Monday, February 29, 2016

Three Politicians Make a Tiger

Since Donald Trump began his candidacy for the Republican nomination, rumors have flown about his history as a Republican. One image in particular (shown below) gained extreme popularity on the internet - popularity which did not decrease even a little when the information was shown to be false. 
This image spread like wildfire across social media. It would seem that no matter how many times it was proven to be untrue, the more times it was reposted more people evidently believed that it was true. A similar phenomenon can be seen with another candidate.
Bizarre as it may seem, there are some people who genuinely believe that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer. Politics have shown time and time again that if you can get enough people to loudly repeat a lie, the general public tends to believe that lie. More examples include the weapons of mass destruction George W. Bush was determined to find, the "Lady Gaga is a hermaphrodite" scandal, and Obama's Muslim Kenyan origins. These are incidents that showcase the "Three Men Make a Tiger" fallacy. The idea comes from an ancient Chinese proverb in which the King says he would not believe there was a tiger in the city if one or two people said there was, but if three people claimed to have seen it, then he would believe them. At first, it seems reasonable. The more people claim to have seen a tiger, the more likely it is that there was in fact a tiger. The larger the number of people who are telling the same story, the less likely that the story is false. However, this is not a safe rule to use. This is not always valid. In fact, especially when the stakes are higher, the likelihood that a vast lie or conspiracy could be constructed is much higher. This is one of the most prevalent fallacies in politics.   It is closely related to the "Argentum Ad Populum" fallacy, which means that if many believe it, it must be true, and it is very useful in politics. As the number of people who repeat a lie increases, so does the number of people who believe the lie. This was useful for Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra Deal, for Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, and for Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare. While at times, it can result in hilarity such as in the photos above, it can also be very dangerous. For example, it is advantageous for politicians today to spread the idea that all Muslims are evil and violent. More and more people are repeating this lie every day, and it is leading to very dire consequences. People are being attacked and sometimes killed simply for looking like Muslims due to the fear mongering that is going on today. It is important to note that rhetoric is responsible for this. I've heard too many times during this political race that what the candidates say doesn't really matter because they're only trying to get votes. But when rhetoric turns to demagoguery and incites violence, it has become a serious problem.

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