For two years, I've hesitated to tackle America's war on poverty due to the lack of civility that I've witnessed from so many people. Almost everyone has an opinion about our government's war on poverty and judging from our politicians, educators, journalists, talk-show hosts, religious leaders, and the traditional and social media outlets that broadcast them, the language of civility has gradually become a relic of the past. So before I begin delving into the multiple causes of poverty along with solutions, which are bound to irritate just about everyone (whether you are conservative or progressive), I would like to address one culprit as to why our language of civility has vanished: Logical fallacies. For those that are not familiar with this term, logical fallacies in its most generic form are errors of reasoning that occur when formulating an argument, whether in form or content. I am astounded at the number of logical fallacies that are committed by so many socio-political pundits when debating poverty issues. Let me use the recent Paul Ryan comments about inner-city men and work as a case study to illustrate my point.
On a radio show, conservative congressman Paul Ryan created a firestorm by stating "We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work."
Immediately, progressives pounced on Ryan's remarks as racist, eager to label one of the Republican's future presidential hopefuls with the "Scarlet R." They assumed that the inner-city men he referred to was a synonym for "Black." That Ryan had regurgitated the erroneous stereotype of the "Lazy Black Man" who refuses to work. However, in this case progressives had made the common fallacy of "attacking the motive." Furthermore, when they assumed Ryan's comments were racially or politically motivated, they committed an even greater fallacy, the ad hominum (personal attack). Instead of critically and objectively evaluating his statement about work and inner-city men, progressives attacked Ryan's character by labeling him a racist, which became the greater rationale for rejecting Paul Ryan's argument.
But in our critical evaluation of this case study, I cannot leave Paul Ryan (and his fellow conservatives that rushed to defend him) off the hook. Paul Ryan's logical fallacy started this brouhaha in the first place with the phrase "men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working." One can argue that Paul Ryan "attacked the motive" of unemployed men from the inner-city by stating they don't work is because they rarely think about work and its value. Furthermore, Ryan employed the "jumping to conclusions" fallacy, assuming that because there are many young men in the 'hood who are chronically unemployed, they don't even think about getting a job. Attempting to discover whether unemployed men from the inner-city think about work or not is an almost impossible study to undertake because there just isn't sufficient evidence that examines the worldview and psyche of those who lack employment from the 'hood.
Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg. Traditional and social media outlets act as a giant magnet for a endless superabundance of logical fallacies. Straw-man arguments, guilt-by-association fallacies, fallacies that appeal to both emotion and fear, red herrings, slippery slopes, and false dilemmas permeate our language and show no sign of going away namely because the ends justify the means. Enough people are influenced by these errors of reasoning, demonstrating the lack critical thinking not only by the general public, but also among the journalists, talk show hosts, politicians, educators, and religious leaders that speak them.
Although these blog posts on the war on poverty are just a microscopic blip on the radar of the social media, I will do my best to infuse critical thinking as I tackle these issues of poverty. Feel free to question or correct me because I definitely don't have all the answers and sometimes succumb to the lure of some of these logical fallacies myself.