Protests Against Logical Fallacies

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By any measure, the Women’s March that occurred on Jan. 21 was a resounding success, with an estimated participation in Washington of some 470,000 and an estimated participation worldwide of about 4 million in more than 100 countries. Accordingly, it has come under attack from Trump supporters –even though the event was not specifically geared as an anti-Trump protest — who have summoned a smorgasbord of logical fallacies as justification for their criticism.

Many Internet memes making the rounds suggested that the marchers were just spoiled whiners and sore losers; one compared the circumstances of American women to the plight of women elsewhere in the world, including:

Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive, no rights and must always be covered.
China and India, infantcide (sic) of baby girls.

Afghanistan, unequal education rights.
Democratic Republic of Congo, where rapes are brutal and women are left to die, or HIV infected and left to care for children alone.

Mali, where women can not escape the torture of genital mutilation.

Pakistan, in tribal areas where women are gang raped to pay for men’s crime.

This is an example of the fallacy of relative privation , more colloquially known as the “not as bad as” fallacy. Its premise is that you have no right to complain if other people have it worse than you. By this reasoning, you have no right to seek medical attention for a broken arm because other people are dying of cancer. And ultimately, you have no right to seek redress for anything, because there’s always theoretically someone who has it worse.

There was also the corollary of this premise, which we might call the fallacy of relative merit or the “not as good as” fallacy. For example there was this photo:

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With the caption: THESE ARE THE WOMEN REALLY MARCHING FOR YOUR RIGHTS.

The implication is that because the march on Washington didn’t require the kind of courage and risk that attends putting on a uniform and putting your life on the line, it’s not a valid campaign for human rights. Again, we could say that essentially nothing is as worthy an action as something else, and thus nothing ever should be done. Fortunately, when this meme made the rounds on Facebook, at least one person responded in this fashion:

EXCUSE Me!!! I am a Veteran…I wore the uniform for 24 years. The only reason I was able to serve is because at some point in history…someone MARCHED to allow me to serve as a BLACK and as WOMAN!!! I take nothing away from those serving today… So there is NOTHING wrong with marching.

The relative privation narrative above even mentions protesters showing up with a “5 dollar Starbucks” in hand, suggesting that if anyone can afford such indulgences, then they have no cause for complaint. That’s a huge non-sequitur, of course. But even if it were perfectly true, it’s based on the false assumption that each of the marchers is there representing only herself/ himself. Which is hardly the case at all; the march was on behalf of all disadvantaged people all over the world.

Another web virus was a video clip of a man purported to be a veteran (which evidently is supposed to make him an authority on these matters) that actually appears to be a commentary on other protests, but it’s been applied to the Women’s March as well. Upbraiding the “crybabies”, (who, in typical cart-before-the-horse fashion he proclaims are “the exact reason Donald Trump won the election”), he throws in several straw men that have no relevance to the actual grounds for complaint, including “You’re causing all this destruction just because your candidate lost” ; “You don’t always get your way”; “Ain’t nothing free”; and “But you want everything”.

His reference to protesters causing destruction could be considered an instance of the fallacy of composition –.a scant handful of protesters (actually masked interlopers who were not a part of the protest proper) had been destructive, so he’s applying that property to all of them. It’s unclear whether he is presenting himself as a phenomenally gifted psychic or a sociologist who’s actually studied the demographics of the crowd, but in either case he’s horribly inept:

None of you put on a uniform, but you’re quick to disrespect the flag, to not wanna say the Pledge Of Allegiance, not wanna recognize the Bible.

In fact, a great many of these protesters have put on uniforms of various kinds, including (as he evidently was referring to) military uniforms. Veterans are often involved in protests, because they often feel (perhaps justifiably) that they’ve been given the short end of the stick. But what difference does it make how many veterans were there? Does this social critic mean to suggest that nobody has a right to exercise constitutional rights who has not personally defended them in warfare? That has never, ever, been a condition for the rights and privileges of citizenship in the U.S.

Whom did he see “disrespect the flag”? What the hell does the Pledge Of Allegiance have to do with anything, and how would he know how many people in the crowd say it and how many don’t? And the Bible??? Who doesn’t “recognize the Bible” when they see it, and how is it in any way relevant to what is going on here? And how does he presume to know the religious convictions and practices of half a million people? It would be hard to cook up a bigger pot of red herrings.

One valid point he makes is that the demonstrations make people late for work. Or is it so valid? One sermon that the critics keep preaching to demonstrators is “you’re responsible for your own circumstances so quit your bitching.” Which is not only irrelevant, but not quite true — it’s hard to blame people who voted for Hillary Clinton as creators of the Trump presidency. But pretend that we all are one hundred percent responsible for our own circumstances. That means that people who are late for work can’t blame it on activity in the street — particularly when they have the capability of finding out about those activities in advance and planning accordingly.

In fact, sometimes we are tardy for our appointed rounds due to circumstances beyond our control. But that applies to a great many types of events, including not only protests but inaugurations. If we used inconvenience to the general populace as a criterion for prohibiting events, we’d never have any large-scale outdoor functions of any kind.

