The past few months of political campaigns have been painful.  There is a lot that goes wrong in political discussion. The proposals, misrepresentations, reactions, and commentaries can be frightening, frustrating, and discouraging.   Fortunately, Humanist principles offer a GPS for working through this mess.

Fallacies regularly come into discussions of political issues.  Not listening to what others say leads to straw man fallacies. Calling people names leads to ad hominem attacks. Attempting to discredit people with comments about personal background and life circumstances can make a circumstantial form of ad hominem. Changing subjects makes red herrings.  But an empathetic way of treating others overlaps with strategies for reaching reasonable conclusions. To encourage listening and respectful treatment of others shows not only compassion but helps avoid many common fallacies.

Fallacious arguments are used because people are sometimes persuaded by mental shortcuts. It’s hard to take a thoughtful approach when hurried, scared, or facing great social pressures. Persuasive strategies that bypass careful investigation take advantage of the situation.  Short cut strategies include endorsements, recommendations of authority figures, poll results, favors, efforts to be likable, and demands for consistency and loyalty. Rather than relying on automatic cues and social pressures, Humanists like to “do their own research.”

To help people do their own checking into things, psychologists offer lists of common distortions.  Common distortions include black and white thinking, exaggerating or ignoring problems, labeling, relying on emotions, jumping to conclusions, blaming, taking things personally, not seeing what can and cannot be controlled, not realizing that things are not always fair, insisting that things should be certain ways, and assuming that people will change if pressured enough.  To notice distortions helps in checking the facts, logic, and clarity of claims and in getting some peace of mind.

Difficulties in communicating, social pressures, and distortions in thinking face us all, but additional Humanist principles can help.  By recognizing our common humanity, we can see that what’s important is not the personalities, positions, or parties but the problems facing us all.  There are problems and systemic corruption that cause harm to people, the planet, and our democracy.  Partisan politics and campaigns aimed to win at any cost distract from the real needs. We can find allies and move forward by addressing the underlying interests of people affected by problems.

Humanists value opportunities for people to have democratic input in things that affect them and value thoughtful decision making. Although democratic processes are not easy, Humanists principles remind us of the need to listen, treat others respectfully, check the evidence, think carefully, and work together on the problems that affect us all.

Information about many fallacies is available here:

More information about persuasion tactics involving mental shortcuts is available here:

A checklist of common distortions is here:

Strategies for conflict resolution are shown here:

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