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Stop Asking Couples When They Are Having Kids

“So, when are you having kids?” my aunt asked me soon after I got married. At that point, I had just been married for a few months. I didn’t even know *if* I wanted kids, much less *when* I was having them.

Caught off guard, I replied matter-of-factly, “I have not decided if I want to have kids.” Little did I realize that I would spend the next hour listening to stories of women who put off having children until it was too late, as well as women who had difficulty conceiving for various reasons, with the implicit message being that I was going to regret it if I didn’t hurry and work on producing babies.

This would be my life for the next few years, where I would receive constant questions around “When are you having kids?” from relatives and random people, followed by a routine, almost ritualistic pressurization to have kids.

Lest you think that it ends after having a child, it doesn’t. The people who previously tried to tell you to have “just one kid” when you were indifferent to the idea, will now tell you to have a second one, along with reasons why you should do so. It seems like this questioning process never ends.

The problem with asking people “When are you having kids?”

I understand why people like to ask this question. Find a partner, settle down, get married, and have kids. This is the life path that we’ve been taught to follow since young. This is the life script that we’ve been told is *the* way of life, that would bring us ultimate joy and happiness.

This is especially so in the Chinese culture, where having kids is seen as the ultimate goal in life. There are even sayings built around this notion, such as 生儿育女 (shēng ér yù nǚ), which means to birth sons and raise daughters, and 子孙满堂 (zǐ sūn mǎn táng), which means to be in a room filled with children and grandchildren, used to signify the epitome of happiness.

Multi-Generation Chinese Family at the Park

A multi-generation family, often used to depict a vision of happiness in the Chinese culture

So after you get married, people automatically assume that you should have kids. “When are you having kids?” they ask, somehow expecting you to give them a straight answer to what is really a personal question.

The problem with this question is that it’s rude. It’s presumptuous. It’s also insensitive.

1) There are many different paths to happiness

Firstly, everyone has their own path in life. Some people want kids, while some don’t. Some think that having kids is the greatest joy in life, while some see them as a burden. At the end of the day, having kids isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are significant ups and downs that come with having a kid, and for some people, the ups do not justify the downs. For these people, it may simply be better to remain childless, rather than having kids just to fit in or to fit societal expectations, and then set their lives up for unhappiness. To assume that everyone should have kids, just because you think that having kids is great and important, is rude and disregards that person’s own preferences in life.

For example, Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring woman and humanitarian who chose not to have kids, but has instead dedicated herself to her personal life purpose of serving the world. Oprah hosted her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, founded a leadership academy for girls and became a mother figure to the girls in attendance, and started her own television network. These are things that most do not get to do in their lifetime. Through the years, she has inspired millions and become a champion for people worldwide. As she says,

“When people were pressuring me to get married and have children, I knew I was not going to be a person that ever regretted not having them, because I feel like I am a mother to the world’s children. Love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if a child came from your womb or if you found that person at age two, 10, or 20. If the love is real, the caring is pure and it comes from a good space, it works.” — Oprah[1]

Is she not being a responsible or purposeful person or woman by choosing not to have kids? Definitely not. In fact, I dare say that she lives a much more purposeful life than many in the world, including some people who choose to have kids.

There are many famous celebrities who have chosen not to have kids as well.

  • Chelsea Handler is a talk show host who chose not to have kids. She has said honestly in interviews that she doesn’t have the time to raise a child, and she doesn’t want her kids to be raised by a nanny.[2][3]
  • Betty White is an actress and comedian who chose not to have kids because she’s passionate about her career and she prefers to focus on it.[4]
  • Ashley Judd is an actress and politican activist who chose not to have kids because she feels that there are already so many orphaned kids in this world. To her, her resources can be better used to help those who are already here, and I respect her for such a noble choice.[5]

And then there are others, such as Cameron Diaz, Chow Yun Fat, Marisa Tomei (the actress for Peter Parker’s aunt in Tom Holland’s Spider Man film series), Renée Zellweger, and Rachael Ray. These people choose not to have kids for different reasons, such as because they’re already pursuing paths deeply meaningful to them, because they do not wish to be tied down with a child, or because they just don’t feel a deep desire to have kids.

Not having kids has not prevented these people from being happy in life, and there’s no reason to assume why people must have kids in order to be happy. People need to stop painting this narrative that one must have children in order to be happy. There are plenty of people with kids who are unhappy, and plenty of people without kids who have found inner fulfillment in life through other ways. There is no one path to happiness, and people need to realize that.

2) You may well cause hurt and pain

Secondly, you never know what others are going through.

Some people may want kids, but maybe they are facing fertility struggles. For example,

  • Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan went through three miscarriages before having their firstborn.[6]
  • The Obamas had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF.[7]
  • Friends star Courteney Cox had a total of seven miscarriages before having her daughter, as she has a MTHFR gene mutation which raises the risk of miscarriage-causing blood clots.[8]

About 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant,[9] while 13.5% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, with the figure rising as the maternal age rises.[10]

For some people, the journey to conceive is fraught with deep pain, struggle, and losses as they experience miscarriages, undergo round after round of invasive fertility treatments, and wait in hope of the double blue lines on their pregnancy kit each month.

And then there are people who cannot have their own biological children due to issues with their reproductive system, which could have been there since birth.

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and family

Barack and Michelle Obama had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF

While you may be think that you’re being helpful or funny by asking people when they’re having kids, your question may well trigger hurt and pain. As Zuckerberg said,

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”[6]

3) Not everyone is in a place to have kids

Thirdly, having kids is simply not a reality for some people due to their circumstances in life.

Some people may lack the financial resources to have kids, a reality in a place like Singapore.

Some people may be facing problems with their marriage, in which case their priority should be to work on their marriage, not to have kids.

Some people may be so burdened with caring for their dependents that they are unable to consider kids, at least not at the moment.

And then there are people facing chronic health issues, issues that you don’t know and can’t see, which make pregnancy difficult due to the toll it would take on their body.

4) Some couples could still be thinking

And then there are people who are neutral to the idea of having kids, like myself when I just got married. These people need time to think it through, because having kids is a permanent, lifelong decision with serious consequences. There’s no reason to assume that having a kid should be an automatic decision, because you’re bringing a whole new life into this world. This is a decision that will change your life forever, as well as the life of the child you’re bringing into the world.

For those yet to have kids, they need the space to figure out what they want, not have people breathe down their neck day in and out about having kids.

My experience

For the initial years after I got married, I just wasn’t thinking about kids. Firstly, having a child is a lifelong decision, and I wanted to enjoy married life with my husband before diving into a decision as serious as that. Secondly, both my husband and I were genuinely happy spending the rest of our lives with just each other — we didn’t feel the need to have kids at all, not in the way my culture obsesses about it. Thirdly, my husband was dealing with some personal problems, and I was fully focused on supporting him through these. These were issues that we needed to sort through before considering kids, if we were to want kids.

Yet I kept getting nudges to have kids, even though I never said anything about wanting them.

“So, when are you having kids?”

