“If everyone jumped off the nearest cliff, would you jump, too?” What parent hasn’t said this, in a moment of frustration? Oddly, most parents aren’t known for encouraging non-conformity. Humans are herd animals. And while most parents do want their children to be outstanding in their talents, their academic skills, their job offers, few parents want their children to stand out as the class clown or the neighborhood oddball. They want their kids to fit in, unless fitting in means jumping off a cliff, because that would be bad. As Lukasz Laniecki points out in his post, #BigParentingIdea — If Everyone Jumped Off A Cliff, Would You Jump Too?, it’s not always a bad thing to follow the herd, when the herd’s getting good grades, finding a soulmate, landing that dream job.
The flip side of that coin is the Bandwagon Fallacy. That’s the one that says, “Everyone’s doing this – you should, too! Don’t be left out! Don’t be left behind! Don’t be the oddball.” It’s a favorite tool of propagandists.
There are 203 tweets where DJT invokes the spectre of “so many people” as if implying that to disagree would be to go against the herd. He has often overstated the numbers of a crowd to make it seem as if the majority of people agree with him.
Is propaganda always a bad thing? No. But propaganda is all about achieving its purpose, and if the truth doesn’t serve its purpose, then truth be damned. The word “propaganda” stems from the Latin propagare, to propagate – to spread. Originally used by the Catholic Church in conjunction with missionary work, it took on a political connotation, not just to advance the faith, but to advance an ideology or a cause. Although the word generally carries a stigma from World War II and beyond, is persuasive rhetoric – when it serves the truth – a bad thing?
It’s problematic, isn’t it? Who decides what is “the truth”? There are facts – provable, or at least grounded in a body of credible evidence. But where evidence is contradictory or inconclusive, and opinions are divided, who can say what “truth” is? Reasonable people can debate ideas on the merits, weighing evidence, considering all aspects of an issue. But sometimes, people feel so strongly, so emotionally, that they cannot be reasonable and rational. They resort to propaganda – to logical fallacies – in order to “cheat” their way to victory in an argument.
When you feel like someone’s pressuring you not to stand apart from the herd, ask yourself why – and whether following your own path might not be a better idea. Ask lots of questions, too. Vagueness makes the Bandwagon Fallacy seem possible. “George Orwell makes good use of propaganda in Animal Farm and uses the “bandwagon” technique very effectively. Being vague confuses the animals and thinking that their own actions may be contrary to the spirit of Animalism ensures that they ask few questions.”
Make sure, before you jump on the bandwagon, that they’re playing your song.