Enforced by determined Tea Party zealots, this process suppresses fact, endlessly repeats lies, and, more importantly, ignores logic. Every fallacy in the logic textbooks, buttressed by politically originated fallacies, is exploited to the fullest extent. These fallacies include the slippery slope, straw men, red herrings, reversing the burden of proof, vicious circles, language perversion, and single-entry bookkeeping, all united in rejection of science and perpetuation of free-lunch patriotism, supply-side economics, and other false ideologies.
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How Ideologues Repeal the Laws of Logic
By CW Griffin
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2014 CW Griffin
All rights reserved.
"All philosophers who find Some favorite system to their mind. In every point to make it fit, Will force all nature to submit."
Thomas Love Peacock
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Information Age, when arcane facts can be accessed merely by pushing a computer button, is the colossal ignorance pervading contemporary politics. In the early years of the 21st century America's polarized politics reminds us that historical progress does not proceed in a smooth, continuous trajectory. It stumbles through the centuries on an erratic course, with prominent peaks and valleys. As an extreme example, Europe's Dark Ages thrust European civilization back into Bronze-Age ignorance after the tremendous advances of the Graeco-Roman era. It took about 12 centuries to elevate British law back to the fourth-century stage of Roman law that had governed the colony's more civilized parts. (As a noteworthy example of its reactionary culture, Dark-Age Britain abandoned Roman law's innocent-until-proven-guilty principle, introduced by the Stoic emperor Antonius Pius in the second century C.E.)
On what we can hope is a smaller scale, we are experiencing a political Dark Age in the stupefying polarization of contemporary American politics. Displaying ignorance far beyond the call of ideological duty, economically illiterate Tea Party fanatics were willing to risk a federal debt default in October, 2013. Some even argued that a government default might benefit our economy. Economists overwhelmingly reject this preposterous notion, arguing that a U.S. government default, undermining the world's dominant currency, would be an unalleviated catastrophe.
Associated with this willful, aggressive ignorance is the normalization of extreme rhetoric. Ferocious opposition to health-alcare reform has driven conservatives into mindless hyperbole that would merit hostile ridicule in a rational society. According to Senator Rand Paul, a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, belief in "the right to health care" is "basically saying you believe in slavery." Paul's rhetoric drew Tea Party cheers. And in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, a subcommittee chairman claims that Evolution and Big-Bang cosmological theory are "straight from the pit of hell." That, too, drew no audible protest from his Republican colleagues.
Equally outlandish rhetorically, and paranoid besides, was venture capitalist Ron Perkin's assertion that American progressives' condemnation of bankers paralleled Nazi Germany's extermination of 6 million Jews. In 2010, Blackstone chief Stephen Schwartzman denounced President Obama's proposal to close a tax loophole that enables billionaire hedge-fund managers to pay a top tax rate roughly half their secretaries' top rate. This proposed loophole-closing "was like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939," according to Schwartzman.
At its roots, political polarization marks the retrogressive triumph of ideological over scientific reasoning. Scientific reasoning has never been popular in politics. But as evidenced by their unanimous rejection of climatological science, even of biological science by some, the 2012 Republican presidential contenders fell to new depths of unscientific politics.
This chapter's epigraph by Thomas Love Peacock serves as an accurate definition of ideological reasoning. Ideology merely assumes the truth of some overpowering idea, adducing all the facts in its favor, but ignoring contradictory facts. Scientific reasoning accounts for all relevant facts. If a tested hypothesis is logically incompatible with any significant fact, it is rejected. On the contrary, ideological beliefs ignore all relevant facts that contradict their politically biased hypotheses. A notorious example is the durable, 30-year-old Arthur-Laffer myth that tax cuts always promote increased economic growth. Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson demolished that myth soon after it was publicized.
