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Logical Fallacies and Manipulating People

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[Originally published as Logic Lessons: Leftists, Atheists, Labels and Appeal to Emotion]

Buon giorno. This article has been buzzing around in my mind for quite some time, and I finally decided to put it down in pixels. But I do not wish to spend a great deal of time explaining the Appeal to Emotion because I am tired. There are certain aspects that I want to bring to your attention.

Also note that this, like many other fallacies, is not simply cut-and-dried; it will often overlap with other fallacies, and sometimes it is difficult to spot at all. Other times, the appearance of a fallacy can be deceiving. For instance, when attempting to motivate people, showing a direct cause to what we want them to do will usually provoke an emotional response, and that can be valid. It is not evil manipulation or a fallacy. A good explanation of the Appeal to Emotion fallacy is here.

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What I want to discuss is how people will use this red herring to distract you from your discussion or objective with an irrelevant appeal to emotion. (After all, elections, various causes, arguments and all sorts of things are dealt with more on the emotional level than with actual thought processes.) Appeal to Emotion can take many forms, including:

  • Pride. Man up and do the debate.
  • Ridicule. If you refuse to debate, Jesus will cry.
  • Purpose. You could make converts if you do the debate.
  • Fear. If you refuse to debate, I will mock you all over the internet and tell your wife untrue things about you with those girls in Accounting.
  • Pity. I really need you to do this debate because it will look good on my CV.

These are more obvious plays to manipulate your emotions. Unfortunately, some people are skilled at the more subtle forms of manipulation. In fact, some have this dubious skill naturally, and may not even realize that they are being manipulative.

Something that I want to emphasize is that people with a bumper sticker mentality (they can handle slogans, but are unwilling or unable to deal with more profound concepts) are easily influenced by labels. Brand someone with a label that has negative connotations and you can win over the weak minded to your side.

One of the favorites of leftists in America is to call someone a “racist.” Well, what does that mean, really? That you roll up your car windows and lock the doors when you drive past people of that ethnic group? Big deal. But the connotation is, “I’m gonna kill me some niggers/kikes/spicks/wops/gooks/honkies and I’m gonna love it!” Pick a word with angry, violent connotations and slap your enemy down with it, getting other people to hate him on your say-so.

Another favorite is the nonsensical “homophobe” label. I keep saying that I don’t phobe any homos. But I do believe the Bible when it says that homosexuality is a sin. This doesn’t mean that I, or any of my associates, advocate violence, discrimination and so forth just because of their sexual preference. Hanging that stupid label on someone prompts an emotional reaction and bypasses actual thought.

One of the most blatantly stupid attack labels is “liar for Jesus.” It is immediately laughable to anyone with a grain of sense because it implies the accuser has some kind of godlike power to know the thoughts and motives of the person they are attacking. Further, the phrase itself is nonsensical: Jesus does not approve of lying to get someone to believe in a holy, just, righteous God! It is obvious that this remark deserves a resounding “Duh!” for its utter absurdity.

“Freethinker,” “rationalist,” and other atheistic buzzwords are emotionally loaded, with a built-in insult. That is, they are the rational ones by virtue of being atheists. This Genetic Fallacy conveniently ignores the fact that many of the world’s greatest thinkers and scientists have been Bible-believing Christians.

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The following is hilarious because it involved several fallacies:

Certain atheists managed to get themselves booted from creationists’ “Pages” on Facebook. They whined in another page about “rational” people being kicked out, deviously using the Fallacy of Equivocation to imply that they were being sensible, the only reason for them to be kicked out was because of expressing their “rational” views. This appeal to emotion used both the Genetic Fallacy (atheists are “rational” just because they are atheists) and Equivocation (where “rational” has the usual meaning in the mind of the reader, but the atheists are being manipulative because they have their own meaning of the word). Sneaky, capice?

Take Heed to Thyself

One problem with labels is that it seems to be human nature. We like to categorize and identify people and people types in our thought processes. It’s not possible to avoid all labels and connotations. Sometimes labels serve a useful purpose for our cognitive processes.

My advice to you is to pay attention when someone is using labels. Watch yourself as well. When they contain emotional impact and manipulation, I think it’s fair to suspect that someone is trying to manipulate you.

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Written by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Although raised in a United Methodist family where my father was a pastor, I was challenged in my high school years to examine why we believe the Bible and hold to our doctrines. Years later, I drifted from the faith but never fully abandoned it. After I recommitted my life to Jesus in 2010, I was led to establish Weblogs to discuss matters of doctrine, apologetics, and especially biblical creation science. This grew into the Piltdown Superman site. My primary goal is to help equip the church in defending the faith, especially the foundations in Genesis.

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  1. Great clarity on the appeal to emotions (pride, purpose, fear, etc.). When we have that internal debate before entering a debate, that a great checklist to refer to… “Am I being drawn in for this reason?” Jesus always chose when to, or when not to enter a debate. He wasn’t persuaded by man. He addressed issues that He needed to address and didn’t spend needless hours in argument. John 6:66-67 “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?” If they did leave, He would continue forward. Truth is truth; truth is stated. Again, great article! William

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