Each month I dedicate a post to the discussion of a different fallacious argument. It’s part of my ongoing effort to help the world bicker better.
Here, friends, is this month’s installment.
That diverting entertainment, magic, depends upon distraction to delight and mystify an audience. Magicians play their tricks not primarily with hats and rabbits but instead with our perception, directing our attention elsewhere as they nimbly palm the coin or make the assistant vanish into air.
In the hands of the skilled illusionist, magic is artistry. But in the theatre of argument, misdirection is nothing but a cheap trick. Allow me, reader, to introduce you to November’s Fallacious Argument, the distractingly odorous red herring.
A red herring is a device used in discourse to sidetrack attention from the original subject to another topic, preferably one that has no bearing on the discussion at hand and designed to inflame the emotions of the audience. Although the red herring flourishes wherever enemies of rational discourse may be found, it prefers to spawn during political election seasons. When large issues loom, the red herring is ready to divert attention from energy, health care, or social security to a $400 haircut or a candidate’s wardrobe. Handle with care: its smell is notoriously long-lasting.
(With thanks to Philip J. Loree, Jr., a fierce defender of rational discourse and a highly insightful ADR blogger.)