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What is Logic, and Is It Dangerous?

by Nathaniel Bluedorn

Logic is the paradox of life. Yes, no rational being could deny its fascination with parambolies and other concoctions of the Thessonician stream of thought. Ah, this topic has been debated between logicians many times over the course of time . . .

Beeeep . . . time out.

Did you understand all that? Neither did I.

Unfortunately, we have met many people who think that is what logic is: dusty old professors inventing IQ tests that no mere mortal could understand. The truth is that many homeschooling moms and dads are intimidated by logic. It looks a lot like math, and they think it’s probably just as hard. It seems as though it’s a subject to be tackled only by those with IQ’s equal to, or exceeding, that of a nuclear physicist.

This is not true. Logic is everywhere around you. Actually, illogic is everywhere around you. Your job is to recognize it for what it is. The biggest part of learning logic is learning how to discover when somebody is trying to snooker you into believing something that isn’t true.

For example, picture this illogical imaginary TV advertisement:

A banana peel is shown lying on the floor. A young boy on roller skates whizzes by and slips on the banana peel. A shocked mother comes to the rescue only to find her child dead as a doornail. Scene fades to black with the words: “Let your child enjoy life while he can . . . Fruity-Loop Gum.”

While this example may seem a bit extreme, it is not far from the techniques used in today’s political speeches, advertisements, movies and, in fact, anyplace where someone wants to change your opinion.

This might startle you, but sometimes the rationalizations that people give us to buy their product, to vote for their candidate, or to do what they want are not logical. Often these “reasons” are based on emotion and not on clear thinking. A truck dealer pressures us to buy his new SUV because it looks tougher – not because it is tougher. The lawyer in the court room tries to persuade the jury to feel that his argument is right and fair – not to know his argument is right and fair.

Learning to recognize a bad argument when it comes your way and learning how to respond properly is a major part of what the study of logic is about – self defense.

Propaganda is used by people who want to fool us by manipulating our emotions and disinforming our minds. Therefore, propaganda tries to motivate us to agree with something without thinking about it first.

Propaganda is everywhere. Today we cannot chew a stick of gum without having our emotions manipulated by one propaganda technique or another. Note this example of propaganda in this simulated TV commercial:

A dismal-looking teenager walks along a street. Suddenly he sees a stick of gum on the pavement. He picks it up and puts it in his mouth. From out of nowhere, a piano player with an entire band and chorus appears singing an upbeat song about obeying your feelings. The screen says, “You need a change . . . Fruity-Loop Gum.”

Did you notice that this advertisement says nothing about how Fruity-Loop Gum tastes? All it gives is an impression about the wonderful life you will have if you chew Fruity-Loop Gum. This advertisement uses the propaganda technique called transfer.

Advertisers use transfer when they show you a picture of something you like (a band playing music) and, at the same time, show you a picture of their product (the stick of gum) with the hope that you will transfer your good feelings from one to the other. “Hey, that’s a nice song; hey, some gum; that gum must taste like the music sounds.” Of course this is illogical, but it sells gum.

Cigarette ads sometimes feature tough cowboys riding through rugged terrain. These ads are examples of transfer even though they often do not show the cowboys smoking. The advertiser wants you to feel that if you smoke their brand you will be tough and noble, get to ride horses, camp out on the range, and grow leathery skin.

Advertisers also use transfer when a famous celebrity promotes a product unrelated to their fame. Michael Jordan being featured in McDonald’s commercials is an attempt at transfer. Michael Jordan is no expert on hamburgers, but the advertiser hopes that when we later see the McDonald’s sign we will think of our sports hero and transfer our devotion from him to the burger store. However, an advertiser is not using transfer when the sports hero is promoting a product on which he may actually have an expert opinion. If Michael Jordan promoted basketball shoes, we may more properly assume he knows what he is talking about.

Transfer can also give us negative feelings. Look for them in the following example:

A commercial begins with a fast sequence of scenes with fuzzy distorted images of Candidate B shot on a rainy day and discordant music playing in the background. Cut to a clean, crisp image of Candidate A talking to children in a classroom. A band plays marching music. A voice over says, “A vote for Candidate A is a vote for the future.”

When people see unclear pictures and hear unpleasant music they feel uncomfortable. They associate the feeling with what they saw. If an advertiser can make us feel uncomfortable whenever we think about Candidate B, then we will probably not feel like voting for him on Election Day.

So, there’s a little logic for you – propaganda and the transfer technique. See, it wasn’t that bad, was it? Propaganda is actually just a small part of logic. There are other areas of logic that could be explored such as fallacies, syllogisms, inductive and deductive logic, and Dilbert Cartoons. But we will leave that for another day.

First appeared in Homeschooling Today magazine, March-April 2003.

Copyright March 01, 2003, all rights reserved. 11534 views


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