Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.” – Sigmund Freud

“One man’s ‘magic’ is another man’s engineering. ‘Supernatural’ is a null word.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Words are magic . . . or so it seems. Words can make people change their minds. Words can make others take actions even against their own best interests. Words can shape the world, determine the fate of nations and people, create and destroy. However, as Robert Heinlein noted, one man’s magic is another man’s engineering and in the modern world, propaganda is the most engineered form of communication possible.

Magica verba est scientia et ars es.

The magic of words is science and art.

The science is in the methodology and psychology of execution. The art is in making the message appealing. This is the essence of rhetoric. How is this so?  Let us first consider the methodologies of propaganda as a form of rhetoric before we look at the psychology behind these tactics. Although the psychology applies to both negative (black), positive (white) and value neutral (grey) uses of propaganda, in the context of this portion of the discussion, the word “propaganda” should be viewed with its maximum possible negative value load, i.e. the kind of bad propaganda designed to get you to act against your best interests or to harm others. Why? Because many of these tactics favored  modern political polemicists are rooted in logical fallacies and outright lies. Knowing “snakes” as a category isn’t as useful as knowing “pit vipers” as a sub-category when the survival of the species can be at stake so we’ll consider the dangerous kinds of propaganda first. Why? Because if you treat all snakes like they are dangerous, then you are less likely to get bitten.

The Façade of Reason – The Role of Logical Fallacies in Propaganda

First, we need to differentiate between the terms “strategy” and “tactics”.  Strategy is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war”.  Tactics, by contrast, is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as “the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end” and “the study of the grammatical relations within a language including morphology and syntax”. By better understanding the tactics of propagandists, you not only gain a certain degree of immunity from their influence, but insight into their strategic ends.

Many of these tactics rely upon logical fallacies. Etymologically speaking, most everyone knows that fallacies are falsehoods, but for the purposes of this discussion consider again Webster’s definition in relevant part in that a fallacy is “an often plausible argument using false or invalid inference”. This is one of the reasons logicians are arduously trained to spot fallacies and why they are so dangerous to the consumer. Logical fallacies but especially informal logical fallacies can provide a façade of reason, a mask of legitimacy, to an argument but are in fact logically and/or factually flawed. They accomplish this by being subtle flaws and/or appealing to naturally occurring predispositions in human psychology. This can range from being simply wrong or mistaken to deliberate lies depending upon the speaker and their possible motivations for inciting you to adopt their stance on an issue or in taking or failing to take a given action. Illogic is simply illogic unless the speaker is intentionally trying to be misleading. Not everyone who is illogical is a propagandist, but at some level, every propagandist preys upon illogic and uses illogic as a tool to convince you of a reality that does not exist.

By knowing the tactics and methodology of propagandists, you can deconstruct their statements, allowing you to sort through the truths and the lies; to think about the issues as they are without the filter of their perceptions and goals steering your thinking. By deconstruction of their statements, you can find the truth. Truthful decisions, no matter how ugly the truth might be, are always better than misinformed decisions or decisions made upon prime facie lies. Although a famous Roman Emperor once said that truth is a perspective, he also said that . . .

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”― Marcus Aurelius

The Tactics of Propaganda

Name Calling and Labelling/Mislabelling – Although both name calling and labelling tactics are common, I think they are best understood when consolidated under the term of “mislabelling”. Labelling in and of itself has utility. To return to the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, ask of each and every thing what is it in itself. To that end, an accurate label is a summation, the encapsulation of an idea. Where we run into trouble is when labels are misapplied or used solely to conjure a negative implicit or explicit relationship. When someone engages in this tactic (or is the victim of it), look first at the denotation of the word(s) being used. Are they accurate? It is not name calling when you describe someone acting in a sociopathic manner a sociopath.  It is merely accurate if that is consistent with the behavior the person in question displays. If the label being applied is inaccurate, then that is your first hint that it is mislabelling and the speaker’s motivation should be suspect. A good way to deal with this tactic is to turn it back upon the user either directly or by deconstruction and clarification; make definitions – preferably objective definitions from credible sources – work for you and against them. This tactic is common on blogs and this counter-tactic is best suited for such an interactive environment, however, it is practiced elsewhere in media.  For example, anti-abortion articles that refer to doctor who provide that legal and necessary service as “murderers”.

Even if the denotation of the word or words is accurate, ask yourself if there is a negative connotation to the word being used? For example, in modern American English, saying someone is a black man is an accurate term if that man is indeed ethnically black and would not raise an eyebrow under normal circumstances (context matters, but we are talking about labels only at this time). Now consider if that same speaker used the term “colored man”? If you stick to the strictest meaning of the word “colored” as defined by Webster’s (“having color”), then this may be an accurate label as applied to a black man. However, if you consider the broader meaning of the word “colored”, you’d know that using that word to describe persons of races other than the white or of mixed race is often – in my experience always – considered offensive. It carries a negative connotation of diminution, an implication of inferiority based on skin color. Of course, this is nonsense, but it is an example of a connotation being put to bad ends. This should also lead you to question the speaker’s motives.

Loaded Language – At the beginning of this series, we looked at the value of word choice and how denotation and connotation could be manipulated to bias the “value load” of language. Technically this process is referred to as using euphemisms or dyphemisms. A euphemism is when you change the value of load of a word positively by substituting a less harsh word, for example using the term “police action” instead of “war”. A dysphemism is when you change the value load of a word negatively by substituting a harsher or even profane word, for example calling LEOs “pigs” instead of “police”. The best defense against loaded language is to have a broad vocabulary and a willingness to use both a dictionary and a thesaurus when you see words that elicit an emotional response. Group antonyms (and synonyms) according to their perceived value as “virtue” words (euphemistic value) or “devil” words (dysphemistic value). Considering denotation as well as other alternative word choices can be quite illuminating in deciding whether the speaker is using purposefully loaded language.  A good counter-tactic for loaded language is identification of the tactic and clarification of terms.

Both labelling and loaded language can be considered forms of transfer or the logical fallacy of guilt by association.

Generalities – Speaking in generalities is an artful form of the logical fallacies of composition, division or false equivalences in that statements are made in general, vague or inadequate manner to state a truth about a part based on the whole, about the whole based on a part or about a part or a whole by creating a false connotative connection that isn’t causal.  When a generality crosses into propaganda, it often crosses in to the realm of the informal logical fallacy, the faulty generalization, but those are very specific kinds of fallacies and they are listed and addressed in detail below.  Another form is the use “glittering generalities” where the word choice is based entirely on positive emotional appeal but don’t have any real substance.  This is sometimes called the P.T. Barnum tactic or the “baffle them with bull” tactic after the famous W.C. Fields quote, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” The best way to combat generalities is by logical dissection of the argument and comparing the objective nature of the evidence to the assertions made to see if there is causal connection or not.

Transfer/Guilt by Association and False Equivalence – Actually two distinct tactics, they are grouped together because often one is used to create the other, i.e. a false equivalence can be used to create guilt by association or vice versa. Consider the recent revelations about the Sandusky/Penn State/Second Mile child abuse scandal and how the taint of Sandusky’s crimes has (rightfully) spread to others and other organizations or the Idaho billboards (wrongfully) comparing Obama to the Aurora shooter. This is a form of red herring fallacy, but it is so prevalent in propaganda it merits separate mention.

Cherry Picking (Selective Truth) – This tactic can combine several approaches to one net effect: biasing data. This can be done by incomplete comparisons, inconsistent comparisons, quoting out of context, appealing to authority, and causal oversimplification just to name a few of the tactics that can be used to cherry pick. It is in summary selecting data that supports a position while ignoring data that refutes a position.  The best defense against this tactic is to always ask “is this all the relevant information?”

False Causal Analysis – This tactic is where informal logical fallacies really come into their own by using combinations of tactics to create false causes for consequents. For example, consider the “arguments” by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that the tragedy in Aurora was a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” which uses outright deception combined with an appeal to emotion with a dash of bandwagon and pandering. This is a false causal analysis using multiple tactics/fallacies.

Appeals to Emotion – This tactic is in itself an informal logical fallacy, a form of faulty generalization. There are two basic groupings here: Appeals to Pure Emotion (i.e. a direct appeal designed to elicit a particular emotion) and Appeals to Distilled Emotion (i.e. indirect appeals to a set of emotions). The lists below are not all inclusive, but they highlight the most commonly used emotions targeted by speakers.

Appeals to Pure Emotion: Fear, Anger, Humor, Sentiment/Nostalgia, Pity, Flattery, Ridicule, and Spite

Appeals to Distilled Emotion – These appeals to emotion are more complex than the pure appeals.  They will be addressed in greater depth in the section on the psychology of propaganda, but they merit mention now with their rhetorical cousin(s).

  • Testimonial – Less an appeal to pure emotion, this tactic rooted is in Social Proofing and Authority .
  • Plain Folks – Sometimes confused with the Band Wagon tactic, the Plain Folks tactic is actually a variation on the same psychological mechanisms that Band Wagon relies upon – Social Proofing, Liking and Authority.
  • The Desire for Certainty – This plays to the human mind’s propensity to deal with uncertainty by filling in factual gaps in knowledge with beliefs and suppositions it treats as fact to allow the mind to come to a certain conclusion where there may not be one.  This is closely related to the Desire for Consistency.
  • Wishful Thinking – When a decision is made according to what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than according to evidence or reason. It is a form of delusional thinking and is closely related to another psychological mechanism – denial.

The best way to address appeals to emotion is to identify them as such and then illustrate why an emotional response will not be helpful to resolving the issue in question, preferably while offering a rational and viable alternative solution. The ability to read and write with detachment as well as the ability to apply logic dispassionately aids in dealing with appeals to emotion.

Band Wagon and False Consensus – The Band Wagon tactic is a variation of the appeal to popularity (argumentum ad populum) that is best illustrated by the line, “All the really cool kids are doing it.”  It is, like that illustrative line, a form of peer pressure. Where it comes into full bloom as a propaganda tactic is when it is combined with false consensus.  False consensus is a tactic where posters use “sockpuppet” identities to basically agree with themselves and create the false illusion that the proposition is good by consensus.  The best way to combat this tactic is to familiarize yourself with poster’s writing styles so sockpuppets are easier to spot, frequent sites that use moderation to mitigate the effects of sockpuppetry.  If you have the skills, you might even write analytical software that spots sockpuppets based on published public data.  It has been my experience on this particular blog and topic though that when people use technological solutions to spot sockpuppets, the sockpuppeteers get really pissed off at not being able to lie without the threat of easy detection of their tactics. While this tactic may be overboard, I have found that simply being able to recognize writer’s by “their voice” works almost as well. This is a skill that you may or may not be able to acquire though. It’s analogous to having an ear for dialects. You simply may or may not have the proclivity and predisposition to do this effectively, but it never hurts to try.  When combined, these two tactics are illustrative of the tactic known as astroturfing.  These tactics can also be used in divide and conquer strategies.

Red Herrings – This tactic actually covers an broad range of informal logical fallacies that all amount to one move tactically speaking: misdirection.  This is addressed below in greater detail along with the other informal logical fallacies.

