by Furry Girl

11.28.11

If there's one thing the Occupy movement has taught us, it's that lots of people have a very poor grasp of logic.  For example, the most common rebuttal to my disagreement with Occupy is something like, "Oh, so you love fascist police states?" or "Why do you hate the poor?"  This one is called false dichotomy - creating two fake "sides" and painting your opponent as having only two choices.  (Another example: people who claim you're either a feminist or a misogynist, and that there is no other option.)

To help my readers better understand common fallacies of logic so they can be better debaters and thinkers, I figured I should illustrate them using arguments we commonly field as sex workers.  Hat tip to The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and Michael C. Labossiere at Nizkor.

Argument from ignorance: claiming that something must be true because it can't be proved to be false.

"There are no good studies on how many child sex slaves are being tortured by pimps and traffickers in our city, so we can only assume it must be in the tens of thousands."

Appeal to belief/popularity: arguing that if a belief is common, it must be true.

"Everyone knows that the watching porn turns men into rapists and abusers."

Related: Appeal to common practice.

"Okay, maybe our numbers aren't perfect on how many men rape their wives after seeing pornography, but sociology isn't a perfect science."

Argument from personal incredulity: if someone can't understand an issue, it is impossible for anyone to understand it.

"I would find it extremely degrading and oppressive to show a stranger my body for money, therefor you couldn't possibly not feel degraded and oppressed by your work."

Begging the question: asking a fake question that can only result in answers that make your opponent look bad.

"Have you always believed that raping people for money is acceptable?"

Argument from authority: a supposed authority believes something, so it must be true.

"Many professional feminists with PhDs believe that all sex work is sexual slavery, so that must be the correct position."

Purposefully confusing correlation and causation: two factors occurring at the same time does not mean that one factor is the cause of the other.

"Ted Bundy admitted that he loved pornography, therefor, pornography caused him to murder people."

Guilt by association: discounting a position because it is has something in common with beliefs held by "bad" people.

"Sexual predators and pimps wish there were fewer laws regulating the sex industry, why are you on their side?"

Red herring: introduction of an irrelevant issue to distract from topic at hand.

"Sure, you say you're in favor of adults having the right to perform in porn if they choose, but what about the helpless children who are raped in abused in the production of child pornography?"

False continuum: claimed inability to see any difference between two concepts, such as consent and non-consent.

"When money is involved, there's no such thing as true consent, so no one is actually consenting to sex work and it's all rape."

Over generalization: declaring a position based on very little or select information.

"The only prostitutes I've ever noticed in my city are the drug addicts turning tricks on skid row, so all sex workers must be transient drug addicts."

Appeal to consequences of a belief: something must be true because a person doesn't like what it would mean if it weren't.

"Decriminalizing prostitution must be bad for society, because I would hate to live in a world where sexuality is accepted as a commodity."

False dichotomy: reducing a complex issue to only two black-and-white positions.

"You say you're against shutting down Backpage.com.  How can you think it's acceptable for pimps to be trafficking in child sex slaves?"

No true Scotsman: dismissing evidence you don't like as not real.

"Sex workers are oppressed and beaten by their pimps on the street, so you must not be a real sex worker.  You are not representative."

Appeal to emotion: making an argument based on feelings.

"Would you want your own little girl being sold by a pimp on the internet?  Unless we stop the traffickers, your family could be next!"

Non-sequitur: an argument that doesn't make sense at all.

"This strip club must be shut down because here is a school several blocks away."

Misleading vividness: appealing to an especially dramatic example.

"A 13-year-old girl was rescued by police after she was kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to sexually service hundreds of men to earn money for her captor, who regularly raped and beat her.  Therefor, any scenario that involves selling sex is inherently exploitative."

Slippery slope: claiming if you accept idea A, you must also accept idea B.

"If we decriminalize sex work and accept the practice as normal, then we'll have to do so with other forms of sexual deviance, like pedophilia and bestiality."

Straw man: rebutting an imaginary position that is easier to debate than the real issue.

"These pro-trafficking activists think that sexual slavery is a choice, but we believe in human rights and human dignity."

Middle ground: the belief that the truth must be somewhere in the middle.

"Some people say that watching adult pornography causes men to rape children, and some people say that's not true at all, so the truth is obviously that watching porn only causes men to rape children half of the time."