“This person’s baby is so cute, isn’t it? Why don’t you hurry up and birth a baby?”

It was as if I was some vehicle, some production machine to have kids, where my own views in the matter didn’t matter. The most frustrating thing was that I kept getting this question, while my husband would never get it (as a man), not even when we were in the same room together.

It was as if my sole reason for existence as a woman was to have kids, and until I had them, I was regarded as unworthy or incomplete.

The decision to have kids

Yet the decision to have children is a personal one. It is also a complex one. It is a decision that will permanently change the lives of the couple in question.

It is not a decision that one should be pressurized into making because their mom wants to carry grandchildren or their aunt wants to play with kids. It’s a decision that a couple should make because they genuinely want to nurture another life.

Because when a child is born, the people bugging others to have kids aren’t the ones who will be caring for the baby 24/7, whose lives will be set back by years (even decades) as they care for a new life, or who will be responsible for every decision concerning the child for the next 18-21 years.

It will be the couple.

And the people who aren’t ready, who were pressured into having kids because they were told that it was the best thing to do, may have to deal with regret as they are stuck with a decision they cannot undo. Because there are people who regret having kids, and we need to be honest about that. These people regret, not because of the child’s fault, but because they were simply not ready to have kids, be it financially, emotionally, or mentally. Unfortunately, the children are the ones who eventually suffer, from living in dysfunctional households to dealing with issues of violenceabuse, and anger.

We need to recognize these realities, and not make parenthood seem like it’s some magical band-aid that solves a lack of purpose or life’s pressures. Things don’t magically get better because people have kids; existing problems usually worsen as having a child puts a big strain on a couple’s lives. Digging into people’s plans to have kids, and pressurizing them into one of the biggest life decisions they can ever make, will only stress them out and perhaps push some into depression. As this redditor shared,

“I have a friend who went through 6 years of miscarriages and fertility treatments before the doctors figured out the problem and she had her son. The nosy ladies at her work and her in-laws questioned her constantly. The depression from that made it harder for her to conceive.”

Stop asking couples when they’re having kids

So, if you tend to ask others when they’re having kids, it’s time to stop that. It’s rude, insensitive, and it disregards people’s privacy. It’s also none of your business.

The reality is that if people want kids, they will work on having kids. They don’t need you to prod them about it.

If they don’t have kids, it’s either because

  1. they really don’t want kids,
  2. they are not in a position to consider kids right now, or
  3. they want kids but they are facing some struggles.

For people in group (c), they aren’t going to share such deeply personal experience over some afternoon coffee chat, and certainly not by you asking, “When are you having kids?”

The best thing you can do is to give people their personal space. Understand that having kids is a personal decision, and people don’t have to share or explain anything. Respect that others have their right to privacy. Respect that people are individuals on their own path, and this path may not involve having kids. And this doesn’t make them incomplete or lesser in any way.

Instead of asking women or couples, “When are you having kids?”, talk to them like how you would a normal person. There’s no reason why conversations should suddenly revolve around childbearing after marriage; it’s not like a person’s identity changes to revolve around having kids. A person still has their own passion, goals, and dreams. Talk to them about what they’ve been doing. Understand their interests. Know them as a real person, not some random being here to fulfill society’s checklist.

If you’re really interested in someone’s plan to have children, you can simply ask, “Are you and your partner planning to have kids?” If they wish to share more, they will do so. If they give a generic answer, then take the hint and move on.

Ultimately, having kids or not doesn’t change a person’s self-worth. A woman is complete with or without kids. A marriage doesn’t need kids to be deemed complete. Having kids should be a conscious choice, not a result of external pressure. Don’t judge people by whether they have kids or not. Some people will have kids, and some people will not have kids. Some will have kids early, while some will have them later in life. All of these are different paths and there’s nothing wrong with them.

For Me

For my husband and I, we eventually had a few discussions and decided to have a baby, and had our baby girl this year (2020). 😊 Yet other people’s comments and nudges to have children didn’t make me want to have children; it only annoyed me and made me want to avoid these people, because having a child is a personal decision between me and my husband, that has nothing to do with them. It was after we had the space to settle down and enjoy married life without kids, and took some time to actively pursue our goals and interests, that we finally felt ready to try for a kid last year.

In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. There are other things that I’m working on, other things that are happening that I look forward to sharing in time to come. Sending lots of love to you, and remember that whatever life challenge you’re facing, you have it in you to overcome it. I’ll talk to you guys soon! 🙂

More posts on mindset please who agrees?

Mentors, peers, and teachers all told her, “You’ll never make it as a dancer.”

After a decade of setbacks –– a spinal stroke, multiple assaults, and repeatedly being passed over because she “didn’t look the part” –– not only did today’s guest make it as a professional dancer, but she also paved the way for dancers of all abilities and disabilities to do the same.

Marisa Hamamoto is a performing artist, speaker, and founder of Infinite Flow, a nonprofit and professional dance company composed of dancers with and without disabilities. She’s on this MarieTV sharing how she’s using the universal language of dance to change how people think about disability.

She says, “Dance doesn’t discriminate. When you’re dancing with someone, you see beyond race, color, size, gender, ability, and disability.”

Marisa’s path to becoming a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion was not straightforward or easy. How’d she defy the odds? She listened to her heart, even when it wasn’t crystal clear, and JUST. KEPT. GOING.


Our brains process images 60 times faster than words and when you see the beauty of inclusion you see its potential. @marisahamamoto
Click To Tweet


Don’t miss these episode highlights:

2:50 — How to get back up after being bullied, assaulted, or told “you’ll never make it.”
7:22 — Marisa’s accident in dance class that changed everything.
10:48 — What Japanese toilets can teach you about hope.
18:50 — How Marisa became a professional ballroom dancer even when she was “too old” and terrified of human contact.
22:41 — A five-word mantra to help you bounce back from rock bottom.
32:30 — Two things you *need* to remember about inclusion.
38:53 — Lost your way? The perfect question to ask yourself.
44:12 — Behind-the-scenes of making Scoops of Inclusion, a film for kids, during a pandemic.
47:07 — The #1 piece of advice to live by so you can keep serving without burning out.

Have you ever experienced a major setback while going for your goals?

Has anyone, maybe even someone you admire, discouraged you from pursuing your passion?

Do you have an inkling there’s something more for you, but you’re not sure what it is?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll love this MarieTV. Let Marisa be your inspiration, your guide, and a shining example of how going for your dreams and sharing your gifts does change the world for the better.

Hit play to watch now or listen on The Marie Forleo Podcast.

View Transcript

Check out this episode on The Marie Forleo Podcast

Listen Now

DIVE DEEPER: Get inspired by this teenage hip hop dancer who’s fighting for body positivity and discover your special gift (even if you don’t think you have one.)

Even though she had no idea where it would take her, Marisa Hamamoto was determined to pursue her passion for dance — the one place she felt free and like she truly belonged. Whenever she felt lost or faced a crushing obstacle, she told herself, “When in doubt, focus out.”

