Within the world of red herrings, there’s a subcategory of appeals to emotion. (Red herrings are a category of fallacy in which the response to an argument doesn’t address the argument, but rather offers a distraction from it.) Some of the red herrings we’ve covered, such as an appeal to tradition or consequences, fall into this category. Unlike the ones we’ve covered already, these don’t have an official-sounding Latin title, just plain old English.
Appeal to Flattery
You, dear reader, are clearly someone whose interest in creativity, your orientation toward substantial accomplishment, and your bright shining intelligence is something I hold in awe.
You’re probably one of a very small number of people in the world capable of grasping my newest project management tool in all its ramifications. In capable hands — so terribly rare — these secrets make you unstoppable. People with only normal intelligence will surely fail.
For only twelve small payments of $19,999.99, you can be one of the select leaders of the project management community of the future. Don't you deserve it?
Operators are standing by.
* * *
The appeal to flattery is also known as apple polishing and greasing the wheel. By inflating your ego, the arguer tries to implant the idea that if you don’t agree, it’s a sign of your stupidity, ignorance, cowardice, or some other unpleasant characteristic. Done too openly and too thick, it’s immediately transparent. Delivered more subtly, it can be difficult to resist.
Its opposite cousin, “pride and ego down,” is a formal technique used in military interrogation. Here’s the relevant section from Army Field Manual FM 2-22.3, the official guide for interrogators.
US Army Definition from FM 2-22.3
8-45. (Interrogation) The emotional-pride and ego-down approach is based on attacking the source's ego or self-image. The source, in defending his ego, reveals information to justify or rationalize his actions. This information may be valuable in answering collection requirements or may give the [human intelligence] HUMINT collector insight into the viability of other approaches. This approach is effective with sources who have displayed weakness or feelings of inferiority. A real or imaginary deficiency voiced about the source, loyalty to his organization, or any other feature can provide a basis for this technique.
8-46. The HUMINT collector accuses the source of weakness or implies he is unable to do a certain thing. This type of source is also prone to excuses and rationalizations, often shifting the blame to others. An example of this technique is opening the collection effort with the question, "Why did you surrender so easily when you could have escaped by crossing the nearby ford in the river?" The source is likely to provide a basis for further questions or to reveal significant information if he attempts to explain his surrender in order to vindicate himself. He may give an answer such as, "No one could cross the ford because it is mined."
8-47. The objective is for the HUMINT collector to use the source's sense of pride by attacking his loyalty, intelligence, abilities, leadership qualities, slovenly appearance, or any other perceived weakness. This will usually goad the source into becoming defensive, and he will try to convince the HUMINT collector he is wrong. In his attempt to redeem his pride and explain his actions, the source may provide pertinent information. Possible targets for the emotional-pride and ego-down approach are the source's—
o Technical competence.
o Leadership abilities.
o Soldierly qualities.
8-48. There is a risk associated with this approach. If the emotional-pride and ego-down approach fails, it is difficult for the HUMINT collector to recover and move to another approach without losing his credibility. Also, there is potential for application of the pride and ego approach to cross the line into humiliating and degrading treatment of the detainee. Supervisors should consider the experience level of their subordinates and determine specifically how the interrogator intends to apply the approach technique before approving the interrogation plan.
Often the two techniques are used together. An interrogator may flatter and build up the ego of a subject, only to turn around and belittle him, which often speeds the extent to which the subject works to justify and defend the behavior you want to learn about.
Of course, none of this would never work on you.
You’re way too smart.
Not to mention good looking.