We’ve thus far covered quite a few fallacies of logic. Today I’d like to change our direction a bit and start dealing with other word-borne attacks; they affect critical thinking also, and that’s what this series is really about.
And so we’ll start today on attacks that aren’t quite fallacies of logic.
The open lie
It can be hard to tell if somebody is lying as they’re speaking; it usually takes time for the truth to become clear. And so we need tools to help us. The first and most important of them is to remember that there are millions of sociopaths in the world, and that these people tend to lie whenever it might suit their immediate ends, and that they’ll feel no remorse over it.
We’re not really sure how exactly how many sociopaths there are, and even the terms we use are fuzzy. Estimates run in the range of 1-2% of the populace, and some even higher. Furthermore, it seems clear that there are three times more male sociopaths than female sociopaths. And so at two percent of the total populace, 1 in 33 men are sociopathic, and 1 in 100 women.
There is, then, a significant chance that the stranger speaking to you is an unashamed liar. We don’t want to get too suspicious on this – becoming hyper-vigilant is bad for us – but we should hold this basic fact in mind. And here are a few other indications that you may be dealing with a sociopathic person:
- They behave in an overly-friendly way.
- They try to show you what a good person they are, quoting humanitarian things they’ve done, awards received and so on.
- Their emotions are a little bit off. They say the right things and laugh appropriately, but there’s something slightly inauthentic about it.
- You find yourself passing-off the little oddities about them, assuming the best, even though it’s not really evident.
One needn’t be a sociopath to lie, however, so here are a few more indications that a person may be lying:
- Their story doesn’t quite hold together.
- They pass right over any holes in their story and move along too quickly for you to delve into them.
- They try to get you to agree with them as they proceed. (Creating an inertia of agreement that’s hard to pull back from.)
- They tell you that other people agree with them.
- They try to “use the room against you.”
And so, if you have any indication that there’s something amiss about a conversation, do not go along with the argument. Say, “That’s interesting,” rather than “Yes” or “I agree.” Stop and re-state the person’s contention with our go-to line: Wait, I want to understand this. Are you saying that…
As with the other attacks, the open lie usually relies upon emotional pressures to succeed.
“It’s the law”
This should really be called the appeal to idols, even thought it’s a lot like the appeal to authority. What happens in this case is that someone tries to jump to a conclusion rather than examining facts, accomplishing this by invoking the name of something that is held above question.
The root concept of this is idolatry. Most of us grow thinking of idolatry as bowing down to gods made of stone, but that’s just one type of idolatry. (On top of the fact that most of those people didn’t think they were bowing down to mere stone.) Consider this please:
Whatever you hold above reason… above examination… you are treating as a god. You are idolizing it.
This is idolatry, and “the law” (along with “democracy”) is a very popular modern idol.
The truth is that being “the law” doesn’t make anything right or wrong. This can be a complex subject (which I cover in my book, Production Versus Plunder), but in it’s modern use, it means “the edicts of people in power.” This is something that Martin Luther King noted well:
We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did was “illegal.”
And so, “legal” is no standard of “right” or “should.” Centuries ago that was a standard much sought after, but it hasn’t been the case for a long time.
In our time, “legal” should be considered from a standpoint of safety – government agents may punish you for violating their edicts – but it may or may not have any connection to “right” or “good.”
There are certain personality types that gravitate towards becoming petty enforcers. They don’t particularly want to become the big boss, but they want to “enforce standards” beneath the big power. They tend to carry a rigid and legalistic view of the world and to hide their enjoyment of hurting people under concepts like “duty,” “honor” and “the common good.”
People of this type make up the street troops of every inquisition, as well as smaller enforcements. They also tend to be the neighbor who complains about you to the condo board, the department of health and so on. I tend to call these people heretic hunters, though perhaps I’m showing my scars by saying so. Still, I haven’t a better alternative, and so I’ll go with it.
The heretic hunter may come at you directly, pointedly reminding you that you’re violating some rule. And it’s the sharpness of it that will confirm you’re dealing with a heretic hunter. My suggestion for dealing with this goes in stages:
- Go back to our line: Wait, please, I’m not sure I understand. Are you referring to…? Again this will buy you time, which is especially useful in this case, because to properly deal with the prospective heretic hunter requires some thought.
- While the other person or persons reply, restating their position, you’ll be able to clarify that they’re serious about enforcing their standard, and aren’t just a reasonable person who spoke poorly.
- If you think this person is a heretic hunter, consider what kind of trouble they could make for you. There is a big difference between someone who can’t go much further than complain about you at a cocktail party and the person who could turn you in to government agents for punishment.
- If this person could make serious trouble for you, be very clear on the fact that you’re dealing with an armed barbarian. Then just get away. “Thanks for letting me know,” is a useful response.
- If the risks aren’t great and you want to say something for the sake of people standing around, you might say something like, I don’t recognize your right to lord it over me. Then you should also walk away.
- More next time.