Max Borders writes: By now you have probably heard of Bryan Caplan’s “rational irrationality.” The idea is that if the cost of holding irrational beliefs is low enough, there may be more irrationality demanded. Indeed, if holding an irrational view makes someone feel better about himself or keep membership in some in-group—but holding the view doesn’t directly harm the holder—she may very well stick with that view.
Caplan contrasts this with the idea of “rational ignorance,” which is more familiar to our readers. That simply means the cost of acquiring enough information to have a truly informed opinion about some issue is generally high, so people remain ignorant.
Both of these behaviors certainly play a role in the preponderance of dumb policies and dumb views. But are there corollaries in debate tactics?
Most libertarians find they’re arguing in social media these days. So they’re not only finding new people on whom to test their ideas, they’re finding new fallacies in response. And sometimes these fallacies work, despite being fallacious, which is probably why they’re so commonplace. This is especially true on social media, where one can quickly learn that the real point of these exchanges is to play to the audience, to provide them with an excuse to withdraw into whatever biases they already hold. Still, maybe it’s possible to raise the costs of employing these fallacies—at least a little.
We’ve decided to offer you a fun list of them, which you can use as a handy guide in the process of engaging in well-mannered, reasoned discourse online.
- Argument ad KochBrotherium: This fallacy is a cousin to the genetic fallacyand guilt by association. The twist, of course, is that anything that the Koch Brothers ever say, said, fund, funded, might fund, came close to funding, could have funded, will fund, walked by, looked at, support, think about, or mention is invalid by virtue of, well, “Koch Brothers! Boo!”
- The Unicorn: You’ll recognize this fallacy from the question, “Why does no libertarian country exist anywhere in the world?” Embedded in the question is the assumption that libertarian countries don’t exist because they are fantastic creatures, like unicorns. Of course, just because something doesn’t exist yet does not mean it can’t exist. Indeed, the Internet in 1990 and the American Republic in 1775 beg to differ. And the unicorn fallacy fundamentally confuses the libertarian worldview with some “L”ibertarian platform that might be the product of some electoral processes—processes most libertarians reject. Michael Lind and E. J. Dionne have brandished this fallacy rather shamelessly, and have had it parried rather effectively by better minds.
- Nut-Picking: This fallacy has nothing to do with Jimmy Carter. In this style of argument, the arguer finds the kookiest or most insane person who self-identifies as libertarian and then ascribes all of that person’s beliefs or claims to all libertarians. (This one could also be called the Alex Jones fallacy.) This is a tough one to counter simply because there are plenty of nuts to pick from, and plenty of them use the l-word.
- Must Be Scared/Have No Answer: This one’s pretty simple really, and a unique creature of “debate” via social media. The libertarian leaves his computer or signs off for a while and the opponent accuses the libertarian of not being able to answer his or her FB claims, which the libertarian simply never saw or had no time to answer.
- The Tin Man: This fallacy was identified and named by Cole James Gentles (here) who inspired this article. With the tin man the arguer either concludes or falsely assumes that the libertarian “has no heart” because she argues against some favored policy. This cousin of the straw man (scarecrow) fallacyassumes a direct line between sympathies and outcomes. Any failure to support some means amounts to a failure to support the wished-for end.
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