p align=”left”>Judgment, reasoning, decision-making, logic, figuring it out… Call it what you will, the first level of preparation should be your mind. To roughly quote Einstein “the thinking that created the problem is not going to solve the problem”. Computer folks call it “garbage in, garbage out”.
There are numerous “rosy paths” that can cause a person to make a poor judgment call. Considering each of these in turn will, I hope, increase your awareness of them in your own decision making, and make you less susceptible to those who would use them to change your actions against your better judgment, or to sway your opinion. While reading the remainder of the article work out how often your judgment is based on faulty reasoning and clouded by emotion. Additionally, ponder the words you use, as those words, whether spoken or unspoken have great power.
Incorrect Cause: Mistaking correlation for causation. An example of this is” knowing” you missed that big buck standing right in the open because you forgot to wear those lucky socks. You laugh, however we all have been guilty of assigning an incorrect cause to an event.
I’m Right Since You Can’t Prove Me Wrong: This person uses your inability to show that his conclusion is not valid as proof that he is right. A good example of this is “Why in the world would you store a year’s worth of food! Heck, we don’t have hurricanes, the stores around here always have food, and what are my taxes supporting FEMA for anyway!” In this situation I suggest sadly shaking your head, turning, and walking away.
Broad Generalization: Pretty much all of us fall prey to this one. It assumes that what is valid some of the time is therefore valid all of the time. Racial prejudice and bigotry fall into this category of course. An acquaintance of mine believes that everyone of certain ethnic backgrounds are lazy. Making assumptions about a person simply because they vote democrat or republican is another example of a broad generalization. Not all democrats are against guns. Of course if a democrat confides that he or she owns a battle rifle I might give them a second chance!
Rushed Generalization: When you base a conclusion or inference on too small a sample or even a one-time event, you have made a decision which is unfounded. Consider your friend at work who is going to get a pit bull. His decision is completely based on the next door neighbor who has “the sweetest, cutest pit bull who just loves to play with the kids”. You, of course, would do far more research before deciding what breed was best for you.
Invalid Analogy: Here a person assumes that since two events or circumstances are alike in some known way that they are also alike in unknown ways. An instance of this would be that because your neighbor is an excellent wing shot (shooting flying game birds) that he will be an excellent sniper. Both have a lot to do with firearms of course, but being a skilled wing shooter does not automatically mean he will have the talents and skills of a military sniper.
Polarizing Argument: This tactic is a favorite of special interest groups. It is used to create drama and emotion. It is an attempt to force you to pick a side. If you are not with us, then you are against us. Example: “Huh, well if you are against increased funding and authority for the Department of Homeland Security that must mean you do not care about terrorist attacks!”
False Dilemma: This is similar to using a polarizing argument. It infers that there are only two outcomes, and both are bad. For instance, thinking that the only two options available are to either build up a savings account and have the IRS tax the interest and watch it erode via inflation, or you can invest in beans and bullets, in which case you will have no retirement nest egg could be a false dilemma. One of the dangers of false dilemmas is their “no win” aspect which can cause you to take no action to improve your preparation situation.
Killing the Messenger: A favorite through the ages of those who don’t have a valid counter argument based on evidence, also known as an ad hominem. Here the person attempts to invalidate the argument or information by attacking the source rather than the substance. “Heck, did you hear what Fred is saying about climate change and needing to stock up on food because of food shortages? Didn’t he get fired last month?” How about “I don’t listen to a word that guy says, he voted for that city tax hike last year!”
Look Who Is Talking: Or, two wrongs make a right. So an older, wiser prepper dad is advising his son against taking out a big loan and buying that fancy sports car. Dad thinks his son should stay debt-free and buy a reliable used car with good gas mileage for cash. The son keeps his thoughts to himself, which are along the lines of why shouldn’t he buy that fancy sports car since that is what dad did when he was his age.
Hitting A Moving Target: This is when a person uses different meanings for a key word or term throughout an argument. An example here is “No one should doubt that God can work miracles, since we have seen countless miracles like synthetic DNA and heart transplants.” The speaker is using the term “miracle” in different contexts, technological and spiritual. A miracle of technology is human made, whereas a true miracle is, well. . . . a miracle.
