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Fallacies of logic

Recently, the leader of the AWB, Eugene Terreblanche, was murdered on his farm. Coincidentally this happened soon after ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, publicly sings the song, "Shoot the boer". The same evening, a cacophony of opinion was expressed on Twitter, much of it extremely fallacious - naturally. This presented itself as a perfect opportunity in which to apply a few theories of fallacious logic associated with human thinking. Anything to do with the actual event is purposefully left without inquiry, as the only topic of interest are the fallacies in question.

The first fallacy that could be seen is the Post hoc fallacy. Derived from the Latin phrase, Post hoc, ergo propter hoc meaning "After this, therefore because of this". This is when one concludes that something happens directly due to an event preceding it - cause and effect. Julias Malema has been singing shoot the boer and now Eugene Terreblanche is dead. Naturally, albeit unfortunately, everybody starts linking these two independent events.

This leads to the next fallacy, which is the bandwagon effect. This is somewhat self-explanatory - A group of people start believing something, propagate it across their social network, and their friends jump aboard the unsubstantiated belief. Argumentum Ad Populum. This is further reinforced through communal reinforcement because the notion is repeatedly asserted within the network, making it seemingly more believable. Finally, in the societal fallacies series, is the spiral of silence, which is the theory that individuals feel that they are in the minority judging from the zeitgeist within the community. Because they fear reprisal and rejection from the community, they will not object to the communal opinion.

The sad thing is that it takes only a few thought leaders to get the misconception ball rolling, and once an idea has gained enough momentum, their work is done and the masses take care of the rest. Whether or not the initial opinions were intended as rhetoric to drive the masses into action, or whether they were just simple expressions of these opinions, they will invariable spark conversation which more often than not turns negative.

With large amounts of people now discussing a topic among different networks, a very human predisposition surfaces. This is possibly the most dangerous fallacy of them all - the False Dilemma fallacy. Stripping it down to a simple analogy, this is the sort of thinking that goes either you are with us, or against us. Applied to the situation in question, it will translate into something like; either you believe Julius should keep singing his song and create more atrocities, or you are completely against it because this is what will happen in the future. Through strength of numbers and the communal effect, those two polarities will be the only options you will be allowed to choose from because if you offer an alternative, you will be pigeonholed into having the opinion that is different to that of your interrogator.

Remember, as Oscar Wilde once said:

“Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob"

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