Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ad Hominem

Ad Hominem means 'against the man'. It refers to the classic fallacy wherein a weak opponent in debate stymied by the genius of the argument of the opposing side stoops to attacking the individual rather than continuing civilized discussion.

An example of this could go as follows:

John or Jane: Gold is better than silver because it's worth more money.

Henry or Henrietta: You are a pin head, you piece of tourd. You don't know anything. Your mother wears army boots. You had sex with your dog and or goldfish . You're a pin head, you piece of excrement. I saw your sister with a (whitey, nigger, jew). Your father had sex with a dog and or goldfish.

Alternatively, the genteel version:

John or Jane: I believe God exists.
Henry or Henrietta: You never were right in the head, were you?

There is rarely a lot of variety to ad hominems. They are indeed evidence of low intelligence and often are the first indication that family inbreeding is beginning to show the genetic strain.

The Nizkor Project www.Nizkor.org/ is a site dedicated to Holocaust victims. Concerned that one aspect of Nazi success was the power of propaganda, the developers of the Nizkor project have highlighted Dr. Michael C. Labossiere's work of listing and discussing 42 informal logical fallacies. Dr. Labossiere is a brilliant teacher with highly understandable examples. I wish I'd had the benefit of his teaching when I studied Logic at university and only had the driest examples with mathematical formulas. In a site dedicated to the dead, there's a whole lot of living going on. www.Nizkor.org/features/fallacies.

You can access Dr. Michael Labossiere's work elsewhere. I like the that Nizkor Project provides this. I don't think it's the sort of thing that one would find on Neo Nazi sites.

In psychological terms, fallacies make up much of the communication of people with severe mental illness such as personality disorders and occur more commonly in toxic work places and dysfunctional relationships. Piaget showed that some of the fallacies were really just developmentally retarded communications, common in childhood but decreasing with brain maturity. The immature defense mechanisms of Dr. Freud can be found in some of the fallacies as well. Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Therapy was well aware of the fallacies when he developed the 'cognitive distortions' which were recognized as part of "depressive communication'. There has always been considerable overlap in psychology and philosophy but now especially in the 'dialectic' psychotherapies developed for treatment of personality disorders.

In the field of addiction communication shifts from increased reliance on fallacy in discussion to less fallacy when the brain is no longer impaired by chemicals. As fMRI studies show the evidence of reversible brain damage especially in the frontal lobes where higher cognitive processing occurs this is not a surprising empiracal observation.

Tim Fielding noted the use of fallacies in 'bullying' communication. He saw that knuckledragging supervisors were especially keen on these sorts of erroneous communications and that this contributed to the 'toxic workplace'. www.Bullyonline.org is a very useful site for the study of occupational communication.

Fallacies are often the basis of harassment. Commonly the arguments of bully include such common fallacies as 'appeal to fear'. Sadly a lot of bullying works because the 'bandwagon' effect when bully's "appeal to ridicule'.

That said, fallacies can spice up communication and enliven discussion. Politicians love the fallacies because they encourage 'emotional reasoning' over 'reason'.
Fallacies contribute to so much poetry and fiction.They can also be used rhetorically, as I've done in using ad hominems within a description of the fallacy of ad hominem itself.

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