Tautology: restating your premise as its own evidence.

"Sex work is degrading and wrong because getting paid to have sex is immoral."

Ad hominem: attack the person, not their argument.

"And what would you know about anything?  You're just some stupid whore."

The moving goalpost: continuing to change the way you qualify proof or correctness as an opponent chips away at your argument.

"Okay, so there may not be 300,000 child sex slaves in America like we've been claiming in all of our fundraising materials, but even if there are only 3, it's still a massive problem that warrants just as many donations and grants."

[Update: If you're a fallacy nerd, check out this lovely infographic on Information is Beautiful.]





19 Comments

  1. Great fucking post.

    Comment by serpent — November 28, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

  2. I had a logic exam today that I chose to skip, however it suddenly became interesting.

    Comment by cerberus — November 29, 2011 @ 2:18 am

  3. Great article, I always love it when fallacies in politics are unmasked :)

    However I disagree with this particular bit:

    "I am against decriminalizing prostitution because I would hate to live in a world where sexuality is accepted as a commodity."

    I don't think that's a logic problem at all. In fact, most of the time we choose our moral stances based on how much we like or dislike the consequences of something. So the above phrase can't really be criticized (we all have a right to choose our morals).

    On the other hand, the following sentence would be completely wrong and misleading:

    "Decriminalizing prostitution must be bad for society, because I would hate to live in a world where sexuality is accepted as a commodity."

    As dumb as it sounds, it's the same kind of reasoning used by many of the anti-abortion or anti drugs legalization types.

    Comment by Mario — November 29, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  4. Something to add: with begging the question, there is an assumption that the conclusion of the premise is true without evidence, and is related to circular logic. I think your tautology example is an illustration of begging the question.

    Do you know the name of the kind of fallacy where, for example, a politician is accused of something for which there is no evidence that he did it? The response to the lack of evidence is, "Well, it's the SORT of thing he'd do."

    Comment by Green Fairy — November 29, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  5. Oh, Furrygirl, you just made my word-nerd morning! I loves naming all the logical fallacies.

    Comment by Timory — November 29, 2011 @ 9:52 am

  6. Re. 'Appeal to emotion' - perhaps also known as 'Think of the children!' or the 'Lady Chatterley' argument (as in 'would you want your wife and servants to read this book?') where the emotional appeal is to the 'protection' of vulnerable groups (women and servants apparently being too fragile to read DH Lawrence, let alone make independent decisions re. sex work)

    Comment by redpesto — November 29, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  7. "Do you know the name of the kind of fallacy where, for example, a politician is accused of something for which there is no evidence that he did it? The response to the lack of evidence is, "Well, it's the SORT of thing he'd do.""

    I don't know the logic term for it, but it echoes the idea that - a la Donald Rumsfeld - 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' (they can't find all those trafficked women, but it doesn't mean they're not really out there, so we must redouble our efforts, etc.) Think of the old joke about how elephants hide in cherry trees by painting their toenails red.

    @Furry Girl - thank you: all the perfect rebuttals in one handy blogpost.

    Comment by redpesto — November 29, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  8. One more?

    'False analogy' using comparisons, similies or metaphors to either make your argument look good or your opponent look bad (as in the repeated use of 'slavery' in relation to sex work)

    Comment by redpesto — November 29, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  9. "Begging the question" is making a statement which is pregnant with untested assertions.

    The "question(s)" that is(are) "begged" concern the contained assertions that aren't tested or otherwise acknowledged as viable.

    For example,

    "No, officer. The traffic light was pink with aqua polkadots when I passed through it."

    This assertion would beg several questions, such as:

    * What visual hallucinogen were you on, Driver?

    * What location uses that color traffic signal, and for what status (stop-caution-go)?

    * How in Hades did you get a driver's license if you aren't aware there are only 3 colors of traffic signal and you mentioned none of them?

    Comment by Karl — November 29, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  10. While I disagree with you on almost every level when it comes to porn, I would want to hear an intelligent argument against the points brought up in the following article that states that addiction to pornography changes your brain chemistry by the same way taking either dopamine or oxytocin being would (http://www.pornharms.com/slave-master-how-pornography-drugs-changes-your-brain-research/).

    Seriously; we really love the hear what you think on this matter.

