Thursday, December 13, 2007

A question on rhetoric

Last week, a blog that I read on occasion was invaded by Freepers. It was impressive in the way that a locust swarm is impressive: the destruction is astonishing in its simplemindedness. After a few days, the invaders grew bored and moved to greener pastures. Picking through their wake, I came across a bizarre argument I have seen employed in the past, but didn't notice at the time. Here is a sample of the argument:

Commenter 1:
The issue isn’t whether all Muslims are dangerous, clearly they aren’t. The problem is that if 1% of all Muslims are dangerous, that’s 10 million people who need to die.

Commenter 2:
Are you suggesting that genocide is the appropriate answer to terrorism?

Commenter 3:
Could you point out where Commenter 1 or anyone else has even mentioned genocide, much less advocated it as a solution to Islamic terrorism?

Commenter 1 has argued that 10 million people must be killed because they are dangerous (but not because they've actually done anything), but Commenter 3 comes to his defense because Commenter 1 did not actually use the word "genocide." There are certainly situations where one commenter may attempt to put words in another's mouth, but this does not appear to be the situation. Here, one commenter is paraphrasing another, but a third is objecting to the paraphrase because a certain word is used. In its most general form, the argument is that a paraphrase is incorrect because it is not a direct quote, but the argument does not address that the paraphrase is actually correct when the subject matter is considered.

My question is this: is there a term for this fallacy? I've seen it used by partisans of all stripes (although it appears to be a favorite tactic of Freepers and LGF monkeys), and it baffles me. In a way, it might simply be a factual error and not a logical fallacy, but it also appears to be a Red Herring fallacy. Is is a combination of the two? That is, arguing something that is factually incorrect to create a Red Herring? I would like to be precise when this issue arises in the future, so any help is appreciated.


At 3:48 PM, March 25, 2009 , Blogger romasky said...

Check out the book Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington. It may have what you're looking for.


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