Formal Fallacies in Politics
Here is this week’s formal fallacy in Politics.
“NRA Sponsors NASCAR race.”
Senator Chris Murphy (D – Connecticut) is quoted as stating that the NRA sponsored NASCAR race is “inappropriate in the immediate wake of the Newtown massacre.”
He continued to state that “the race not only brings national attention to an organization that has been the face of one side of this heated debate, it also features the live shooting of guns at the end of the race.”
The Senator urged the broadcasters to “play a constructive role in our national dialogue by refraining from broadcasting the NRA 500. By airing this race you will be strengthening the brand of a radical organization that is currently standing in the way of meaningful progress on this issue.”
- (Kevin Liptak, CNN.com, “Don’t air NRA race, senator asks Rupert Murdoch”, April 11, 2013)
The critical review:
1.> When the Senator called the race “inappropriate in the immediate wake of the Newtown massacre”, he committed a very common logical fallacy. An appeal to emotion (argumentum ad passiones) is a logical fallacy that seeks to exploit the audience’s emotion, rather than utilizing a sound logic to express the premise. Such an argument relies on states of emotion (fear, sadness, shame) as evidence, which are (of course) not actually evidence. They are a state of mind.
This type of Logical Fallacy is also known as a “Red Herring”, which is grouped amongst the “Ignoratio elenchi” (Irrelevant Conclusions).
Does this mean we should ignore the horror of Newtown? Of course not. It simply means that screaming “think of the children” is not a logical argument to convince the audience to stop watching NRA sponsored NASCAR events.
2.> The Senator continued to protest the NRA event by explaining that the race brings national attention to a single side of the debate. He warned that live gun-fire at the end of the race would occur. This type of logical fallacy is grouped amongst the “inductive informal fallacies“, which attempt to incorrectly assign qualities to one premise, by it’s association to another.
In this case, the Senator is trying to convince his audience that NASCAR, Guns and the NRA are bad because people die from gun related crime (like at Newtown). His rationale is:” Since Guns killed people at Newtown, guns are bad. Since guns are bad, the NRA must also be bad.”
Here is another version of the same logic:
“Since food is the catalyst for obesity, food is bad. Since food is bad, Grocery stores must also be bad.”
Stop shopping for food! Quick! Before it’s too late and you become fat.
3.> In the final quote, the Senator stated that the broadcaster should “play a constructive role in our national dialogue by refraining from broadcasting the NRA 500. By airing this race you will be strengthening the brand of a radical organization that is currently standing in the way of meaningful progress on this issue.”
This quote is loaded with logical effluent. In the first sentence, the Senator states that the broadcaster would play a constructive role by not broadcasting the event. This directly asserts that broadcasting the event is destructive. Neither of these conclusion are rational and both can be categorized as the “argumentum ad consequentiam” fallacy (appeal to consequence).
In the second portion of his quote, the Senator insists that a terrible consequence will befall the public if the NASCAR race is aired. This is also an appeal to consequence, but more specifically, this logical fallacy is called the “Slippery Slope” fallacy. This logical error seeks to blame terrible consequence on a catalyst, or that engaging in a certain action will snowball into havoc. Essentially, the Senator is claiming that airing the event will have a terrible after-effect, or that the network is on a slippery slope.
To watch or not to watch, that is the option. Instead of using fear, tragedy and intimidation to silence a TV network, perhaps the Senator should appeal directly to the viewer. Perhaps it would have been more honest to simply explain:” I am ideologically opposed to the NRA. I want to appeal to the American people to educate themselves on both sides of this heated issue. I ask the American people to join me in protest by not viewing or participating in the NASCAR event.”
Nah, that’s not dramatic enough. Let me leave you with one of my favorite emotional appeals:” From my cold, dead hands!“