Appeal to Authority: This is one I love to hate, as it is used so often. In this case the credibility of a position is enhanced by the support of widely known or admired, but not qualified figures. Nuclear physicists, doctors, astronauts and celebrities are often used in this capacity. The main stream media is often guilty of relying on “appeal to authority” instead of truly investigating the matter, and is extremely poor journalism. Your friend Bob is going to max out his credit cards to buy Facebook stock because the doctor who operated on him last year said it was a “no brainer”. Yeah, right, maybe Bob should have gotten a second opinion.
Begging the Question: A tactic which bases its conclusion on a statement that is assumed to be true. An example might be “The actions of Wall Street Investment Bankers must be for the best since the actions in question are legal”. My reply to that is just because an action is legal does not make it honest or ethical.
Don’t Rock The Boat: This claims that tradition, or the status quo should not be challenged. Corporate and social cultures are good examples. “This is the way we do things around here, so don’t question it or you will be viewed as a trouble-maker” or “In our subdivision we don’t think planting a garden is a good idea”. All of us who have dared to walk the path espoused on SurvivalBlog have had to deal with this.
Circular Argument: Here a person uses the conclusion as the premise for the argument, or repeats a statement in different terms. My wife and I have a lot of fun with this one. I’ll say “how come you always disagree with me?” She replies “No I don’t”. Then I come back with “See what I mean?” How about the person living in suburbia who insists they are well prepped since they have they purchased a month of food at Costco last year and has it stored in the basement? They stick to that month of food as evidence of being well prepared no matter how hard you try to point out the vulnerabilities of the overall situation. Did you hear about the guy who “always wins” the long range shooting competition? Yeah, he didn’t think it was fair that he got eliminated in the first round since he always wins the competition. Round and round it goes. . . .
Mob Rule: This is an appeal to the majority opinion, which, after all, must be valid since “everyone” thinks so. Those of us who value our liberty need to be aware of how this is used to manufacture consent. Using safety issues like terrorists, school shootings and other events to create fear in the minds of the majority in order to further an undermining of the second amendment are all too real examples. “We need security cameras, metal detectors and facial recognition software installed on every street corner to catch anyone who is acting strangely because they might be a terrorist” would fall into this category.
Straw Man: The person on the other side of the debate restates your opinion in an exaggerated form in order to make it sound ridiculous. This is a bit like putting words in your mouth. Unless you are aware of this tactic and knowledgeable about your topic, this is a very effective strategy. It puts you on the defensive and makes your position appear weak. Suppose you are debating gun control with some poor misguided soul. You support reducing firearms ownership regulations. In response to your position your opponent states “Well, if society goes along with your proposal we will soon have assault rifles in every school locker and gun fire in the hallways!”
Domino Effect: This suggests that taking a certain action will be the first step along the path to a negative consequence or dire outcome. This type of argument assumes a chain of events will occur once the “first domino falls”. Here I will use an example that will strike a nerve for most of the SurvivalBlog readership: Allowing firearms registration will inevitably lead to the confiscation of our firearms. See what I mean? Instituting a national firearms registry would be stepping onto a slippery slope, and gun confiscation could be the outcome, but it is not a certainty.
Taking it to Extremes: This is similar to the Straw Man tactic. It can be a sign that your opponent is getting angry, frustrated, or simply unable to refute your position with logic and evidence. Consider the couple who cannot agree on prepping. The wife is a serious prepper who feels that dedicating a significant portion of their monthly budget to preps is a wise course of action. The husband resists the idea since it would mean cutting back on golfing most weekends with his buddies. Finally in frustration he says “well why don’t we just take out a second mortgage and spend the kids college money to buy all that stuff!”
