Tractatus Logico-Politicus

“There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?”

Clerks

The idea behind fallacy spotting is simple: you just try to catch the author of a text trying to use illogical (and therefore illicit) means to prove his point. And there’s no better training ground for the novice fallacy spotter than political rhetoric; the source material is abundant and the frequency and variety of fallacies is so bewildering that even the untrained can spot a few straight away.

Probably the most rewarding situations are that of a government official caught in an  incompetence-complicity trap. That is, if he knew about the wrongdoings going on in his organisation, he’s complicit and must resign, but if he didn’t, he’s incompetent and must resign. All we have to do is sit back and watch him trying to wriggle free.

A more subtle mistake is accusing another party of being divisive. “The other party is divisive, ours isn’t”, goes the well-known line. Never mind the faint but piquant odour of  self-contradiction it radiates, but if your party isn’t trying to divide the general public, then what exactly IS your party doing?

But it would be unfair to claim that political rhetorics are about nothing but fallacies  there are some really delightful logical constructs to be found too. The leader of a practically defunct Hungarian party that has been dealing in casual racism for OAPs (a niche market, if there ever was one) has recently announced: “They say our party is dead. Yet I’m  standing before you, so our party cannot be dead after all.”

Which is brilliant, because we’ve never had Cartesian politics before.

However, not even the strongest and most impeccable reasoning can avoid being crushed under the jackboots of bureaucracy. The mayor of a Transylvanian town called Pecica ordered the installation of new, highly expressive road signs warning motorists of drunken citizens crossing. He argued that even though ideally the drunk should be warned,  in practice this wouldn’t work, on account of them being, well, drunk. So up went the road signs in the name of public safety and common sense over the letter of the law.

Sadly, the signs cannot be seen anymore because the local police claimed it was violating EU regulations and suggested a much less inspiring “Other dangers” sign. Sometimes you just can’t win.

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