4 Logical Fallacies That People Use To Take Advantage Of You
For years now an email forward has shown up in inboxes around the world, in Facebook feeds, and in stupid little messages, that features this fact: A duck's quack doesn't echo and no one knows why. Now, MythBusters actually tested this and Snopes has a page on it and there are probably numerous articles about it and not one of those things should exist and the reason why is glaringly obvious. Why in the holy hell would a duck's quack not echo? Have you ever seen an acoustical wizard duck out in the universe? Do ducks travel in some kind of eighth dimension the rest of us can't even comprehend? Of course a duck's quack echoes. But with the amount of effort put into debunking that rumor one other thing is also certain: A hell of a lot of people believed it. And why? People believe bullshit all the time because we're conditioned to, which in turn makes people lie to us all the time.
Authority bias is that annoying habit we have of putting people in positions of authority -- cops, teachers, the guy who pretends to be Gaston at Disney World -- and then listening to them like they're not just as dumb as the rest of us. And sure, generally speaking, an authority figure should have some kind of knowledge as an authority figure, but dammit if the world hasn't shown us time and again that it's best not to trust anyone 100 percent if they're insisting you squeeze the newt they have in their pocket just because they're a doctor.
"What? It's to check your reflexes."
Recently there was a pretty damning video of an airplane incident that made the rounds because the media gets a big, throbbing boner for "shitty airline" stories these days, and this one was a good one. A couple is on a plane with a small child. They bought a third seat for an older child who ended up traveling at a different time, so they planned to use the seat for the toddler, in a car seat. An airline rep says clearly, on video, that they cannot use a car seat for the child, that they must be held in the arms of the parents as per the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). This was the exact opposite of the regulations. But when you're on a plane, being threatened with getting kicked off the plane, how can you know this? You're going to believe the rep from Delta Air Lines. The dirty, lying, FAR-violating rep from Delta Air Lines. Because they're the expert and you're just the sucker who spent hundreds of dollars to be harassed by a liar.
A couple months earlier, a lawyer pulled over on a traffic stop filmed a cop telling him that it was against the law to film the event. The driver explained he was a lawyer and the cop didn't buy it but did state there's a new law on the books that prohibits filming police. It was a flaming load of shit and the lawyer knew it, but what's to stop a cop from getting away with that under normal circumstances? Every day people are encouraged to do whatever a cop says no matter what. You don't argue with cops, you just go with whatever they say and if that means the cop tells you it's a new law he gets to put canned cheese on your asshole, a good number of us are going to shrug and get a cheese pucker on the side of the road.
Authority figures, it must be remembered, are very often in that position for almost entirely arbitrary reasons. Why does a teacher have authority over you? Or the mayor? Or a cop? Because they took some classes? They spoke a good game and got a job that told them to do certain things? You could literally be any of those things yourself, but that's not how we view them out in the wild.
When a person in authority bullshits you, it's the same as when you bullshit your brother to get him to buy you some beers and a pizza. You want something. You're going to use some leverage to get it. Who gives a shit if there's a reason behind it?
The Barnum Effect
P.T. Barnum famously said there's a sucker born every minute; then he exploited some little people and elephants to make money and probably went home and drank gasoline with sprinkles melted in it. There's a psychological phenomenon that got named after the sideshow jockey, which basically boils down to a person being more willing to accept vague, generalized information as being true about themselves, as they think it was specifically derived for them. This is precisely what a psychic does when they cold read you. A psychic looks out over a room and says "I'm getting a T or a D. Is there a D name?" If you can assemble a room of 100 people and not one of them has a dead relative whose first or last name started with a T or a D, you're probably some kind of cosmic wizard in your own right. But it works. A hand shoots up. The psychic closes in. "I'm feeling a male energy. Is it ... David? Daniel?" they struggle for a moment and the mark says, "My father's name was Dumbledore!" The psychic nods as though this were obvious.
"Was he killed by a friend pretending to be evil? Thought so. I see it all the time."
This will play out for the whole fake-ass reading. They'll ask if your dad had a hobby. Maybe something with the outdoors. Well shit, Nostradamus, everything in life is either indoors or outdoors, you really hedged your bets there. But if your pappy Dumbledore liked to golf and is, in fact, dead, that psychic just nailed three unknowable facts about you. Amazing!
If you're inclined to believe this sort of thing, which you probably are if you seek out a psychic, this is all but irrefutable evidence of psychic powers at work, and I just did it while drinking a Cherry Coke and listening to Nirvana at my computer in the exact same way a psychic would. I guarantee at least 50 people reading this have a dead relative whose name starts with a T or a D who liked to do something outside and I'm less psychic than I am able to run up hills without weeping.
