One of my pet peeves is the way logic is misused in some social media. It happens a lot, as far as I can tell on the subjective evidence of my Facebook feed.
The way it works is like this. Somebody comes up with a postulate about something specific, which they then use to ‘disprove’ a general principle or idea system. The problem, of course, is that one does not necessarily follow the other. The problem is called the ‘fallacy of composition’, in which a single-point assertion is taken to represent the whole, thus invalidating the whole when proven false. For example: ‘Cow hooves are made of wood, therefore all cows are entirely made of wood and anybody who says otherwise is wrong’.
I see quite a bit of it on social media – often political, or medical or dietary, or to do with mysticism, often to do with religion versus atheists; and all of them involving – when it boils down to it – acts of faith in belief systems of various kinds and types.
In a fair number of the social media examples I’ve seen, the issue is rendered even more absurd because the assertion being used to ‘disprove’ somebody else’s belief system is, itself, often simply a conviction that something is true (for example, ‘I believe the Earth is flat irrespective of all evidence to the contrary’). The problem comes when people holding a given conviction then regard this as not just a personal truth (which they are perfectly entitled to do), but an abstract universal reality that everybody else has to either agree with, or be attacked.
All of this seems fairly fundamental to the human condition, and appears in all sorts of ways. And work has been done to show how this likely came about via evolutionary process and a long hunter-gatherer history involving small(ish) groups.
What concerns me about all this today is that it is streets away from reasonable discussion. And that, it seems to me, is one of the causes of so much trouble in the world today.
People don’t discuss; they play zero-sum games in which their world-view is unassailably right, and they have to utterly destroy anything that threatens it. This kind of logic-flaw approach is the way it is often portrayed, though there are others.
And I have to wonder. What’s wrong with reasonable discussion? I recall, years ago, watching a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Runcie, engaging in just such a debate – atheism versus religion. It was civilly conducted and, in point of fact, they seemed to agree on quite a lot. Except, of course, one key point – but they didn’t get abusive and angry about it. Each of them respected the other’s position.
Humanity has a plurality of views, of belief systems, and of position. All of them are founded in the human condition. And reason, tolerance and discussion with respect for each other’s position go a long way. Thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018