North Texas Daily

Column: The logical mind and emotional heart in politics

Column: The logical mind and emotional heart in politics

April 28
04:09 2016

Harrison Long | Opinion Editor


The rhetoric that has been bombastically screamed by presidential candidates this cycle – that American citizens are in danger of losing X, and that if action is not taken now, Y will happen – is nothing new.

On the contrary, appealing to the emotional knee-jerk reactions in politics is precisely why the United States is not a democracy in the first place – it is a constitutional republic. Everyone seems to feel that they have an understanding of what the Founding Father’s had in mind when they wrote the Constitution, and sneer while pointing fingers at those differing from them, claiming an attempt to dissolve our republic, or that the opposite wants to squash the ambitions of the people.

Enough is enough.

The truth of the matter is that a pure democracy – one in which the people decide everything that happens in their country – is not possible. We are fortunate to be able to elect our leaders, which is more than can be said for many around the world. But none of it matters if we fundamentally misunderstand their role in our government and its processes, or believe they are there only to deceive us.

The truth is that “the people” far too often take words at face value from those who are not qualified to speak on the topic at hand. They fall victim to logical fallacies and rather than risking personal discomfort in order to find out the truth, they take the first bit of information they receive and run with it.

Here are a few examples that can be disseminated due to their frequency on the public stage:

1) “They don’t allow faculty-led prayer in public school – next they’ll outlaw Christianity and persecute Christians!”

This is what is known as the “slippery slope” fallacy – an assumption that a particular step invariably leads to similar steps, which will culminate in an overall negative outcome.

2) “Al-Qaeda is made up of terrorists who pledge their allegiance to the Muslim faith – therefore all Muslims must be terrorists!”

This is what is known as a “sweeping generalization,” or a blind assumption that if something is true in a particular case it must be true in all cases. This is a particularly nasty example.

3) “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer!”

This is what is known as a “red herring” – it is a distraction from the true real (who should be the United States’ next president?) for something entertaining or convenient, and most of the time is entirely false.

The reality of the situation is that citizens must learn to take their emotional reactions from the equation when casting their ballot for any public office. They must appeal to reason, even if it flies in the face of everything they feel to be true. Some say the truth is stranger than fiction – but the reality is that the truth is often unpleasant and, rather than be exposed to reality, many would rather wallow in falsehoods in order to keep the status quo. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we don’t have a pure democracy.

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