Category Archives: Appeal to Fear/Threat

An appeal to the force

Whilst discussing the concept of the argumentum ad baculum the other day in Critical Thinking class, it occured to me that this scene from Star Wars might be an interesting example, in its fallacious and non fallacious varieties:

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over
territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this
battle station.

TAGGE: And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a
complete technical readout of this station, it is possible, however
unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.

VADER: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.

MOTTI: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a
useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This
station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use

VADER: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've
constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to
the power of the Force.

MOTTI: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader.
Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure
up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the
Rebel's hidden fort…

Suddenly Motti chokes and starts to turn blue under Vader's

VADER: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

TARKIN: Enough of this! Vader, release him!

VADER: As you wish.

Script here.  Video here.

There seem to be a number of arguments on the table here. 

Tarkin (the guy who looks like Vincent Price) first suggests the Empire ought to rule by fear and force, using the Death Star.  This is not a fallacious appeal to force, as he simply advocates violent coercion. 

Tagge worries that such force will be inadequate, since it is force, it can be defeated on its own terms, or that machines have inherent limitations which can be exploited by force (a well placed shot, for instance, at a weak point).  He doesn't seem to advocate diplomacy and rational persuasion, however, though perhaps one might infer something like this from what he said. 

Motti (the guy who gets choked) agrees with Vincent Price and advocates the use of force with the qualification that it is totally awesome and ought to be used now. 

But Vader says force is nothing compared to THE Force. 

Here is where it gets odd.  Motti gets into a scrum with Vader over which force to use–force or The Force.  What is hilarious is that neither thinks he shouldn't be using force broadly construed.  Funnier still is that the argument over which sense of force to be used is resolved by force (broadly costrued again).  Here it is:

Motti criticizes Vader for his "sorcerer's ways" and for his religious devotion to the Force–arguing:

1.  The Death Star is the ultimate power in the universe and ought to be used against the rebels;

2.  Not even a complete technical readout of the Death Star can defeat it;

But Vader rebuts him, arguing:

3.  ad 1 and 2.  The planet pulverizing power of the Death Star does not compare to The Force.

Motti replies:

4.  A truly useful "force" would also be able to (1) locate the rebels; and (2) recover the stolen tapes.

5.  Point 3 is therefore false.

Vader replies:

6.  Choking Motti, saying "your lack of faith is disturbing." 

Here's the question.  Has Vader countered Motti by choking him?  Or is his use of the force a fallacious appeal to force?  It seems on one reading that Vader doesn't rebut Motti's points by choking him (that could be a sorcerer's trick, after all), so it is an irrelevant and therefore fallacious appeal to force. 

On the other hand, perhaps Vader is demonstrating the reality of the force in its use–as if to say, "if the force weren't real, I couldn't choke you from a distance."  But if that were true, then why would Vader say this:

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." 

At that point, the choking I mean, it's not a question of faith anymore.  Unless by "faith" Vader means a trust in his (Vader's) skills at locating lost plans, etc.  If that's the case, however, I'm not sure how distance-choking makes Vader's point. 

I'm inclined at this point to think that Vader has made a fallacious appeal to force–but I might change my mind if some one of you readers can distance-choke me.

Stopping President Bartlett

The last week there has been a lot of talk about fear-mongering. The conservative punditry, almost phalanx-like, exercised a concerted attack on Kerry designed to caricature a number of his arguments as manipulative appeals to fear. The appeal to fear can be a form of fallacious argument, though it is not always enumerated in canonical lists (Douglas Walton has a good discussion of this in *Scare Tactics*). It has a structure similar to the structure of argument *ad baculum* (the appeal to force). By producing in the listener fear of some consequence, the arguer is able to persuade the listener of some unjustified claim. Perhaps we could schematize it as follows:

1. If you do X, then Y will occur.
2. Y is very bad.
3. Y is such as to produce legitimate fear for you.
4. Therefore, you should not do X.

Not all arguments with this form will be fallacious. In fact, as it stands this is can be a perfectly legitimate argument (premise 3 is unnecessary and we need to add a premise that Y is more undesirable than X).

