Here’s to the idea that “We won’t get fooled again”

For my Writing I students and others interested in how persuasion should work in academic writing, this week brings a fresh look at the logical fallacy by Information is Beautiful (found through veteran rhetorician Machina Memorialis). What they are calling “rhetological fallacies” are sorted with each category having its own color, all the easier to remember it by. The screen shot is of part of the Manipulating Content category, which includes an iconic graphic of boulders bouncing down a slippery slope (N.B.: Slippery Slope is a traditional name for a common type of fallacy). If all this is not enough fun for you, then use the link found in the original post to download a handy PDF of the entire chart so that you can play bingo during high-fallacy events like political debates.

On a more serious note, it is embarrassing how common these fallacies are in political debate, so much so that fallacies could be viewed by the uninitiated as expected strategy rather than sloppy thinking. For the most part, I think Writing I students utilizing these fallacies are simply mimicking the argumentation they know from public debate and not realizing that the disconnect they feel between the method used and what needs to be said has everything to do with deplorable ethical grounding in public debate. Thus, students have to learn argumentation from scratch because the majority of what they have experienced in public debate is manipulation, not argumentation. The manipulation rate in public debate long ago got too high for comfort, and manipulation is now the expected mode rather than seen as morally deficient and the last resort of scoundrels. I don’t think that people can’t can’t tell the difference, I just think that the ethical view that manipulation is wrong has been replaced by a sad view that using these techniques is “smart” because the other guy will anyway. (See “mudslinging”). The only thing I can think to do about this is to make sure students know these fallacies so that, in the immortal words of the Who, “We won’t get fooled again.”

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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