Now I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, let me know what insight from today’s MarieTV you will put into action.

In your journal or in the comments below this post, I highly encourage you to answer these two questions from this episode:

  1. What most excites you and lights you up?
  2. How can you best be of service today?

As Marisa Hamamoto says (and I couldn’t agree more): “When you connect your passion to a purpose, magic happens.”

Time to create your magic.

With SO much love and appreciation,

XO 

The post Anyone Can Dance — Celebrating Diversity Through Movement with Marisa Hamamoto appeared first on .

anyone else love this as much as i do

Mentors, peers, and teachers all told her, “You’ll never make it as a dancer.”

After a decade of setbacks –– a spinal stroke, multiple assaults, and repeatedly being passed over because she “didn’t look the part” –– not only did today’s guest make it as a professional dancer, but she also paved the way for dancers of all abilities and disabilities to do the same.

Marisa Hamamoto is a performing artist, speaker, and founder of Infinite Flow, a nonprofit and professional dance company composed of dancers with and without disabilities. She’s on this MarieTV sharing how she’s using the universal language of dance to change how people think about disability.

She says, “Dance doesn’t discriminate. When you’re dancing with someone, you see beyond race, color, size, gender, ability, and disability.”

Marisa’s path to becoming a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion was not straightforward or easy. How’d she defy the odds? She listened to her heart, even when it wasn’t crystal clear, and JUST. KEPT. GOING.


Our brains process images 60 times faster than words and when you see the beauty of inclusion you see its potential. @marisahamamoto
Click To Tweet


Don’t miss these episode highlights:

2:50 — How to get back up after being bullied, assaulted, or told “you’ll never make it.”
7:22 — Marisa’s accident in dance class that changed everything.
10:48 — What Japanese toilets can teach you about hope.
18:50 — How Marisa became a professional ballroom dancer even when she was “too old” and terrified of human contact.
22:41 — A five-word mantra to help you bounce back from rock bottom.
32:30 — Two things you *need* to remember about inclusion.
38:53 — Lost your way? The perfect question to ask yourself.
44:12 — Behind-the-scenes of making Scoops of Inclusion, a film for kids, during a pandemic.
47:07 — The #1 piece of advice to live by so you can keep serving without burning out.

Have you ever experienced a major setback while going for your goals?

Has anyone, maybe even someone you admire, discouraged you from pursuing your passion?

Do you have an inkling there’s something more for you, but you’re not sure what it is?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll love this MarieTV. Let Marisa be your inspiration, your guide, and a shining example of how going for your dreams and sharing your gifts does change the world for the better.

Hit play to watch now or listen on The Marie Forleo Podcast.

View Transcript

Check out this episode on The Marie Forleo Podcast

Listen Now

DIVE DEEPER: Get inspired by this teenage hip hop dancer who’s fighting for body positivity and discover your special gift (even if you don’t think you have one.)

Even though she had no idea where it would take her, Marisa Hamamoto was determined to pursue her passion for dance — the one place she felt free and like she truly belonged. Whenever she felt lost or faced a crushing obstacle, she told herself, “When in doubt, focus out.”

Now I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, let me know what insight from today’s MarieTV you will put into action.

In your journal or in the comments below this post, I highly encourage you to answer these two questions from this episode:

  1. What most excites you and lights you up?
  2. How can you best be of service today?

As Marisa Hamamoto says (and I couldn’t agree more): “When you connect your passion to a purpose, magic happens.”

Time to create your magic.

With SO much love and appreciation,

XO 

The post Anyone Can Dance — Celebrating Diversity Through Movement with Marisa Hamamoto appeared first on .

More posts on method please like = agree

I’m going to be honest: most courses you take in university aren’t worth a whole lot. That’s not because the professors are bad or the coursework is pointless (although sometimes that is definitely the case). I mean that most of the courses you take will never be all that relevant to the rest of your life.

But then, every once in a while, often by accident, you stumble into a course that is hugely impactful on your life. That happened to me in my sophomore year. I needed to take an elective from the humanities department, and not wanting to get sucked into a seminar on “Romantic literature of the 1840s” or whatever, I went for the least humanities-sounding thing I could find on the list: a philosophy course called “Logic and Reasoning.” It probably ended up being the most valuable course I ever took in my life.

From day one, I loved my logic course. Each morning, we’d all come into class to find a question like this on the board:

“Every time a train arrives at the station, there are many passengers on the platform. You arrive at the station and see many passengers waiting on the platform. Is it necessarily true that a train will arrive soon?” 

Pretty much everyone in the class would answer “yes” and then become infuriated when the professor told us the correct answer was no—just because trains always arrive when there are many passengers does not mean that many passengers will always result in a train arriving.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pissed off twenty-year-olds as I did in that classroom each week. Many would accuse the professor of making shit up to humiliate them and give them poor grades. Others simply couldn’t follow what was going on, struggling to follow the steps in reasoning between “people,” “train,” and “time.” But I loved it.

Despite the outrage, the professor was demonstrating some of the most fundamental principles of thinking:

  • Just because two things often occur together does not mean that they will necessarily always occur together.
  • Just because a line of reasoning is intuitive does not mean it’s correct—logic can often be counterintuitive.

Logic is the bedrock of pretty much all human knowledge. As such, philosophers have killed many trees over the centuries, analyzing and determining the principles that define logic and reason. Their ambition has been to determine what we can know to be true and what we cannot know to be true.

What most people don’t realize is that logical fallacies—that is, errors in judgment and reasoning—are incredibly common in day-to-day life. Worse, we’re mostly unaware of how they disrupt and harm our lives, often in profound ways. These fallacies are right in front of our noses, yet we are so comfortable with our own thought processes that we fail to spot them.

This article will take you through some of the most common logical fallacies. It will teach you how to not only spot them in yourself but also how to spot them in others.

Correlation is Not Causation

Let’s start with probably the most important fallacy to understand—the one you and I and everyone we know fucks up with abandon: correlation is not causation. Just because two things regularly occur together does not mean one causes the other.

Let’s pretend for a second that today, I ate some ice cream and you lost your job. And what’s crazier is that the last time I ate ice cream, somebody else lost their job. Would you then say that me eating ice cream causes people to lose jobs? (If so, this would be one strange superpower.) Or would you simply say these are two common occurrences that happen to be occurring together for a short period of time?

You’d say the latter.

Yet, you’d be surprised how often this sort of thing gets passed off as “news” in the world.

You often see news articles announcing things such as, “Social Media causes anxiety and depression” or that “unemployment is caused by raising the minimum wage.”

Yet, when you dig into the data, the researchers found correlations—ice cream and job losses—and not causation.

Anxiety and depression increased and social media usage increased. That doesn’t mean one caused the other. It could be a coincidence. There could be some mysterious third force causing both to happen. The arrow of causation could point the other direction (e.g., people are becoming more depressed, so they retreat to social media more often to feel better).

Two things occurring together does not tell us much about whether one caused the other.

