Monday, November 24, 2014

Logical Fallacies in American Society: Part 1 of a Potentially Infinite Series

Logical fallacies are as common in American society as Starbucks stores. You can find them on almost every corner, from obvious examples that shout from the rooftops like appeals to tradition, to more subtle fallacies such as the American tendency to make hasty generalizations. However, there is one fallacy that has not only been around since the War for Independence, but has also been used arguably more than any other. 

Ad populum is an appeal to an individuals sense of self, in this case, the individuals sense of being American. It can manifest itself in many ways, from senseless "flag-waving" to more persuasive encouragement to join the crowd. These kinds of argument have stood the test of time, despite that many writers throughout American history, including Tim O'Brien, have shown why mindless patriotism is not an advisable course. Ad populum based arguments were used to drive out Loyalists, or "Tories" from the U.S. during and after the War for Independence. This mentality of be American or get out was used to imprison Japanese Americans during World War II (this was also the work of hasty generalizations, in this case also known as blatant racism). Even a few months ago in his speech to build popular support to make war on ISIS, President Obama used some of what could be defined as ad populum argumentation. 

This patriotic chatter has always been convincing to Americans, and always will be, unless our society undergoes some sort of drastic change. For many people, their country is their first loyalty, and believing in patriotic ideals makes them feel like they're part of something bigger. Unfortunately, this harmless feeling of belonging can easily be turned into a powerful mob mentality by someone who can use ad populum cleverly, and that has been a relatively common occurrence throughout American history. 

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