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Top Five Logical Fallacies in the Social Justice Movement

posted Tuesday Jul 04, 2017 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD


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There is a disturbing trend in the social justice movement where science, data, facts, and reason are sacrificed for ideology. Critics of the social justice movement often reject the overall ideas of social justice because of these reasoning flaws (which is problematic in itself—see Argument from Fallacy). If you are a supporter of social justice, and you are allowing your passion to affect your reason, realize that you are most likely doing more harm to the movement than good. There are several logical fallacies often committed by those espousing "social justice." What follows is a list of what I have found to be the most common. For more examples and details, click on the fallacy name.

First, I want to make it perfectly clear that logical fallacies are independent of politics and religion. They are committed by people all over the political and religious spectrums (yes, some more than others), but no group is immune to them. I do my best on this site to remain fair when dealing with issues of religion and politics... at least in the sense that I am conscious of my biases and factor those biases into my evaluation of fallacies. Despite my political and (non)religious leanings, my only enemy is un-reason. I have no problems with a full on intellectual assault of bad ideas and arguments, even if the bad ideas and arguments ultimately support my political or religious views. So here we go.

Top Five Logical Fallacies in the Social Justice Movement

  1. Overextended Outrage. This is a form of poor statistical thinking where one or more statistically rare cases are implied to be the norm or the trend (without evidence) for the purpose of expressing or inciting outrage toward an entire group. It is a form of extreme stereotyping, based on the cognitive bias known as the group attribution error. An example within social justice: Two bigots brutally assault a gay man in Mississippi. LGBT groups all over the country protest increasing violence against gays citing this case (when in fact, violence has not been increasing).
  2. Political Correctness Fallacy. The assumption or admission that two or more groups, individuals, or ideas of groups or individuals, are equal, of equal value, or both true, based on the recent phenomenon of political correctness, which is defined as, a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent. This can be seen as an over-correction of stereotyping. An example within social justice: Social justice groups are outraged that airport security profiles people as potential threats based on physical and cultural characteristics.
  3. Identity Fallacy. When one's argument is evaluated based on their physical or social identity, i.e., their social class, generation, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation, profession, occupation or subgroup when the strength of the argument is independent of identity. Example within social justice: All of these fallacies are bogus since they are written by a White, cisgender, heterosexual male.
  4. Base Rate Fallacy. Ignoring statistical information in favor of using irrelevant information, that one incorrectly believes to be relevant, to make a judgment. An example within social justice: 22 trans people were murdered so far this year, which means there is a war on trans people! (In fact, if we factor in the base rate of murders and how many trans people there are in the population, we will find that trans people are less likely to be murdered than cisgender people).
  5. Traitorous Critic Fallacy. Responding to criticism by attacking a person's perceived favorability to an out-group or dislike to the in-group as the underlying reason for the criticism rather than addressing the criticism itself, and suggesting that they stay away from the issue and/or leave the in-group. An example within social justice: Calling anyone who criticizes ideas in social justice a "bigot," "racist," "Nazi sympathizer," etc., even if that person considers themselves a proponent of the movement.

There are dozens more that I often find in arguments about social justice, but these are by far the most common. Keep these in mind when you argue for what you believe is "social justice," and remember that the more unreasonable your arguments are, the more damage you are doing to your cause.


Podcast Episode: Top Five Logical Fallacies in the Social Justice Movement


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John A. Johnson
Wednesday, July 04, 2018 - 02:49:09 PM
I greatly appreciate this blog post on a most important topic. Although it was posted a year ago, as another John remarked, it just showed up in my inbox as well. I am not sure whether SJ rhetoric has become less fallacious than it was a year ago. It seems to me that motivated cognition is an intrinsic part of political ideology, and since motivated cognition is particularly subject to errors of reasoning, at least some of these logical fallacies are likely to be present in the SJ movement. However, I do not regard this as inevitable. I share may of the the goals of SJWs without endorsing their reasoning or all of their methods, and I would hope that holding them to standards of good reasoning might actually help increase social justice in the world. While I believe in civility, I do not think that religious and political ideas hold some kind of privileged status that protects them from criticism. Logic and reason are impartial and applicable everywhere.

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John
Wednesday, July 04, 2018 - 12:41:28 PM
This was posted a year ago but I just got it in my inbox today. I think liberal SJ emotions were still pretty strong back then and to some extent have settled down. Afs policies emerge from conservatives in the government I believe there is also a greater body of examples of their approach to social justice. I an particularly interested in the logical fallacies (if any) in defense of family separation.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, April 03, 2018 - 06:46:54 PM
From an anonymous commenter:

Even if the number of murders trans people per capita is less than white people is this not still a problem we should fight to combat?

Of course it is. The fallacy is in the claim that "there is a war on trans people," implying that this group is being targeted above and beyond other groups (if, in fact, they are not when the base rate of murders is considered). Had someone claimed that "murders in the trans community isn't a problem because they are murdered less than other groups" than that would be a fallacious as well. Be careful of strawmen.

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Michael Chase Walker
Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - 11:59:17 AM
Dr. Bo's list is excellent and perfectly delineates the faultlines of fallacious reasoning on either side of the political spectrum. Interestingly enough, these areas are also the basis for various neuroscientific studies seeking to determine the specific places in the brain that influence one's political, religious, or fabulistic tendencies to react either instinctively, or intelligently. ( See Sherman and Cohen's IPR, Dan Kahan's Yale Cognition project, etc.) Recent converging studies are showing that liberals tend to have a larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error—and conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories take place. (See Jost, John T.; Amodio, David M. (13 November 2011). "Political ideology as motivated social cognition: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence" (PDF).Motivation and Emotion 36 (1): 55–64.doi:10.1007/s11031-011-9260-7.

But I think what you're referring to is a trending social justice theory known as "Intersectionality", or the concept that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual (often used attributively).

Ultimately, intersectionality is a political theory or perhaps even an extension of Part to Whole (whole to part?) fallacious reasoning, but moreover, it is a viral ideology (rhetorical) than a specific logical fallacy.

Also see: Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives: http://bit.ly/1TviEKE

Please feel free to debate this. I'd especially like to hear his views on the distinction between neural cognitive biases and classic fallacies in logic.

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Jacob
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 06:03:19 PM
This is exactly what I have been looking for. In the past, before I started studying fallacies, I would encounter these SJO arguments and have a vague feeling that they were not right or fair. Seeing these bad arguments classified and explained has helped me make sense of these them and find new ways to combat them. I am a liberal and so are all my friends. Social justice is seen by liberals as a force for good (it is when not hijacked by faulty logic) so it is not questioned. There is this belief that if you question any part of the social justice movement then your liberal license will be revoked and you will be revealed as a traitor (Traitorous Critic Fallacy).

In my mind reality is a little left of center in the political spectrum. A little to the left you have belief in global warming, women's rights, belief in the existence of objective facts, etc. Go to far to the right and then you have moon hoaxers, flat earthers, and social justice warriors who believe in all of the above fallacies. A liberal person can reject all fallacious reasoning and still be a liberal and even still be a social justice warrior.

Thanks for helping the world to be a more reasonable place!

-Jacob

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Awelotta
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 11:10:30 PM
Social justice refers to such a wide range of things that it seems a little generalizing to cite their fallacies individually, though I do recognize the trends that you point out.

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