Have you ever disagreed with someone?
Are there ideas, or questions you don't want to consider? Consider them for a moment. Even if nothing comes to mind, there are likely dozens of ideas, beliefs, values, and arguments that would make you uncomfortable, or worse (think: rage). Just think of all of the political mumbo-jumbo on social media, or various theological debates in the church, or hard ethical questions, like stem-cell research, abortion, and criminal justice. Can some of these things get your hackles up?
If there is a chance you could encounter an argument you don't like, or an idea that makes you uncomfortable, please, read on. We are going to examine a powerful weapon; a tool you can add to your arsenal of argumentation, designed to keep you safe from people who believe things you don't like.
i present: the Bulverism.
The Bulverism is a simple yet effective fallacy. An informal fallacy, actually, because it doesn't actually break the rules of logic. Instead, it breaks arguments themselves. To load and cock your informal fallacy, simply remember: if you don't like an argument, don't try to beat it; break it!
The Bulverism was named by C.S. Lewis, who explained it this way: "assume that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error." Simply put: don't bother proving your opponent wrong, at the actual point of argument. Instead, explain away his argument by poking holes in his motivations, up-bringing, environment, etc. Rather than get logical, get psychological.
For example: if someone tells you that God is real, and that makes you angry, don't bother getting out the arguments for or against theism, or the philosophy textbook, or the Bible. Don't consider the proofs they marshal, as they prepare to argue their point. Instead, point out that this person was raised by theists, or worse: conservative Christians (or Muslims, or whatever!). Point out that they have grown up believing in a god, or that their parents took them to church, etc. Assume they are wrong (there is no god), and then explain their error (they only believe there is a god because . . .). See? Simple, yet powerful.
To help you start getting the feel for the fallacy, here are a few examples of Bulverism:
Person A: "Socialism doesn't work as well as capitalism, because: xyz."
Person B: "You only think that because you're rich. You don't want socialism, because it would mean less money for you."
*Note how Person B does not address the argument, xyz. Rather, he distracts.
Person A: "Genesis 1 and 2 in the Bible are not to be taken literally, because xyz."
Person B: "You are just capitulating to Darwinism. You just want to synthesize evolution and Scripture!"
*Note how Person B brings up the presumable motives of Person A. Whether reasons xyz are true or not is irrelevant. Questionable motives are the issue in this well-crafted bulverism.
Person A: "We should re-examine gender-roles in American society, because there may be more beneficial paradigms."
Person B: "Feminists have brainwashed you; You need to stop listening to people who want to ruin America."
*Note the concise, yet effective demolition of the argument. No lengthy discussion of ontology, gender, authority, teleology, worldview, etc. Just explain the error, and move out quick.
Person A: "Gender is assigned at birth, fixed, and binary, because of these reasons . . ."
Person B: "Not so. It's fluid, and you only believe what you do because of your upbringing and conditioning. Social constructs are the air you breathe."
*Note the powerful use of zeitgeist to effectively sweep argumentation out of the way. Now person A is on the defensive, and has quickly forgotten about his reasons.
Try it out for yourself! How many real-world bulverisms can you think of?
The Bulverism secretly distracts, because it keeps up the appearance of argumentation, while side-swiping any actual points made. Instead of addressing the arguments presented, the Bulverism re-casts the argument in terms of why the person is wrong, not how. It puts someone on the defense regarding motives, worldview, and context, never letting them get a chance to prove the argument itself.
As Lewis put it: "The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. "
Silly. That's the key. Make your opponent feel silly for being associated with those who believe some thing. Make them feel silly for being so blind to their prejudice, context, or bias. Make them feel silly for being on the wrong side of history, or even just the current argument.
- Use this fallacy quickly and boldly. Don't enter into argument over the points presented, especially at first. Get the opponent into the arena you want them in, and fast.
- Combine this with other fallacies, like the straw-man, or ad hominem, to create a one-two combo that will send opponents to the floor.
- The Bulverism works especially well when given a moral or intellectual component. For instance, make someone feel like their ignorance is the reason for their error, thus stripping them of dignity. Or better yet, make them feel that their motives or reasons are morally questionable, stripping them of honor.
- Imagine the power of the Bulverism when taken "meta," such as in identity politics, worldview issues, and macro-cultural trends. If you can make someone feel like they are a pawn in an evil system, you can silence their arguments before they are even formulated.
- Make your opponent feel like you are enlightened, and they are stuck in a "dark age" of barbarism. Make them feel silly, ashamed, trite, and backwards.
The possible forms of this fallacy are endless. Thus, you can use it indefinitely, without fear of repetition and detection. If you always attack someone's person directly (ad hominem), the victim may eventually catch on. But if you can cast the argument in terms of psychology and motivation, and make your opponent feel like you are still discussing the topic, they are likely to engage at your level, and will let you catch them time and time again.
Use this fallacy freely, and with aggression. Don't be scared to apply it to gross generalizations, narratives, or big-picture rants. With a little practice, you will be well on your way to crushing anyone who tries to make you uncomfortable - or worse, who tries to change your mind.