Ideological reasoning is obviously at its worst in the Third World. In South Africa, a recent president, Thebo Mbeki, clung for years to a stubborn denial that the HIV virus causes AIDs. Instead, President Mbeki banned scientifically proven antiretroviral drugs and subsidized worthless tribal "cures" based on primitive superstition. The causal link between HIV and AIDs was solidly established more than 30 years ago. But Mbeki still rejected it, as recently as 2008. During his tenure nearly one-fifth of South African adults were AIDs-infected, dying at a rate exceeding 900 daily. According to Harvard researchers, Mbeki's folly caused 365,000 unnecessary AIDs-caused deaths through his rejection of proven medical science.
Along with their superstitious rejection of science, South Afrikaners also found a scapegoat. Western drug companies and governments allegedly marketed toxic antiretroviral drugs, deliberately killing Africans. In 2000 Mbeki hinted at CIA involvement in propagating the allegedly false belief linking HIV with AIDs. Ignorance was compounded by paranoia.
Americans are spared this particular anti-scientific belief. But South Africa's anti-scientific outlook was less a retrogression than a persistence of traditional superstition, whereas anti-scientific attitudes in the U.S. represent retrogression.
Anti-scientific superstition has always had a congenial home in the former Confederacy. Battles rage over the teaching of Evolution throughout the Bible Belt and even in midwestern Kansas, where the state's highest ranking education administrator proudly proclaims his belief in a 6,000-year-old earth.
Anti-scientific attitudes are evident in the nation-wide battle over vaccines. A phony report written by a "researcher" with huge conflicts of interest is jeopardizing the eradication of several potentially serious childhood diseases. Those who profit from antiscientific denial often fight on long after their pet theses have been forensically annihilated. As established anti-scientific deniers, they often have a profit motive to persist in denial.
Like South Africa's HIV-causes-AIDs deniers, Rush Limbaugh is our most notorious global-warming denier. His underwhelming qualifications for challenging human-caused global warming include his record as a college dropout, a former disk jockey, and for a quarter century, an extravagantly paid (reputedly $60 million a year) professional demagogue duping millions of simple-minded, self-styled dittoheads with a litany of lies, misinformation, and logical fallacies. Limbaugh resembles South African HIV-causes-AIDs deniers in charging scientists with a gigantic conspiracy designed to destroy the U.S. economy. It's a precise parallel with South African AIDs deniers who charge Western scientists with the previously noted conspiratorial plot to kill Africans. Limbaugh never produces a single corroborating fact supporting his conspiracy hypothesis. He simply knows, with self-evident certainty, that human-caused global warming is a gigantic hoax.
Limbaugh's anti-scientific opinions range far beyond global-warming denial. He agrees with the fanatical opponent of Evolution, Ben Stein, that the teaching of evolutionary biology led to the Holocaust. Limbaugh seldom, if ever, broadcasts this opinion. He has, however, published it in his newsletter. For some reason, either ignorance of his views, or possibly fear of offending Limbaugh's listeners, the nation's press has never probed the deaths of Limbaugh's ignorance. (In Chapter 7, I go into greater detail about Limbaugh's anti-scientific philosophy.)
The ultimate ideologue
The unparalleled exemplar of successful demagogic ideology is Adolph Hitler. As he informs us in his tedious tome, Mein Kampf, Hitler never had to open his mind to to reconsider anything. In his youth, he tells us:
"... there took shape within me a world picture and a philosophy which became the granite foundation of all my acts. In addition to what I then created, I have had to learn little, and I have had to alter nothing."
Here's how historian Ian Kershaw poses the Hitler problem:
"... not just how this initially most unlikely pretender to high state office could gain power; but how he was able to extend that power until it became absolute, until field marshals were prepared to obey without question the orders of a former corporal, until highly skilled 'professionals' and clever minds in all walks of life were ready to pay uncritical obeisance to an autodidact whose only indisputable talent was one for stirring up the masses."
Kershaw expands on this theme, describing Hitler's intellectual sloth:
"... Systematic preparation and hard work were as foreign to the young Hitler as they would be to the later dictator. Instead, his time was largely spent in dilettante faction ... devising grandiose schemes shared only with the willing Kubizek –– fantasy plans that usually arose from sudden whims and bright ideas and were dropped almost as soon as they had begun."