Hypothesis as Fact: Attempting to put forth a statement about what might have happened in the past, or may happen in the future, if only circumstances were different. Like last Saturday when you were in the garage lovingly taking that 27th AR-15 out of the box when your spouse walked in. Now normally your spouse could only be described as a wellspring of love, understanding and support. However, for reasons unknown, last Saturday was a “new normal” for your spouse. Whether it was the red face, the vein bulging ominously in her forehead or her hands clenching and unclenching that gave her emotional state away is now somewhat hazy. What you do recall is the speed with which you sought, purely for her benefit, to bring her blood pressure down to a safe level. “Honey” you said “This here new AR was totally necessary, you see the Euro is going to implode, like tomorrow, next year for sure, and then all your family and cousins will be coming here to stay with us. . . . and that means I’m gonna have to give’em all something to protect themselves with. You want them to be protected don’t you honey? And you and me are gonna need some guns just for us now aren’t we?
Red Herring: A common diversionary tactic to hide a weakness in an argument. It is used to confuse the issue and throw you “off the scent”. Say your wife discovers that second bulk ammo order that brings your store of 5.56 to a nice even 100,000 rounds (I know, I know, when it comes to ammo to much is never enough). She confronts you with the credit card statement and “that look” that starts to peel the skin off your face. You are desperate to gain advantage in the confrontation so you pull a “red herring” out of the matrimonial tool kit. “You know I did it for you and the kids honey” you stutter, “…besides nothing I do ever makes you happy. Heck, last weekend I painted the bedroom just like you wanted and now you don’t even like the color”.
Self-Contradictory: Utilizing a statement that is inconsistent or you might say “doesn’t pass the sniff test”. For example, you are making the rounds at the gun show. At one dealer’s table the salesman is pushing pretty hard to sell you an AK clone with all the bells and whistles. In a low voice the salesman states that the gun is the best deal at the show, and besides, you should buy from him because “them other guys will say anything to get a sale”.
As you start to more quickly recognize when you employ these faulty methods of reasoning, or when they are being used against you the better your judgment will become. It was eye-opening to me to realize that most of us spend a majority of our time either using these tactics or being subjected to them. Very few people indeed are “straight talkers” who don’t resort to the methods outlined in the foregoing.
Now I would like to spend a few moments distinguishing between evidence, truth and belief by way of a thought experiment. I assume that as you read this you are sitting in a chair. How many of you believe in the chair? Well, that is kind of ridiculous since it exists, right? Okay, now, how many of you believe in gravity? I bet more than a few of you raised your hands. Those who are undecided and did not raise your hands are invited to go to an open window with your wife’s favorite flower vase, now extend your arm out the window and release the vase. Gravity is one of those things that you cannot see directly, but we have plenty of evidence that it exists. Therefore, like the chair, it isn’t a matter of belief, since no matter how hard you shut your eyes and believe that gravity doesn’t exist, it in fact does. You cannot have a belief in something that exists. That gravity exists on Earth is a fact, just like it is a fact that the chair you are sitting on exists. No matter how hard you think or how strongly you believe to the contrary nothing changes that fact. You can ignore the evidence of the chair having mass and taking up space, but that will not save you busting your shins on it if you attempt to walk through it like it doesn’t exist.
Most people confuse their beliefs with truth. Beliefs are concepts and ideas that are not supported by evidence such as measurements of mass, volume, temperature etc… We all have beliefs of course, and beliefs can be very powerful. In fact, most people will continue in their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence against them. There are psychological studies that show 80% of people will ignore evidence that is contrary to their views and beliefs. To do so in times such as the ones we now face carries a high degree of risk. One possible example of this are people who cannot conceive of the U.S. Dollar inflating until it is practically worthless . There is plenty of evidence to support the idea, but many people simply will not consider it.
Working on distinguishing between what is true as shown by evidence, and what you feel is true based on your opinions and beliefs is a very powerful step towards developing better judgment. A very wise person once said to me that “an opinion should be the result of a thorough consideration of the evidence, not in place of it.” It is my hope that these words resonate with you and support your efforts in securing a bright future for you and your loved ones.
JWR Adds: To properly equip your children (or yourself, if logic was a subject overlooked in your education), I recommend the short books The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning  and The Thinking Toolbox: Thirty-five Lessons That Will Build Your Reasoning Skills . Further,from a Christian perspective, to distinguish between scriptural truth and the lies of the secular humanist world, I recommend the lecture series The Truth Project , available on DVD.