This is a huge problem in academic research. Scientists frequently present data in a way that suggests causation when all they found is a correlation. And even if they don’t present it that way, journalists will often take correlational data and write about it as if it’s causative.

The fact is, so much stuff happens at the same time and we have no idea why. You could argue that almost any correlation looks like causation if you wanted to. In fact, there’s a website called Spurious Correlations that does just that.

For example, here’s the correlation between Nicolas Cage movies and deaths caused by drowning in a pool:

Logical fallacy - spurious correlation - Nicholas Cage movies and drowning in a pool

Here’s cheese consumption and the number of people who were killed by their bedsheets:

Logical fallacies spurious correlation - cheese consumption and death by bedsheets

But my favorite one is probably the correlation between the divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine:

Logical fallacies - spurious correlaitons - divorce rate in Maine and consumption of margarine

Some day there’s going to be a politician in Maine shouting, “We can no longer let our families be destroyed by margarine!” Just you wait.

Slippery Slope Fallacy

Stop me if you’ve ever heard this line of reasoning before:

“We can’t let teenagers drink alcohol because if they drink alcohol, then they’ll start doing drugs, and if they do drugs then they’ll become criminals. And if they become criminals, then they’ll end up in prison and ruin their lives. Therefore, allowing teenagers to drink alcohol will ruin their lives.” 

The slippery slope fallacy is when you take one mild negative consequence and tie it with a similar but extreme negative consequence and then argue that one will lead to the other. You see this fallacy show up in all sorts of places, especially within business organizations, foreign policy, and yes, paranoid parenting.

The truth is that some but not all kids who drink alcohol do drugs. Some but not all kids who do drugs become addicts. Some but not all addicts become criminals. Some but not all criminals ruin their lives. Therefore, it is logically inaccurate to compare drinking alcohol with ruining a life.

(Not to mention, the data that shows that teenagers who drink alcohol are X times more likely to do drugs could be another case of “correlation is not causation.”)

The Slippery Slope Fallacy often fucks us up because it generates a lot of unnecessary fear and anxiety. We mess up an assignment at work. The boss gets mad. You start thinking, “Well if the boss is mad, then she’s going to hate me. And if the boss hates me, then I’m going to get fired. And if I get fired, then I’m going to be homeless. OMG I DON’T WANT TO BE HOMELESS!!!”

Calm your shit, buck-o. There are a lot of steps between a TPS Report and homelessness.

Homeless tent camp
Behold… all of the poorly filed TPS Reports

False Dichotomies

There are some classes of arguments where there are legitimately only two options. For instance, I could say, “There are two kinds of people in this world: people named Ron and people not named Ron.” This is a true dichotomy (or division of two): you’re either named Ron or you’re not.

But a false dichotomy is when a set of options is presented as if only two possibilities exist but in reality, many more exist.

For example, if I said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: people named Ron and fucking idiots.” This is a false dichotomy. Why? Because these two options don’t encompass all potential options.

There are plenty of people not named Ron who are also not idiots. Also—and I can tell you this from experience—there are plenty of people named Ron who are total fucking idiots.

Ronald McDonald
Just look at this fucking idiot named Ron.

False dichotomies are used to manipulate people into allying with the speaker. You often hear politicians or other leaders say, “You’re either with us or against us,” as a way to whip people into line. But this is a false dichotomy. You could be indifferent. You could be partially with them and partially against them. You could be against everybody. Don’t buy into this bullshit.

But false dichotomies often hurt us when we judge ourselves. We often say things to ourselves like, “If I worked harder, I wouldn’t be such a loser.” You know you can be a loser who works hard, right? You can also not be a loser and not work hard, too. In fact, being a loser and working hard are completely arbitrary things that you just decided to force into a false dichotomy.

Why? To feel like shit about yourself. Now, why would you do that? I bet your name is Ron…

Begging the Question

Begging the question occurs when someone’s argument relies upon its own assumptions to make its case. For example:

  • Everything in the Bible is true. Why? Because in the Bible, it says that everything in it is true.
  • My husband always knows what’s right for me. Why? Because he told me that he always knows what’s right for me and he’s always right, so…
  • Carl is a dork. Why? Because he tries to pretend he’s not a dork, so that makes him a dork.

This is often called “circular reasoning” because if you follow the logic, it leads you in a circle.

Logical fallacies - circular reasoning

But similar to the fallacies above, begging the question can be subtle as well.

For example, I once got in an argument with an anarchist about politics (never recommended, by the way). He said that any organization that commits violence and wields influence over the population is inherently evil. Well, when you boil it down, part of the function of any government is to monopolize violence and wield influence over the population (ideally, for the benefit of all). I spent the better part of ten minutes trying to explain to this guy that he was simply restating the same belief over and over, yet, as you can imagine, it didn’t really go anywhere.

Red Herrings

Red Herrings are arguments that seem relevant to an issue but actually are not. For example, we could be arguing about whether being vegetarian is more ethical than eating meat. Then, in the middle of a perfectly fine argument, I blurt out, “Well, Hitler was vegetarian! And he surely wasn’t ethical!”

This is a distraction from the real point of debate: whether eating meat is inherently unethical. These kinds of distractions from the argument are known as “red herrings.” And if you—god forbid—spend lots of time watching and reading the news, you will notice a large proportion of what is said and written is some form of a red herring.

Red herring logical fallacy: Hitler was a vegetarian

Red herrings are also usually logical fallacies themselves. For example, the assumption that because Hitler was vegetarian, and Hitler was unethical, vegetarianism must be unethical is known as the Fallacy of Composition—when something that is true for a part is assumed to be true for the whole (i.e., Paul is American and he is short, therefore Americans must be short).

Red Herrings are often used by people to divert blame away from themselves.

You: “Jon, you stole my bike.”

Jon: “Property is just a social construct, you didn’t really lose anything. After all, you have money for a new one.”

You: “Money isn’t the point, you fucking stole from me!

Jon: “Millions of things get stolen every day, I don’t understand why you’re so upset it happened to you.”

You:BECAUSE IT’S WRONG! YOU FUCKING STOLE MY SHIT!!!

Jon: “Wow man, you’ve clearly got some anger problems going on here. You know, I don’t think I want to deal with someone who is so angry all the time. I’m going to bike home now.”

You: “RRRAAAAGHGHHH!#@#@!#!M@$IUBRFNKLAS”

(We all know a Jon… don’t be friends with a Jon.)

Appeals to the Bandwagon, Authority, and Pity

When in an argument, it’s tempting to skip the logic and go straight to appealing to some outside source to make your point feel more resonant.

Well, unfortunately, logic doesn’t give a shit about your feelings. A bad argument is a bad argument, regardless of who agrees with you.

There are three common appeals that people make when trying to win points for their side:

  • An appeal to authority: “Well, the president said it’s true, so it must be true!”
  • An appeal to pity: “I know the data says that social media isn’t the problem, but these poor kids have so much anxiety, we should still get rid of their phones.”
  • An appeal to the majority: “Everyone I know says that vaccines are dangerous, so it must be true.”

