Fallacy Watch: No True Klansman

I may have contributed to a new term for a rhetorical ploy we see more and more, via a series of comments over at Ophelia Benson’s blog on her post about revising dictionary definitions of misogyny. Here’s how it happened:

#11 screechymonkey October 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm says:

for what word do we now use for the real “hatred of women”

For the “real” hatred of every single woman without exception? I’m not sure we need a term for such non-existent people.

It’s the same reasoning I see from some people who will never agree that anything is racist. Someone can say “I hate that [insert stream of vile racist slurs and sterotypes] Obama,” but as long as they tack on, “oh, but that Herman Cain fella is ok with me!” suddenly they’re not racist because hey, they don’t hate all black people.

What we do need a term for is the act of creating mythical people with positions more extreme than yours for the purposes of casting yourself as reasonable. As in “hey, I’m not a misogynist, that only applies to people who hate every single woman alive.” It’s not strawmanning, because you’re not ascribing those views to your opponent. It’s invoking the fallacy of the golden mean, but going a step further by inventing one of the “extremes.”

#15 Stacy October 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm says:

[quotes screechymonkey’s final paragraph above]

Yes. The same thing is done with the word “racism”–you can’t be racist unless you hate black people. And nobody hates black people (supposedly) except KKK guys (and if you talk to them, they’ll claim they’re not about “hate,” they’re just about white pride, or something.) Those old timey Southern slave holders didn’t hate black people. Heck, they loved them–as long as they kept their place. So practically nobody’s a racist, and what are those nigg upset people of color complaining about?

Likewise, nobody’s a misogynist unless they’ve got a serial killer level of absolute contempt for every woman on the planet.

It’s a way to protect themselves from criticism and show that they’re really reasonable. It’s also a mistake people make time and again: confusing prejudices with emotions. I’m sure a lot of misogynists don’t “hate” women, in the sense of responding viscerally to the presence of a woman with automatic disgust or conscious contempt. But without necessarily being aware of it, they see them as lesser beings. And far more important than that: they support social attitudes and policies that keep women in their place.

#17 tigtog October 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm says:

[also quotes screechymonkey’s final paragraph above]

It’s almost like a Reverse No True Scotsman, isn’t it? Instead of using an unattainable standard as a way to exclude others from their in-group, they are using an unattainable standard as a way to deny their own membership of an out-group.

#21 screechymonkey October 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm says:

Stacy@15 and tigtog@17, in honor of both your comments I propose to call this phenomenon the No True Klansman fallacy.

#23 LeftSidePositive October 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm says:

[quotes screechymonkey above]

I second this so hard.

I’m rather proud of this coinage, but wonder whether we may be reinventing the fallacious wheel. Does anybody know of an already apt term in rhetorical jargon?.



Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, language, social justice

Tags: , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I used to be pretty up on fallacies, and this concept doesn’t immediately set off bells. I’m not sure the concept has been needed much before. I’ve noticed that social justice in general has created new terminology – I honestly suspect the problem is that “reason”, “logic” and being able to beat dead horses was only really available to privileged white men with university educations. Or at least, anyone else would be quickly shouted down as ignorant or incompetent.
    (Schrodinger’s Rapist, who I personally think is better called the Baysian Rapist; Not My Nigel; JAQ “Just Asking Questions”; Some of my best friends are [black/gay/Jewish]; Moff’s Law; etc)

  2. I can’t think of another term for the phenomenon. And that’s a good one.

  3. You know I’ve read a few of these ‘but what can we call the people who really hate women?’ comments over the last couple of weeks, and I think I’ve decided my answer would be ‘how about ‘jerks’?’ or, you know, any similar epithet of your choice.

  4. We could also call them misogynists. It’s like “oh, we can’t call him a rapist when there’s much worse rape”. It seems to mainly kick in around sexism (or social justice in general?) No-one has any problem calling a convicted thief a criminal when there are much worse criminals; a tax cheat a tax cheat whether for a small amount or large; or even a murderer a murderer, regardless of the details of the murder(s).
    (I also want to know where these men are having all these intense discussions about misogynists-who-really-hate-all-women, so I can see just how important the word really is to them. But that’s probably needlessly hostile.)

  5. Good point Aqua. As for where, look at the comment thread on any recent MSM article (if you can bear it) about either that speech , or the subsequent announcement by the Macquarie Dictionary.

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