    Comment by Casha R — November 29, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  11. @ Casha R

    Orgasm releases positive chemicals in the brain. Masturbation can be "addictive" in the same way that food, sex, drugs, or social acceptance can be addictive (all of which affect brain chemistry).

    Pointing to "changing brain chemistry" like it's some sort of voodoo is reactionary and belies a fearful naivety and basic lack of understanding on your part.

    Comment by Dagonet — November 29, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

  12. >Ad hominem: attack the person, not their argument.

    >"And what would you know about anything? You're just some stupid whore."

    Ad hominem is only a fallacy if you claim that a specific argument is invalid because it comes from an invalid source.

    That does not mean all supposed experts are equally trustworthy.

    It also does not address conflict of interest.

    Al Capone, for example, can set himself up as an expert on alcohol prohibition, but any argument from Al Capone will tend to be biased in favor of Al Capone's vested interests.

    If anyone stands to make money from an argument, that person has a vested interest. If anyone does NOT stand to make money from an argument, that person's credentials can be attacked as amateurish.

    Comment by dagezhu — November 30, 2011 @ 12:40 am

  13. Nice list.

    I think the argument from ignorance is the one I've seen most often in sex work debates, usually by someone attempting to shift the burden of proof after their wild and unsubstantiated claims have been called out.

    "No, it's up to you to prove that pornography isn't the leading cause of sex crime in the United States. If you can't then you're a rape supporter."

    Sometimes people attempt to disguise this by claiming to have the evidence, then finding an excuse not to provide it.

    A genuine example:

    "You claim that most porn is filmed rape, with many of the women in it trafficked from overseas by criminal gangs. Where's the evidence to support this?"

    "It's not my job to educate rape apologists. Do your own fucking research"

    Although that's perhaps more a variant of the "appeal to belief" fallacy, as it's usually the exasperated reaction of someone who can't believe that something "everyone knows" is being questioned.

    Comment by Kendall — December 2, 2011 @ 4:52 am

  14. a couple of years ago i was at a debate at the London anarchist bookfair where an abolitionist women was trying to convince that no sex worker or sex workers' rights organisation was in position to talk about sex work. Basically, her point was this : if you are male, you re not representative. If you are female : not representative either because you are either white, educated, middle class, working indoors etc... If none of this works, the false consciousness argument still apply. We have been so "damaged" by patriarchy, that we need to keep justifying prostitution in order to maintain our denial of sexual violence.

    and casha r. the page about porn you link would gain some respectability if you did not quote the research of an J.D Unwind ( or shakespeare or lincoln for that matter ). So we learn that this "unbiaised anthropologist" wrote in 1934 a big research explaining that sexually repressed society ( no sex before marriage and no porn of course ) achieved greater things such as ..... expansion of territory ? colonization ? agriculture ( animal domination ) ? So sexual repression manifests itself in the domination and destruction of other beings ? That just makes me want to go watch some cute punks fuck each other senseless on x-tube....

    Comment by Luca Darkholme — December 4, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  15. Excellent, excellent post! Very provocative.

    Comment by Jenny Heineman — December 4, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  16. Thanks for all the replies! I'm not someone who's a total logic nerd, so I know there are other examples and things that could be tweaked. You're right on the better wording, Mario, I think I'll edit my definition with one of them.

    Kendall: The "do your own research!" is a great one, though not really a logical fallacy. When people say that, I assume it just means that they've run out of other people's opinions to parrot. "Oh, shit, I've never heard Gail Dines answer this question, so I can't possibly think of a rebuttal to it. I'll tell them to do their own research because I can't think for myself or properly explain what I'm supposed to believe."

    Casha: You are a truly special individual. It takes a special sort of feminist to set up a business based on encouraging women to be controlling and abusive towards their male partners.

    Comment by Furry Girl — December 5, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

  17. Your definition of begging the question is actually closer to the definition of a loaded question (such as in the famous example "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?").

    According to Wikipedia, it's a common mistake to confuse loaded questions and begging the question.

    fallacyfiles.org is awesome (I'm not affiliated with them).

    Comment by Tyler — December 6, 2011 @ 12:57 am

  18. Great. Thanks for tweeting this URL out. Somehow, I'm typing this, despite going blind and the hair I now have on my palms.

    Comment by Keith — January 3, 2012 @ 5:26 am

  19. Comment by Trackbacks — August 22, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

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