Simple Solutions/Repetition/The Big Lie – This group of tactics is interrelated but they are all stand alone tactics in their own right. First, the Fallacy of the Single Cause or causal oversimplification, is exactly what it sounds like: making the cause of a premise or conclusion simpler than it actually is to avoid or obscure other causal factors that might steer the argument in other directions. This can take several forms including improper definitions, “pat” answers and binary thinking. This works because simple bits of information are more readily absorbed by consumers than complex concepts. To make an idea, simple or otherwise, “stick” to a consumer, repetition works. This is because of the psychology of operant conditioning or learning by imitation. Monkey see, monkey do. You see it in action every day with advertising. When you combine simple solutions and repetition you get a third tactic that is far more dangerous than either upon their own: the Big Lie.  The term Big Lie (Große Lüge) was coined by Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf, but the tactic was refined to the form it uses today by his henchman and Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was speaking of the British when he said, “follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” An observation he put in to effect as “well” as anyone in human history to create the false narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at an “international Jewry” which started World War I and was consequently to blame for all of Germany’s suffering in the inter-war period. The Big Lie was the sales pitch that allowed the Nazis to get away with industrial genocide.  If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, no matter how ridiculous or factually false your lie is under the light of critical scrutiny. This tactic must be countered at the sources: the causal oversimplifications and the repetition.  Point out causal oversimplification and counter repetition with repetition.

Direct/Indirect Deception – There is always the possibility that someone will simply lie. The best way to deal with lies is to provide proof that they are lies.  For example, when someone tries to sell you the idea that voter fraud is a real issue, present them with articles and statistics proving that voter fraud is a non-issue. Examples of indirect deception include (but are not limited to) obfuscation, intentional vagueness or confusion of topics. The best way to deal with indirect deception is a combination of proof and clarification.

Blaming the Victim/Apologetics – This is when excuses are made for bad actions by trying to rationalize away the actions of the bad actor.  A variation on the tactic of scapegoating and false causal analysis.

Logical Fallacies: Definitions, Examples and How They Relate to Tactics

When addressing how logical fallacies relate to propaganda tactics, it is important to distinguish between formal logical fallacies and informal logical fallacies. It is often the misconception that an informal fallacy isn’t as serious a logical flaw as a formal fallacy, but that is because people often default to the common parlance in considering the difference between the words “formal” and “informal”.  When discussing logic, these two words are not synonyms for “fancy” and “casual”, but instead “formal” means the fallacy applies directly to the form of the argument where “informal” covers fallacies that may look formally sufficient but fail for other reasons (usually related to the argument’s content). For the sake of consistency, the definitions for the following fallacies are all derived from Wikipedia – primarily because the definitions supplied conformed substantially to those provided by other sources and secondarily because it was the only source I found that covered every fallacy I wanted to address.

Formal Fallacies

Formal fallacies come in four basic flavors: fallacies in the form of the argument, propositional fallacies, formal syllogistic fallacies and quantification fallacies.  Formal fallacies are all types of non sequitur.  This list is not inclusive, but it is representative of the most common forms of these fallacies you are likely to encounter in propaganda.

Fallacies in the Form of the Argument

  • Appeal to probability – assumes that because something is likely to happen, it is inevitable that it will happen.  Of all the formal fallacies, this is probably the most commonly used in propaganda.  The best defense is to always examine verb choice: could versus should, might versus will, etc.  Ask is this assertion framed in the language of possibility, probability or certainty?  Example(s):


It might rain today. (possibility)

It is likely to rain today. (probability)

It will rain today. (certainty)


This fallacy also manifests in weak analogies.

Van Gogh was an artistic genius.;

Van Gogh died a poor artist.;

I am a poor artist.;

∴ I am an artistic genius.

  • Argument from fallacy  – This fallacy assumes that if an argument or premise for some conclusion is fallacious, then the conclusion itself is false. This is deceptively simple. The error rests not in the consequence of an argument but rather in assuming that the consequent is fallacious simply because one (or more) of the premises is fallacious.  Example:

If P then Q;

P is a fallacious argument;

∴ Q is fallacious.


Consider two people are arguing.  Person A says, “All chimps are animals. Bonzo is an animal.  Therefore Bonzo must be a chimp.”  Person B points out that Person A is affirming the consequent which is a logical fallacy and therefore Bonzo is not a chimp. Person B is in fact arguing from fallacy because the facts/premises of Person A’s argument are inconclusive as to whether Bonzo is a chimp or not because “animals” is a very large set and there is insufficient evidence that Bonzo as a part of that set belongs to the sub-set “chimps”.  Person C notes that Person B’s argument and says, “B’s assumption that Bonzo is not a chimp is an argument from fallacy, therefore Bonzo must be a chimp”.  Person C is also arguing from fallacy.  In other words, simply pointing out a fallacy does not automatically prove your point. While pointing out fallacies is a good exercise in logic and can be used as a legitimate or illegitimate form of ad hominem attack to undermine the credibility of a speaker, it must be paired with a valid substantive counter-argument to make your case.  The best defense for this tactic is to have valid substantive counter arguments to present in conjunction with pointing out fallacious reasoning (a true counter claim) or be willing to admit that an argument using fallacious reasoning can still have a correct consequent (not a true counter claim but merely a criticism of form).

  • Masked man fallacy (illicit substitution of identicals) – the substitution of identical designators in a true statement can lead to a false one.  Although the individual premises may be true, this fallacy is fallacious because knowing and believing are not equivalent.  Example;

I know X;

I don’t know Y;

∴ X is not Y.


I know who Prof. Turley is;

I don’t know who the Donut Bandit is;

Therefore, Prof. Turley is not the Donut Bandit.

Propositional Fallacies

A propositional fallacy is an error in logic that concerns compound propositions. In order for a compound proposition to be true all the simple propositions in it have to be true and validly related as the logical connector (and, or, not, only if, if and only if) suggests.

A or B;


∴ not B.

If A, then B;


∴ A.

If A, then B;

not A;

∴ not B.

Formal Syllogistic Fallacies

Syllogistic fallacies – logical fallacies that occur in syllogisms.  Syllogistic reasoning is a basic tool of logic and comes in generally in the following form:

Major Premise;

Minor Premise;



All equines are mammals;

Ponies are equines;

Therefore all ponies are mammals.

All syllogistic arguments are constrained by quantifiers and copula.  Quantifiers are terms that modify the subject either universally (like “all” or “no”) or in particular (like “some”, “many” or “few”).  Copula are words that connect subject and predicates, usually a verb and usually some form of “to be”. Because of the form and operands of this form of logic, it is subject to certain kinds of formal fallacies.

No pigs are cats;

No cats can fly;

Pigs can fly.

No mammals are fishes.;

Some fishes are not whales.;

some whales are not mammals.

  • Fallacy of four terms (quaternio terminorum) – When a categorical syllogism that has four (or more) terms.  In its classic form, a syllogism has three terms.  For example in the argument . . .

All equines are mammals;

Ponies are equines;

Therefore all ponies are mammals.

. . . the three terms are “equines”, “mammals” and “ponies” and the argument is formally correct.  However, if you change it to read . . .

All equines are mammals;

Ponies are equines;

Therefore all snakes are mammals.

. . . you have a fourth and undistributed term with “snakes”. Two premises are not sufficient to connect four terms and all the premises must have a common element. In propaganda, this kind of formal error most often manifests informally in the form of equivocation. Consider the following example . . .

The pen touches the paper.;

The hand touches the pen.;

The hand touches the paper.

In this example of equivocation, what is the forth term? It looks at first glance like there isn’t one, doesn’t it? You see “pen”, “paper” and “hand” plainly enough, but where is the fourth term? It is in the word “touches” which is being used to have two meanings (the equivocation). Substitute the words “is touching” for “touches” and see the difference . . .

The pen is touching the paper.;

The hand is touching the pen.;

The hand is touching the paper.

Clearly the hand touching the pen is not the pen itself and the four terms are revealed as “the hand”, “touching the pen”, “the pen”, and “touching the paper”.

  • Illicit major – This categorical syllogism  is invalid because its major term is not distributed in the major premise but distributed in the conclusion. Example:

All A are B.;

No C are A.;

No C are B.


All roses are flowers.

No daisies are roses.

Therefore no daises are flowers.

  • Illicit minor – This categorical syllogism is invalid because its minor term is not distributed in the minor premise but distributed in the conclusion.  Example:

All A are B.;

All A are C.;

all C are B.


All ponies are equines.

All ponies are mammals.

Therefore all mammals are equines.

All cars are Camaros.;

All Camaros are made by GM.;

Therefore, no cars are made by GM.

All A are B.;

All C are B.;

All C are A.


All bass are fish.

All carp are fish.

Therefore all carp are bass.

The common term of the premises, “B” or “fish” is undistributed. This is a corollary for another rule of logic – anything distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in at least one premise. This is not to be confused with Aristotle’s Law of Thought, the Law of the Excluded Middle.

Quantification Fallacies

A quantification fallacy is an error in logic where the quantifiers of the premises are in contradiction to the quantifier of the conclusion. It is really a specialized form of syllogistic fallacy related to the quantity terms “all” and “no” and in most circumstances will be seen in what is known as the existential fallacy where an argument has two universal premises and a particular conclusion. It bears particular note because it is a fallacy often used by extremists and those locked in binary thinking. This kind of fallacy is not rooted in Aristotelian logic (term logic), but in Boolean logic (propositional logic). In deference to rafflaw’s well known aversion to mathematics, I won’t delve too deeply into this subject other than to note that when you see an argument like this:

All inhabitants of other planets are friendly beings.

All Martians are inhabitants of another planet.

Therefore, all Martians are friendly beings.

Some Martians are friendly beings.

Or like this . . .

All people are superior beings.

All white people are humans.

All white people are superior beings.

Really, only some white people are superior beings (and those are the ones who recognize white superiority).

It is an argument making a quantification fallacy.

Informal Fallacies

In the analysis of propaganda, informal fallacies are often more utilized than formal fallacies. The reasons why are fairly obvious – they don’t stand out like formal fallacies do and their very appearance of formal sufficiency helps to further obscure the untruths being peddled. There are a wide variety of informal logical fallacies and while this list isn’t exhaustive, it is comprehensive and representative of the fallacies most often used in propaganda.  There are four broad groupings: informal fallacies, faulty generalizations, red herring fallacies and conditional fallacies.

Informal Fallacies

  • Argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam) – The assumption that a claim is true (or false) because it has not been proven false (true) or cannot be proven false (true).  Example:

There is life on Europa.

(We simply don’t have enough information to prove this statement true or false.)

