Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Known by the Company We Keep (Part 12 of Fallacies)

In the next part of our continuing survey of red herrings (responses to arguments that don’t address the actual argument but merely distract from it, we’ll look at the two types of association fallacies: guilt by association and honor by association. Depending on your point of view, they can be one and the same.

Guilt by Association

Association fallacies take the following form: (1) A is a B. (2) A is also a C. (3) Therefore, all Bs are also Cs. (More formally, (∃x ∈ S : φ(x)) → (∀x ∈ S : φ(x)), which means “if there exists any x in the set S so that a property φ is true for x, then for all x in S the property φ must be true.”

Of course, that’s not at all a necessary condition. The classic rebuttal goes like this:

(1) All dogs have four legs.
(2) My cat has four legs.
(3) Therefore, my cat is a dog.

The PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter recently gave a “Pants On Fire” rating to an August 17 blog post by Texas radio host Dan Cofall, which read in part, “The magic number ‘70’ is the number of members of the 111th Congress who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). These are not just politicians who vote left of center; these are card-carrying members of ‘The Democratic Socialists of America.’” (The "70" to which Cofall refers is the membership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — though I do not believe they actually issue membership cards.)

There are two guilt-by-association attacks here, one direct and one indirect. The indirect attack is in the term “card-carrying,” an echo of McCarthy-era HUAC anti-communist campaigning. The implication goes like this:

(1) Dues-paying members of the Communist Party carry cards.
(2) Members of Group X (Democratic Socialists, ACLU, etc.) carry cards.
(3) Therefore, members of Group X are Communists.

The direct attack takes this form:

(1) The  Democratic Socialists of America have a platform with a number of ideas.
(2) Some members of the Congressional Progressive Congress have ideas that overlap with some items on the DSA agenda.
(3) Therefore, all members of the Congressional Progressive Congress are "card carrying" members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Of course, liberal Democrats and Tea Party members also share some specific ideas (they both like the idea of voting, for example), but it hardly follows that all liberal Democrats are Tea Party members, or vice versa.

The Democratic Socialists are somewhat chagrined. “If we had formal political relationships with 70-odd members [of Congress], we would be making a lot more money” from dues. And as far as they’re concerned, the problem with the Congressional Progressive Congress is that the members aren’t nearly socialist enough — they prefer a third party movement.

Whether it’s “guilt by association” or “honor by association” may depend on your point of view. When Bill O’Reilly said on his January 19, 2005, broadcast, “Hitler would be a card-carrying ACLU member. So would Stalin. Castro probably is. And so would Mao Zedong,” I decided to look at it this way:

(1) Bill O’Reilly and George Bush say bad things about “card carrying” ACLU members.
(2) I think O’Reilly and his fellow-travelers are jackasses.
(3) Therefore, I joined the ACLU…just so I can carry my card.

1 comment:

  1. Libertarian Party members, like myself, also carry cards (with the non-coercion pledge signed into the back of if it!) so I get a chuckle when I read Neo-McCarthyism like that from modern conservatives. Irony is often lost on the ironic. Sometimes it is like people don't even read their own philosophies, only the book titles. (note: Not even all Libertarians sign the non-coercion pledge.)

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