The Fallacy Fallacy

“Fallacy” is a popular concept in debates about digital topics. Or maybe weapon more the concept, to be honest. By accusing your opponent of a fallacy, not only do you say he is wrong, but that he is thinking wrong. That his opinion is not only wrong, but will always be wrong under all circumstances. That is the result of a flawed thought-process.

One popular fallacy is the “Luddite fallacy”, the idea that technology can take away jobs, or better put, take away more jobs than it creates. Obviously, replacing human muscle power with horse power and later combustion engines in farming has removed a lot of farming jobs. But people now work in other fields, many unknown in the days of horse-powered farming: social media editors, database programmers, viral marketing experts (and then some). So because the problem of job loss to machines was solved in an earlier era, it must be the same today and anyone who complains about it is guilty of the Luddite fallacy. Except, perhaps it’s not the same this time around, so maybe a closer analysis is needed. Fallacy may be just a tad too strong a label for this line of argument.

Another example of a fallacy is the “Narrative fallacy” – the idea that an author is biased in finding a working narrative and disregards the complexity involved, perhaps ignoring contrary evidence. In his 2013 book The Everything Store, Brad Stone describes how Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos warns him of the narrative fallacy when Keen wants to write about the company’s development. But there can of course be a pattern in complexity, as Andrew Keen points out in his new book The Internet Is Not the Answer (in which I found the Stone-story). Sometimes it can be reduced even to one word. Keen suggests “money” to describe the change in the internet evolution from the early days of enthusiasts and public-funded research and today’s big data companies.

The story of the internet is often told something like this “the internet came and the changed the world”. I’m sure Jeff Bezos and many others would generally agree to that description. But as Keen described, actually the internet was built by researchers with tax money, so the techno-centric view is itself an example of the “narrative fallacy”.

That’s not to say this talk about fallacies makes any sense. I argue the opposite. These are not real fallacies. A real fallacy is something like “1+1=3”, something that goes against logic and is wrong in all situations. The Luddite- and narrative fallacies are only labels to try to stick to debate opponents. Nothing but rhetoric, no more or less convincing than other rhetoric plays. You could call it the fallacy fallacy. But that would be a fallacy.