The hyper-social nature of our species causes us to appeal to outside influences. We all want to belong to a community. We all want to associate with high-status people. We all want others to know we’re kind and considerate.

The problem is that none of these things have anything to do with logic or truth. If something is true, it’s true whether anyone believes it or not.

How much science cares if you believe in it

At the end of the day, the truth doesn’t give a shit about you or me or anyone else. We care. And because we care we trick ourselves into thinking that these opinions affect the truth when they don’t.

Ad Hominem

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get in an argument with another kid, and they’d point out how you were wrong, and at a complete loss of how to defend yourself, you’d blurt out, “Well you’re just a smelly goat-face! And I don’t listen to smelly goat-faces,” and stomp off as if that solved something?

Yeah, that’s an ad hominem fallacy.

Sometimes, rather than attack someone’s argument, we just attack the person instead. You see this all the time in politics. Senator X wants to reform education. Senator Y doesn’t. But instead of arguing against Senator X’s proposals, Senator Y just calls Senator X a smelly goat-face. Voters cheer. Senator Y wins re-election. Democracy continues on as planned.

Art Spader Quote: "The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid."

Sadly, the Ad Hominem Fallacy seems to be the fallacy of choice in political discourse and much of journalism these days. Political opponents rarely seem to be able to debate issues without launching personal attacks on one another that have nothing to do with the argument at hand.

Straw Man

If the Ad Hominem Fallacy is the bread and butter of politicians, then the Straw Man Fallacy is the bread and butter of social media.

Rather than debating a claim based on its merits, we sometimes substitute a distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise ridiculously misrepresented version of the argument to more easily attack it.

This is called the “straw man” fallacy because, like replacing a real person with a person made of straw, you’re replacing a stronger argument with a weaker one in order to more easily discredit it.

Straw men arguments are quite common—and shockingly dumb:

  • “You’re pro-choice? So you enjoy killing babies, I see.”
  • “You want to reduce the defense budget? You must hate the military and don’t support our soldiers.”

Straw man logical fallacy - Condescending Wonka

More subtle examples of the straw man argument are quite common too. For instance, someone might argue that we should work to reduce the prison population by enforcing more lenient punishments for non-violent drug offenses. A subtle but common straw man counterargument is that such a view is “soft on crime.” This distorts the original argument by implying that all crimes should be punished more leniently when the real argument is that some drug crimes don’t warrant prison time.

The real damage of the straw man fallacy isn’t necessarily that it’s wrong—it’s that it distracts everyone horribly from the real issue at hand. People spend the entire time defending their beliefs from ridiculous characterizations and no one actually talks about the real issues.

The Importance of Sound Reasoning

If you haven’t noticed, we all kinda suck at this logic and reason thing. This list is just a tiny slice of the logical fallacies pie but probably accounts for a significant portion of what we think and are exposed to each day.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make every effort to be better. After all, logic and reason are our life preservers in a vast sea of uncertainty and bullshit. To let go of the life preserver, to cling onto the latest, greatest fad or the dipshit who’s currently on your screen… well, that’s intellectual suicide.

Not to mention that a lot of these logical fallacies can turn you into an insufferable dick pretty quickly. Debating with someone over the merits of an idea or argument is already contentious enough. But falling into the trap of these logical fallacies, many of which hinge on making a mockery of the other person’s ideas (or the person themselves), will not make you the biggest hit at children’s parties. Not to mention people won’t exactly be thrilled to talk to you about anything important or meaningful.

At best, fallacious reasoning keeps bad ideas alive. At its worst, it pits us against each other in a hopeless downward spiral of tit-for-tat where nobody really wins and everyone definitely loses.

Logical reasoning isn’t about “winning” an argument. It’s about finding the truth. And inevitably, getting closer to truth requires one to recognize and admit when they’re wrong. And that’s something you, me, and all the Rons of the world could be a bit better at.

 

loving the post

The Opportunity in Adversity

By Eckhart Tolle

Life unfolds between the polarities of order and chaos. It is important at this time to recognize these two fundamental opposites, without which the world could not even be. Another word for disorder is “adversity.” When it becomes more extreme, we might call it “chaos.”

We would prefer, of course, to have order in our lives, which means to have things going well. We would like relative harmony in our lives. Yet, that very often is marred by the eruption of some form of disorder. And, usually, we resent that—we get angry, or despondent, or sad.

Disorder comes in many, many forms, big and small. When disorder comes it usually creates a kind of havoc in our lives, accompanied by strong underlying beliefs. “There’s something very wrong, this should not be happening, maybe God is against me,” and so on. Again, we need to understand that disorder, or adversity, is inevitable and is an essential part of a higher order.

 From a higher perspective, a higher level, the existence of order and disorder, or order and chaos, is a necessary part of the evolution of life.

 Many people have found that they experience a deepening, or a deeper sense of self or beingness, immediately after and as a result of having endured a period of disorder or chaos. This is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul,” a term from medieval Christianity used to describe the mental breakdown that many mystics experienced prior to awakening spiritually. There was an eruption of disorder, of destruction. Then, out of that, a deeper realization arose.

 And although that can be very painful, the strange thing is, it’s precisely there that many humans experience a transcendence. A strange fact is that it almost never happens that people awaken spiritually while they’re in their comfort zone. Or that they become deeper as human beings, which would be a partial awakening. It almost never happens. The place where the evolutionary shift happens, or the evolutionary leap, is usually the experience of disorder in a person’s life.

And so your life then moves between order and disorder. You have both, and they’re both necessary. There’s no guarantee that when disorder erupts this will bring about an awakening or a deepening, but there’s always the possibility. It is an opportunity, but often, it is missed.

 So here we are at this time, and our mission is the same: to align with the present moment, with whatever is happening here and now. The upheaval that we’re experiencing at the present time probably will not be the last upheaval that’s going to come on a collective level. However, it is an opportunity—because although this is a time for upheavals, it is also a time for awakening. The two go together. Just as in an individual life, you need adversity to awaken. It’s an opportunity but not a guarantee. And so what looks tragic and unpleasant on a conventional level is actually perfectly fine and as it should be on a higher level; it would not be happening otherwise. It’s all part of the awakening of human beings and of planetary awakening.

To learn more about Eckhart’s teachings on Conscious Manifestation, click here.

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Nice I love self-improvement

john-silliman-yoZWr8iQ93o-unsplash

I’d like to speak to any of my readers who have supported the current U.S. president in the past, or who are planning to do so again this year. Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to understand where you’re coming from.

I wrote and rewrote this post at least three times before figuring out what I wanted to say. I knew that if I insulted you, you wouldn’t listen—which is fair, because I don’t tend to listen to people who insult me either.

One of you wrote to me recently to say that I must think everyone who supports Trump is a moron. But that’s not true, I replied. I think a lot of them know exactly what they’re getting with their candidate.