Unless that was also your father's hobby, in which case you owe me $20, I think.
A true con artist can con you with ease because they know you want to be conned. Not in the "please take my money and ruin me" way, but you want to believe certain things are true, and if someone can confirm them for you then they have a lot of power you didn't even realize you were handing over.
The Boring Document Effect
It's 100 percent accepted by rational beings now that Russia tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election. Don't worry about if they succeeded in any significant way, just know that they did it both here and the 2017 French election. In both cases, massive document leaks were made public. Info from one political party was just dumped like a turd on the freeway (you shit out the car window on road trips, right?)
Now, in some way, just releasing potentially incriminating info could be damaging. But what if you managed to get a hold of 1,000 pages of mundane emails from someone you didn't like. Emails about shopping, weekend plans, pictures of the cat, someone shitting out the window on a road trip, that sort of thing. And because you hate this person and want to ruin them, you skip to page 675 and find an eight-paragraph email, then go to the third paragraph and toss in "So we're still on for this weekend? I hope we can get some of the brotherhood together and kidnap all the elderly people the next town over before beating them with sacks of oranges until they beg for mercy which is music to the ears of our Dark Lord Shagga-Mothgore, He Who Rends Flesh and Feasts on Hope."
"He throws the best keggers."
You release your 1,000 pages of emails to everyone you know and someone eventually finds this incriminating Shagga-Mothgore email. Suddenly everyone is abuzz! "Oh my God, did you hear that Pete worships He Who Rends Flesh and Feasts on Hope? I knew he was an asshole!"
And people will believe it. Because it's in the middle of 1,000 boring pages of shit no one cares about. So it must be true. But why do we believe it whole hog like that? Because we want to believe things. In fact, science historian and founder of the Skeptic's Society Michael Shermer would argue it's a survival instinct that we do believe rather than disbelieve. If we believe it and it's untrue, oh well, we look silly. If we disbelieve it and it is true, Pete and that asshole Shagga-Mothgore could show up at the door this Sunday and swallow our souls. The better option is to be cautious and believe something, our lives may just depend on it. And if not our lives, then surely our country. Freedom itself is at stake. And that's what Russian hacking does -- it makes you fear your entire world is in jeopardy. So you must do whatever it takes to preserve freedom and order, and that means voting for the other guy.
If there's one thing American media is good at, it's giving us stories about what celebrities choose to wear as though anyone whose soul isn't made of pube-encrusted bubble gum could care a fraction of a shit about such things. The other thing they excel at is bullshit. Media bias is so prevalent the idea of news is basically laughable at this point and the 24-hour networks should just be called "Pumping Smoke Up Your Ass with Chappy McFuckYouSay." And that goes for both sides of the fence, since both left- and right-leaning news sites are left- and right-handed hand jobs.
"Now if you could try both pockets at the same time."
The big problem with media bias is not that it exists so much as people want it to exist. Twitter is the best place in the world to watch this play out. Thanks to the 140-character limit, you can watch people shut down in three sentences or less when confronted with challenging news.
"We can confirm someone is doing something, just not who or what."
If a story supports an opposing ideology or public figure, people will shit on it immediately. No time for nuance or well-thought-out argument and consideration. No room for the possibility that a thing might exist in the world we don't like but still must accept. Instead, fuck it. Lies. Fake news. Not real. Replace it with the news that gently places its plump, rosy lips on our glistening, puckered assholes and proceeds to rim the pain of reality away with stories that tell us what we already think.
Now the extension of media bias on a long enough timeline is that, when you're used to only hearing things you're already inclined to believe, whether these are good things about your political party, for instance, or bad things about the other guys, you become conditioned to believe everything you hear because you're refusing to listen to anything that challenges you. And that's just how a Russian hacker, or an unscrupulous cop, or some shitheel from an airline, can come in and fuck you. You primed yourself without even realizing it. You're now conditioned to swallow heaping spoonfuls of BS with a big, ol' grin and a side of house salad with that shitty dressing that has too much oil in it.
Or on the side of the road with that canned cheese. Sorry for the disgusting food metaphors; I am really hungry.
Now more than ever you need to be skeptical about anything you hear online, on the news, or from a politician, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable or even too comfortable. Everyone with something to gain is trying to pull a fast one on you. Don't let them. But just to be safe, you should send me all your money so I can keep it safe for you. You can trust me.
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