  • Argument from repetition (argumentum ad nauseam) – An argument that has been discussed extensively until nobody cares to discuss it further. Do I really need to give an example for this one?
  • Argument from silence (argumentum e silentio) – Where the conclusion is based on silence of opponent, failing to give proof, based on “lack of evidence”. This is not the same thing as a opponent failing to properly meet their burden of proof (which is not a fallacy, but a formal failure in argumentation).
  • Begging the question (petitio principii) – When the conclusion of an argument is implicitly or explicitly assumed in one of the premises.
  • Circular cause and consequence – When the consequence of a phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause.
  • Correlation does not imply causation (cum hoc ergo propter hoc) – A faulty assumption that correlation between two variables implies that one causes the other.
  • Equivocation– This is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time).
  • Etymological fallacy – In which reasons that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day meaning. This fallacy can (like many) be inverted to argue that the modern usage for a word is not the same as the historical usage of a word. For example, you very often see Randians or Libertarians trying to argue that the word “welfare” had a different meaning at the time of the drafting of the Constitution than it does now to argue against spending on the “general welfare” as mandated by the Constitution. This is not only an etymological fallacy, it is an outright lie as the contemporaneous Webster’s Dictionary to the drafting of the Constitution defines “welfare” as “Well-doing or well-being; enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life. Syn. – Prosperity; happiness.” (An American Dictionary of the English Language (2 volumes; New York: S. Converse, 1828), by Noah Webster, p. 815) which comports perfectly well with the modern usage of “welfare” in Websters.
  • Fallacy of composition – This is assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole.
  • Fallacy of division – assuming that something true of a thing must also be true of all or some of its parts.  This is closely related to the Ecological fallacy where inferences about the nature of specific individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those individuals belong.
  • False dilemma (false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, black-or-white fallacy) – Where two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are more. You see this a lot from extremists and binary thinkers. This fallacy does violate Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle in “third options” are omitted.  Example:

“Either you’re with us or against us.” – G.W. Bush

This omits a third option, “I’m with the country, but against your unconstitutional tactics and improper selection of targets.”

  • Fallacy of many questions (complex question, fallacy of presupposition, loaded question, plurium interrogationum) – This is when a speaker asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved. This fallacy is often used rhetorically, so that the question limits direct replies to those that serve the questioner’s agenda.
  • Fallacy of the single cause (causal oversimplification) – When it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.
  • False attribution– When an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument.  This is related to contextomy (the fallacy of quoting out of context), which refers to the selective excerpting of words from their original context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning and to the red herring fallacy of appeal to authority discussed below with the other red herring fallacies.
  • Argument to moderation (false compromise, middle ground, fallacy of the mean) – This is assuming that the compromise between two positions is always correct.
  • Historian’s fallacy – This occurs when one assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision. Originalist argments about the meaning of the Constitution are often mired in the Historian’s fallacy.  This is related to, but not to be confused with, presentism which is a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas, such as moral standards, are projected into the past.
  • Homunculus fallacy – This where a “middle-man” is used for explanation, this usually leads to regressive middle-man. Explanations without actually explaining the real nature of a function or a process. Instead, it explains the concept in terms of the concept itself, without first defining or explaining the original concept.
  • Incomplete comparison – When not enough information is provided to make a complete comparison. This is a form of lie of omission.
  • Inconsistent comparison – When different methods of comparison are used, leaving one with a false impression of the whole comparison.  The old “apples versus oranges” scenario.
  • Ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion, missing the point) – When an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question. You see this a lot with threadjacking and attempts to change the subject.
  • Kettle logic – This using multiple inconsistent arguments to defend a position. Sometimes called “crazy talk”, it can be particularly disjointed.
  • Mind projection fallacy – This is when a speaker considers the way he sees the world as the way the world really is, usually in the face of contrary evidence.  You see this a lot with historical revisionists like far right Fundamentalists who want to insist this is a Christian nation despite overwhelming historical evidence that the United States was purposefully created as a secular nation with a secular government.
  • Moving the goalposts (raising the bar) – This is when argument in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded.
  • Nirvana fallacy (perfect solution fallacy) – This is when solutions to problems are rejected because they are not perfect. You also see this a lot from Libertarian types who want to argue that because regulation is an imperfect solution then it isn’t a valid solution to white collar crime.
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof – “Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat” – the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim, not on the person who denies (or questions the claim). It is a particular case of the “argumentum ad ignorantiam” fallacy, where the burden is shifted on the person defending against the assertion.
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this” (false cause, coincidental correlation, correlation without causation) – X happened then Y happened; therefore X caused Y.  A variation of correlation is not causation.
  • Proof by verbosity (argumentum verbosium, proof by intimidation) – When submission of others to an argument too complex and verbose to reasonably deal with in all its intimate details. This is related to shotgun argumentation when the arguer offers such a large number of arguments for their position that the opponent can’t possibly respond to all of them.
  • Psychologist’s fallacy – When an observer incorrectly presupposes the objectivity of his own perspective when analyzing a behavioral event. Consider the person who cannot (as opposed to “does not but can”) address certain topics without succumbing to emotion laden argument or histrionic language.  “Think of the children!” is very often not just an appeal to emotion but an example of this fallacy as well.
  • Regression fallacy – This is when ascribes cause where none exists. The flaw is failing to account for natural fluctuations. It is frequently a special kind of the post hoc fallacy.
  • Reification (hypostatization) – A fallacy of ambiguity found when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a “real thing” something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea. For example, arguments that treat good and/or evil as if they were tangible (and usually absolute) properties of the universe instead of concepts defined within the parameters of social context.
  • Retrospective determinism – This is the argument that because some event has occurred, its occurrence must have been inevitable beforehand. This is the cousin of outcome determinism where a desired outcome is reasoned as inevitable based on incomplete, inconsistent and/or cherry picked premises.
  • Special pleading – This is where a proponent of a position attempts to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule or principle without justifying the exemption. This is found at the heart of most Randian arguments where the wealthy are due special treatment like exemption from laws because they “create jobs” (which is utter nonsense according to the evidence).
  • Wrong direction – When cause and effect are reversed, cause is said to be the effect or vice versa or when causation is not clear so it it confused with effect.

Faulty Generalizations

Faulty generalizations – reach a conclusion from weak premises. Unlike fallacies of relevance, in fallacies of defective induction, the premises are related to the conclusions yet only weakly buttress the conclusions.

  • Accident– When an exception to a generalization is ignored.
    • No true Scotsman – When a generalization is made true only when a counterexample is ruled out on shaky grounds.
  • Cherry picking (suppressed evidence, incomplete evidence) – The act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position, this tactic was detailed above.
  • False analogy – This is when an argument by analogy in which the analogy is poorly suited. A variation of the “apples versus oranges” scenario.
  • Hasty generalization (fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, leaping to a conclusion) – This is when a broad conclusion on a small sample. For example:

Some crazy people have been obsessed with movies.

Some crazy people act violently.

Therefore all violent crazy people are obsessed with movies.

  • Misleading vividness – This involves describing an occurrence in vivid detail, even if it is an exceptional occurrence, to convince someone that it is a problem.  Just watch the Zimmerman case as it unfolds and some of the threads on this blog surrounding it and you’ll find plenty of examples of misleading vividness (especially from the “Friends of George”).
  • Overwhelming exception – An accurate generalization that comes with qualifications which eliminate so many cases that what remains is much less impressive than the initial statement might have led one to assume.
  • Thought-terminating cliché – Often a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance, conceal lack of thought, change the subject, etc., that is used to attempt to end the debate with a cliché instead of a conclusive logical point and/or evidence.

Red Herring Fallacies

A red herring fallacy is an error in logic where a proposition is, or is intended to be, misleading in order to make irrelevant or false inferences or change the subject. In the general case any logical inference based on fake arguments, intended to replace the lack of real arguments or to replace implicitly the subject of the discussion. There are many informal fallacies that qualify as red herring fallacies.

  • Ad hominem– Using arguments attacking the arguer instead of the argument.  This is often a fallacy, but not always, the exception being when the speaker is making statements without evidence and relying upon their character as proof of veracity of a statement.
  • Poisoning the well – A type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.
  • Abusive fallacy – A subtype of “ad hominem” when it turns into name-calling rather than arguing about the originally proposed argument, it can also be a form of transfer or guilt by association.
  • Argumentum ad baculum (appeal to force) – When an argument is made through coercion or threats of force to support position, a.k.a. “Agree with me or I’ll kick your ass.”
  • Argumentum ad populum (appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people) – This is where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so. Just because a proposition is popular doesn’t automatically mean that it is true or good, but conversely just because a proposition is popular doesn’t mean automatically that it is false or bad.
  • Appeal to equality – When an assertion is deemed true or false based on an assumed pretense of equality. Very often seen the arguments of those in favor of privatization of government services in their assumption that in contracting, all parties are equal because the transaction has the appearance of being voluntary.
  • Appeal to authority– When an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it.
  • Appeal to accomplishment – When an assertion is deemed true or false based on the accomplishments of the proposer, i.e. appealing to your own authority.
  • Appeal to consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam) – When the conclusion is supported by a premise that asserts positive or negative consequences from some course of action in an attempt to distract from the initial discussion.  See variations of the “Think of the children!” defense for examples of this fallacy.
  • Appeal to emotion– where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning as detailed above.
  • Appeal to novelty (argumentum ad novitam) – where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern.
  • Appeal to poverty (argumentum ad Lazarum) and appeal to wealth (argumentum ad crumenam) – Supporting a conclusion because the arguer is poor or refuting because the arguer is wealthy and vice versa.
  • Appeal to tradition (argumentum ad antiquitam) – When a conclusion is supported solely because it has long been held to be true. “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • Genetic fallacy – When a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context.  Again, see Originalist Constitutional arguments to see plenty examples of this kind of fallacy.
  • Naturalistic fallacy (is–ought fallacy) – When claims are about what ought to be instead of on the basis of statements about what is.
  • Reductio ad Hitlerum (playing the Nazi card, Godwin’s law) – Comparing an opponent or their argument to Hitler or Nazism in an attempt to associate a position with one that is universally reviled, this is only a fallacy when you are not actually discussing or arguing traits, behaviors and practices that are not in common with those of the Nazi Party or Hitler.  For example, calling someone a Nazi because they would favor a law telling you what to do is a Godwin’s law violation, but calling someone a Nazi because they favor rounding up segments of society into camps is not.
  • Straw man – When an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position, this tactic is a favorite of propagandists and trolls everywhere.  For example, see Mitt Romney’s current misrepresentations about Obama’s statements concerning the small business.  Mitt’s camp has taken words out of context to build a straw man and attack it.
  • Tu quoque (“you too”, appeal to hypocrisy) – When the argument states that a certain position is false or wrong and/or should be disregarded because its proponent fails to act consistently in accordance with that position. Just because a smoker tells you smoking is bad and you should quit is not false or wrong simply because they are still a smoker.

Conditional Fallacies

  • Black swan blindness – When the argument ignores low probability, high impact events, thus down playing the role of chance and under-representing known risks, this fallacy is roughly the inverse of the appeal to probability.
  • Broken window fallacy – When an argument which disregards lost opportunity costs (typically non-obvious, difficult to determine or otherwise hidden costs) associated with destroying property of others, or other ways of externalizing costs onto others. For example, an argument that states breaking a window generates income for a window fitter, but disregards the fact that the money spent on the new window cannot now be spent on new shoes.
  • Naturalistic fallacy – When attempts to prove a claim about ethics by appealing to a definition of the term “good” in terms of either one or more claims about natural properties (sometimes also taken to mean the appeal to nature).  This is akin to the fallacy of reification and cousin to the pathetic fallacy (when inanimate objects are imbued with the qualities of living beings).
  • Slippery slope – When asserting that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact, this topic has come up before on this blog.

