Monday, February 19, 2007

Critical thinking skills--a distant memory

I just retired from a message board discussion in which either/or ruled, so therefore, it was impossible to make a factual, rational point, including the point at issue in the discussion. Rhetorical fallacies are no longer anything to be pointed out--they are the discourse. One is shocked when there are few of them in the course of a discussion.

Which brings me to the fake "free speech" argument. In a recent MoJo post, I pointed out something very offensive that was broadcast on television by a company, and, of course, someone immediately attacked me for wanting to "shut down" free speech. As a sane commenter pointed out, at no time did I say or imply that I believed the company did not have the right to say what they wanted--just that the content was offensive.

I see this fallacious argument a lot these days: Object to something someone says, and you are immediately accused of wanting to take away the person's right to say it. I remember, a few years ago, explaining to a woman that one of the many reasons I didn't shop at WalMart was that the store discriminated against women in its pharmacy. "But don't they have a right to sell what they want to sell?" she asked. "When," I asked her, "did I say they didn't?" She just looked at me with a blank look. "This discussion," I went on, "was not about WalMart's rights in the market; it was about gender discrimination." Another blank look.

False dichotomy (fallacy of the excluded middle), post hoc ergo propter hoc, either/or thinking, hasty generalization....these now rule the day. Doesn't anyone learn anything in school anymore?


I think part of the blame can be laid at the feet of our political process. We are so deeply entrenched in the two-party system that every issue picked up by the media (notice I didn't say 'press', although they are probably almost as bad) tends to be rationalized as black or white, right or wrong, and any discussion that doesn't support one or the other is dismissed as being either anecdotal or unimportant.

By Blogger Bubba, at 10:25 PM  

I think you're right that the news media (which I mean to include print and electronic) encourages the use of logical fallacies. Political speeches are filled with them, too. But why aren't students being taught the logical fallacies so they can recognize them when they're splashed all over the air and in print? What the hell is the matter with the schools?

By Blogger Diane, at 2:23 PM  

>What the hell is the matter with the schools?

I'll take "No child left behind" for $300, and throw in a "Kansas-style science (or otherwise) curriculum" for $400.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:25 PM  

Whoa. Deja vu.

By Blogger Pacian, at 5:49 AM  

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Variously attributed to Voltaire or people paraphrasing Voltaire.

As you said, disapproval does not mean prohibition.

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