Perhaps the easiest logical fallacy to identify is the personal attack, a.k.a. “ad hominem” (to the man). Again, having a formal label helps us to remember it is widely recognized as not a good way to support your argument. That makes it easier for us to stay focused when it’s thrown at us.
This one’s so easy you might wonder why we’re bothering with it. Well, all I can say is basics first, LOL! I am following the chapters in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn. I’m adapting their lessons to the context of martial arts blogging and commenting, and I’m not going into nearly as much depth as the book. OK, so here’s this week’s laughably easy lesson…
Daniel: Mr. Miyagi and I came to your dojo in peace to try and solve the problems between you and me. Your Sensei shouldn’t have threatened Mr. Miyagi.
Johnny: You’re a scrawny little pipsqueak.
Clearly, Johnny is having trouble thinking of a good sound reason why his Sensei was justified in threatening Mr. Miyagi. Ad hominem is very much like Red Herring. Both fallacies dodge the real issue. Ad hominem is more personal than Red Herring, but the counter is the same – don’t let it throw you for a loop and don’t let it get under your skin. Choose your fights wisely! Here’s some counters Daniel could throw. Not all of them get the argument back to where it ought to be! It should be easy to spot which ones show that Daniel is staying centered.
Daniel’s Counter #1: Yeah? Well your mother wears army boots!
Daniel’s Counter #2: So I’m scrawny – big deal. But enough about me. Your Sensei didn’t respond appropriately to me and Mr. Miyagi. What’s your opinion on that?
Daniel’s Counter #3: All right then, I’ll see you at the tournament just like our instructors agreed. I was hoping we could settle some things before then, but I guess that’s just not possible.
Daniel’s Counter #4: I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person.
As martial arts bloggers sometimes we want to make a case for or against something. Or from time to time we run into comments from others that set our teeth on edge. I’m starting this series to help us both in our writing and in our dealings with others.
We in the martial arts world have names for our movements. In Karate, we have oi tsuki, mae geri, etc. These movements are known and labeled so we can recognize them when we see them and communicate about them efficiently. We also know how to counter them when they’re thrown at us. Bad arguments have labels too. The fact that logical fallacies have labels means lots of other people recognize that these tactics do not build a case for one’s side of an argument. We can learn to recognize these tactics, defuse them, and hopefully not use them ourselves.
Untrained people invariably throw haymakers because they haven’t been trained in more effective ways of striking. It’s the same way with arguing. Most of the time if people use logical fallacies it’s because they simply don’t know how to construct an argument. Sometimes, though, people will try these tactics in order to get your goat. Don’t let that happen. Choose your fights wisely.
So let’s get started with a simple, very common tactic called:
When a scent dog gets to a certain level of training, he will be asked to find and follow a trail designed to test his focus. A person will walk off into the woods leaving a scent trail behind and the dog will sniff an old T-shirt and be asked to find that person. At some point while sniffing through the woods, the dog will encounter a distraction – the scent of a yummy rotten fish leading away from the scent of the person he’s supposed to find. If you know dogs, you know how exciting that is! The dog must continue to follow the scent of the person he’s supposed to find no matter how wonderful the stinky fish smells. See if you can spot the equivalent in the argument below.
Daniel: Your Sensei doesn’t teach good ethics. He encourages his students to be bullies and he threatened Mr. Miyagi.
Johnny: You don’t train in a proper dojo, so who are you to talk?
The issue here is not Daniel’s current level of training or where he trains. The real issue is the ethics taught at the Cobra Kai School of Karate D’oh! I’d say this Red Herring has a dash of ad hominem sauce (personal attack). Johnny is dodging the issue.
If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.