These are some of the tactics of propaganda you should be conscious of when consuming propaganda.

Next time, we’ll look at the psychology behind why these tactics work.


~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

How about Some Government Propaganda for the People Paid for by the People Being Propagandized? by Elaine Magliaro


142 thoughts on “Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

  1. It is Gene for the win! Very good. I am sending a link to several people I know will enjoy reading it. Thanks.

  2. OS. You must be a VERY fast reader. :)
    I anticipate spending a 1/2 hour reading this excellent article, then make a pot of coffee and continue reading. I will also bookmark it and refer to it in the future. There are many terms I am unfamiliar with, many lines of logic that are very logical, and well worth pursuing by me for better understanding.
    Thank you Gene H, Professor Turleys blog is often full of material valuable to my learning.

  3. I glazed out at “defined .. by Websters,” the rhetorical device of the middle school valedictorian. I’m sure it’s a nice enough article otherwise, though.

  4. OS/Matt/David,

    Thank you for the kind words and I hope you find this article both informative and utilitarian.

    John White,

    Thanks for illustrating both an ad hominem attack and argument from ignorance as propaganda troll tactics. Although considering that definitions are the first critical step in both analysis and problem solving, I’m sure that your comment may not be simple trollery but rather is truly representative of the “high quality” of education where you attended school. Please don’t hesitate to comment again if you have nothing of value to add to the conversation other than illustrations of some of the behaviors in question.

    Did I mention mockery is an effective way to combat propaganda?

  5. David Blauw,
    A lot of this is familiar to me, but Gene is an elegant writer. I am a logician by training. I love logic and messing with people who fall into the logically fallacious trap. One of my favorite people is Dr. Ken Pope who addresses many of these matters in his writings. Dr. Pope is a psychologist, so he applies the lessons therein to his own field, but the principles are all the same. Note especially the discussion of the 22 most common logical fallacies.

  6. TGTNM
    (thank god there’s no math)

    the “Obama is a muslim/kenyan” meme is a good example of repetition. many people believe there is some truth to it (where there’s smoke there must be fire) because its been repeated so many times.

  7. pete,

    I once had a logic professor (symbolic logic) who was fond of saying, “Logic is a lot like math without all that nasty counting.”:mrgreen:

  8. OS, I was poking fun as the expression goes. My academic knowledge is lacking, Many of these terms are new to me. I am happy to learn new “stuff” and do recognize that new to me may be a comfortable life long knowledge to others. …… I just happened to notice the posting times, after I had spent a while reading the 1st half. My comment half reflected my trudgery, as compared to your swiftness. …. I will be visiting the link to Dr. Pope thank you.

  9. Gene,

    Excellent. As OS mentioned, I have sent this link to many who I know will study it with great interest.

  10. Slarti,

    In re counting, I look at it this way: if my professor wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of a good joke, neither will I.

    Thanks, Blouise.

  11. Gene,

    This piece works on so many levels and I’ve had a long day of fun in the country so I’ll just point out a few til I’m refreshed tomorrow.

    You have supplied a compendium of tactics that we have seen used on this blog for so many years by those who choose to characterize it in political terms. For instance, we’ve seen time and again someone commenting on a position with wordslike “you liberals”, when in fact the discussion on an issue is more about the issue itself rather than a talking point for a particular political system.

    Another level is the subtle propaganda of media reporting, adopting a meme and making it ubiquitous through repetition. i.e. re: 9/11 “THIS changes everything!” Think of the death and destruction unleashed by this meme, which was a false excuse for acting contrary to our country’s purported ideals.

    You have the makings of what should be a required HS and/or university required course, but most scools woul find its’ content a concern. Tour de Force.

  12. Freud was quoted in Gene’s post.

    Freud is little known for his prescient focus on a methodology whereby the propagandists could be psychoanalyzed.

    Perhaps that is because Freud left that scientific development for future generations, noting in advance, however, that the results of such psychoanalysis would be ineffective without some way of compelling the acceptance of any relevant therapy:

    If the evolution of civilization has such a far reaching similarity with the development of an individual, and if the same methods are employed in both, would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization——or epochs of it——possibly even the whole of humanity——have become neurotic under the pressure of the civilizing trends? … I would not say that such an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to civilized society would be fanciful or doomed to fruitlessness … with regard to any therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most acute analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses power to compel the community to adopt the therapy?

    (… Mass Suicide & Murder Pact …). In the absence of a diagnosis and treatment for those groups doing mass propaganda campaigns, the propagandists rule the roost:

    Noam Chomsky: One of the most important comments on deceit, I think, was made by Adam Smith. He pointed out that a major goal of business is to deceive and oppress the public.

    And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public — and they’re very conscious about it, the public relations industry. Interestingly, this developed in the freest countries—in Britain and the US — roughly around time of WWI, when it was recognized that enough freedom had been won that people could no longer be controlled by force. So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control

    (The Deceit Business). The reality of “the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public seems to be another way of saying that the defenses you mentioned are not effective:

    By knowing the tactics and methodology of propagandists, you can deconstruct their statements, allowing you to sort through the truths and the lies; to think about the issues as they are without the filter of their perceptions and goals steering your thinking. By deconstruction of their statements, you can find the truth. Truthful decisions, no matter how ugly the truth might be, are always better than misinformed decisions or decisions made upon prime facie lies.

    Evidently the problem is an inefficient “knowing the tactics and methodology of propagandists“, otherwise it would not continually be used as a control mechanism over the public, as it surely is and has been.

    And this has happened at what many argue is a most enlightened time for civilization.

    Yet, getting back to Freud, he also said:

    Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this——hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension.

    (… Mass Suicide & Murder Pact …, ibid, quoting Freud). It can’t be both ways can it?

    I mean an enlightened civilization or society is not one that is going in a direction that guarantees its demise, goaded on by propaganda, is it?

  13. Gene’s quote of Freud:

    “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.” – Sigmund Freud

    As I indicated in my comment above, Freud had some prescient views that have now come to fruition.

    That is, psychologists are beginning to psychoanalyze meme complexes (groups that think alike) and it seems to have value :

    In this theoretically informed study I explore the broader cultural changes that created the conditions for the credit crisis of 2008. Drawing on psychoanalysis and its application to organizational and social dynamics, I develop a theoretical framework around the notion of a manic culture, comprised of four aspects: denial; omnipotence; triumphalism; and over-activity. I then apply this to the credit crisis and argue that the events of 2008 were preceded by an incubation period lasting for over two decades during which a culture of mania developed. Then, focusing especially on the Japanese and South East Asia/LTCM crises, I argue that a series of major ruptures in capitalism during this incubation period served not as warnings, but as opportunities for a manic response, thereby dramatically increasing the risks involved. I also argue that this mania was triggered and strengthened by triumphant feelings in the West over the collapse of communism. I suggest therefore that this manic culture played a significant role in creating the conditions for the problems that led to the credit crisis.

    (When You Are Governed By Psychopaths, quoting Dr. Stein). That brings up the second prescient point Freud made, what good is the diagnosis if the therapy cannot be compelled.

    Thus, we have no effective way of treating groups of psychotics who are printing propaganda like it was the Treasury Department printing “money”.

    We can individually use Gene’s technique for neutralizing propaganda, but the mass propaganda machine runs 24/7 without governance, doing a world of damage.

  14. Probably a classic example of an individual using the technique Gene advocated for neutralizing propaganda is this:

    My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

    These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.

    (The Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic). This guy was paid millions of dollars by the Koch bunch for doing propaganda of the denier sort.

    Yet, assuming he was originally legitimately deceived rather than faking it, he used techniques to see through the propaganda fog.

    If only we could develop a technique that would help large groups who have been propagandized out of their minds.

  15. Bla. bla, bla.
    All Martians are human beings.
    Two legs good, four legs baaaaad!
    Fiddler on the roof, fiddler in the basement, keep the fiddler out of the bathroom.
    All science is a sine quo non. Or is it a non sequitur? Or nonsense?
    Jack Mehoff lives in Toronto.
    Bla, bla, bla.

  16. Dredd, here’s the technique:

    First, collect your millions of dollars for backing up the denial.
    Then invest it securely.
    Then set up a “foundation” that is tax-exempt.
    Then have it fund some research and tell the truth about the results.

    You come out smelling like a rose and richer than many marigolds.

  17. After reading all of these descriptions I would add one type of fallacy. Perhaps it is in the list, or a combination of things in the list I just failed to recognize.

    Something I see used frequently here is what I would call the “fallacy of scaling.” It is the idea that something that works on a small scale, in a home, in a business, in a town, will necessarily work on the large scale.

    For example, in politics, consider the idea that the government should be run like a business; that somehow the policies used to make Proctor and Gamble run efficiently and manufacture products at a profit can be scaled directly to enforce laws and create social justice for prevent exploitation of citizens in a country.

    Or consider the idea that what people discuss around the kitchen table (home economics) is what the government should be focused on almost exclusively. But most people are not discussing the legitimate intelligence gathering operations of the CIA around the kitchen table, or the monetary policies of China, or how to defend satellites from attack or money from counterfeiting or our electrical and communications grids from malicious destruction.

    If you want to discuss economic theory, then what happens in a small town, with the implied proposition that nobody can leave it and all interactions with customers will be repetitive and necessary to continued prosperity, will not scale up to the nation. The metaphor does not scale. Investment bankers like Romney can spend a career making one-shot deals and never deal with the same guy twice. The same is true for anybody selling to a tourist, or for anybody selling a durable good, like a car, house, boat, swimming pool, TV, etc, a purchase where the seller may worry about negative word-of-mouth, but will not make concessions or try to curry favor for repeat business (as a restaurant might).

    A second observation I would make is not really a fallacy, but relates to propaganda in general, and it is the psychological phenomenon of “priming.” This is not the same thing as “subliminal,” although they are related. Priming is the conscious use, in ads, of mental associations. Cues, words, rhymes, colors and emphasis that can cause a person to spontaneously think of a target word or phrase (often in response to a question) when they would have done differently without the priming.

    An example of priming was fictionalized on the series “White Collar” recently; the thief wants an investigator to choose a blue item, so he wears a blue tie of the same shade, and tightens it, straightens it, brushes imaginary lint off of it, and essentially draws attention to his tie by touching it. Once the blue item is chosen he wants the target to choose a pink item, and he starts ending his conversational sentences with words that rhyme with “pink.”

    That kind of thing really works. I do not know about the specific examples in that episode, but in real life, psychologists have found several examples of what should be irrelevant thoughts having a strong influence on later decisions.