It’s also common for people to respond to the Resistance by saying, “hey, Trump was elected so let’s give him a chance. Every 4 years, people complain about the outcome of the presidential election. Why can’t we all just forget our differences and work together?”

This would have been an excellent speech 4 years ago or 8 years ago, when people were indeed raising a ruckus just because they had an irrational hatred of the guy who won. But it’s the most glaring of false equivalences to try to make a similar case now. The resistance to Trump is not just because the protesters’ candidate lost; it’s because Trump has made it very clear, with virtually everything he says and does, that he is grotesquely unfit for office, and a very real danger to the country and the whole world. It isn’t just a matter of ideological differences; and suggesting such is an effort to “normalize” someone who is anything but normal and healthy. “Working together” with him is “working together” with someone who is doing everything he can to prevent us from all working together.

If you pay careful attention to these attacks on anti-Trump protesters, you’re likely to find more species of faulty logic than you can shake an alternative fact at.

3 thoughts on “Protests Against Logical Fallacies

  1. In his novel “Starship Troopers”, Robert Heinlein in fact creates a society predicated on the belief that only those people willing to defend that society are entitled to any rights as a citizen of that society.

  2. http://www.snopes.com/sinclair-lewis-on-fascism/

    I just went to this page on the Snopes website, to determine if Sinclair Lewis was the person who said, “If Fascism comes to America it will be carrying a cross and wrapped in flag.”

    Although this sounds like something Lewis could have said, Scopes affirmed that they have never been able to determine who said it. However, there are plenty of similar statements made during history that closely approximate the sentiment and warning behind that statement. Here are a few of them as listed on the above Snopes link;

    “This quote sounds like something Sinclair Lewis might have said or written, but we’ve never been able to find this exact quote. Here are passages from two novels Lewis wrote that are similar to the quote attributed to him.”

    From It Can’t Happen Here: “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

    From Gideon Planish: “I just wish people wouldn’t quote Lincoln or the Bible, or hang out the flag or the cross, to cover up something that belongs more to the bank-book and the three golden balls.”

    There was also a play called Strangers, in the late 1970s which had a similar quote, but no one, including one of Lewis’s biographers, Richard Lingeman, has ever been able to locate the original citation”.

    What’s most important is not who said it, or who said anything similar to it—it’s a great quote for any time or place in history and I am reminded of it by your recounting of a comment made by someone who is purported to have be a veteran and probably hates protests while believing that he must be one of the only “real patriots” left.There are many times in human history when we have needed to wake up and be aware of the mad-hatter political battles going on around us–especially when they create such a one-dimensional conception of what constitutes patriotism, and about whose country this really is?—obviously its not just yours or mine, or just for Latinos, Muslims, Christians, Irishmen, or those who insult the families of fallen military heroes, and mock disabled reporters!

    Didn’t we all attend Elementary, Middle School, and High school, where were taught that we live in a country which belongs to everyone, tolerates all religions and does not demand that chauvinistic “patriots” run the lives of everyone else? Don’t we realize the true value of having a free press or the value of separating Church and State—apparently not—instead we permit ourselves to be run by a wealthy class of plutocrats, and those who think freedom of expression means they have the right to tell others what to believe in, and do—the same people who promote the need for a theocratic state, which places “believers at the top of the political food chain and tells atheists that they are “un- american.”

    How long will it take us to finally acknowledge what we were all taught about freedom and Democracy?, Shouldn’t we all have the intelligence to realize that carrying a cross which is wrapped in the flag (metaphorically or otherwise) typifies the road to Fascism and destruction?

    Yes, the followers of Trump often do act like petulant children just like he does. And although we all need to have sufficient access to food, shelter, clothing, and to obtain adequate health care, what Trump really selling now, is one politically bombastic lie after another!

    You’re absolutely right POP, none of us is whining merely because our side lost, or are just crying over sour grapes because our candidate’s didn’t win. During my life, I and many other American’s have voted for a great many people who lost elections, but never have I seen a President who, as you put it, is so “grotesquely unfit for office.”

    After misleading the public and scapegoating the free press for providing the kind of negative coverage that, only he is really responsible for creating, Trump just insists on tellings us more and more lies. To me, he seems entirely clueless about what American laws and American values are really about. And whether Sinclair Lewis said so or not, the truth is that Draconian fascist governments always seek to discredit the press, and to benefit from the anxieties of those whom they perceive as being malleable enough to buy their outrageous lies—as well those whom they think are unhappy because they feel they have, on multiple occasions, been screwed by the government.

    While our administration’s yahoos think have the right to select millionaire and billionaires for the President’s cabinet, like the CEO’s of a big oil company who is now our Secretary of State, they are also happy to choose a head for the EPA who will not accept the dangers of global warming, an Education secretary who promote charter and Private education above all else—while knowing anything about the current public school system?

    It’s very hard to give any President a chance when he consistently denies making proven political mistakes and in general, knows nothing at all about running a Democracy which is wisely composed of checks and balances! He may be good in the boardroom but not as the person in the oval office!

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