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The Labelling Fallacy

Sat 7 Jan 2012 13:27:27 Leave a comment Go to comments

Over the few years I’ve been reading gender related blogs I’ve seen many occurrences of people making the range of argumentative mistakes listed here. Yet one common tactic I’ve seen used that I can’t find in that list is something I would call the “Labelling Fallacy”, which involves identifying an argument one disagrees with as fitting some pattern or another, applying a label to it, and dismissing it on the basis that it fits that label. The most recent example I’ve seen of this was an attempt at Feministe to institutionalise a form a false dichotomic thought, an “us vs them” mentality, by pathologizing a certain way of phrasing nuanced disagreement (to which ToySoldier responded “yes, but…“). There other examples I’ve come across, and this approach does sometimes extend into the ad hominem territory, where once a participant is labelled everything they have said is summarily dismissed. Perhaps the worst example is when it reaches the point of putting a collection of these labels onto bingo cards, as if putting an argument on a card with a collection of other arguments one disagrees with somehow negates the argument. Regardless of the format, the end result is that a point that one disagrees with is dismissed by being labelled, rather than being counter argued. I can only presume that there is an assumption on the part of the one doing the labelling that such arguments have been adequately rebutted elsewhere, yet these are not referenced.

The examples I’ve provided above are all from feminist blogs, however it wouldn’t surprise me to find the tactic being used elsewhere. In particular, discussions about religion and climate change come to mind. To me this sort of behaviour is not a positive one, and it’s one that would both limit the quality of the discussion by excluded potentially valuable input and drive the group dynamic towards simplistic and partisan approaches to political issues. Perhaps the only benefit to the labels is that it might enable someone to rephrase a point in a way that is more likely to be treated as serious by those predisposed to dismiss it otherwise.

In part I think it’s an extension of the 101-blog approach to limiting the scope of a discussion, by out-sourcing discussion of common foundation or periphery topics. This is an approach that comes across as a much more reasonable way to deal with the issue of frequent thread derailing, even though the implementation may leave much to be desired, and as long as it isn’t used a means of arguing from authority. However if you don’t do the ground work of establishing a comprehensive rebuttal and providing a link to it, using a bunch of labels to dismiss potentially valid arguments is something that might make you feel high and mighty, but will make you seem little more than a petty partisan.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Sun 4 Mar 2012 21:30:56 at 21:30

    It’s certainly a big problem in political discussions. I recently had an odd exchange with a GLBTI activist on FB who praised a blog I wrote against a homophobic academic and Rabbi. The conversation started off nice because I was ‘on his team’, but it turned incoherent pretty quickly when I disagreed with his petition to have the academic fired.

    Suddenly I was ‘irrational’ and ‘defending bigotry’. Whilst when we agreed on the same issues I was ‘intelligent’ and ‘kind’.

    The exchange is here: http://www.facebook.com/mikeybear/posts/320133271367272?notif_t=share_reply <- Makes for an interesting read of cross-generation gay politics I think.

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