Rhetoric: Fallacy of Disenfranchisement

I’ve long been fascinated by rhetorical fallacies, because we encounter so many of them that they begin to fall into recognizable patterns. I even wrote a 2004 article “Rhetoric 101,” primarily to aid in sorting out cascading political arguments about gay marriage equality.

Most likely the same as you, I can’t keep track of all these categories of rhetorical error. Fortunately, there’s an excellent reference site at Nizkor.org that lays these all out for us.

Common fallacies and logical falsehoods we’ve probably already heard of include:

  • Argument ad hominem (“against the person”): trying to invalidate an argument with a personal attack on the speaker.
  • Straw man: substituting a falsified version of the opponent’s premise and attacking the falsification.
  • Smear: usually, the intentional distribution of a falsehood about a person, group or idea
  • Slander: a smear against a person
  • Defamation: smear or slander applied to an entire group, race, nation or culture.
  • Appeal to Authority: An authority on this subject has already said that X is true.

I’ve noticed a popular fallacy that seems to be of a distinct category. I call it “Fallacy of Disenfranchisement” because it attempts to disqualify a speaker from even expressing an opinion. It circumvents arguments ad hominem by entirely eliminating the ‘hominem.’ This fallacy might also be called a “reverse appeal to authority.”

I encounter it fairly frequently in forums where military veterans join in the dialog:

“If you have not served, you do not know what you are talking about, so you can’t criticize/so shut your piehole.” [concerning recent war atrocities]

As a Vietnam veteran, I bristle when I see vets, claiming some sort of moral high ground solely on account of military service, attempting to silence others (who of course may even be veterans themselves).

But it’s not just veterans who pull this cheap trick:

  • Ann Romney never worked a day in her life” [Obama campaign spokesperson, later repudiated] — therefore women who run a household are disqualified from speaking out on jobs and the economy.
  • Obama never ran a business in his life” [candidate Mitt Romney] — therefore only ex-CEO’s are qualified to run the world’s most powerful nation.
  • You don’t know what it’s like to be gay …”

… or African American, or a female subjected to male executive chauvinism, or Native American, or Hispanic … This area can be a rhetorical slippery slope.

As a simple statement of fact, yes, this form of declarative can make a very powerful statement. Heterosexuals have never walked in a gay person’s shoes. Caucasians have never been subjected to the racial abuse so often heaped on minorities by other Caucasians. Until recently, most men were notoriously clueless about unwanted familiarities and even predatory behavior with the opposite sex, and they laughed about it. And so on.

Perhaps it would be a better world if we could all walk in another’s shoes for that proverbial mile! But this should never be allowed to stop anyone from getting the facts, trying to judge them fairly, and acting appropriately.

Having said all that, if you’ve never come home from a war zone where you’ve risked your life for your country, you’re never going to fully comprehend what it’s like to return to Stateside to find yourself despised and reviled by your civilian peers (as happened to me in 1964).

If that’s the point we want to make, so be it. Stop there. But if we wish to engage others on the tactical points of national policy, or on minority rights or any other debate topic, our special status never excuses us from reasoned discussion of the facts, just like anybody else.

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Notes From All Over

BIO – No, I’m posting no new autobiographical snippets today, just my status report. Some time ago I read a comment posted by my friend Richard Wanderman on his own blog, to the effect that writing a blog post isn’t the same as going down to the corner local pub to hoot and holler with like-minded, fist-pounding patrons. To that I might add: writing a book isn’t the same as writing a blog post.

For one thing, I had no idea how big my draft was becoming. I’ve never written a book. When I finally created representative draft content for my whole six-decades-plus¬† autobiographical life span, I started doing what I hoped were some standard metrics to figure out my page count. I’d read many citations that authors don’ t want to exceed 200-250 pages if they’re anticipating the e-book publishing route. I found that paperbacks weigh in at around 325 words per page, hardbacks around 350, and publishers use a standard 250 word page length to allow for white space and, presumably, for photos and illustrations. Was I surprised to find my draft weighing in around the low 500 page range – horrors!

Secondly, blog entries like this one are generally written and posted in under an hour, or a few hours at most. From post to post, readers invariably encounter variations in style, relevance, interest level and raw writing skill. That’s even less acceptable when reading a book! Within one or two boring or badly written paragraphs in a book, most of us bail. I’m re-writing and chopping my book draft, paragraph by paragraph. I’ll confess, it’s tough. My book, “Afraid of Changing”, is up to its seventh major rewrite and 68th serial update.

My editing formula is simple. If my own single sentence or paragraph begins to bore me after ten re-readings, I need to either delete it, or figure out why it’s relevant and find a fresh approach that shows you why it’s relevant and interesting too.

MUSIC STREAMING – In January I wrote about the sad demise of our Bay Area’s last classical radio station, KDFC. They went to an NPR format and a low-power transmitter that doesn’t even reach the South Bay. KDFC does stream ad-free music over your broadband connection. If you’re tired of commercial broadcasting advertisements insulting your intelligence and eardrums with obnoxious ads, you can find your own kind of music streamed to your Mac or PC whether it’s hip-hop, classical rock, classical classical, jazz, or traditional and big-band jazz.

Unfortunately for KDFC, they went from being a big frog in a Bay-sized pond to a little frog in a huge digital pond. I prefer classical station KBAQ out of Phoenix (either streamed or on FM), but I’ve also bookmarked WFMT (Chicago) and KUAT (Tucson). There’s a great classical jazz station in Paris, France … but right now I’m listening to “Classical Jazz – JAZZRADIO.com” for early Dixieland and 40’s style tunes … Who’s Sorry Now?

Assuming you do love music and do have broadband, I’d suggest you download Apple iTunes to your Mac or PC today if you didn’t already do that years ago. Even if you never load a single favorite CD into your iTunes – and how could you NOT do that? –¬† the Radio icon in the menu bar gives you far better access to American and international radio than your table radio or even that $900 FM tuner.



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