And that, to me, is the greatest problem and what I find the scariest of all.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, however. As I said, I’ve been trying to understand why so many people would support someone with the clear intention of destabilizing the world. So first, I thought I’d try to take a step back and think about it more. To start, I went back four years and what seems like a lifetime ago.​

Why Vote for Trump in 2016? A Few Actual Reasons

What, I wondered, would cause a version of myself to be attracted to such a candidate—could there be anything?

In fact, I realized there could be several things. One, there was a destructive approach to his strategy as a first-time candidate that I respected. He came into a traditional party structure and refused to follow its rules, somehow managing to impose his own and getting everyone else to follow along. There’s no doubt about it: this was a remarkable feat.

Under the right circumstances, being an outsider can convey power and status, especially when the insider choices are so undesirable. If you’re frustrated with the political process in America (and there are many good reasons to be), then I can see why it’s attractive to encounter a successful candidate who disregards nearly all of it.

Similarly, I tend to admire people who question norms and protocol. Should the U.S. president have to spend his time hosting state dinners and welcoming sports teams? Must he pretend to respect his opponents in the primary, even if everyone knows they all hate each other?

Clearly, there’s a line between bravado and carnage. But on the surface level, someone who says “Screw this, I’m going to do it my way” has a certain appeal.

So I get it! At least some of it.

Furthermore, if you believed that things “aren’t the way they used to be” and along comes a candidate who makes a direct appeal to the past instead of the future, then I understand how some of those pieces clicked into place for you. Mitt Romney was honest when he told Michigan that its auto manufacturing jobs weren’t going to come back—and he lost the election. Trump promised them otherwise, even though he had no ability to make it happen—and he won.

Lastly, perhaps you supported him four years ago as a protest vote of sorts. You didn’t like Hillary, for whatever reason, so you thought “I’ll just add to the number of votes for the other side, even though we all know he won’t actually win.”

Voting for Hillary was the obvious choice for me, but if I a) didn’t like her, and b) thought she was going to win no matter what I did, then I understand the protest vote logic.

Of course, much to everyone’s surprise—including the president himself, it seems—he actually won! Russia helped, and so did James Comey, but I don’t deny the fact that a lot of people in the right swing states truly believed in him. The phenomenon was real.​

What We’ve Learned in Four Years

But now it’s time for the reality check. That was then, and now here we are four years later. For everyone who said, “Let’s give him a chance,” ask yourself: how did that turn out? For anyone who thought he would grow to be presidential and stop bullying people online all day, what happened?

Again, you need to acknowledge reality. This is an administration that has separated families and put immigrants in cages. On a daily basis, the president uses a social network to insult not only his enemies, but eventually every single person or group he encounters. No one is safe, not military veterans, the disabled, or even his own revolving cabinet of advisers.

Above all, this is an administration that refuses to acknowledge facts or tell the truth. Over and over, the president and his allies lie directly, and his supporters (maybe you?) don’t seem to mind.

As the saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

If you have children or grandchildren, how do you explain to them that the president of the United States makes payoffs to porn stars? (And do you remember that the greatest moral controversy of Obama’s eight years in power was when he wore a tan suit to a press conference?)

ThinkAgain

Making America Worse Than Anyone Thought Possible

One of the great ironies of the president’s agenda—if such a thing exists, since so much of it is driven by personality instead of ideology—is that the promise to “make America great again” has actually made America much worse off.

Back in 2016, Trump campaigned with rhetoric about how the world was laughing at the U.S. because we were “weak.” I travel a lot, or at least I did before the pandemic—and I can assure you that the world thinks very differently about American leadership now than it did four years ago.

It’s not a positive change. Our allies are shaken, and our enemies are emboldened. Why do you think Russia has invested so much in trying to destabilize the U.S.? They achieved a tremendous victory four years ago, and they’re on the verge of doing so again.​

It’s Time to Correct a Big Mistake

So here’s what it comes down to: if you voted to support Trump last time, you made a big mistake.

Sorry, but it’s true. The consequences of the 2016 election have been severe and enduring. The pandemic was always going to happen, but it didn’t have to be this bad. Conflict in society is inevitable, but we don’t need to reach the point of complete collapse.

Still, here we are. We all make mistakes. No one can change the outcome of the last election, but so much more is at stake for the next four years. No matter what you thought about this president until now, there’s still time—a very short amount of time—to redeem yourself and walk away.

For my readers who are more progressive, it’s important for you to show up too. Don’t give in to the lie that this election doesn’t matter, or that because Bernie Sanders (or whoever you preferred) didn’t win the nomination, it’s not worth it. You need to do your part!

But I’m not writing this letter to you, because you don’t need my encouragement.

Instead, I’m writing to anyone who is thinking of supporting the president’s reelection, whether you’ve followed my work for a while or have just stumbled upon this communication.

Here’s what I would say to you, as strongly as I can: please don’t vote for Trump this time. You need to reconsider, and change course while you still can.

If you’ve never voted for a Democrat before, this is the time to jump ship.

If you have to go against the wishes of your family, so be it. Now is the time to be courageous.

I’m not asking you to donate to the Biden campaign or join a political party (I’ve never belonged to one myself). What I’m saying is that his candidacy is the only path forward to prevent further breakdown of civil society.

One candidate in this election is a decent, competent person. His biggest weaknesses are that he seems a little out of touch and he talks too much. The other candidate is a sexual predator who has encouraged armed militias to support him if he doesn’t win the election. He has deployed the National Guard to tear gas peaceful citizens for the sake of a photo op. Why is this a hard choice?

MaskVote

So for anyone who’s ever thought, “America should be better than this,” here’s what you need to do. First, register to vote (there’s still time in most states) and request a mail-in ballot if you can.

Second, talk to your parents and grandparents who support Trump. If they’re getting their news from Facebook, that’s half the problem—tell them what’s really going on, show them the evidence from actual news sources, and encourage them to change their minds.

International readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Most of you know that the whole world is watching this election, and the outcome will affect your lives in many ways. Far-right governments are on the rise worldwide, and they gain strength when they see that a leader in the richest country in the world can get away with this.

So if you’re not in the U.S., encourage your American friends to do the right thing—tell them that you don’t hate them if they voted differently (or didn’t vote at all) before, but now’s the time for them to step up and make a change.

Last but not least, for anyone who says “Wow, Chris, I like your other work, but I don’t like you being so political”—the reality is that our lives are always political. I have been writing about things that matter since I started my blog in 2008, and if anything ever mattered, this is it.

I don’t care if you unsubscribe from my newsletter or stop reading my blog (and there’s no need to send me a message letting me know), but I do care that you decide where you stand in this critical time of history.

Simply put, you need to choose a side. Please choose the right one this time.​​

Yours in democracy,

Chris Guillebeau

P.S. To my fellow artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and creators: guess what? You need to take a side, too. Attempting to be neutral in this situation is another mistake. Be brave and speak up!

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Images: 1, 2, 3

Absolutely love everything like this

I’m going to be honest: most courses you take in university aren’t worth a whole lot. That’s not because the professors are bad or the coursework is pointless (although sometimes that is definitely the case). I mean that most of the courses you take will never be all that relevant to the rest of your life.

