on the invocation of logical fallacies
March 21, 2013
I’ve been meaning to write something on this photoset for a while now, but just didn’t have the time/focus.
This has been going around on tumblr for a while now, with people mostly happy/pleased that all of this is fairly clearly laid out.
Except no one has taken the time to actually critique the ways that this photoset (and similar calls for ‘logic’ in discourse) only serve to ratify the frankly racist and sexist and, yes, arbitrary rules that a bunch of white men have placed on argument/debate/discussion.
These fallacies aren’t universal. Nor do they represent the rules of some logic that is inherent in the world. Rather, they represent the rules of one system of logic. A system of logic that has historical roots (thus, context) and is embedded in a particular culture. The expectation that all people must abide by these rules not only erases the other historical and cultural traditions of argument and logic, but serves to normalize and reify the myth that there is just one logic. Or one way to do arguments.
Nor should we be looking at a photoset like this and go, ‘yes, these rules are clearly the best and anyone who doesn’t follow them should be silenced because their words/voice are invalid.’ This is the exact reasoning that has been used to discredit and silence the voices of IaoPoC. Because in a system created by whiteness, we can literally never actually meet all of these requirements, by default. It isn’t by accident that the Chinese are labelled ‘mysterious and poetic’ in such a way as their system of argument is completely discredited. So too with Indian logic. Too magical and filled with superstition for most of the world to take it seriously.
More to the point: a photoset like this leads you to the false belief that if you were to use a 100% sound and valid argument, that you’d finally be able to convince your oppressor that what you say is truth.
However, what most of liberatory ‘debate’ comes down to, is actually disagreements over matters of fact. White mythology has such a strong grip on most white people that you literally cannot get them to accept that (from a personal example) the modern white traditions of tattooing were all appropriated from Polynesians. You can’t get them to accept this, despite the piles of historical evidence. Or, a woman will say ‘1 in 6 women in the usa will experience rape’ but men, despite all the evidence to the contrary, just won’t accept this basic fact.
These things don’t come down to how good your argument is. Because it also doesn’t deal well with the fact that logic is about form (or syntax and semantics if we want to get super technical). You can also have flawless arguments while making the most oppressive point possible. In fact, whitesplaining and/or mansplaining is fond of this tactic. So too are abusers.
Take the ad hominem fallacy for example. Not too long ago there was a nazi on tumblr who got mad at everyone for judging them solely on their character as a nazi, rather than engaging their ideas. Classic ad hominem. Except…
Anyone who seriously expects me or anyone else to engage the ideas of nazism and fascism out of some absurd need to follow arbitrary rhetorical rules deserves to step on a lego. This is also a great example for how white discourse attempts to absolve people from accountability for the ideologies they adhere to. It puts a space between the ideas and the person. Between the harms that idea causes and the person upholding those ideas.
Quite frankly: if you are a nazi, you are a terrible fucking human being and I will never sit around and engage your ideas when I can simply point to the large moral defects in your character. Because it is a monstrous ideology held by monsters.
As the fallacy fallacy notes: what matters here is truth. Using logic as a means to descredite true statements is a common practise. And something remains true regardless of how sound the argument for/against it is.