But the only thing scary about internet trolls is their infectious and distracting lack of logic. Beware, this fallacy is contagious. An "ad hominem" carrier can frustrate you until you end up using the F-word or return the vitriolic attacks. The only known cure is: Ignore. It is difficult to achieve desirable doses of this painless drug without losing one's patience but hey it works!
2. The second one in line has to be the mind boggling "association fallacy". A most common example of such a fallacy widely observed on Desicritics is as follows: "You are a feminist. A political leader who screwed over several men in India is a feminist. So you will screw over several men and are anti-male." Sadly the perpetrators of the association fallacy by virtue of their horrendously farfetched assumptions in the final stages of their disease, succumb to the "ad hominem fallacy" (#1) and eventually get dismissed as trolls. Unfortunately, some of the "association carriers" in the folds of faulty logic have a point to make that gets lost because of over-generalizations that end up alienating everyone. No known cure is available however some symptomatic relief can be obtained with low doses of ignoring.
3. The "bandwagon fallacy" affects many and as the name suggests sheds light on the groupism phenomenon in human. An example of this fallacy on the forum is as follows: "There are many people who believe that feminism is a curse on men and families. Hence it proves me right". The symptoms of this fallacy are long and meaningless rants which include examples, references and excerpts from authors or people who support the theory. But since they are other people's ideas, not to mention they are fearfully repetitive, nobody bothers reading them unless they seem remotely relevant. Also, unfortunately, the ocassional bouts of claiming "Majority wins!" succumb to logic. It only holds true if you are up for a political election of some sort. And even in that case you cannot reference other people's views and will at some point have to defend your own. Discussions infected by this fallacy often die a slow death because people continue to hope that breathing some logic will revive the feeble, one-ended debate.
4. The "cognitive fallacy" at some point of time affects all of us. As humans, we judge based on our experiences or perception. But it is when we begin to extrapolate a few stray experiences and then apply them systematically to someone else's view, the cognitive fallacy syndrome kicks in. In short, if we take our own experiences which may be limited to lets say ten odd cases and then refute someone else's experience which of course will probably be different from our own, we have successfully lost sight of a key element of human interaction: respect for other people's views. A slight variation of this syndrome can cause a severe form of "confirmation bias". This form of the syndrome makes one compulsively, even obsessively, scour through internet websites and dig statistical information that specifically proves only their view, thus ignoring any other conflicting piece of evidence (statistical, rational or scientific) because it doesn't fit their own take. The only known cure is shutting up that requires strict compliance on part of the fallacy carrier.
5. One of the worsts fallacies that I have seen is "sophism". It is loosely based on the "If you cannot convince them confuse them" policy. Symptoms include verbal diarrhoea, comments containing explicit jargon, technical and highly specialized terminology which will send you reeling and might even affect your own self-esteem since let's face it not all of us have heard of "pseudohypoparathyroidism" or ""Antidisestablishmentarianism". Carriers of the sophism fallacy are usually harmlessly trying to distract you with such words and overcompensating for their lack of rationale. Their logic itself is a bit hollow. The only known and effective cure for this fallacy is simplification.
6. Now this last fallacy is not a formal fallacy. In fact, I confess, I came up with it. I have decided in honor of simplification to name it the "You are an idiot cause I know everything and I am right" fallacy. The symptoms of this logical gaffe includes long condescending sermons about religion, scriptures, social and political issues from the perspective of a pathological know-it-all. A common example "You should read the books and find out...", "You don't know what statistics indicates...", "I have researched and studied such and such...". Carriers of this fallacy are inclined to ignore other people's credentials and their knowledge of the field while claiming that their own is superior, the bottomline of their argument being "I am right because I know better". The "I am right" claim is soon drowned by a swift "Please prove your point". This cure is a bit unrelaible but has shown some success in people who have some base levels of humility to begin with.
This list could go on but there are certain fallacies that are currently under investigation for cures or even prevention. Researchers hope to find means of increasing the life span of productive discussions by these findings. Until then, they would appreciate if each one of you would be so kind as to provide your own examples of fallacies or fallacy carriers to aid in case analysis. I do not mind if I am one of them. I can get myself tested and possibly even treated. The ultimate goal should be to ensure the longevity and good health of human interactions.
Have a good discussion, be nice and I will see you all next month (unless I get my hands on a computer before then).
Warning: The contents of this article requires a healthy sense of humor before consumption, the absence of which may lead to serious side-effects.
The Discussion Doctor: Syndromes, Symptoms and Succor
- » Published on June 03, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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Author: Aditi Nadkarni
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