A Whackadoodle logic lesson in which we discuss how people use deflection to win arguments; sometimes by just talking people to death.
“So how does deflection actually work?” she asked me near the end of our lesson.
“It’s when instead of engaging the argument, you deflect to something else. You basically change the subject. If you think about it, nearly every logical fallacy is a form of deflection.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Okay, so do you remember how when Obama was President, and people kept asking to see his birth certificate because they thought he was not born in the United States, and therefore was not a native born citizen, and therefore not allowed to even run for President?”
“They deflected the argument to making him prove where he was born, away from who his mother was.”
“His mother was a full fledged American citizen, born in Kansas. No matter where that kid was born, he was entitled by the law to full American Citizenship from the moment he took a breath. And yes, it did happen that she gave birth to him in the newly accepted fiftieth State of Hawaii, which made him an American citizen anyway. Still, his mom was an American citizen, so it did not matter where he was born. So long as his mother was a US natural born citizen, he was guaranteed by law to also be a US natural born citizen. Don’t believe me? Check out the government website explaining the citizenship rights of US children born overseas by American citizens.”
“I believe you,” she said, throwing up her hands, “So why did they make the birth certificate an argument?”
“They did not make an argument; they deflected away from the argument. They threw out noise in order to gain and keep attention. Attention is essential in persuasion. If you can keep the attention on your argument long enough, people will begin to think that your argument has merit.”
“Even if your argument is nothing more than a deflection?”
“Yep,” I nodded. “People are easily distracted. Emotions are much more persuasive than logic. It’s part of how our minds work. Overwhelm us enough with distractions, and we begin to forget what’s important. We might even shut off and simply believe what we’ve already heard. It’s really hard to get past a first impression.” I could see that she was still uncertain, so I added. “How about another example?”
“Sure,” she mumbled frowning.
“The FBI administered a legally obtained search warrant, signed off by two branches of government, in order to regain government documents stolen by the the forty-fifth president and located in his Mara-a-Logo home. It wasn’t even a no knock warrant. The FBI was kind enough to call ahead and warn the Secret Service. Whoever said that justice is blind never met an ex-president millionaire with a cable news force behind him.”
“Do you really think he stole them?”
“What do you call it when someone takes something from you that they have no legal right to?”
“Stealing,” she confirmed. “But how is that an example of deflection?”
“Well, have you noticed how many people are now talking about whether or not those documents were classified, or declassified?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter if they were declassified or not. The very fact that he had them, and refused a federal subpoena to return them, made his conduct a federal crime according to the Presidential Records Act of 1978. However, he deflected the argument towards whether or not he had declassified the documents, away from the fact that he’d already broken federal law by attempting to keep any records at all. People started responding to his deflection and excusing the original crime.”
“Is that why he came out first about the search for documents in his house? So he could control the conversation? So people would argue about whether it was a raid, or a legal search, while ignoring the fact that it was illegal for him to even have those documents in the first place?”
“Are you asking for my opinion regarding Forty-five’s motivations?” I asked, cocking my head. “Because if you are, that is itself a deflection away from the argument.” I told her.
“How so?” she asked surprised.
“Because a good argument should be made up of propositions, and my opinion is not a proposition.” She looked confused, so I added. “Do you remember our first logic lesson?”
She rolled her eyes and said, “How could I forget the day we met.”
“So what are propositions?” I asked her pointedly.
I could see her thinking back. “They are statements that can be verified as either true, or false,” she said eventually.
“Exactly, and while I can prove that my opinion is truly mine, I cannot always prove that my opinion is truly correct. Much better to stick with propositions when making an argument.”
“But how are opinions a deflection?” she asked still confused.
“Because if I offer an opinion, the argument becomes about my ability to prove my opinon, and we get deflected from the original argument. Basically, we get caught up in chaos.”
“So is there a way I could have asked my question without asking your opinion?”
“Repeat your question,” I told her, “and I will attempt to answer with a proposition.”
“I was asking if you think that Forty-five uses deflection to control the conversation.”
“It is true that deflection is often used to change the subject of a conversation thereby controlling the conversation. What motivates Forty-five’s use of deflection, remains speculation to everyone but him.”
“But he does use deflection,” she insisted.
“He does like to change the subject,” I agreed. “He does like to control the conversation. He like to keep people angry. He like to tell people where they should focus their anger. He loves to point fingers. He thrives in chaos.”
“So how is that not your opinion?” she asked.
“I believe that I could bring evidence that each of those last statements are true.”
“Yeah, you probably could.” she admitted at last.
I could see that something was still bothering her, so after a moment I asked, “Was there anything else?”
She scrunched up her face before answering, “I’m trying to understand how to get away from the deflection, and bring people back to reason.”
“Well you can’t change them,” I offered.
“I can only change me,” she murmured by rote.
“So what in you do you think needs changing?”
“I suppose it means that I have to learn how to not be deflected by the loudest voices when I am trying to uncover the truth; and that I need to learn how to argue with propositions instead of fallacies.”
“I think that’s a good place to start,” I smiled. “And once you’ve learn that, then maybe, just maybe, you can help others do the same.”
“One friend at a time, right?” She looked up, smiling weakly.
“One friend at a time.”
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