But then, every once in a while, often by accident, you stumble into a course that is hugely impactful on your life. That happened to me in my sophomore year. I needed to take an elective from the humanities department, and not wanting to get sucked into a seminar on “Romantic literature of the 1840s” or whatever, I went for the least humanities-sounding thing I could find on the list: a philosophy course called “Logic and Reasoning.” It probably ended up being the most valuable course I ever took in my life.

From day one, I loved my logic course. Each morning, we’d all come into class to find a question like this on the board:

“Every time a train arrives at the station, there are many passengers on the platform. You arrive at the station and see many passengers waiting on the platform. Is it necessarily true that a train will arrive soon?” 

Pretty much everyone in the class would answer “yes” and then become infuriated when the professor told us the correct answer was no—just because trains always arrive when there are many passengers does not mean that many passengers will always result in a train arriving.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pissed off twenty-year-olds as I did in that classroom each week. Many would accuse the professor of making shit up to humiliate them and give them poor grades. Others simply couldn’t follow what was going on, struggling to follow the steps in reasoning between “people,” “train,” and “time.” But I loved it.

Despite the outrage, the professor was demonstrating some of the most fundamental principles of thinking:

  • Just because two things often occur together does not mean that they will necessarily always occur together.
  • Just because a line of reasoning is intuitive does not mean it’s correct—logic can often be counterintuitive.

Logic is the bedrock of pretty much all human knowledge. As such, philosophers have killed many trees over the centuries, analyzing and determining the principles that define logic and reason. Their ambition has been to determine what we can know to be true and what we cannot know to be true.

What most people don’t realize is that logical fallacies—that is, errors in judgment and reasoning—are incredibly common in day-to-day life. Worse, we’re mostly unaware of how they disrupt and harm our lives, often in profound ways. These fallacies are right in front of our noses, yet we are so comfortable with our own thought processes that we fail to spot them.

This article will take you through some of the most common logical fallacies. It will teach you how to not only spot them in yourself but also how to spot them in others.

Correlation is Not Causation

Let’s start with probably the most important fallacy to understand—the one you and I and everyone we know fucks up with abandon: correlation is not causation. Just because two things regularly occur together does not mean one causes the other.

Let’s pretend for a second that today, I ate some ice cream and you lost your job. And what’s crazier is that the last time I ate ice cream, somebody else lost their job. Would you then say that me eating ice cream causes people to lose jobs? (If so, this would be one strange superpower.) Or would you simply say these are two common occurrences that happen to be occurring together for a short period of time?

You’d say the latter.

Yet, you’d be surprised how often this sort of thing gets passed off as “news” in the world.

You often see news articles announcing things such as, “Social Media causes anxiety and depression” or that “unemployment is caused by raising the minimum wage.”

Yet, when you dig into the data, the researchers found correlations—ice cream and job losses—and not causation.

Anxiety and depression increased and social media usage increased. That doesn’t mean one caused the other. It could be a coincidence. There could be some mysterious third force causing both to happen. The arrow of causation could point the other direction (e.g., people are becoming more depressed, so they retreat to social media more often to feel better).

Two things occurring together does not tell us much about whether one caused the other.

This is a huge problem in academic research. Scientists frequently present data in a way that suggests causation when all they found is a correlation. And even if they don’t present it that way, journalists will often take correlational data and write about it as if it’s causative.

The fact is, so much stuff happens at the same time and we have no idea why. You could argue that almost any correlation looks like causation if you wanted to. In fact, there’s a website called Spurious Correlations that does just that.

For example, here’s the correlation between Nicolas Cage movies and deaths caused by drowning in a pool:

Logical fallacy - spurious correlation - Nicholas Cage movies and drowning in a pool

Here’s cheese consumption and the number of people who were killed by their bedsheets:

Logical fallacies spurious correlation - cheese consumption and death by bedsheets

But my favorite one is probably the correlation between the divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine:

Logical fallacies - spurious correlaitons - divorce rate in Maine and consumption of margarine

Some day there’s going to be a politician in Maine shouting, “We can no longer let our families be destroyed by margarine!” Just you wait.

Slippery Slope Fallacy

Stop me if you’ve ever heard this line of reasoning before:

“We can’t let teenagers drink alcohol because if they drink alcohol, then they’ll start doing drugs, and if they do drugs then they’ll become criminals. And if they become criminals, then they’ll end up in prison and ruin their lives. Therefore, allowing teenagers to drink alcohol will ruin their lives.” 

The slippery slope fallacy is when you take one mild negative consequence and tie it with a similar but extreme negative consequence and then argue that one will lead to the other. You see this fallacy show up in all sorts of places, especially within business organizations, foreign policy, and yes, paranoid parenting.

The truth is that some but not all kids who drink alcohol do drugs. Some but not all kids who do drugs become addicts. Some but not all addicts become criminals. Some but not all criminals ruin their lives. Therefore, it is logically inaccurate to compare drinking alcohol with ruining a life.

(Not to mention, the data that shows that teenagers who drink alcohol are X times more likely to do drugs could be another case of “correlation is not causation.”)

The Slippery Slope Fallacy often fucks us up because it generates a lot of unnecessary fear and anxiety. We mess up an assignment at work. The boss gets mad. You start thinking, “Well if the boss is mad, then she’s going to hate me. And if the boss hates me, then I’m going to get fired. And if I get fired, then I’m going to be homeless. OMG I DON’T WANT TO BE HOMELESS!!!”

Calm your shit, buck-o. There are a lot of steps between a TPS Report and homelessness.

Homeless tent camp
Behold… all of the poorly filed TPS Reports

False Dichotomies

There are some classes of arguments where there are legitimately only two options. For instance, I could say, “There are two kinds of people in this world: people named Ron and people not named Ron.” This is a true dichotomy (or division of two): you’re either named Ron or you’re not.

But a false dichotomy is when a set of options is presented as if only two possibilities exist but in reality, many more exist.

For example, if I said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: people named Ron and fucking idiots.” This is a false dichotomy. Why? Because these two options don’t encompass all potential options.

There are plenty of people not named Ron who are also not idiots. Also—and I can tell you this from experience—there are plenty of people named Ron who are total fucking idiots.

Ronald McDonald
Just look at this fucking idiot named Ron.

False dichotomies are used to manipulate people into allying with the speaker. You often hear politicians or other leaders say, “You’re either with us or against us,” as a way to whip people into line. But this is a false dichotomy. You could be indifferent. You could be partially with them and partially against them. You could be against everybody. Don’t buy into this bullshit.

But false dichotomies often hurt us when we judge ourselves. We often say things to ourselves like, “If I worked harder, I wouldn’t be such a loser.” You know you can be a loser who works hard, right? You can also not be a loser and not work hard, too. In fact, being a loser and working hard are completely arbitrary things that you just decided to force into a false dichotomy.

