When an argument is a croc

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
I was away from school the day they taught us about logical fallacies, writes Liz Breslin.

When I Googled "what is a logical fallacy", I was told that "People also ask what are the 10 logical fallacies? what are the 15 logical fallacies? what are the 24 logical fallacies?".

I was Googling logical fallacies because my ears and my mind were ringing. My ears and my mind were ringing because sometimes they are not fast enough at recognising the why and the how of wrongness, only that a wrongness is there.

In an increasingly polarised and media-ised world, we are all being manipulated by language.

I’m not sure they did actually teach me this at school, but I did read The Enormous Crocodile and love how the animals chase him up for hiding in plain sight and how he got his comeuppance when his secret plans and clever tricks were exposed.

A logical fallacy, Google tells me, is when the conclusion of an argument does not follow on from the premise.

There are formal logical fallacies, which means an argument is badly structured. Informal fallacies are when the reasoning in the argument is, well, unreasoned, or unreasonable.

An argument doesn’t have to be an impassioned or violent thing, I’ve learned. It can be a debate. And/or the premise, or the conclusion, a sort of sale.

In the early 2000s, I studied something called neuro-linguistic programming, and on one of the courses I attended, along with salespeople, counsellors, life coaches and me and my friend Rachel, there was a pastor who wanted to know the tricks of brain and language so she could use them to bring people closer to Jesus.

One of the things I remember learning was something called something like "the rule of yes", whereby if you get people to say "yes" twice they’re more likely to agree a third time. So you give them two easy yeses and then hit them with your ideology. Something like:

"So, you’re worried about what’s happening in the world?"


"So, you think nobody understands you?"


"So, you need Jesus/this anti-vax message/some TERF bull****/to buy what I’m selling you right now." (Delete as appropriate, which means all of the above.)

You’re probably familiar with Jesus but in case you are not aware of TERFs, they are transphobes who get acronymmed "trans exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs), and in their crusade to make us think that trans people are a danger to society, rather than the factually-verifiable truth that society is a danger to trans people (see

http://countingourselves.nz), the TERFs use a lot of logical fallacies and linguistic tricks.

They hide their harmful messages in the guise of speaking up for women’s rights.

When chief TERF organisation Speak Up For Women New Zealand had their booking at the Dunedin City Library cancelled this week, there was a predictable outcry about their freedom of speech (also a logical fallacy), like this somehow supersedes the freedom of trans people to exist.

Anyway, in case you come across a TERF or two, you should know that they use "the rule of yes" to suck you in by being all like:

"So, you care about women and girls, right?"


"So, you think they should have safe spaces?"


"So, now let me tell you this incredibly narrow essentialist biological definition of a woman and how we should actually exclude anyone who doesn’t fit this definition."

What? NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.

Sorry for shouting but sometimes it gets that way with enormous crocodiles.

And I think I may have committed my own logical fallacy there by attacking the crocodiles rather than the argument.

This is called "ad hominem", if you want it in Latin. If I wanted to do more secret plans and clever tricks I could also "ad populem", appeal to the people.

I could take you in circles, shred and burn peripheral parts of your argument like straw or knock you down like a domino. I hope I wouldn’t, if I could, and still, I wish I’d learned to recognise all this at school.


Liz you are right. We need more logic in newspaper articles.
If any group wants to hire a room to speak they should be free to do so as freedom of speech is not a hurtful thing.
It is to foster better discussion and hopefully assist in sorting out logical fallacies among other things.
The best answer to a bad idea is a better one, not suppression of one group by another.

You don't use logical fallacies to refute a claimed logical fallacy.

This is the use of non sequitur, where none of it follows and a whole heaping of strawman fallacy. Somehow discussion of women and women's rights is connected to evangelists and sales. Maybe the joke's on you, are you alluding to that they have a point when women talk about existing independently and having rights under law? The "yes" is to valid statements. Notice how they don't define their terms, "narrow biological definition" while not stating what exactly what it is that includes males into the standard definition of adult human female. That then is used to strike down the strawman.

Women's existence as full human beings and female shouldn't come under debate like this. They in fact exist and that fact doesn't take anything from anyone else. That's the biggest falsehood here, that any assertion of fact and reason is attacking and harming others somehow.

Totally agree, I am always trying to encourage logic and critical thinking in the feral world of social media.

So because Ms Breslin disagrees with the concerns of TERF, she agrees they should be denied a platform. This may or may not be a logical fallacy, but it's certainly a dangerous one.

How it is dangerous to agree in denying a platform for concerns of TERFs that essentially foster hate and discrimination and that are in direct opposition to human rights? Publicly funded spaces, especially libraries, follow human rights codes and I am grateful there are people who advocate to ensure this.