    Priming is different than just using loaded words. In the mind words are connected to other words, images and feelings in a vast web. We may want to describe Romney as cold and calculating; but if that is too on-the-nose, we can get the same effect by using neighbors in that web: “cold” colors, “cold” or austere background imagery, objects that would feel cold (like steel), lists of numbers, stock market tickers, mathematical looking graphs. We can use words that rhyme with cold or its synonyms (chill, freeze, ice). If they would normally be positive we can use them negatively; e.g. ‘His “bold” plan is to freeze taxes on the rich, but it puts prosperity for the middle class on hold.’

    The viewer’s mind will do the work for you, and as a bonus won’t blame you for it, since they made the association themselves, and probably won’t even know why.

  18. Tony C. 1, July 30, 2012 at 10:22 am

    After reading all of these descriptions I would add one type of fallacy. Perhaps it is in the list, or a combination of things in the list I just failed to recognize.

    Something I see used frequently here is what I would call the “fallacy of scaling.” It is the idea that something that works on a small scale, in a home, in a business, in a town, will necessarily work on the large scale.
    Yes, “diseconomies of scale” and “economies of scale” came to mind as I read through your comment.

    Scale is quite important when considering dynamics that will scale up or down, and assuming an always smooth transition is ill advised.

    I don’t know what techniques propagandists would use to gloss over the issue, other than denial that it is an important consideration.

  19. @Dredd: I don’t know what techniques propagandists would use to gloss over the issue,

    They gloss over the issue by pretending that their small hypothetical system captures all of the dynamics of the larger system they wish to either implement or reform.

    The finances of a family do not scale up to even the economics of a town; a family does not levy taxes on entities within its jurisdiction or provide formal services (like police and courts and trash collection) to family members. So the common refrain of “Would you run your checkbook that way?” is fallacious, family finances do not scale.

    Sarah Palin engaged in fallacies of scale all the time; when she complained about spending millions of dollars on various kinds of scientific research, or claimed the country could be run like a town in Alaska, or Alaskan values could be applied nationally. Ross Perot engaged in fallacies of scale, when he metaphorically compared fixing the economy to fixing a car, or to fixing a business (both of which have singular goals, purposes, and measures of success, while an economy does not).

  20. “Something I see used frequently here is what I would call the “fallacy of scaling.” It is the idea that something that works on a small scale, in a home, in a business, in a town, will necessarily work on the large scale.”

    Tony C.,

    A excellent addition to the discussion and indeed one we see here frequently.

  21. Tony C.,

    Does the following example fall into your “priming” presentation?

    A brick foundry manufacture produces a new brick that has an overall pink color with undertones of gray. As in all their other bricks, this one is assigned a number … let’s say 12345A, and that becomes its name. It sells poorly until one of the brick salesman decides to call it “Pink Champagne”. Sales immediately go through the roof and remain high to this very day.

  22. @Dredd: Also, free market advocates use the fallacy of scaling all the time. Yes, the free market may work fine when you are talking about a few hypothetical participants that can always walk away from any transaction without any serious harm. That is actually the case for many things in our economy; typically nothing is compelling you to buy a new TV or a meal at a restaurant; the typical person can stand to wait and eat much cheaper calories purchased at a grocery store or can stand to watch their old TV, or skip TV altogether.

    However, you may notice that free market advocates will almost exclusively use these scenarios to justify their views, hypothetical situations where people have time to negotiate, the resources and alternative choices to negotiate with, and can walk away without any serious harm but a little disappointment.

    But those situations do not scale. When the stakes are higher, or the “alternative” is death or bankruptcy or permanent disability, the same dynamics and psychology of “I can do without this” or “if I demand too much I will lose this sale” have vanished.

    Free market advocates routinely use the fallacy of scaling to justify their philosophy, despite the repeated proofs that in reality people demand regulations because their hypotheticals failed to scale.

  23. “Free market advocates routinely use the fallacy of scaling to justify their philosophy, despite the repeated proofs that in reality people demand regulations because their hypotheticals failed to scale.”

    Tony C.,

    As a “free individual” in a “free market” I bargain all the time at the Supermarket for the best deal, don’t you? Freedom gives me the “right to choose” what stuff I need to make my life complete.

  24. The castles of ourselves. I have built my life (sort of) I am more of a journeyer and experiencer than planner.
    My path is strewn with joys and pain, triumphs and tragedy. ( I use hyperbole for emphasis, it is a common practice).
    My castle walls are low with many open areas. People don’t even have to stand on tippy toe to see in, nor walk far to find a welcoming entrance. I can easily speak with my neighbors while we both have both feet on the ground.
    I am, have been, and will be, a victim of propaganda. I have fooled myself on many an occasion.
    I have accepted false praise, I have accepted false ideals, I have spoken false words. Almost always when I have been false to myself and my balance, it is because there was some benefit to me easily attained because I conceded to the falseness.
    Here comes the castle part. …. This is rumination
    I can use the bricks I attain from the benefit of my falseness, to build a wall between me and my false manipulation.
    Depending on how well hypnotized I become from these nefarious benefits, determines the height and strength of my walls.
    I submit that there are two reasons for castle walls. The obvious one is to protect oneself from the whims and harshness of nature (most significantly human nature) The second reason is very human, very common, it is to protect me from seeing the twisted results of my dishonesty and falseness.
    To be bland I go back to the Lords and serfs. How did the “lords” deal with the deaths of their serfs as a result of the lords self enhancement. Where did the moral balance go? …… I submit…What moral balance, the lords did not see it.
    The church, the monarchy, their peers all accepted it. From inside their network of walls they had a party of self importance and “enlightenment” They never looked at the serfs because they couldn’t and did not want to.
    I am fortunate and thankful the path of my life has kept me outside of many thick, high, opaque castle walls. I have seldom been seduced by the blindness of ME ME ME, over the welfare and value of THEM THEM THEM.
    I look at my balance like a teeter totter. I try to stay in the middle an equal in the field of living and experience.
    If I have to throw people under the bus (or the peon side of the teeter) to raise myself I am uncomfortable and not balanced.
    If I have to submit and willingly sit on the Peon side I am uncomfortable, for I have value. (my catholic faith in my early years sure encouraged me to sit on the peon side)
    There are Dragons of Propaganda in every breath we take. Self Ego inflating and deflating.
    We are all human, we are all equal and helpless at birth, we all face and experience the end of our existence. We are equal at the beginning and end. It is the in-between where we forget this simple truth. It is the in-between that we deny this simple truth.
    One more repetition, it is this in-between we grasp weakly, futilely, humanly,(for propaganda) to fool ourselves that we are NOT in-between.
    I picked this rumination up on my journey (which is 57 years long so far) and is way more than half over.
    This rumination blows freely through my castle, the reality of death is welcomed, (some hyperbole here) ….. the reality of joy and equality flows as easily too. High walls block not only terrible truths, they also block joyful and wonderful truths.
    PS. I delivered mail for 34 years, I had to think of something other than street addresses at times.
    PSS. So the next time you get your neighbors mail, please consider, your letter carrier may be ruminating about the “in-between”😉

  25. Tony,

    You bring up a valid point with the “fallacy of scaling” and the topic has been discussed here in threads before (OT and I don’t recall the thread). I waffled on including it in this article for one reason: although it is used in propaganda, it’s nominally a cognitive error in how people think about complexity. The fallacy of scaling appears many more places in society than in just propaganda. If I were writing a book instead of a series of articles, I would have certainly included it, but it is one of several fallacies I decided to omit for editorial reasons. However, that being said, I do appreciate you bringing the topic up in thread.

    As to priming, it is something I plan to address with the psychology of propaganda. The interesting thing about priming is (as you point to) the non-verbal aspect of it. One of my favorite examples (and probably the one I’m going to use in the article) was used not in propaganda but in art. In Mark Romanek’s brilliant film “One Hour Photo”, as Robin Williams’ character slowly goes mad, the colors of the items one the shelves of the store slowly change color to match his madness. At the start of the film, all of the store items are cool colors like blues and grays, but by the time Williams is fired from his job and is leaving the store on his last day, the items have changed and the color palette is much hotter, lots of reds and yellows.

  26. @Blouise: Yes, pretty much. “Pink Champagne” evokes happy times, celebrations, fancy settings, sparkles, fine dress, new beginnings, big accomplishments. “Pink Champagne” celebrates successes.

    Isn’t that what we want in a home?

    Likewise, if a real estate agent is selling a home, their vocabulary should be filled with words that people associate with safety, comfort, relaxation, family, play and love. If they are selling an office space, their vocabulary should be filled with words people associate with alertness, efficiency, accuracy, profit, productivity and prestige.

    It would sound ridiculous to tell a prospect his employees will be more intelligent in the office you are renting, but what goes with “intelligence?” Intelligent people are bright, sharp, brilliant, creative, smart, incisive, clear of vision. You can brainstorm on that and find ways to use those words to describe the space and the lighting, the facade and the view and their finish out choices, all in different contexts than their synonym association with “intelligent.” You never say the space will add IQ points to their employees, but subconsciously all of the synonyms and involuntary associations of the words you use will activate the neural network that encodes the concept of “intelligence,” and associate that concept with the office space. You might even be “the smart choice.”

  27. Tony C.,

    “Likewise, if a real estate agent is selling a home, their vocabulary should be filled with words that people associate with safety, comfort, relaxation, family, play and love. ”

    … thus one is not buying a “house” in a new “development” but rather a “home” in a new “community”?

  28. @Blouise: Yes indeed, a home in a new community.

    I also suppose some might mistake that naming choice, “Pink Champagne,” for salesmanship. But I think of salesmanship as being more about pointing out the benefits of a product. There are no real benefits to the color of a brick; the benefits of brick (as opposed to some other siding) are pretty firmly independent of its color.

    Priming is about making mental associations, and in particular about manipulating a subject’s state of mind using arbitrary associations.

    For example, a famous priming experiment asks students to rate a picture, a stock photograph of a neutral face (male or female), and the students are told the point of study is to determine if facial features betray personality traits, so their answers will be compared with a personality test given to the person in the photograph.

    The students are tested one at a time, sent to a classroom that is locked. The researcher purposely shows up shortly after the student reaches the room, and the researcher is purposely carrying books in one arm and a cup of coffee in the other. She asks the student to hold her coffee while she unlocks the door. She fumbles one-handed with the keys to take about fifteen seconds, then takes her coffee back, and lets the student complete the survey alone in the room. The trick is, 50% of the time, the coffee is iced coffee, and 50% of the time, it is hot coffee.

    On the survey, the personality traits can be related to temperature: Is the person calculating, or friendly? Analytical, or humorous? Private, or outgoing? On a scale of 1 to 10, how passionate is this person about their work?

    For all the personality traits we would associate with a “cold person,” the people that briefly held an iced coffee mark the survey on the cold side, and the people that held a hot coffee mark the survey on the warmer side, by significant amounts.

    That is priming. By holding the coffee, you note that it is cold or hot, that will involuntarily activate a network of associations to either cold or hot, including all the metaphorical uses of those words; e.g. sexy people are “hot,” stingy people are “cold,” generous people are “warm hearted,” cruel people are “cold hearted.”

