the role of logical fallacies in sjw discourse
May 8, 2016
While walking with my brofriend the other day we were discussing my new book project, ‘Handbook to SJW discourse’ (or something like that). One of the things I said I’d be discussing in the book is the way that logical and rhetorical fallacies are deployed withing this discourse (and how I think derails relate to it).
I’m not going to get into it all right now, since I’ll save that for the actual book. But… I mostly want to point out how… bemusing it is to see activists/sjw/whatever people mobilize logical fallacies within their discussions about whatever, since it not only shows a misunderstanding about what fallacies are but also ends up being treated as a primitive.
In other words, when people invoke logical fallacies within, say, an online discussion about racism, it tends to serve a very particular purpose that often contradicts the stated principles of the person who invokes it.
But lets look at this by examining a fallacy that is often named within these discussions: the ad hominem fallacy. This fallacy is when a person attacks/criticises the person rather than the argument they are making (ie, they make it personal). And its a fallacy that people on any given side of the ‘debate’ are willing to invoke.
Say I am having a discussion with a white person over the defintion of ‘racism’. Their position is that the dictionary definition is the canonical one. My position is that the sociology one is the canonical one (eg: the power + privilege model). In the course of our discussion they point to how Chinese business owners will often only hire other Chiense people as an example of non-white ‘racism’. I respond with ‘OMFG, THIS KIND OF SEGREGATION ONLY HAPPENS BC THERE ARE FEWER OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHINESE PPL OUTSIDE OF THEIR OWN COMMUNITY’. They respond with a mention that ‘yelling’ just makes me look emotional and hurts the point I’m making.
This is not only a common derail (tone policing) but an ad hominem fallacy, since the tone of my response isn’t relevant to the substance of my reply.
But it can (and often does) go the other way. Say we are talking about racial dating ‘preferences’ and my interlocutor just shrugs and asserts ‘its just my preference’. Me? I reply with ‘why are u such a white supremacist dig bag?’.
Again. An ad hominem fallacy since my response has to do with the interlocutor as a person rather than addressing any substantive part of their argument.
I’ve seen the ad hominem fallacy invoked by either side in similar situations as above.
But here’s what gets me: few people actually question whether or not the ad hominem fallacy is actually fallacious within SJW discourse.
One of the biggest issues with the popular understanding of logic and related fallacies is that they are stable and relevant to all situations/discourses. But they aren’t. This is the point I’m trying to make. This isn’t, of course, to say that ad hominems are never fallacious its just that they may not be within SJW discourse.
Yes. We have a few derails concerning tone arguments/policing. So it’d seem that at least some kinds of ad hominem fallacies count within SJW discourse. But what about the second example? Is this actually an ad hominem?
If we think logic is a generic, universal thing that applies to all contexts, then yes it is an ad hominem. However, if we view logic with the same critical eye as we do any other system of thought, the answer is: it doesn’t have to be (and in this particular example really isn’t).
Logic, like many other things, has a frame of reference. Change some of that framework and the details of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ logic also changes.
In general, I find it interesting how infrequently logic (and fallacies) themselves are critiqued within SJW discourse. Its this one very specific system of thought that is deeply embedded within its context. What is a fallacy within one domain of discourse isn’t necessarily a fallacy in all domains.
In a strange way… I kind of think that fallacies themselves are motivated by a desire to derail the discussion rather than attempt to de with the substance of the other person’s argument. I mean. You don’t need to bother with the substance if you just say that the person’s reasoning is incorrect or wrong in some way.
Its especially weird to see poc who talk about white supremacy to turn around and invoke a fallacy, given that whiteness is part of the context that renders fallacies coherent in the first place (and also gives them that universal scope, since white ppl are the default human, so any deviations from what they think is a good reasoning must clearly be fallacious or invalid.