NOTE: Post first written for publication in 2020
Let’s take a look at the NON-SEQUITUR.
I’ve seen this a whole lot lately: someone makes a statement in a post. These days, it’s probably about a political or social issue (or both). Someone responds with a completely different topic, typically something not at all in question.
Here’s an example: I saw on Facebook where a friend of mine posted something about the current US President having a pattern of lying (Note: at time of original publication, this referred to President Donald Trump). One response to this statement was, “Oh, so I guess Biden never lies?!”
That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a statement that does not logically follow the argument in question. Logicians would have a field day with the respondent to that post. Yikes.
See, here’s the thing: a post about one person’s lies is not necessarily an argument that another person does or does not not lie. Its not about another person at all. I might add, too, that pointing out one candidate’s flaws does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of his opponent. AND, stating that Joe Biden lies neither refutes nor proves anything about whether Donald Trump does. They’re two different arguments.
Boil it down to its simplest terms:
Person A: “Trump lies”
Person B: “Biden lies”
Person A: “Sooo…is this a statement of agreement or disagreement to what I said?”
Person B: “Neither.”
You might remember a similar fallacy from an earlier lesson: the Red Herring. The non-sequitur is similar, but the difference is in the motive.
Like the stinky fish for which it is supposedly named, the Red Herring is something a person “throws out there,” purposefully, with the intent of distracting you or putting you off of your track. It’s a diversion; a ploy.
The non-sequitur is flawed thinking. It’s a show of ignorance on a topic, inability to process intellectual discussion, fear, single-mindedness, or an honest mistake. But, it’s not malicious or conniving. Get pissed at the guy who hurls Red Herrings, but feel bad for the bloke who offers a non-sequitur.
Often, you’ll see non-sequiturs used, but it will be clear that those who use them don’t really understand what the conversation is about in the first place. Responding, “Oh, Biden doesn’t lie?” to the statement, “Trump is a liar,” assumes that the original speaker’s argument is: “Trump is a liar and is therefore the man less qualified to be president in a race between Joe Biden and him.” But, “Trump is a liar” does NOT, in and of itself, assert that at all.
So, here’s what you need to do.
This is your response: “What do you mean by that?”
If I say, “Trump lies,” and you say, “Biden lies,” we’re just two people listing names of people who lie. The problem is that you (in this case) think we’re having a political debate whereas I just made a statement. So we need to establish:
1. Is this an argument or debate we are in? Person A didn’t appear to be making one, necessarily, but Person B surely wanted to duke it out.
2. What is your argument? Does Person B even know? What does he think we’re talking about, even?
3. What is my argument? Person B definitely messes this up.
4. Do you understand that your statement is not a logical response to mine? No. No. No, he doesn’t.
It would have been best if Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” had asked Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” What he meant by that. There’s lots he could have meant by that…
-Trump’s ability to fabricate people, events, and cures for global pandemics with household products is impressive.
-All politicians are immoral and the record of Trump’s lies is but one example.
-The rate at which our current president lies indicates that he is an inappropriate choice to lead the Free World.
Had Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” asked, if he’s Right-leaning, he can respond with something that makes sense.
If Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Follows up with “what do you mean by that?” to the creator of the non-sequitur, he could let him know that Mr. Biden’s record of truth and lies is a different argument altogether. And, “hey, if you want, we can talk about that — in another thread…” might be the follow-up to that.
“What do you mean by that?” (Patent pending) is also useful as a response to
-Ad Hominem attacks
-a Red Herring (if you can catch it)
-someone clearly uninformed or misinformed on a topic
I wish I remembered to use “What do you mean by that?” more often. I’ll smile if I see you use it in the future.
I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.