    Once primed by that fifteen seconds of cold or warmth, then in the absence of other information, those neural circuits are more likely to fire, that is just how the brain works (priming is needed to form temporal associations and to discern cause and effect).

    So looking at purposely neutral expressions of people we do not know, we err on the side of our first neural response; which on the first few questions is basically erring on the side of the temperature of the coffee we just held! Then those responses reinforce the priming, and we have a cascade of responses that lean toward a cold personality or a warm personality.

  29. David B, thank you for that.

    Even if I do not get my neighbor’s mail, there is value in the process by which I got my own, and your meditation is clearly a value enhancement.

    Just today I was thinking that the couple in NY (he, postal worker and she, librarian) who had collected the great art collection (before he died) should open a museum of:

    Postal Mail, Art, and Library Science: the everyman’s culture

  30. Tony C.,

    Fascinating material. (At heart I’m a frustrated sociologist.)

    “There are no real benefits to the color of a brick; the benefits of brick (as opposed to some other siding) are pretty firmly independent of its color.” On houses the benefits of brick are mostly illusionary… emotional, if you will. People tend to think it makes a house appear sturdier and able to withstand the storms of time. Want a quicker resale … use some brick on the front elevation.

    I wonder if Gene is going to go into the subject of music that plays in the background as propaganda is presented.

  31. @Blouise: Sure. Brick is solid as a rock! And just as maintenance free. Aluminum siding should be renamed; the most common association of “aluminum” is “foil.” Plastic siding has all the associations of artificiality that “plastic” conveys; wood rots and needs regular painting. Stucco contains the word “stuck,” and (to me at least) looks like cheap swirled paste.

    Brick and stone facing convey durability (and protection) that will last centuries.

  32. David Blauw 1, July 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    The castles of ourselves….
    Stop braggin’ … it isn’t your turn.

  33. Tony C.,

    Strength = block & rebar faced with brick

    How about “vinyl coated steel siding” ? Sounds good, looks good, and works well as long as one keeps a low level electric charge running through the siding to prevent rust.

    Sorry … I’ll stop digressing now.

  34. Tony C. and Blouise.
    About fifteen or twenty years ago, the “family homestead” and its 23 surrounding acres came on the market for about $350,000 USD. Our Clan chieftain wrote to me with a proposal we invest in it and turn it into a private academy for gifted young women. In real life, he is an educator and school headmaster) who has multiple degrees.

    We thought we would have no trouble floating a loan for that project, but when he went and visited the place, he discovered the interior needed more work than we could afford–an amount that would run into seven figures. The woodwork, draperies, wiring and plumbing all needed massive attention. However, the exterior was just fine. It was built in 1313 and the limestone exterior has needed no attention at all. Tony, your point is well taken. The fact that it has always had a roof over the buildings kept it from falling into decay like so many others that were abandoned, usually after a fire destroyed the interiors and roof.

    The place is about 19 Kilometers west of Aberdeen, Scotland.

  35. Hey Gene,

    Why don’t you organize a propaganda scavenger hunt on the blog? Who can be first to find examples from the blog for all of the propaganda fallacies that Gene has listed? Or maybe propaganda bingo? (I can hear the call… “B-cherry, B-cherry. Does any one have Bdaman cherry picking?)

  36. Blouise, I don’t think they ever built a dungeon in the old place. Mostly those were built by folks like kings who needed a place to keep political enemies. Think Tower of London. In olden times the Scots dispensed with the trouble and expense of keeping troublemakers around and just got rid of them by whatever means seemed most efficient.

  37. Tony C,

    Priming is different than just using loaded words. In the mind words are connected to other words, images and feelings in a vast web. We may want to describe Romney as cold and calculating; but if that is too on-the-nose, we can get the same effect by using neighbors in that web: “cold” colors, “cold” or austere background imagery, objects that would feel cold (like steel), lists of numbers, stock market tickers, mathematical looking graphs. We can use words that rhyme with cold or its synonyms (chill, freeze, ice). If they would normally be positive we can use them negatively; e.g. ‘His “bold” plan is to freeze taxes on the rich, but it puts prosperity for the middle class on hold.’

    The viewer’s mind will do the work for you, and as a bonus won’t blame you for it, since they made the association themselves, and probably won’t even know why.
    Perception is reality. Most simplistic but true. Humans are like sheep. They will follow each other off the cliff.

  38. @Matt: On the contrary, perception is quite often NOT reality. That is the point of magic tricks, which are the harmless and entertaining form of deception. Priming can be used for entertainment like magic tricks, but is most often used for a more sinister form of manipulation, to alter one’s perception of reality.

    Priming has nothing to do with “following,” you have misunderstood the premise. Sheep cannot be primed, they do not make associations of words and images like we do, they do not use metaphors or stereotypes. “Green” to a sheep does not evoke thoughts of money, or life, or grass, or mold, or crops, or broccoli, or alternative energy.

    People can be primed because people, more than any other animal, are constantly trying to make sense of the world and of each other. The subconscious mind is trying to make millions (literally) of associations every second, looking for patterns and developing expectations and checking them. Not everything can rise to consciousness, you can only have so many conscious thoughts in a second, so many of these associations being made are hidden from the conscious mind forever. What rises to consciousness is conclusions, formulated questions, and “important” violations of expectations (surprises).

    Purposeful priming is a side-effect of the brain trying to make sense of the world; it is mind-hacking by purposely using innocuous clues that will bypass the conscious mind but activate the subconscious mind; it is taking advantage of the human mind’s thirst for information to make correct decisions, by making the subconscious produce a false inference or association.

    It isn’t about following the leader.

    It can also be tough to defeat, because when it is done well it will, by definition, not be noticed. One route to defeating it is, for big decisions, to form some sort of checklist of what a “good” outcome would be, and then be suspicious of your enthusiasm if it is not supported by your checklist. Either that, or take time to “think about it” for a few hours or days and try NOT to think about it, to give your potentially primed subconscious time to reset and consider your actions more objectively. Priming fades after a short time; the subconscious is too busy to keep any single neural network in a heightened state for very long.

  39. Tony,

    Do you know what happens when you underline too much? People stop reading what you’re writing.

  40. Tony C.,

    In the study you mentioned above, I wonder what would happen if the researcher was holding 2 cups, one hot and one cold and asked the student to hold one in each hand whilst the researcher used both, now free, hands to unlock and open the door.

  41. When people stop reading, they stop learning.

    Perception is indeed quite often not reality, Matt.

    If you doubt this, ask a professional magician.

    Their entire trade is based on manipulating your perception.

  42. Gene,

    If a tree falls in the forest but there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? Leave your house and leave a tape recorder on when you’re sure nobody is there. When you get back, play the tape.

  43. I should have said you should call your house when you’re sure only the tape recorder will hear it. Do you think the telephone will make a sound even if there’s nobody there to hear it?

    Now we’re getting into different territory.

  44. Physics isn’t perception, Matt.

    The way humans perceive is malleable. I have two words for you: optical illusion. Also, I suggest you read some Oliver Sacks and think about how advertising manipulates your perception of need versus want.

  45. Gene,

    I built a deck behind my house. It really does look like it slopes slightly to the back, but it doesn’t.

    I ignore advertising.

  46. Gene,

    Give me a break. Hypnosis isn’t science. It’s psychology. If the person trying to be hypnotized doesn’t want to be hypnotized, it isn’t going to happen.

    It basically comes down to trust. If the subject doesn’t want to be hypnotized, it isn’t going to happen.

  47. Hypnosis? You jump the psychological track, however,

    psy·chol·o·gy, n.

    1: the science of mind and behavior
    2a : the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group b : the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity

    Psychology may be a soft science where physics is a hard science, but psychology is a science. Psychology and neuropsychology tell us that perception is malleable. Whether you accept that fact or not is up to you.

  48. Matt, your lack of understanding is only exceeded by your hubris. Yes, you can be made to “see” things that are not there. Conversely you can be made to “not see” things that are there. The late Dr. Milton Erickson was a master of indirect suggestion. I have a compilation of all his writings and numerous recordings of him working his wizardry using only words. Dr. Erickson also could use touch, and I remember that when he came to give a lecture at the Department of Psychiatry at the local medical school, a number of the psychiatrists attending were afraid to shake hands with him.

    It has been said that Milton Erickson was to hypnosis what Albert Einstein was to physics.

    So yes, you are wrong when you say, “The shrinks can’t hallucinate you if you aren’t so inclined…” Actually, the easiest to fool or use misdirection on are those who are most convinced they cannot be fooled. Because people such as yourself are so cocksure, they are easy pickings. Any good con man (or woman) will tell you the same thing.

  49. Gene and OS,

    Give me a watch on a string to wave in front of your faces. One, two, three. You wake up at the snap of the finger.

  50. Matt, only stage magicians and charlatans try to use the watch on a string trick. Hypnosis in skilled hands makes that technique look like a cap gun versus a howitzer by comparison to Erickson’s techniques. Your amateur status is showing.

  51. I’m not a hypnotist. Don’t submit in the first place. And if you’re forced to, simply tell them to pi** off in a most polite way.

    You can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be.

  52. Matt, au contraire. Hope we get to meet someday. I plan to have a bit of fun with you. I once made a graduate student and former fighter pilot who had that attitude forget his wife’s name and the number seven. It was really funny when I had him add three and four together and he could not come up with an answer. He also thought he was going to be in big trouble when he went home and couldn’t remember who he was married to. All using a normal conversational tone of voice, engaging him in what he thought was a normal conversation about his first grade teacher and his first grade classroom.

    There was no magic or illusion involved. Just words. Just what would appear to any casual observer to be a normal conversation about unremarkable things.

    As Gene wrote, “Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Es.”

  53. My most good friends Gene and OS,

    I too hope we meet someday. I’m a white boy from eastern Oregon. Do you want to play Trivial Pursuit? I don’t care if you win that or not.

  54. “Perception is reality. Most simplistic but true.”

    You apparently don’t care if you win arguments either since you make claims and provide no proof when you claims are challenged. Proof has been presented that perception is malleable, ergo not reality. Reality is reality. Perception is perception. Sometimes, the two coincide, but not always. Either you can prove perception is reality or you can’t. You’ve offered your opinion, certainly, but so far you’ve failed to demonstrate anything like proof for your original assertion.

  55. Gene, what was my original assertion? You don’t even know what it was.

    OS, gambling is illegal in most states. Do you want your boy to do it for you?

  56. “Matt Johnson 1, July 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Tony C,

    Priming is different than just using loaded words. In the mind words are connected to other words, images and feelings in a vast web. We may want to describe Romney as cold and calculating; but if that is too on-the-nose, we can get the same effect by using neighbors in that web: “cold” colors, “cold” or austere background imagery, objects that would feel cold (like steel), lists of numbers, stock market tickers, mathematical looking graphs. We can use words that rhyme with cold or its synonyms (chill, freeze, ice). If they would normally be positive we can use them negatively; e.g. ‘His “bold” plan is to freeze taxes on the rich, but it puts prosperity for the middle class on hold.’

