If you have ever backed someone against a wall in an argument on the Internet dot com, chances are good that they started frantically screaming about a litany of fallacies which they neither seem to understand nor care about better comprehending. It was just a momentary gust of emotion, a burst of covering fire to the right and left before they pompously declared, “I don’t have time for small-minded peasants like you!” and proceeded to bravely run way. This behavior is widespread, and even well-educated advocates of civil discourse will employ it, often to merely save face. The sad part is, they probably believe themselves to be correct, and that each of those fallacies truly applies to the context.
Trying to change the irrationality of the internet is a futile endeavor, but at least on an individual basis you can avoid committing the same lazy sins of the mob by considering the weight of your words. The following is a list of the popular candidates in word fuselage, and their correct utilization.
The “Ad Hominem” Fallacy
What it is: Attacking something about the person in place of addressing their argument.
What is it not: Contradicting your opinion with a reasoned manner, and providing facts to support.
John: Cutting taxes stimulates growth, as shown by this chart.
You: You’re just a greedy bastard who hates poor people!
The “Strawman Argument” Fallacy
What it is: Setting up an opposing argument in a deliberately weak manner so as to effortlessly defeat its propositions.
What is it not: Defeating your argument logically and making you feel embarrassed.
Cindy: Rehabilitation can help prevent recidivism on the part of paroled convicts.
You: LOL so you basically want murderers and rapists on our streets.
The “You’re Projecting” Fallacy
What it is: Holding a position based on a genuine personal insecurity of some sort.
What is it not: Disagreeing with your viewpoint.
Nate: I believe child molestation is a heinous crime which should be punished.
You: Nope, you’re just are a repressed pedophile projecting your secrets on the world.
Michael: The promiscuity of this woman contributed to the destruction of her marriage.
You: Sounds like you’re just insecure because she’s not having sex with YOU.
The “No True Scotsman” Fallacy
What it is: Using a standard of purity to protect something from dissenting arguments.
What is it not: Pointing out a legitimate difference in philosophy between individuals or groups.
Paul: There are devoted Muslims who believe violence against non-believers is righteous and justified as part of their submission to Allah.
You: Those people are not “true” Muslims The only way to be a true Muslim is to be like Allah, who is perfect. Since humans are imperfect, no one can be like Allah, and therefore no one can be a true Muslim.