As a veteran Internet arguer, I have now come across false claims of fallacies so many times I’ve lost count. The most common ones: Ad Hominem and No True Scotsman. The People of the Internet seem to understand the Strawman fallacy a bit better than the other two, so I won’t address that one.
First of all, what is a fallacy? A fallacy is an argument that lacks logical consistency. As I will discuss later, it is not simply being incorrect.
Ad Hominem specifically means “to the person.” However, the fallacy doesn’t simply involve attacking the person. That may fall under the category of bullying or verbal abuse, but simply calling somebody names does not make your actions fallacious. A fallacious argument essentially requires the assumption, “therefore you’re wrong.” So saying, “you’re a dipshit,” is name-calling. Saying, “You’re a dipshit and therefore you’re wrong” is an Ad Hominem fallacy. Also, the “you’re wrong” part has to be dependent on the “you’re a dipshit” part. So saying, “you’re a dipshit, and also you’re wrong” is also not a fallacy. Name-calling by itself does not make an argument any weaker or less logical. It just makes the person making the argument less likeable.
No True Scotsman. This one is my favourite, because it completely infuriates me when people use it. It is almost always used incorrectly. When you state that somebody does not belong to a group simply because they did something unfavourable (but unrelated to the definition of that group), you are making a fallacious argument. The most common example used:
Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
The most important detail of this example, that many people fail to notice time and again, is that whether or not somebody puts sugar in his porridge is irrelevant to the definition of a Scotsman. If, for example, the argument was, “If you have no Scottish ancestry or don’t live in Scotland, you are not a Scotsman,” it wouldn’t be a fallacy, because you are literally referring to the definition of a Scotsman. Similarly, if you said, “peppers aren’t types of broccoli,” this wouldn’t be a No True Scotsman fallacy either, because of how both peppers and broccoli are defined*.
Now let’s get to the arguments I personally hear time and time again in my corner of the Internets.
1. “Saying that the USSR wasn’t socialist/communist is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Let’s follow this logically, shall we?
The definition of socialism: A wage-less socio-economic system where the workers own and control the means of production.
Communism: A stateless, classless society.
The USSR: A state-run country (therefore not communist) where government elites owned and controlled the means of production and dictated wages for workers (therefore not socialist).
Even Lenin referred to post-revolutionary Russia as “State Capitalism.” The Bolsheviks founded the Communist Party under the hopes that the region would eventually become communist (i.e. stateless and classless); not because they saw it is communist then. Similarly, Green Parties aim to create environmentally sustainable countries, but that does not mean that if they were to rise to power, the country/ies they oversaw would automatically (or even in a few decades’ time) become completely green. Whether or not forming a political party for the purpose of creating a communist region is a good strategy is up for debate (I would say no, seeing as how I’m an anarchist). But that’s a different discussion.
2. “Saying that ‘anarcho’-capitalists aren’t real anarchists is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Anarchism has always been a political philosophy that opposes the two arms of capital: The state and private property. This is the very basic definition of anarchism. It makes utterly no sense to call yourself an anarchist if you support private property or capitalism.
And while you’re at it, stop calling peppers broccoli.
And now my favourite. The Fallacy fallacy. Way too many people assume that an argument with poor logic directly means that the conclusion of that argument is untrue. In reality, anybody can make a fallacious argument. You can have all the facts in the world to back you up and still present your argument poorly. The converse is also true: You can make a completely logically consistent argument and still have an incorrect conclusion.
Knowledge of fallacies is important for critical thinking, but fallacies have become abused because people are too quick to shout “fallacy!” at somebody rather than actually looking at their argument. It has ironically become a way of avoiding critical thinking altogether.
*Note: Dictionary definitions are rarely sufficient for defining complex socio-political concepts (or any words, really). Instead, an understanding of historical context is needed.