Nevertheless, there are specific dangers concealed within the appeal to fear that we need to watch for. Appeals to fear have a tendency to involve a false dichotomy because of the first premise. This is why they often take the form of a proffered choice: Abstinence or Death! The connection between X and Y becomes a necessary and exclusive connection. In logical terms this is an inference from “If X then Y” to “X or Y.” Unfortunately, these two sentences have different truth conditions and so are not logically equivalent.

To evaluate arguments that appeal to fear we need to ask at least two questions:

1. Is the fear of Y reasonable?
2. And is the connection between the act and the result necessary?

Such complicated analysis is probably unnecessary to diagnose the fallacies in Krauthammer’s “Sacrificing Israel” (Source: NYT 10/22/04). In a nutshell, Krauthammer argues, if Kerry is elected, Israel will be destroyed.

Before turning to the argument such as it is, we might wonder whether Krauthammer has confused Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett with John Kerry, since in the season premiere of the *West Wing* we find the president seeking peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis as a response to a terrorist attack on U.S. officials. Perhaps this is the origin of this almost bizarre argument today.

>The centerpiece of John Kerry’s foreign policy is to rebuild our alliances so the world will come to our aid, especially in Iraq. He repeats this endlessly because it is the only foreign policy idea he has to offer. The problem for Kerry is that he cannot explain just how he proposes to do this.

Since he has not explained how he will do this, Krauthammer argues:

>In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.

So the argument takes the form:

1. If elected, Kerry will seek international cooperation on Iraq.
2. The only way to achieve this is to sacrifice Israel’s interests.
3. Sacrificing Israel’s interests is really bad.
4. The reader (should be) is afraid of this.
5. Therefore, we should not elect John Kerry.

Now the problematic premises are 2 and 4. The questions are thus whether the only way to achieve international cooperation is by sacrificing Israel’s interests, and whether it is reasonable that someone fears that this will come about as a result of Kerry’s election.

In order to justify his 2, Krauthammer argues that international cooperation will come at the price of re-engaging in the peace process.

>”Re-engage in the peace process” is precisely what the Europeans, the Russians and the United Nations have been pressuring the United States to do for years. Do you believe any of them have Israel’s safety at heart? They would sell out Israel in an instant, and they are pressuring America to do precisely that.

For Krauthammer the “peace process” is not in Israel’s interests, and so engaging in it is selling out Israel. Why?

>Do not be fooled by the euphemism “peace process.” We know what “peace process” meant during the [Clinton Administration] –a White House to which Yasser Arafat was invited more often than any other leader on the planet. It meant believing Arafat’s deceptions about peace while letting him get away with the most virulent incitement to and unrelenting support of terrorism. It meant constant pressure on Israel to make one territorial concession after another — in return for nothing. Worse than nothing: Arafat ultimately launched a vicious terror war that killed a thousand Israeli innocents.

I don’t want to contest Krauthammer’s claim about the number of visits Arafat made to the White House, but in the absence of evidence it seems a little implausible. More importantly, this is a wild caricature of the efforts of the Clinton administration and one that cannot be taken seriously. We must, at least, remember that Barak (no moderate on Israeli security) found the process congenial, while the Palestinians found it ultimately dangerous to their interests (primarily through concerns of Bantutisation of the West Bank).

There is little reason to believe that engaging in the peace process is equivalent to sacrificing Israel. The false dichotomy implicit raises its head most clearly right here. In effect, Krauthammer is arguing:

A. “either engage in the peace process, or protect Israeli interests.”

But this is simply a false dichotomy. Israel engaged in the peace process *and* was protecting its interests during the Clinton era and there is good reason to believe that not only are the two disjuncts compatible, but that ultimately the only way of attaining the latter is to engage in the former.

Krauthammer can advance such an obviously fallacious argument for two reasons: First, he is appealing to the fear of certain constituencies; Second, he collapses the distinction between means and ends. The goal of peace is desirable, some means to peace (i.e., surrender) are not desirable. The question is always how to attain the desirable end through acceptable means. This is politics.

Worse than the logical confusion is Krauthammer’s manipulation of the fears of some readers. It is only on this basis that Krauthammer can make his strikingly fallacious argument appear even slightly reasonable.