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Truth Through Combat

Anne Applebaum’s “America’s Peculiar Amnesia”

Ms. Applebaum writes in Slate that people have forgotten what a profligate spender President Bush was. This is true, if by “people” she means “some people.” This is false, if by “people” she means “all people.”

Applebaum is playing a common game among political commentators:

  1. Note how a group is levying Charge X.
  2. Note how the same group failed to levy Charge X against those who committed the same sin, but was one of theirs. This exposes the group’s hypocrisy.
  3. Conclude by questioning the credibility of the group.

Problems:  

  1. The argumentative stratagem commits a fallacy of generalization in steps 1, 2, and 3. It is always best to avoid large-scale generalizations of “left” and “right” in political commentary.
  2. It is vague in each or all of these steps as well (“people” could refer to two people or 300 million).
  3. It uses an ad hominem fallacy of relevance to divert attention from the issue at hand (who cares, after all, if in fact an entire group is hypocritical — this does not make their present argument wrong).

Ms. Applebaum’s argument is filled with “we” and “they” language. This in itself signals that this argument consists for her of nothing more sophisticated than group-centered analysis. But it should be obvious — and it is obvious to so many people — that sophisticated political analysis can see differences within groups, that not all members of a party think alike, that there is no “left” or “right” in politics, and that until we take individuals as individuals we will be stuck in the same lame kind of literary collectivism that plagues political commentary today. The aforementioned fallacies are just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

Move away from the stereotypes, Ms. Applebaum. Your writing — and your readers — will be better for it.

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