What Hitler had, of course, was a prodigious talent for inflaming the masses. Because he himself shared their grievances, he unerringly identified their fears, paranoia, and resentments, cleverly stoking these psychic embers into raging flames. His was a remarkable talent for ridicule, sarcasm, and other rhetorical devices skillfully designed to evoke violent emotional responses from his cynically exploited victims. Far from disguising his contempt for the masses, Hitler freely expressed it:
"The receptivity of the masses is unlimited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous."
This same cynical exploitation of his mass audience is manifest in Rush Limbaugh's appeal. His overwhelmingly male audience, predominantly bitter old men, harbors grievances against the elite, Ivy-school-educated elites. As the omniscient El Rushmo, dean of the fictitious Advanced School for Conservative Studies, Limbaugh purges doubt from his attacks on opponents. In Limbaugh's alternate universe, there is no possibility that global-warming is true, and that the scientists propounding the theory are not united in a vast conspiracy of lies. He projects absolute certainty on this and every other major political issue.
As I shall demonstrate in greater detail in Chapter 7, Limbaugh seldom allows contradictory facts to disrupt his theses. But even more characteristic of his modus operandi is his prolific use of a wide variety of logical fallacies. Back in the summer of 2008, when gas prices skyrocketed above $4 per gallon, Limbaugh blamed Democrats for the $4 gas. "Have you noticed," Limbaugh asks a befuddled caller, "that gas prices went up when Democrats took control of the House?"
This clumsy innuendo simultaneously embodies a lie and a violation of an elementary principle of formal logic. Skyrocketing gas prices are correlated with the Bush Administration's tenure. After dipping to an inflation-corrected $1.30 in 2002, gas prices climbed on an oscillating trajectory to $4-plus in June, 2008, tripling in six years. In Bush's eight years, gas prices more than doubled, a rate nearly three times the rise during the Clinton years. Limbaugh has no excuse for not recognizing these statistical facts.
Underlying Limbaugh's distortion lurks an even more serious logical error. Even if it had been factually accurate, his correlation of Democrats' control of Congress with gas-price escalation violates a basic rule of logical deduction. This fallacy has been known since antiquity as "post hoc ergo propter hoc" ("after this, because of this")
Primitives perpetuate superstitions via the post-hoc fallacy. During a drought, when it finally rains after the tribe stages 10 futile rain dances, the Indians are convinced that the eleventh dance caused rain. Such superstitions endure for centuries, even millennia. They are congenial to humankind's natural mental inertia. Logical thinking is as unnatural as the ballet.
Limbaugh is our most strident spokesman for moral and intellectual primitives who reason like savages. He, Sean Hannity, and their fellow talk-show hosts exploit a whole panoply of logical fallacies –– the slippery slope, strawmen, red herrings, single-entry bookkeeping, circular reasoning, and heads-I-win-tails-you-lose. These are powerful, effective weapons for deceiving gullible mass audiences.
There is an obvious explanation for the rise in gas prices. With the rapid rise in oil demand from burgeoning industrial giants like China and India, oil economics collided with the law of supply and demand. In strict accordance with that law, oil prices skyrocketed with surging demand.
This explanation won't satisfy conspiracy theorists, who single out oil companies as uniquely satanic price-gouging monsters. Hedge-fund managers, speculating in futures markets, are probably the worst villains exploiting the situation to drive up oil prices above the supply-demand equilibrium price. But few in Limbaugh's audience know what a hedge fund is.
The catechism model
Besides the panoply of secular fallacies available to ideologues, there are religious fallacies. The transfer of religious bigotry into political bigotry is exhibited by two Catholic talk-show hosts, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. They have adapted the kindergarten style of the catechism's Q-and-A method of religious instruction to complex political problems, with predictably ridiculous results.
As a Catholic-raised child, I vividly recall this deadly nun-administered indoctrination. The catechism tests memory, not comprehension. You pass the test by parroting the precise prescribed answer to each question with a verbatim response; no variations from the text are allowed. As it does so well in stultifying thought in religious matters, the catechism technique stultifies thought in politics as well.
