The syllogism is the skeleton of any argument. (It is explained fully in a forthcoming book Language, Meaning, and Truth, by Chris Wallace-Crabbe and me.)
All men are mortal. (The major premise.)
Obama is man. (The minor premise.)
Therefore Obama is mortal. (The conclusion.)
Unless you can reduce any argument to that form, it is no good. That’s one indicator that Trump has problems with the notion of rational thought.
Now check this failed attempt at a syllogism.
Bob did something that surprised me and others.
Bob therefore made me and others look foolish.
Therefore I should say of Bob………what?
The first premise does not say whether what Bob did was good or bad. Did Bob surprise people by blowing up a convent or by endowing hospital? The second premise does not seek to apply part of the first – rather it goes to the effect of something Bob did on other people. That premise is unlikely therefore to be any use for predicting what Bob might do in the future, much less lead to any inference about whether that future conduct may be good or bad.
It would therefore be a fallacy to argue that the first two premises warrant a conclusion that Bob will do good things in the future or is otherwise entitled to our respect.
If there is an argument at all, it looks like one that says because we were wrong in predicting what Bob did in the past, we are less credible in predicting what he might do in the future. But that conclusion does not follow. It is a case of branding or, if you prefer, smearing – ‘You were wrong before. You are therefore liable to be wrong again.’ Any prediction is wholly fallible, and one failure does not make the next one more fallible.
Michael Gove, the man who betrayed Boris Johnson, interviewed Trump. The interview and its aftermath were nauseating. Gove was like a cheesy, flatulent poodle, begging for scraps, and too timid to ask a pointed question of the biggest political target of all. Gove has the difficulty of all conservatives in trying to explain how a once reasonable conservative party came to be led by such a man. It forces Gove to mangle truth as much as his subject does. ‘….but in his conversation with us, he was at pains to be gracious and generous.’ The office had ‘framed magazine covers festooned over every wall, chronicling his business achievements; Trump’s office is an echo chamber of his achievements.’ Gove does mention that the son-in-law is a trusted adviser – of man whose idea of banishing conflicts of interest is to have his sons run the business and his son-in-law run the country – or at least the Middle East. They are some of the reasons why Gove says ‘much of the rest of the world is frankly terrified.’ Then we get this.
There is no guarantee that he will follow the best advice he gets, but before any of us are too quick to pass judgment on how successful he may be in office, we should at least acknowledge that he made fools of many of us in winning the presidential prize in the first place.
You will see that Gove does not try articulating his conclusion. This is because there is none. In the dishonest argot of our politics now, this is just a throwaway line to get people off the point. Our being surprised at the election says nothing about Trump, but lots about those who were persuaded to vote for a candidate who many see as incorrigibly nasty, arrogant, stupid and dishonest, and therefore a man of whom ‘the rest of the world is frankly terrified.’
I’m not into labels, but I propose one for this bullshit – the Trump fallacy.
Poet pf the month: Chris Wallace-Crabbe
SUMMONS IN THE PEAK PERIOD
A phone is ringing in the cemetery A
loud enough to be from the Resurrection.
You can hear it over busy morning traffic
where the living drive on to work, or merely shopping:
not a soul appears to have heard the summons,
but maybe they’re all sick to death of phonecalls.
It’s very loud; probably needs to be.
The majority have slept there for a while.
Still, what if this were a long-distance call,
God calling collect from paradise?
Through cypress fingers and elegant ironbarks
it keeps on ringing, grossly magnified
so that nobody fails to get the point.
It surely disturbed those paint-bright lorikeets
and brand-name kids dragging across to school.
The call might just have been from grandma,
or even for her.
There’s nobody awake.
2 thoughts on “Passing Bull 88 – A new political fallacy”
I really liked the logic and simplicity of style in this post and the poem. Your argument made sense to me. It is comforting to know there is someone else in the world who is watching what is happening and can articulate it so well.
Thanks very much. I hope you enjoy the book.