COMMENT: The capacity of human achievement relies on the quality of human discourse.
Conversation matters. It is with this in mind that I suggest the parameters of our public discourse need redrawing as our current vocabulary is serving us poorly in our need to positively advance issues for the betterment of our communities.
The current state of our discussion is poor. Whether the issue is free speech versus hate speech (particularly on the issue of bi and multiculturalism), rural versus urban (involving ecological issues in particular), gender struggles, age based contentions or ideological differences of every type and colour, our discussion seems only to pit one group of our society against another.
Our discussion in these areas leave minority ethnicities' vulnerable, isolate rural folk , pit men against women (and vice versa), and breed resentment in the young against the old (and contempt in the young by the old). New Zealand is better than this. We have a window of opportunity for us to get our conversation right before we fall headfirst into the same problems experienced in other parts of the world.
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I started this piece with a promise of resetting the parameters of our discussion. Here is my contribution to a list of must-have baselines for discussion. Conveniently, they are not mine, they have been around for a few millennia.
The Ten Commandments of Logic
1. Ad hominem argument – Thou shall not attack the person's character, but the argument itself. This is the most popular tactic we see in the media and, in particular, politics, eg 'I do not need to engage rationally with you because you are a [ … enter your extremism of choice…]'.
2. Straw Man Fallacy – Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person's argument in order to make them easier to attack. We are all prone to this, the temptation of over exaggerate is sometimes very strong, eg 'If we let White Supremacy reign …..!', 'um, excuse me, all I said was that immigration levels over the past two years were of concern'.
3. Hasty Generalization, or Over-Generalisation – Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole. This covers pretty much anything climate change deniers say, oh, and Flat Earth people. Apologies to you climate change deniers and flat earth people, although you are, of course, categorically wrong.
4. Begging the Question – Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming one of its premises is true. Many times we do not clearly identify our premises (the building blocks of our argument). The problem here is the assumption of truth.
5. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc – Thou shall not claim that because two things occurred before, one is the cause of the other. This is a classic error in causal connection, and is often the bread and butter of conspiracy theories.
6. Non Sequitur – Thou shall not assume that "this" follows "that", when "it" has no logical connection. This is a classic error in logical connection, eg 'homosexuality and natural disasters are related'.
7. False Dichotomy – Thou shall not reduce the argument down to only two possibilities when there is a clear middle ground. We love the categorical – unfortunately, little in life is categorical.
8. Reversal of the Burden of Proof – Thou shall not lay the burn of proof onto him that is questioning the claim. For example, 'I see dead people – prove that I don't'.
9. Ad Ignorantiam – Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorance, the claim must be true or false.
10. Ad Populum – or the Bandwagon Fallacy – Thou shall not claim that because a premise is popular, therefore, it must be true. Yes, facts do exist and they are discoverable. Not everything is so indiscernible that there is no reality - as seems to be the predominating 'populous' argument these days.
On occasion, other fallacies are substituted. These include:
Argument from outrage – screaming the loudest does not make your argument correct.
Scare tactics - often associated with fallacies 2 and 3 above.
Group think or adherence to a cause against proof to the contrary – 'I'm a Republican and therefore what the party says on this issue must be right.'
Red Herring – 'if I talk a lot you will forget the question you asked me and take my answer as somehow relevant … which is it not'. If I am completely honest, I am a master at this one.
Wishful Thinking – the truth hurts, but we must always acknowledge it.
These fallacies are easily understood. They are common sense. Admittedly, it is harsh and embarrassing to be called out for breaching these – but hey, we've all done it, and will likely do it again. Let us see if we can address our collective issues in a positive way – we might just start listening to each other as a result and come up with novel solutions that the rest of the world has not.
• Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor at Massey University