Occupy Wall Street protests. 2011
Occupy Wall Street protests (2011)

In this day and age, we are facing a very worrying wave of anti-intellectualism. This anti-intellectualism has manifested itself in various ways and is common to various movements from the Far Left. Be it student organisations like RhodesMustFall or worldwide cultural Marxist phenomena like Third Wave Feminism, the value of logic has faced a shocking decline.

Now more than ever, we need to be showing these people to be false by using the one intellectual weapon we still have: logic. Here, I outline a few logical fallacies. These fallacies are examples of faulty reasoning which are all-too-commonly accepted nowadays. My hope is that you might be able to familiarise yourself with a few and call them out when you see them.

In light of current events, I will outline some important examples to illustrate how each fallacy is used.

The Straw Man Argument

A Straw Man argument is when a person misrepresents another’s argument or point of view in order to make it easier to attack. The name comes from how a person ‘builds up a straw man’ of your argument and then demolishes it with ease.

Example: ‘Rand Paul was the only Republican candidate who wanted to cut military spending because he hates the USA and wants it get destroyed by terrorists!’ said the angry Marco Rubio supporter.

You might hear: ‘You’re a capitalist and capitalism is oppressive to the poor when the government spends millions subsidising businesses to drive out any kind of competition,’ said the EFF supporter to the libertarian.

Circular Reasoning

This is when an argument is presented in which the premise is only true because you have already accepted the conclusion. The argument is therefore self-contained and thus false.

Example: ‘I know that my lecturer was telling us the truth because he told us that he was telling the truth,’ said the delusional student.

You might hear: ‘If you aren’t a feminist, then you must be sexist because feminism is about equality between the genders,’ said the woman at the slut walk.

Special Pleading aka Moving the Goal Posts

Special Pleading occurs when you change some defining factor of an argument when your argument is shown to be false or wrong in some way. By doing this, you fallaciously create an exception to the logic by which everyone else has to argue. You are moving the metaphorical ‘goal posts’ in which each debater must score.

Example: A psychic was put under scientific conditions to test if he really could read someone’s mind. When he failed to do so, he said that it was because the person didn’t believe in him and so his powers didn’t work.

You might hear: Left Wing organisations often write and say very racist things to white people (like the student at Wits with the ‘fuck white people’ t-shirt) but claim that they are not being racist because they have re-defined racism to conveniently fit their political narrative.

No True Scotsman

This fallacy appeals to some kind of qualification for purity. This is a kind of post-rationalism and another way of creating different yet fallacious standards for your argument.

Example: Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge.

You might hear: Phumlani UMajozi recently wrote an article in which he criticised the racialism among Left Wing student activist groups. A Bikoist wrote a response to this and claimed that because Phumlani was not ‘Black’ but rather ‘non-white’ because Steve Biko claimed that ‘true’ black people have a certain state of mind and side with those that are oppressed.

The Texas Sharpshooter

The Texas Sharpshooter occurs when someone tries to show their argument to be true based on certain data point(s) chosen selectively while ignoring various other factors which would falsify their argument.

Example: Cowboy Bob shot his gun at the side of the barn a few times. He then painted a target around one of his bullet holes and proclaimed himself to be a pro sharpshooter.

You might hear: Many people insist that a wage gap exists between men and women because when you put all their combined earnings together, women end up with 72 cents (or various other figures) to every dollar that a man earns. This ignores factors like the fact that men work more dangerous jobs, take less leave, are often the breadwinners of their households and that if an actual wage gap existed, it would be illegal.

Ad Hominem

An ad hominem attack is a fallacy in which you attack a person themselves rather than the arguments they present. This is fallacious because a sound argument remains sound regardless of any personal traits of the arguer.

Example: When Jim presented his sophisticated argument for a flat tax, James then asked the audience if they would listen to someone who had been arrested twice and smelled a bit funny.

Real Life Example: When the F.W. de Klerk Foundation submitted a list of racist remarks found on social media directed against white people, this was easily dismissed by some people simply because of de Klerk’s involvement in apartheid.

The Genetic Fallacy

This is when someone attempts to show an argument to be false by showing how the arguer originally came to believe in that argument. The fallacy here is that it doesn’t effect the argument itself and so it can remain sound.

Example: John asked Jane why she believes that the earth orbits around the sun. Jane said that she read it inside of a fortune cookie. John then concluded that because she had such a ridiculous reason for believing it, it must not be true.

Real Life Example: Many a time when people have criticised the #FessMustFall movement, they were accused of only opposing it because were white and/or capitalist and/or hated the poor despite them having good reasons to think that a fee increase would actually benefit the poor.

Appeal to Authority

When an arguer tries to validate their argument by simply saying that they know someone/something in a position of authority that agrees with them, a logical fallacy is committed. The logic here is invalid because, despite the fact that the authority could be convincing, it does not follow that just because someone else agrees, the argument is necessarily true.

Example: An argument broke out between a libertarian free market capitalist and a socialist Bernie Sanders supporter. The socialist concluded that socialism was the best system because the economist Robert Reich agrees with him.

You might hear: The Constitution of South Africa guarantees citizens the right to many things and this has led many people to believe that they are actually morally entitled to things like free education just because the Constitution says so.

These are just a few of a vast array of logical fallacies. Hopefully, next time you hear one being used, you will be able to point it out for the fallacious nonsense that it is.

Nicholas is a Senior Staff Writer at the Rational Standard. He is a Local Coordinator for Students For Liberty as well as an organiser of SAFREECON 2017. He takes great interest in the philosophy underlying classical liberal values as well as the Austrian school of economics. He is currently a student at Rhodes University studying towards a BA in Chinese and German.