The children are home for the summer. Therefore, I am now spending a good portion of each day acting as a referee. The arguments are heated, illogical and perpetual.
So, I am daily experiencing a microcosm of American politics and American religion. Lucky me. What have I learned from this experience? If I yell loudly enough I will get a few moments of peace before the next argument begins. Hopefully, I will find a better strategy before the summer is over.
It seems like the leaders of our country, political and religious, have not learned better strategies. Or perhaps they have just found that lousy strategies work, so why bother with anything better. The name calling, illogical arguments, generalizations, etc. have taken over our public debates. Consequently we hear a lot these days about “civil discourse.” However, I think there is a general misunderstanding about what this call for “civil discourse” is about. It is not just about being nice, being polite and not calling names. It is about debating things in a way that encourages greater understanding and hopefully even moves us toward solutions. It is not about being civil while we continue to focus on triumphing over the other side. It is about changing the purpose of the conversations, learning to better understand each other, to better understand the problems we face, and better understand the pros and cons of possible solutions.
A while back someone dear to me shared a podcast of a Jefferson Hour broadcast which discussed logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is simply an error in reasoning but there are formal categories of logical fallacies. In previous days these were taught in school as tools for learning. This peaked my interest so I did some further reading. www.logicalfallacies.info describes the importance of recognizing logical fallacies in this way, “Fallacious reasoning keeps us from knowing the truth, and the inability to think critically makes us vulnerable to manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.”
We, the American people, are vulnerable. As I read through the list of logical fallacies on the above mentioned website, I could think of examples of many of them in our political and religious discussions. Ad Hominem (Personal Attack), Slippery Slope, and Bandwagon are just the more obvious of the many fallacies committed in our political debates. Our leaders would not use these methods if they did not work. We need to hold our leaders to a higher standard. I would love to see a political debate in which educated monitors would draw attention to it whenever politicians engaged in a logical fallacy. I am not sure they would have anything left to say.
All of this renews my commitment to teaching my children logic, not necessarily in a formal way, but rather by treating them logically and helping them to use logic to work things out. I will have some opportunities to do such teaching this summer. For example, I will try to calmly teach my children it is not logical to call your sister a liar when she makes a mistake and singing “liar, liar, pants on fire” is an Ad Hominem logical fallacy. I may not use those words precisely. There may be some yelling. But I will try to avoid committing my own Ad Hominem moments. The little twerps.