Tag Archives: Argumentum Ad Populum

Follow reason, not the heart in making a decision

9 Dec

My husband used to be in sales  – the kind whose products were invisible and long term.  Life insurance, college accounts, emergency savings, although worthy goals, couldn’t hold a candle to the allure of a shiny new car.  What he learned was that despite a couple’s acquiescence to the need for financial protection, that pure desire for a new car exerted a stronger pull.

new car

The husband would be the one to enumerate all the reasons why the family needed this new van.  Reality taught my husband the truth of the adage: People buy emotionally and justify their purchase rationally. 

My daughter-in-law and her husband face a decision, like all parents, of how to educate their oldest child.  Over the past two years, Anne has considered home-schooling with much turmoil.  She has felt her heart pulled toward this paradigm for various reasons, but last year she enrolled our grandson in pre-school.  At the time, it was the right decision.  The family moved over the summer and they found a 4-year old preschool in their new city.  But the tug to homeschool has grown stronger.

Decision-making is challenging for all of us.   It doesn’t help that in today’s ‘Disney-fied’ world we are counseled to ‘follow our heart’!

Christians should know that according to God, our hearts cannot be trusted.  Only as these hearts are being renewed by the Holy Spirit and informed by a Bible-saturated mind that considers, weighs and evaluates all things can they be trusted.

The other challenge to wading through options is the oppression of the majority.  I’m surprised, yet I shouldn’t be, when I encounter people  who seem to assume that if a majority of people in their country think XYZ, then it must be true.  Where is THAT assumption grounded on?

All Logical Joes and Janes recognize that view as a bald-faced fallacy – Argumentum Ad Populum.  The holders of this view automatically assume minority dissenters must be wrong.

So back to Anne and her recent decision process to switch to homeschooling.  My husband and I have long thought that this couple are well-suited to homeschool.  Furthermore, we have confidence in parents’ ability to equip and guide their children just as well, if not better, than outsourced educational institutions.

As someone who supports critical thinking, I am encouraging Anne to think through her reasons FOR this change.  If the benefits to her and to their children outweigh other options, then she should choose home-schooling.  Her husband, our son, absolutely supports his wife in whichever educational choice she opts for.  She is a full-time mom to their two kids and is the one whose day-to-day responsibilities center on raising the family.

As we talked about this over Thanksgiving Anne gave vent to the real pressure from the world, seeped in ‘majority knows best’ thinking.  But trying to please extended family or current pre-school teachers or friends who evince surprise and trot out, “But what about the social aspect N would be missing?” should carry no weight against researched reasons that matter to the couple.

What about the heart?

Follow your heart

When I mentioned to Anne that Christians are counseled NOT to let feelings and emotions guide our decisions, she balked a bit.  I know that what grounds her reaction is that she truly feels that God has given her the desire to homeschool.  And I don’t discount that.  Maybe we’re using different words.  I might say about a decision: “I don’t feel any check from the Holy Spirit,” thereby giving weight to the ‘affective’ aspect of my choice.

A more effective final check might be for Anne to review the purpose they see for educating their children.  Then they can evaluate if homeschooling is the correct and best course to meet that goal all the while guided by their values.  Decision-making MUST start with the end in sight and progress backwards.  I offer that when Anne articulates their vision for their children as young adults and then looks at the options for their family, she can feel peace about her decision.

Logical Gal and Truth by Repetition

27 Jun

Brave New World

Summertime and I’m using the time off to read!

One of the English teachers from my school lent me Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel.  In his futuristic vision, caste life is engineered in factory-like laboratories.  And for each caste member to be content and ‘happy’ with their work and limitations, they are brainwashed from birth through something called ‘Hypnopaedia‘. While they sleep, certain messages are repeated numerous times until they are absorbed as ‘truth’ by the hearer. “One hundred repetitions three times a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia.  Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.”  (p. 47)  Hypnopaedia

We shutter and chalk that up to science-fiction, however long ago it was written. (1932) But is that particular society’s modus operandi so different than ours, today in the 2010’s?  You hear something enough times and it becomes ‘a kind of truth’. Take the widely accepted ‘fact’:

  • 50 % of all marriages end in divorce

Apparently that is not true.  What?  But everyone says it is.  (that, my friend, is called a fallacy –  when your reason for advancing or believing a proposition to be true is just because ‘everyone’ says it’s true – Argumentum Ad Populum) Cats - 8 of 10 prefer Whiskas (Like the ad says, 8 of every 10 cats prefer Whiskas! Conclusion: it must be good! )

 

In doing a little fact-checking about the divorce numbers, the story goes that some assumptions were made in 1981, the year that this ‘fact’ was publicized as legit.  See link for account of rumor’s origin Okay, you say, you don’t fall for urban legends like marriage and divorce rates.  You track down alleged facts and do your homework before you believe what you hear! And maybe that is so, but where I live in Western North Carolina, many don’t.  They have absorbed publicized claims as truth because they WANT to believe them.  Each day I read the letters to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  I’m sure they are not unique in their source of letter-writers.  I would guess (before doing my homework) that many citizens across the United States cobble together truth the way these local readers do.  And repeated enough times, anything becomes believable.

But what is Truth?  By definition truth is that which corresponds to reality.  It doesn’t matter whether many or none believe it.

Truth is the truth

I don’t doubt that you KNOW what truth is.  And reading a novel whose leaders so blatantly have set systems in place to brainwash people strikes us, the readers, as fantasy.  Actually, however, we gloss over the same kinds of practices ONLY because they are not SOPs, publicized standard operating procedures.  But whether the actions are de jure or de facto, the results are the same.  And that is frightening.  Control by repetition.

Logical Gal and the role of consensus

9 Apr

Does consensus matter?  Does it make something right?

Well, in government, achieving consensus in our legislative bodies is crucial for passing laws.  But just because there is consensus does NOT automatically confer justness on that decision.

Congress voting

 

This reliance on the weight of consensus can actually be a fallacy.  Often called the Appeal to Common Belief or Argumentum ad Populum  in Latin, it looks like this:

Premise 1 – If everyone believes something is acceptable to do, then it must be right

Premise 2 – Everyone believes doing X is acceptable

Conclusion – Therefore, doing X is right

This line of thinking is as old as the hills.  It has been used to justify majority behavior throughout history:

  • At one time, many American Southerners with economic means owned slaves.
  • At one time, many Germans discriminated against Jews.
  • At one time, many deformed babies were abandoned by the Romans

Noah shares the 10 Cs

Parents are used to being bombarded by their teens with this persuasive, but un-reasonable line of argumentation.  It’s difficult to resist the latest tech gadget or freedom or purchase that your child ‘has to have’!!  But resist you must until you are convinced by good reason to change your mind.  Choose to use this occasion to train your ‘supplicant’ to build a strong case for the change in parental policy.  You will be doing him or her a favor by providing practice in persuasive argumentation.   Your child, once an adult, will have many opportunities to argue for a change.  Relying on a weak and overused fallacy will not help him.

But mom, everyone else does

And being able to spot the Ad Populum Fallacy will keep your children from succumbing to other ‘truth by consensus’ issues.   It seems today, more and more ethical issues and scientific conclusions are decided by consensus rather than by truth and reason.

 

60 million frenchmen