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Richard Larsen: Beware of Manipulations of Perception

September 28th, 2009 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

What is most disgusting about what former president Jimmy Carter said this week is not so much that he said it, but that those of Carter’s mentality consistently engage in such reprehensible specious reasoning.

In an NBC interview, Carter declared, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American. Racism…still exists, and I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”

As long as there are idiots who judge people by the color of the skin as opposed to the content of their character, there will be racism. But to put this in perspective, consider that in 1958 only 35% of whites said they would vote for a black president. But in 2006, a scant 3% of Americans indicated they would not vote for a black president. If used as a barometer of racist tendencies, this progress speaks volumes for the dissolution of a racist mentality and dispels the notion that this is a racist country.

What Carter engaged in is a logical ad hominem fallacy, which is literally an “argument against the person.” This tactic is employed frequently by those who, in order to discredit their adversaries, seek to minimize their argument by making unsubstantiated accusations or allegations against them in order to redirect attention to the adversaries themselves, rather than the argument. By making the adversaries the focus with an accusation, the validity of their claim or premise is discredited since their argument is inextricably linked to them. The construct of the argument looks like this. Person A makes claim X. Regardless of veracity, an objection is made against Person A. Therefore claim X is false.

Even more precisely, this version of the ad hominem fallacy is argumentum ad personam. This device is intentionally used to belittle or insult an opponent in order to retake the offensive and place the opponent on the defensive. Hence, it becomes a verbal misdirection to make the opponent the center of the argument, rather than the issue at hand; something akin to a magicians’ trick.

Enter Carter center stage. In order to mitigate the disastrous polling for “Obamacare,” and the spectacle of Congressman Joe Wilson’s shout at the President, “You Lie!” and the massive demonstration in Washington on September 12 against totalitarian government, Carter makes an accusation “against the person.” The supposition is that the voices of dissent and the strength of the valid arguments against the White House agenda, are negated by the accusation.

Not only is this logically fallacious, but it displays both the arrogance and ignorance of those who engage in such behavior. Ignorance, for it presumes stupidity on the part of the American people, and arrogance because by so engaging, they simply sidestep the real issues underlying dissent. It usually is employed when logic fails. I have always maintained that the first person to call the other a name in a debate has lost the debate, and that’s what comes naturally to those with no ammo left, for they need to misdirect the argument.

The practice also constitutes an attempt to emotionalize an issue and remove it from the purely logical realm, which is crucial especially when their own logical arguments are inferior to their detractors.

It’s not a new tactic, but seems to be used with increasing frequency, not just by the politicians in control today, but by the media. They suppose due to our presumed ignorance, we’ll discount the claims of dissenters while aspersions like “mob,” (NBC & MSNBC), “evil” (Harry Reid), and “Nazis” (Nancy Pelosi) are hurled at them. We see it regarding other issues as well, like the appellation of “homophobic” to those who oppose homosexual marriage regardless of their logical reasons for opposition.

In this caustic political environment, it’s crucial to not only be aware of the ideology employed in transforming America, but to be wary and alert to the methodology they employ to manipulate public perception. With perspicacity, we can see through arrogant facades of those of intellectual vacuity who, like Carter, claim “racism” is behind everything that is anti-Obama.

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