Fallacy as the new normal
In a recent Facebook post, Dr. Jemy Gatdula of the University of Asia and the Pacific School of Law and Governance did a taxonomy of the most frequently committed fallacies on social media, in relation especially to political issues. When bishops decried Kian’s murder only recently, there almost immediately followed a flurry of regurgitated issues about clergy abuse of minors. There was also posed what, I can only presume, was meant to be rhetorical question: “Bakit hindi kayo nag-ingay nung may pinatay ag ginahasa ang mga adik?” It is not the fallacies that alarm me, because they can occur even in the discourses of the learned—of course, at a very high, almost indiscernible, degree of subtlety. But the fallacies on Facebook and other social media sites are blatant and arrant. What makes me quake in my shoes though is that they are no longer recognized as fallacies and have in fact been accepted as the “rhetoric” of the age. Fallacy is irrationality and to make it the mode of thinking is pathetic, tragic even. By the way fallacies like those pointed out by Jemy—tu quoque, argumentum ad hominem, ignoratio elenchi—were traditionally called “material fallacies” to distinguish them from the “formal fallacies” that had to do with the form of one’s argument: drawing a conclusion from two negative premises, for example, or maintaining an undistributed middle term. In symbolic logic, formal fallacies consist in violating the rules of validity and the rules of substitution, and bungling the norms of quantities. Material fallacies by contrast have to do with what you say, with what you argue. When a bishop cries out “This is murder” and you answer “Direct your priests first who molest children”, the fallacy should be clear. The question is whether the deed is murder or not. The molestation issue is quite another — which is not to say that it is not a legitimate issue.
I am more interested in the antidote to the creeping illogicality that is ensconcing “irrationality” as the new “normal”. One immediate response that comes to my mind is to consign the unreasonable to impertinence. Huwag patulan. When a dolt advances a patent illogicality as some kind of argument, it behooves the rational to ignore it and to deny it the dignity of genuine discourse. The most one can and should do is to say why one is not going any farther with the exchange: Iniiba mo ang usapan. Period. The apostolate of irrationality flourishes only to the extent that its apostles have an audience — but when it becomes clear to them that no one really indulges in their brand of intellectual decadence, then they are silenced into irrelevance.
But I have to turn once more to education. It starts with the textbooks that grade school children use, even under the supposedly improved K to 12 program. I have read some of the materials, and many pages are peppered with fallacies that then enter into the fabric of thought of children. One good example comes from the supposed “analysis” that follows a story. When one reads what the textbooks suggest to be the “point” to the story—ano ang pangaral—one is met with a barrage of non sequiturs. And if teachers unctuously drill into the students these supposed “lessons” that do not follow, except by fallacy, from the story told, then our grade school pupils become oriented very early in their formative years to the errant ways of sophistry!
One other important dimension of coping with this debilitating plague of illogicality is being serious about science education, and having genuine scientists (not only “majors in science education”) teaching our students. The scientific method is the model of systematic thinking, which is not to say that the only important issues in life are scientific. But we sorely need the regimentation of scientific thinking to keep otherwise wayward minds on the track of right thinking. And it is a pity that science receives miserable treatment at the hands of ill-prepared teachers. Students mindlessly perform experiments, and then arrive at “conclusions” that they did not really draw but that are suggested either by the mediocre textbook or the equally mediocre teacher. When they say “it follows that”, it is seldom the case that they really see how it follows, if it really follows at all.
Then there is the role of media. While we do not expect entertainers, comedians and clowns to talk to each other in syllogisms, flooding entertainment space with stupidity beyond redemption cannot but have ill effects on a nation that is glued to television, and that laughs boisterously at the fallacious quips and skewed reasoning of clowns masquerading as artists. Art is an exercise in thoughtfulness. The appreciation of a Monet or a Picasso or a Caravaggio painting calls for more than whimsical cogitation. And the thoughtfulness with which one follows a Mozart sonata or the movements of a concerto is incompatible with the muddleheadedness that has apparently infected a considerable part of the nation.
Illogicality is a disease, a dreadful disease. It is not only a matter of neatness in argumentation. It has to do with the conclusions we draw about how we ought to live our lives and the answers we give to the perennial questions that, because they are asked, continue to assure us that we are human!