    The viewer’s mind will do the work for you, and as a bonus won’t blame you for it, since they made the association themselves, and probably won’t even know why.
    Perception is reality. Most simplistic but true. Humans are like sheep. They will follow each other off the cliff.”

    Emphasis added.

    There it is, Matt. Your original assertion in your own words.

    I provided proof your assertion is wrong, ergo by the rules of argumentation, the burden of proof shifts to you to counter that claim (which you have to this point failed to do).

    If you wish to withdraw your original assertion or stipulate it is simply your opinion instead of a statement of fact as it was originally framed, that would an acceptable alternative to proving your assertion.

  57. When I was in college, students could make a bit of money showing up to take psychological tests. One day the test offered was for $5, which was a lot of money then (most were $2 at the time). But you had to be able to be hypnotized to get into the test. I WANTED IT! But they gave us some tests to see if we qualified and they ruled me out. I was always upset about that. OS, if you can hypnotize me, I would appreciate being able to forget my ex-husband completely, and for that I’ll give up any number you choose!

    On the other hand, my mother had a leg amputated in 1975 and I was trying to get her some doctor to help with the phantom pain. Finally I found a psychiatrist who was also an anesthesiologist and we got a consult. He told my mother he wanted to teach her self-hypnosis to control phantom pain. It took about 20 minutes and was successful!


    The possibilities are endless!

    Often I fear that when I’m old and my memory begins to fail me, I will forget that I got that divorce…OMG OMG NOOOOOOOOOO!

  58. You can have all you like as long as you can back them up with proof.

    Attempting to change the subject will not work.

    The original assertion was countered with sufficient evidence. The onus is upon you to make the burden of proof in the rebuttal for the assertion “Perception is reality. Most simplistic but true.” Either you can or you cannot.

  59. Gene,

    Explain with specificity what you think my assertion is. That’s number 3. I can provide the proof.

    You didn’t provide any evidence. Just words.

  60. Matt, your gambling comment was a perfect example of the logical fallacy of begging the question. Or comment in this case.

  61. Matt,

    1) Your first post to this thread:

    “Matt Johnson 1, July 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm


    Very good. Didn’t read all of it, but read enough. Will be your Squire, my dear Sir.”

    2) Your second post to this thread:

    “Matt Johnson 1, July 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    This is for you Gene.”

    3) Your third post to this thread:

    “Matt Johnson 1, July 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Tony C,

    Priming is different than just using loaded words. In the mind words are connected to other words, images and feelings in a vast web. We may want to describe Romney as cold and calculating; but if that is too on-the-nose, we can get the same effect by using neighbors in that web: “cold” colors, “cold” or austere background imagery, objects that would feel cold (like steel), lists of numbers, stock market tickers, mathematical looking graphs. We can use words that rhyme with cold or its synonyms (chill, freeze, ice). If they would normally be positive we can use them negatively; e.g. ‘His “bold” plan is to freeze taxes on the rich, but it puts prosperity for the middle class on hold.’

    The viewer’s mind will do the work for you, and as a bonus won’t blame you for it, since they made the association themselves, and probably won’t even know why.
    Perception is reality. Most simplistic but true. Humans are like sheep. They will follow each other off the cliff.”

    I’ve shown what your original assertion was three times now.

    Being that the quote was from your third posting on this thread and the context of your other posts have been provided, if you have a previous assertion than the one listed as your original assertion (which you don’t, your previous statements were compliments which are statements of opinion not statements of fact), it is either out of context or you’re going to be pulling it out of your ass.

    As to proof, multiple cites to authorities in neuroscience and psychology that back the statement perception is malleable is more than sufficient proof given the people cited would readily pass muster as experts for the purposes of testimony. Oliver Sacks is practically a household name his expertise and work in science is so well known and respected. In addition, OS is in real life a psychology professional and a qualified expert for purposes of testimony. Your job is to provide evidence of like or better quality to support your contention that perception is reality. If you can’t, that’s fine, but being a smartass isn’t winning an argument, Matt. It’s simply being a smartass. I’ve noticed before you think this is some kind of effective argumentation strategy with others, but really, it isn’t effective at much anything other than making you look like a smartass who can’t back up his claims with even a minimal level of proof. This is a put up or shut up situation for the argument proper. You can try to evade or change the subject or be as non-responsive as you like, but the bottom line is either you have proof perception is reality and you can present it or you don’t. Checkmate.

  62. If there’s a scavenger hunt as Slarti suggested … I claim all of Matt’s remarks and hereby declare myself the winner … with Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background.

  63. Not so fast, Blouise, you need to name the fallacies and point out where he’s used them. Besides, OS got “begging the question” earlier (not totally sure if Matt’s fallacy in the gambling comment was “begging the question”–can we get a ruling, Gene?)

  64. Slarti,

    It begs the question that gambling is illegal in whatever state the game of Trivial Pursuit is/was to be played, so I’ll have to say affirmative.

  65. Matt, you still do not have a clue as to what “begging the question” really means. And the ad hominem you tried to slip in did not go unnoticed. My “kid” is older than Gene, is a decorated veteran, a pilot, a flight surgeon, a martial artist, Board certified in family medicine, is a highly qualified emergency room physician and certified in advanced hyperbaric wound care. He shoots expert. By the time he had finished the fourth grade, he had read the World Book Encyclopedia from cover to cover. The whole thing.

    Last night he saved the life of a deputy sheriff who had been shot six times at close range by a deranged sex offender with a 30-06 deer rifle. The trauma surgeon told him the deputy would not have made it had it not been for his fast and correct actions. Not to mention the several snipers he treated for heat stroke because they had been on stakeout in the sun with their rifles for five hours in 105 degree heat. If he wants to gamble, I have an idea that no one in law enforcement will give a sh!t.

    Back to my original premise, playing trivial pursuit with him for money would be most unwise. And he is not a “kid.” I doubt you could find a tall enough stepladder to climb up to kiss his ass.

  66. Blouise 1, July 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    If there’s a scavenger hunt as Slarti suggested … I claim all of Matt’s remarks and hereby declare myself the winner … with Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background.
    I wasn’t in the army. Electrician’s Mate in the Navy. Wasn’t E-Division. Don’t know how to make sauce.

  67. Slarti,

    I purposely chose that particular version of Ride of the Valkyries as a propaganda tool of intimidation to thwart any objection you might make to my place of honor in the winner’s circle.

    You have failed to answer with a propaganda tool of your own so I am still Queen of the Hill. (Inventing rules doesn’t count.)

  68. Gene,

    I understood that it was “begging the question” of gambling being illegal, but as this was used to support an inference rather than a conclusion (that OS was suggesting his son break the law), I wasn’t sure–I’ll accept your ruling😉


    Damn, that sounds like a pretty impressive offspring…


    The score is now OS 1, Blouise 0–you’d better get going…😛

  69. Okay, I guess that’s Blouise 1, OS 0 (, Slarti 0😦 )…

    Hold on…

    I asked Gene for a ruling, thereby investing him with authority which I then appealed to…


  70. Plus, I failed to succumb to your propaganda technique. So, as I see it, the score stands at:

    OS: 1
    Blouise: 1
    Slartibartfast: 2

    As the great man* said: “These are my rules, I make them up”

    * George Carlin–If there is a heaven, I’m sure he’s gotten back all of his stuff… plus some other people’s shit as well.

  71. Blouise, I like Wagner, but you ain’t doing it right for a Scot. If you want inspiration straightway from our seventh century warrior ancestors, how about a little Saor Patrol, one of my daughter’s favorite groups.

  72. Slarti,

    “If you strike the queen, you must kill her” and I’m still here.

    Look up, look up … my flying machines are over Lake Erie as we speak

  73. Blouise,

    I prefer the version from the first episode of Weeds: “Don’t miss the bear”.

    I foresee a little problem for your fliers as I’ve just brewed up a little thunderstorm here at northern command… Hopping over little ole’ lake Erie is one thing, but Lake Huron is quite another… (and don’t forget all of the Canadians massed on the border, eh?) You didn’t miss the bear, did you?


    Appropriate, since the score now stands at:

    OS: 2
    Blouise: 1
    Slarti: 5 (a field goal counts as three… and so does moving the goalposts)


    I like this game, it’s more fun than Calvinball…

  74. I’m not convinced the score is appropriate. Some of them might be cheating. Who’s in charge of the scoreboard?

    Don’t play a volleyball game against an all girl team when you’re an all boy team. We beat them handily. One of the other girls was in charge of the scoreboard. The girl team that lost said, we want a rematch and we’ll beat you next time. They didn’t get a rematch.

  75. Matt said:

    I’m not convinced the score is appropriate. Some of them might be cheating. Who’s in charge of the scoreboard?

    That would be me–and if you understood Calvinball and Gene’s article, you’d know why I’m not cheating (I don’t want to say anything else, Blouise might be listening and she’s actually capable of understanding what I mean…).

    Don’t play a volleyball game against an all girl team when you’re an all boy team. We beat them handily. One of the other girls was in charge of the scoreboard. The girl team that lost said, we want a rematch and we’ll beat you next time. They didn’t get a rematch.

    Non-sequitor: Slarti: 6
    Blouise: 1

  76. I am sure it is nothing but coincidence, but I have noticed that Bron, Jim and Matt are all frequently given to Disjunctive Fallacies, then the argument progresses until they fall into the trap of Mistaking Deductive Validity for Truth. I am tired and have to get up early, so do not have time to look up individual examples, but it should not be all that hard to find multiple examples. My eyes feel as if they have been sandpapered.

    I ain’t gonna play Calvinball. I would rather be Lucy and hold the ball for the place kicker.

    Good Evening all. See ya tomorrow.

  77. I’m rather busy right now as Tex is attempting to get the red, white, and blue hot air balloon loaded with bowling balls through the undeclared Canadian radar Zone whilst keeping the bottom of the basket dry.

    (You can not claim jump Matt’s comments … I hold the copyrights.)

    Slarti: -1.5

    Blouise: 1776

  78. Blouise,

    I might not have my sharks with frickin’ laser beams yet, but all of your hot air will be a perfect target for my lake trout with shoulder-mounted heat seeking missiles… (if you try and come at me from the west over land I’ll have the bald eagles and great blue herons rip apart your balloon and send it down to the bears–remember: don’t miss the bear (callback: +{cardinality of an aleph-null set*}😛 )

    In re “(You can not claim jump Matt’s comments … I hold the copyrights.)”:

    I’ve already registered “appeal to authority”–now I get double all of the points you score. Checkmate!

    * like the integers


    Uh-uh. I’ve already got my goalposts moved.

  79. @Blouise: Not that sure (about the two cups), but I expect it to activate a different network altogether; perhaps one of conflict, or something about hot and cold together (running water comes to mind, summer/winter comes to mind, mercurial personality comes to mind…) Maybe about relationships, because two very different coffees are for two people, it would mean she is meeting somebody, or doing somebody a favor.

    In experimentation design, it is best to be as simple as possible so that interpretation is not too subjective.

