Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Creepy Normalization of Bulverism

From Michael Liccione at Intellectual Takeout:
At some point you’ve probably heard an opinion of yours about morality, religion, or politics summarily dismissed with a reaction like: “You only say that because you’re a _____!” or “That’s just an excuse for _______.”

Frustrating, isn’t it? If you’ve supplied reasons for your position, they don’t tackle those reasons. They just assume you’re wrong and purport to explain, usually in terms unflattering to you, why you make your error.

What many might not realize, however, is that this action is a fallacy known as Bulverism. The name was coined by C.S. Lewis in an essay included in his widely read collection God in the Dock. In essence, Bulverism is a toxic hybrid of two better-known fallacies: petitio principii (begging the question) and ad hominem (impugning one’s opponent’s character without addressing his argument).

For reasons that should alarm critical thinkers, Bulverism has become so common – especially in politics – as to approach the status of a rhetorical norm. I shall explain that shortly, but first a caveat. Not every criticism that sounds like Bulverism is a fallacy. For instance, if somebody denies a basic principle of logic, such as that of non-contradiction, it’s usually pointless to address her argument because she’s already abandoned an indispensable “first principle” of argument. It makes sense in that case to seek an explanation for her position other than the one she gives, if she bothers giving one. Or if somebody denies a well-established fact, e.g. that the shape of the Earth is roughly spherical, it’s often useless to address his argument and probably more useful to seek to understand his psychology.

But Bulverizing people about their positions on controversial matters has become all too common these days. You know the sort of thing I mean:

“Conservatives only want to rein in ‘entitlements’ because they hate the poor and the sick!”
“Liberals only talk about women’s ‘reproductive health’ because they think killing a baby in the womb is like breaking an egg to make an omelet!”

“You only believe in God because you can’t face life without an imaginary Big Daddy to turn to!”

“You only disbelieve in God because you want to get away with doing whatever you like!”

In essence, what’s always been an occasional rhetorical trope now seems to dominate public discourse.

That, I submit, is ultimately because Bulverism has become philosophically respectable. The permission real thinkers have given themselves to Bulverize has trickled down to the masses.

This trend seems to have started with Karl Marx. He defined religion and morality in general, and especially political positions other than his own, as “mystifications,” or rationalizations of the self-interest of whatever the economically dominant “ruling class” happens to be. (Read more.)

Pat Buchanan recalls 1968. Share

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