While a WOX can be created based entirely on lies, it can be useful to have some true claims as evidence for the WOX. Obviously, if adequate evidence existed to prove that X is under significant and sustained attack, then you would not need to create a WOX. Fortunately for starting a WOX, the United States has a population of 330 million, so you can almost certainly find someone who did or said something that would honestly constitute an attack on X. The odds are ever in your favor. You might wonder what you can do with but a few examples, since isolated incidents do not make a war. Fortunately, there are two time-honored fallacies you can use when you have evidence, yet not enough of it: the Hasty Generalization and Anecdotal Evidence.
A hasty generalization is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is not large enough to adequately support that conclusion. It has the following general form:
Premise 1: Sample S (which is not large enough) is taken from population P.
Conclusion: Claim C is made about Population P based on S.
That this is a fallacy is easy to show with a fishing example. If you catch a small yellow perch in a lake, you would not be justified in believing that all (or even most) of the fish in the lake are small yellow perch. For all you know, there could be dozens of species of fish in the lake.
In the case of a WOX, here is how you would make a type of hasty generalization from a few examples of attacks on X:
Premise 1: There are a small number of examples of attacks on X.
Conclusion: There is a significant and sustained war on X.
The “logic” here is that having a few examples of attacks “proves” that there are many examples of attacks and thus there is a WOX. This is obviously bad logic is on par with inferring that because you saw one fish in a lake it must be teaming with fish. Now, to the Fallacy of Anecdotal Evidence.
The Fallacy of Anecdotal evidence is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on an anecdote (a story) about one or a very small number of cases. The fallacy is also committed when someone rejects reasonable statistical data supporting a claim in favor of a single example or small number of examples that go against the claim. Some consider this to just be a variation on hasty generalization. It has the following forms:
Premise 1: Anecdote A is told about a member (or small number of members) of Population P.
Conclusion: Claim C about Population P based on Anecdote A is true.
Premise 1: Reasonable statistical evidence S exists for general claim C.
Premise 2: Anecdote A is presented that is an exception to or goes against general claim C.
Conclusion: General claim C is false.
For a WOX, you would use the following form:
Premise 1: Anecdote A, about an attack on X, is told about Population P.
Conclusion: Attacks on X are widespread in Population P.
This fallacy is like hasty generalization and a similar sort of error is committed, namely drawing an inference based on a sample that is inadequate in size relative to the conclusion. The main difference between hasty generalization and anecdotal evidence is that the fallacy anecdotal evidence involves using a story (anecdote) as the sample.
People often fall victim to this fallacy because stories and anecdotes tend to have more psychological influence than statistical data. This leads people to infer that what is true in an anecdote must be true of the whole population or that an anecdote justifies rejecting statistical evidence in favor of said anecdote. Not surprisingly, people most commonly accept this fallacy because they would prefer that what is true in the anecdote is true for the whole population. For example, a person who smokes might try to convince herself that smoking will not hurt her because her Aunt Jane smoked a dozen cigars a day and lived until she was 104.
Fortunately, while the logic is bad, this method has advantages:
- When anyone checks your examples, they will be found to be true.
- It avoids the disadvantages of lying.
- Statistics are what they are, but you can share the anecdotes you want to tell.
- Statistics require that people think, stories make people feel.
Anyone who checks on your examples will find they are true, which can deter them from looking beyond them. If you are criticized, you can “defend” yourself by focusing on the fact that your examples (or stories) are real—you are technically not lying. By being able to pick your examples and stories you can shape the narrative as you wish. Best of all, as a matter of general psychology people tend to be bored by statistics and moved by stories. You can probably find some very emotionally charged stories and take advantage of the Fallacy of Misleading Vividness. This is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. It relies on the psychological force of the drama of the examples rather than on the logical weight of evidence. It can be considered a variation on Hasty Generalization/Anecdotal Evidence.
While useful, these fallacies do have their disadvantages:
- If someone checks, they will find you only have a few examples or stories.
- While you are not technically lying, you are being dishonest.
Fortunately, your target audience is unlikely to critically assess whether you have enough examples or not for your generalization. If the generalization matches their biases, fears, or expectations, they will tend to be moved by the psychological force of the fallacy and ignore that it is logically flawed. Those who are willing and able to engage your generalization critically are not your target audience and their criticisms will probably be ignored by your target audience or even taken as more “evidence” you are right. As was discussed with religious and moral concerns about lying, these concerns can easily be dismissed or worked around.
As an example of how to use this method, imagine that you wanted to claim that there is a War on White Men in America. With such a large population, you can easily find a few examples of people who explicitly attack (in word or in deed) white men simply for being white men. If you are lucky (which you probably will be) the examples will be especially dramatic, and the “perpetrators” will be members of groups your target audience already fears or hates (thus allowing you to cash in on stereotypes and demonizing). These few incidents can be generalized into a full-scale war, thus getting your WOX started. You can also make good (evil) use of dog whistles here, which will be the subject of the last essay in this series.
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