For those ignorant of the catechism Q-and-A method of indoctrination, a sample illustration will reveal its demeaning technique. To the question, "Why must every human being die?", here is the prescribed answer: "We must all die because we have all sinned in Adam. Saint Paul tells us, 'Sin entered the world through one man (i.e., Adam), and through sin, death' [Romans: 5-12]." As a child of five, I questioned the doctrine of Original Sin as unjust. It rejects the concept of individual responsibility. Its primitive roots lie deep in prehistory, when moral responsibility was tribal, not individual. It's the mindless concept behind the feud –– the senseless violence of the Montagues and the Capulets, or the hillbilly feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. The catechism forbids independent thought on this issue. You either accept it, or risk spending an eternity in hell for your skepticism.
Transferred to the domain of politics, the catechism model is equally stultifying. Talk-show host, Bill O'Reilly, dupes his credulous audience with the catechism technique. For virtually every political issue, O'Reilly has a brief, formalized Q-and-A that demonstrates for all eternity the absolute truth of his political philosophy. For one example, he defends the War on Drugs with an anecdote about San Francisco's marijuana addicts allegedly applying for medicinal drugs and then selling them on the street at great profit. He doesn't tell you that the drug war itself, by criminalizing drug use, is what sustains exorbitant illegal drug prices. About the manifold evils associated with this mindless metaphorical war –– widespread police corruption; diversion of enforcement resources from more serious crimes; the idiotic sentences for drug possession, sometimes exceeding those for rape and other violent crimes; exemption of the most socially destructive drug, alcohol, from the illegal substances, etc. –– O'Reilly has nothing to say.
Applied to the Iraq war, the catechism process featured this question by Hannity: "Is the world better off without Saddam Hussein in power? Answer yes or no." Any attempt to introduce complicating factors into the discussion drew Hannity's interruption, "Just answer the question!" Any criticism of Bush's war policy –– the demented fantasy behind its conception, the gigantic strategic blunders in its execution, the priority of political considerations over military objectives –– were drowned out with the charge that the critic wished Saddam Hussein back in power.
Though less adamant than politically reactionary ideologues, liberal ideologues, too, have their irrational hangups. Nearly half a century ago, in 1965, one of that rare breed of intellectually talented politicians, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D, NY) published a prescient study warning about the problem of black teenage pregnancy, which was increasing at enormous rates. Between 1960 and 2000, the black illegitimacy rate nearly tripled. In the worst-afflicted ghettos, illegitimacy approached 90 percent, and it now averages nearly 70 percent, more than four times its 1950 rate.
Since Moynihan's early data about black families' disintegration, the devastating social, political, and economic consequences of out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy have been voluminously documented. Children born to poor teenage black mothers are disproportionately doomed to lives of criminality. While the white teenage crime rate held constant through the 2000s' decade, the black rate rose some 40 percent, to double the white rate. The prevalence of ghetto poverty assures extraordinarily high unemployment rates among children born to single teenage mothers, especially black mothers, the vast majority of whom are high-school dropouts. Children of high-school dropouts tend also tend to dropout. Parental academic interests and competence are, by far, the prime determinants of children's educational success. Unemployment and criminality are merely the worst aspects of ghetto children's social maladies.
Excerpted from Fatal Fallacies by CW Griffin. Copyright © 2014 CW Griffin. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Ideology Triumphant, 1,
Chapter 2 Newspeak, 21st-Century Style, 20,
Chapter 3 The Reversal-of-Proof Fallacy, 33,
Chapter 4 Sliding Down the Slippery Slope, 44,
Chapter 5 The Single-Entry Bookkeeping Fallacy, 53,
Chapter 6 Herrings (Red) and Straw Men, 64,
Chapter 7 In the Country of the Blind, 74,
Chapter 8 Free-Lunch Patriotism, 97,
Chapter 9 The Supreme Court Plutocrats, 107,
Chapter 10 Supply-side economics: triumphant myth, 125,
Chapter 11 The Plutocratic Populists, 141,
About the Author, 157,