Visit just about any publication’s online comment board—go on, I dare you … I’ll wait—and you’ll likely notice one thing right off the bat.
No, not the horrible spelling and grammar employed by many of the denizens, or the countless (seriously, don’t start counting) insults hurled every which way. There are apparently a lot of Rethuglicans and libtards on those boards. And a whole lot of “people” who can’t be bothered with coming up with more original insults.
Take a look, if you please, at a fallacy that starts my eyes rollin’ in nanoseconds: generalization. This includes such fallacious thinking as using limited and/or unrepresentative samples or assigning character traits of a subpopulation to an entire population.
There aren’t many topics of discussion, if any, that haven’t had commenters fall victim to some sort of generalization fallacy.
If you believe what some say, all liberals are anti-capitalist socialists/communists who want to control every … single … frickin’ … moment of your life; anyone who is pro-choice wants free abortions on demand up to the point of birth; and all Tea Party Republicans are anti-government knuckle-dragging rednecks destined to die spectacularly after saying, “Here, hold ma beer and watch this.”
While there are most likely those individuals within the larger groups, the likelihood of more than a small minority in the larger groups fitting those descriptions is probably astronomical. Not that it matters … statistics are just another tool to be misused in the misdirection game.
It’s much easier to make a sweeping generalization than to deal with a reality where “leftist” generally refers not to everyone even slightly left of center, but mostly to those on the far left (no, “liberal” and “leftist” are not interchangeable, nor are “socialist” and “communist”). Leftist seems to be the preferred epithet on my newspaper’s site, with almost all the insults starting with “leftists always …” And it usually proves the commenter has no concept of the political spectrum (or reality) outside what he’s learned from his preferred media source.
Or perhaps a reality where being pro-choice means supporting that the choice to have an abortion or not should be between a woman and her doctor, usually only up to the end of the first trimester unless medically necessary further on (gosh, it’s almost like these pro-choice people don’t want to get all up in a woman’s bidness and control everything).
Or where Tea Party members span a spectrum of education and income levels, as do most political groups.
As I’ve said many times before, the world in which we live is full of all shades of the rainbow rather than stark black and white. By painting all members of a group with the same brush, truth is often obscured.
It is possible to be both liberal and conservative, and indeed, as most people tend to gather around the center of the political spectrum (many of us are largely pragmatists by nature), we see conservative Democrats (like Bill Clinton) and liberal Republicans (like Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller) more often than some would like to admit … because that would upset the easy categorization they have going on. That would be why there are so many fiscal conservatives among Democrats, as well as spendthrifts among Republicans.
Don’t even get me started on all those independents, who outnumber adherents to both main parties.
Foreign-policy journalist and author Michael J. Totten noted in 2004 that
“a liberal is a person who believes in social, political, and economic freedom. In the United States, both major parties are liberal. Most members of both support democracy, civil and human rights, and a market economy.”
I’ll pause while partisan heads stop exploding at the notion that both parties are liberal.
Totten goes further with a distinction between “liberal” and “leftist”:
“A liberal (substitute with Democrat if you want to) believes in reform. And a leftist supports revolution. Liberals (Democrats) are the left wing of the establishment. Leftists are radicals who seek to overthrow the establishment (either through violence or the ballot box) and replace it with something else.”
So no, your friendly neighborhood Democrat most likely isn’t the leftist of which partisans speak, just as all Republicans aren’t anti-government radicals. Besides, none of those chaps would be much fun.
By taking the actions of a few (take the subpopulation of your choice) and applying them to a broad population, you’ve generalized with a stereotype that few will actually fit. Such oversimplification makes for easy propaganda, but blurs reality.
Someone can be personally against abortion but not against others making that choice because another person’s choice is none of their business.
None of us are all one thing or another (what would be the fun in that?). The different shades we see are what make us human.
Yeah, I know … there I go again, assuming folks are human.
Thanks to those who expressed concern when my column didn’t appear last week, especially those who said they missed their “Brenda fix” (the cure for that chocolate and fluffy kitties while watching Monty Python), or wondered if they were being punished (awww, shucks!).
I’m sure there were a few people doing happy dances when they opened their paper and didn’t see my scribblings, and that’s OK. Some just don’t like word nerds obsessed with facts and the furry one (who is especially fluffy this week).
I’m fine, and still dedicated to shining a light on logical fallacies, propaganda, words and other things that strike my fancy.
And, you know, annoying trolls and haters. I have to have my fun somehow.
Messing with the furry one is only fun till blood starts gushing.