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Sunday, 26 October 2014





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Argumentumad Populum Logical fallacies

"If your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst."

- Christopher Hitchens, a British-American author, polemicist, debater, and journalist, in Hitch-22: A Memoir

Mostly used by politicians, debaters, and people who act arrogantly and always disagrees with others unreasonably; argumentum ad populum, Latin for "appeal to the people", is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: "If many believe so, it is so."

This belief is further given credence by newspapers that dissipate such opinions. Most newspapers the world over, notwithstanding a few exceptions are a device for making the ignorant more ignorant; and the crazy crazier. They seem to cater to the baser qualities and values of humans. In fact, in some cases, the best fiction is, far more true than the news in such newspapers.

Whilst various people hold different opinions on this, it is also true that newspapers are the means of a daily dose of worldwide happenings and events that people cannot seem to live without. That is why I suppose, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, an American author and humourist said: "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed."

In spite of it; and even if there may be an element of truth in what is said, I am convinced that it applies only to a minority of the newspapers; the rest adhering to basic ethics governing publishing. However, it is also true that in the present world, whoever controls the media controls the mind.


Arguments such as "because many believe it, it must be true" are logical fallacies: the fallacy of trying to prove something simply by showing that the majority of the public agrees with that something. It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement: a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it; and the bandwagon effect.

The meaning of 'Bandwagon Effect' is that, it is a psychological phenomenon whereby people do something, primarily because other people are doing it; regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override - the phenomenon of a popular trend attracting even greater popularity.

The bandwagon effect has wide implications; but is more common in politics and consumer behaviour. An example of such belief would be, similar to saying: At a time in history when most people believed the world was flat, one could have claimed the world is flat because most believed it.

Yet we know it to be not the correct position even if many believed it to be so. Similarly, one could claim Angelina Jolie is the best-looking woman in the world because she is voted as such regularly. But the sample she is part of - celebrities - is insufficient, and ideals of beauty are arguably culturally determined and thus arbitrary to a significant degree.

For instance, overweight bodies have been considered more beautiful in some cultures, such as in Mauritania, because only the wealthy could afford to eat enough to become overweight or obese. By contrast, contemporary high fashion generally involves women who are, criticised for eating too much.

Thus, this tendency of people to align their beliefs and behaviour with those of a group is, also called "herd mentality." The Chinese proverb "three men make a tiger" concerns the same idea.

Appeal to belief is valid only when the question is whether the belief exists. Appeal to popularity is therefore valid only when the questions are whether the belief is widespread and to what degree. Hence, ad populum only proves that a belief is popular, not that it is true.

In some domains, however, it is popularity rather than other strengths that makes a choice the preferred one for reasons related to network effects: a phenomenon whereby some goods or service becomes more valuable when more people use it. The internet is a good example. Initially, there were few users of the internet, and it was of relatively little value to anyone outside of the military and a few research scientists.


As more users gained access to the internet, however, there were more and more websites to visit and more people to communicate with.Thus, the internet became extremely valuable to its users. However, if too many people use the goods or service, negative network effects can occur, such as congestion.

In the internet analogy; having too many users on the internet can, hypothetically, cause the speed to deteriorate, decreasing utility for users. Thus, providers of goods and services, which use a network effect, must ensure increase in capacity to accommodate all users. If not, negative network effects will take place.

In matters of social convention, such as etiquette or polite manners, it depends upon the wide acceptance of the convention.

As such, argumentum ad populum is not fallacious when referring to the popular belief about what is polite or proper. Social conventions can change, however, and sometimes very quickly.

The philosophical question of moral relativism asks whether such arguments apply to statements of morals. Whether to follow a tenet decided by popularity, rather than logical design may be a matter of safety or convenience.

In many cases, what is safe to do depends on what others expect one will do, and thus on the "popularity" of that choice. In the final analysis, intellect is the virtue of ignoring one's emotions and attempts by others to contaminate one's opinions.

I believe that it is only because of the use of intellect, consciously or subconsciously, good people do whatever they believe is the right thing to do, though obviously I have no proof for it. I am not even sure those actions would still qualify as 'good,' since they would merely be a function of normal behavior.


However, if one assumes that one cannot be penalised for, doing the things one believe to be truly righteous and just; how do we account for: Hitler may have thought he was serving his nation by gassing millions of Jews.Stalin may have thought that all his actions were for the greater good of his people or something vaguely similar; and Osama bin Laden would have been positive that he was serving God.It is not hard to fathom that all of those maniacs were certain that what they were doing was right.

These could only be, glaring instances of argument ad populum. Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience and, any-and-all things are, considered a virtue.

If not, what were Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden, and the likes of them doing but playing politics with the lives of ordinary people.

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