Saturday, March 27, 2010


I have a suggestion for a new word for the dictionary:

labelism: The tendency to skew diverse particular ideas, events, people, and so forth by grouping them under overly generalized labels in the service of argument.

  • Those who favor women in ministry are liberals because radical feminists push for equal rights and pay for women.
  • True conservatives are opposed to gun control because gun control is generally pushed by Democrats.
  • Allowing the government to manage some area of its citizens' life shows that we are becoming socialist like China.
  • Taxing us to support the health care of the elderly shows that we are becoming communist like the Soviet Union.
  • Making decisions that are unpopular shows that President Obama is a Fascist like Hitler.
  • You can't believe in the idea that Mark was a source for Matthew and Luke because that is an idea that comes from higher criticism.
  • The students at Oberlin were transcendentalists like Emerson who didn't believe in a personal God because they put a high emphasis on religious feeling like the Romantics.
All these statements are logically fallacious, even though they are the stuff of common rhetoric. They take diverse realia and oversimplify them because the human mind has difficulty processing complexity.

Logical fallacies involved: 1) hasty generalization, where differences between one observation and a general conclusion are ignored in the midst of argument; 2) fallacy of composition, where a whole is assumed to have certain characteristics because some parts have certain characteristics; and 3) fallacy of division, where all parts of something are assumed to all have certain characteristics because of some characteristic of the whole.

Explanation: The human mind is generally unable to process large amounts of particular facts without grouping them together into schemata, as Piaget called them. In deductive reasoning, where all the data can be accounted for and where all the data is usually of a simple nature, universal groupings can be fully coherent.

In inductive thinking, however, which is the nature of our lives in the world, all the data can rarely be accounted for, and the data is almost never a simple nature. People, events, and various other particular data are extremely complex and interwoven together. Simple ideas thus can hardly represent them without skew of some kind.

Beware of generalizations bearing fallacies! The Devil is in the details.


Martin LaBar said...

. . . or, Christians don't believe that there is any such thing as climate change because Al Gore has been the most visible spokesman for it. (Last I knew, Gore was a practicing Southern Baptist.)

ga82 said...

This is a remarkable post. I have been thinking about this exact same concept for the last few weeks, came up with the exact same name. I googled it to see if it has been used before and found your name.

But I think the rabbit hole goes deeper than you think. This not just another logical fallacy like sunk costs fallacy or confirmation bias. This single issue is the primary reason for the current depressing state of democratic nations (other options are worse, but this still sucks) all over the world. I think a democratic government that can compensate for labelism (a monumental task?) can get fairly close to the ideal political state that we all dream of. For truth is the first casualty of labelism and with relevant truth, good governance (probably) follows naturally.