Why? To feel like shit about yourself. Now, why would you do that? I bet your name is Ron…

Begging the Question

Begging the question occurs when someone’s argument relies upon its own assumptions to make its case. For example:

  • Everything in the Bible is true. Why? Because in the Bible, it says that everything in it is true.
  • My husband always knows what’s right for me. Why? Because he told me that he always knows what’s right for me and he’s always right, so…
  • Carl is a dork. Why? Because he tries to pretend he’s not a dork, so that makes him a dork.

This is often called “circular reasoning” because if you follow the logic, it leads you in a circle.

Logical fallacies - circular reasoning

But similar to the fallacies above, begging the question can be subtle as well.

For example, I once got in an argument with an anarchist about politics (never recommended, by the way). He said that any organization that commits violence and wields influence over the population is inherently evil. Well, when you boil it down, part of the function of any government is to monopolize violence and wield influence over the population (ideally, for the benefit of all). I spent the better part of ten minutes trying to explain to this guy that he was simply restating the same belief over and over, yet, as you can imagine, it didn’t really go anywhere.

Red Herrings

Red Herrings are arguments that seem relevant to an issue but actually are not. For example, we could be arguing about whether being vegetarian is more ethical than eating meat. Then, in the middle of a perfectly fine argument, I blurt out, “Well, Hitler was vegetarian! And he surely wasn’t ethical!”

This is a distraction from the real point of debate: whether eating meat is inherently unethical. These kinds of distractions from the argument are known as “red herrings.” And if you—god forbid—spend lots of time watching and reading the news, you will notice a large proportion of what is said and written is some form of a red herring.

Red herring logical fallacy: Hitler was a vegetarian

Red herrings are also usually logical fallacies themselves. For example, the assumption that because Hitler was vegetarian, and Hitler was unethical, vegetarianism must be unethical is known as the Fallacy of Composition—when something that is true for a part is assumed to be true for the whole (i.e., Paul is American and he is short, therefore Americans must be short).

Red Herrings are often used by people to divert blame away from themselves.

You: “Jon, you stole my bike.”

Jon: “Property is just a social construct, you didn’t really lose anything. After all, you have money for a new one.”

You: “Money isn’t the point, you fucking stole from me!

Jon: “Millions of things get stolen every day, I don’t understand why you’re so upset it happened to you.”

You:BECAUSE IT’S WRONG! YOU FUCKING STOLE MY SHIT!!!

Jon: “Wow man, you’ve clearly got some anger problems going on here. You know, I don’t think I want to deal with someone who is so angry all the time. I’m going to bike home now.”

You: “RRRAAAAGHGHHH!#@#@!#!M@$IUBRFNKLAS”

(We all know a Jon… don’t be friends with a Jon.)

Appeals to the Bandwagon, Authority, and Pity

When in an argument, it’s tempting to skip the logic and go straight to appealing to some outside source to make your point feel more resonant.

Well, unfortunately, logic doesn’t give a shit about your feelings. A bad argument is a bad argument, regardless of who agrees with you.

There are three common appeals that people make when trying to win points for their side:

  • An appeal to authority: “Well, the president said it’s true, so it must be true!”
  • An appeal to pity: “I know the data says that social media isn’t the problem, but these poor kids have so much anxiety, we should still get rid of their phones.”
  • An appeal to the majority: “Everyone I know says that vaccines are dangerous, so it must be true.”

The hyper-social nature of our species causes us to appeal to outside influences. We all want to belong to a community. We all want to associate with high-status people. We all want others to know we’re kind and considerate.

The problem is that none of these things have anything to do with logic or truth. If something is true, it’s true whether anyone believes it or not.

How much science cares if you believe in it

At the end of the day, the truth doesn’t give a shit about you or me or anyone else. We care. And because we care we trick ourselves into thinking that these opinions affect the truth when they don’t.

Ad Hominem

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get in an argument with another kid, and they’d point out how you were wrong, and at a complete loss of how to defend yourself, you’d blurt out, “Well you’re just a smelly goat-face! And I don’t listen to smelly goat-faces,” and stomp off as if that solved something?

Yeah, that’s an ad hominem fallacy.

Sometimes, rather than attack someone’s argument, we just attack the person instead. You see this all the time in politics. Senator X wants to reform education. Senator Y doesn’t. But instead of arguing against Senator X’s proposals, Senator Y just calls Senator X a smelly goat-face. Voters cheer. Senator Y wins re-election. Democracy continues on as planned.

Art Spader Quote: "The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid."

Sadly, the Ad Hominem Fallacy seems to be the fallacy of choice in political discourse and much of journalism these days. Political opponents rarely seem to be able to debate issues without launching personal attacks on one another that have nothing to do with the argument at hand.

Straw Man

If the Ad Hominem Fallacy is the bread and butter of politicians, then the Straw Man Fallacy is the bread and butter of social media.

Rather than debating a claim based on its merits, we sometimes substitute a distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise ridiculously misrepresented version of the argument to more easily attack it.

This is called the “straw man” fallacy because, like replacing a real person with a person made of straw, you’re replacing a stronger argument with a weaker one in order to more easily discredit it.

Straw men arguments are quite common—and shockingly dumb:

  • “You’re pro-choice? So you enjoy killing babies, I see.”
  • “You want to reduce the defense budget? You must hate the military and don’t support our soldiers.”

Straw man logical fallacy - Condescending Wonka

More subtle examples of the straw man argument are quite common too. For instance, someone might argue that we should work to reduce the prison population by enforcing more lenient punishments for non-violent drug offenses. A subtle but common straw man counterargument is that such a view is “soft on crime.” This distorts the original argument by implying that all crimes should be punished more leniently when the real argument is that some drug crimes don’t warrant prison time.

The real damage of the straw man fallacy isn’t necessarily that it’s wrong—it’s that it distracts everyone horribly from the real issue at hand. People spend the entire time defending their beliefs from ridiculous characterizations and no one actually talks about the real issues.

The Importance of Sound Reasoning

If you haven’t noticed, we all kinda suck at this logic and reason thing. This list is just a tiny slice of the logical fallacies pie but probably accounts for a significant portion of what we think and are exposed to each day.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make every effort to be better. After all, logic and reason are our life preservers in a vast sea of uncertainty and bullshit. To let go of the life preserver, to cling onto the latest, greatest fad or the dipshit who’s currently on your screen… well, that’s intellectual suicide.

Not to mention that a lot of these logical fallacies can turn you into an insufferable dick pretty quickly. Debating with someone over the merits of an idea or argument is already contentious enough. But falling into the trap of these logical fallacies, many of which hinge on making a mockery of the other person’s ideas (or the person themselves), will not make you the biggest hit at children’s parties. Not to mention people won’t exactly be thrilled to talk to you about anything important or meaningful.

At best, fallacious reasoning keeps bad ideas alive. At its worst, it pits us against each other in a hopeless downward spiral of tit-for-tat where nobody really wins and everyone definitely loses.

Logical reasoning isn’t about “winning” an argument. It’s about finding the truth. And inevitably, getting closer to truth requires one to recognize and admit when they’re wrong. And that’s something you, me, and all the Rons of the world could be a bit better at.