    Here is another experiment she did (I am speaking from memory): Student volunteers were given a timed test, 15 minutes, to complete, that had basic arithmetic and simple algebra problems on it, and they were to complete as many as they could. Again, the students take the test individually, in the somewhat empty office of a professor on leave. The difference here is that the missing professor has a picture on the wall, which the student faces while sitting in the desk to take the test.

    For half the students, the picture is of a sailboat cutting across a lake on a summer day. For the other half, the picture is of frantic traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Even in the space of a fifteen minute timed test, students under the influence of the “sailing” picture finished fewer problems and had more wrong answers on the finished problems than students under the influence of the “stock market” picture.

    Here is another fun one: Students are asked to spin a wheel of fortune, with numbers from 1 to 100 on it, in order to generate a random number for the tests they will take. The wheel of fortune is rigged; half of the students will get the number 9, half will get the number 91. After spinning the wheel, the researcher finds one of ten folders and pulls a test out; but they are all the same test. On the test, the instructions say you are not expected to know any of the answers, the point of the test is to see how well an aggregate of guesses will match reality. The test is composed of percentage questions, and you provide your best guess for each one.

    “The percentage of males in Ireland born red-heads is:”
    “The percentage of music students that play the flute is:”
    “The percentage of bird species that migrate is:”
    “The percentage of insects with poisonous bites is:”
    “The percentage of married women that have exactly two children is:”

    And so on. The actual answers aren’t important, what is important is, for each answer, the spectrum of the guesses, and those that spun a low number on the wheel of fortune guess lower on the spectrum than those that spun high numbers. The wheel of fortune number primes the neural networks and biases the guesses either low or high to match.

    When you see those cheesy commercials selling some cleaner or kitchen gadget, they are engaged in priming. What would you expect to pay for this deal? $29.95? No! $22.95? No! How about $17.95? Not even that! We are selling for the low, low price of $14.95! And if you order right now you will get TWO OF THEM!

    The point is to set your expectation disappointingly high with the first suggestion. You would never pay that much, and he immediately agrees with you to maintain rapport: No! You’re not going to pay that much!

    Even when viewers know the price walk-down is coming, what most people do not realize is that initial suggestion also excited a subconscious frame of reference in their mind for judging what a good price would be, by comparison.

    How about 1/4 of the full price? Because that is where he leads you, and when he gets there that “good price” network has been triggered as if it were your own thought. By priming that comparison network, he manipulated you into independently judging his final price as a “great deal,” when you probably would have considered it an unremarkable deal if you just saw it on a grocery store shelf.

  80. Slarti,

    Your third big mistake … there is no authority as you failed to offer valid substantive counter-argument to establish its presence.

    Integers do not count (pun zap for raff) as you failed to respond with the proper correction to my – and + in the fact that -1.5 is not whole.

    And … you removed your mask

    And … since I really do shoot with a bow I refer you to the Far Side cartoon …

  81. Tony C.,

    “Not that sure (about the two cups), but I expect it to activate a different network altogether”

    I was thinking “right/left brain” dominance or even right/left hand dominance but you are correct … a different network altogether.

    I am always aware of color schemes chosen by retailers and the predominance of the orange/red color which I would suggest indicates priming at work from the moment one enters the front door or even the parking lot. There has to be something to that particular color (orange/red shade) as it is so “cardinal”.

  82. raff,

    ” … one man’s magic is another man’s engineering and in the modern world, propaganda is the most engineered form of communication possible.” (Gene)

    Slarti and I are applying a mask of legitimacy to an argument that is in fact “logically and/or factually flawed”. In other words, we’re both full of sh*t.

    But, you can trust me because I am willing to admit it. (How’s that one, Gene?)

  83. @Blouise: There has to be something to that particular color orange/red shade)

    There is indeed; it is the color of fire, heat, and blood. As many a marketing textbook will tell you, there is a good reason the most heavily used color in logos is RED, it works. We are drawn to pay attention to red and the fire colors almost involuntarily, they demand alert attention. They are the colors of both sexual excitement and danger (blood, fire). It is the same reason Valentine hearts are red, red roses are considered romantic, red lipstick, blush, fingernails, shoes, dresses and cars are all considered sexy.

    And you are right, that is priming.

  84. COINTELPRO Techniques for dilution, misdirection and control of a internet forum..

    There are several techniques for the control and manipulation of a internet forum no matter what, or who is on it. We will go over each technique and demonstrate that only a minimal number of operatives can be used to eventually and effectively gain a control of a ‘uncontrolled forum.’

    Technique #1 – ‘FORUM SLIDING’

    If a very sensitive posting of a critical nature has been posted on a forum – it can be quickly removed from public view by ‘forum sliding.’ In this technique a number of unrelated posts are quietly prepositioned on the forum and allowed to ‘age.’ Each of these misdirectional forum postings can then be called upon at will to trigger a ‘forum slide.’ The second requirement is that several fake accounts exist, which can be called upon, to ensure that this technique is not exposed to the public. To trigger a ‘forum slide’ and ‘flush’ the critical post out of public view it is simply a matter of logging into each account both real and fake and then ‘replying’ to prepositined postings with a simple 1 or 2 line comment. This brings the unrelated postings to the top of the forum list, and the critical posting ‘slides’ down the front page, and quickly out of public view. Although it is difficult or impossible to censor the posting it is now lost in a sea of unrelated and unuseful postings. By this means it becomes effective to keep the readers of the forum reading unrelated and non-issue items.

    (Dredd Blog). 😉

  85. Tony/Blouise,

    The entire science of branding from logo design to color choice (even to aural choice – the Windows chime or Intel “bing!” anyone?) is intimately and inextricably related to priming.

  86. I only read part of your postings because I’m a speed reader. I scroll through it.

    The scoreboard is still inaccurate.

  87. Gene, slot machine chime notes create a C Major chord. It is a happy interval sound. Also, on the casino floor there are no windows or clocks. Time is distorted in a gambling casino and it is not an accident. Some casinos are alleged to pump in pure oxygen to increase the ambient O2 level. Makes people feel more energetic and happy.

  88. raff, yeah, that too.

    Ever notice if you are playing the dollar slots, a pretty girl with a tray of drinks never gets too far from your elbow? Pure coincidence, I am sure.

    When it was my wife playing, it seemed to be a guy who looked as if he just stepped out of a Chippendale’s calendar with the tray of drinks. Again, just pure coincidence.

  89. Mike, Tony C.:

    I see your examples of the fallacy of scale and true they are, though I might add there are some interesting uses of scale that can reveal truths or at least insight in nature.

    I have for many years been casually observing scale as a predictor of larger behaviors in systems. The simple example of this would be how crystals are formed largely influenced by the shape of their molecular structure and fostered by a more pure environment to allow things to resonate up in scale to allow the structure to form accordingly. We see this in mathematics with fractals and gravity on a micro and macro scales.

    To apply this to human behavior can be tricky since the environment might not be as pure and hence become more seemly random in the outcome. There are too many outside influences to say for example that a social system relating to an individual family could manifest itself on a macro scale to relate to relations between nations of people but certainly some measurable similarities can be seen.

    Maybe my observations are too simplistic, but just something I have noticed.

  90. @Darren: There are two general problems with scaling up. One is the growth of ways in which things can go wrong, one is the shrinking of relative resources.

    When systems grow by adding people the number of possible interactions grows exponentially, and eventually our mental capacity for that is limited and we lose track, and must deal with strangers. This requires different rules than dealing with family and friends, those are relationships of repeated transactions, companionship, favors done and favors received. You can have a history and “credit” with friends that protects you, and you are not afforded that when dealing with a stranger.

    So more things can go wrong. For example, it means people can produce products and never know or see the people that consume it.

    Likewise, the other problem of scale is that we can be competing for critical resources with strangers, and without any connection to them or reason to respect them or care for them, we can be quite brutal in denying them what they need to prosper, or even what they need to survive. Distance (both physical distance, as in being in another country, and social distance, as in not even a friend of a friend of yours knows a person) decreases empathy, it is much easier to hurt somebody (or endanger them, or cheat them) that you will never hear complain, cry, or despair.

    Family members are not typically competing for the same finite resources, not even the same job. That dynamic changes when we scale up to tribes, towns, big business and countries, the bigger groups get, the more often two groups want exactly the same finite resource, and the more likely they are to resort to various forms of force to get it.

  91. “Magica verba est scientia et es.
    The magic of words is science and art.”

    Shouldn’t that be “Magica verbi scientia et ars est”?

  92. Blouise,

    You’ve committed one of the lesser-known classic blunders–not as well known as “never get involved in a land war in Asia” or “never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line”, but classic nonetheless: “never go up against a mad scientist when absolutely nothing is on the line”. By the way, there was some red, white, and blue fabric in the lake this morning… it looked like the killer minnows got them😛 I’m now going to check out that shiny thing over there…


    Maybe you should re-read the article (or the whole series…) and try to understand the difference between how you were using propaganda and how Blouise and I were using propaganda. As to the scoreboard, I guess the only thing we’re sure of is:

    Matt: 0

  93. Ah, iocane powder … Princess Bride … one of the all time best

    Here we are on the field of battle. I am the one in the mask.

  94. OS- The idea that someone can be hypnotized against their will is kind of freaking me out. The one inviolate thing should be one’s own thoughts. Should I ever come to know of someone who had hypnotized me against my will, I would kill that person, even if I had to blow up a bus full of children to do it (or a bus full of nuns, or a school, or a children’s hospital, pick whatever horrible image you want. I would lay waste to nations, if I had that kind of power, to kill someone who took control of my mind, however innocently or briefly, against my will). That’s just scary. I will now never see a psychologist, ever. As I’m pretty much a loon, that’s a negative for society. So thanks, bud.

  95. CLH, no ethical psychologist or psychiatrist would ever try to use hypnosis on someone without their consent. Stage hypnotists and performers are under no such constraints. There was an instance where a famous stage magician and hypnotist appeared at a medium sized university for a stage performance. The head of the counseling department called me about a week later telling me he and his staff had a number of students who attended the performance that were complaining of symptoms related to the stage magician’s suggestions to the audience. He needed help, and of course I obliged as best I could. It was a big mess, and some students may have been seriously traumatized. As far as I know, that particular performer was never invited back to any venue in the state.

    That was thirty years ago and I am still angry about it.

  96. Sorry, OS. My comment was supposed to be satrical, making fun of some other commentors on here. Didn’t come through right, I guess. Should have added a 😉

  97. CLH,

    Glad you clarified because in your long history here I never of you as crazy, but that previous comment gave me doubts:)

  98. I was at a hotel performance in San Diego about thirty years ago. A hypnotist was the entertainer. He was able to get a young guy to set on his lap and sing. Like a puppy.

  99. […] As previously discussed, “we need to differentiate between the terms ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.  Strategy is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as ‘the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war’.  Tactics, by contrast, is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as ‘the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end’ and ‘the study of the grammatical relations within a language including morphology and syntax’. By better understanding the tactics of propagandists, you not only gain a certain degree of immunity from their influence, but insight into their strategic ends.” […]

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