A Whimsical Look at Fallacies: Appeal to Antiquity -- Part 1

You've met them. You've heard them. You know what they're like. Those slaves of antiquity! Those idolaters of yesterday! Forever wallowing in the past! "The past had all the answers! They were closer to the sources, the fountains of wisdom, the wellsprings of life!"

Yes, you've seen them feasting vulturously on the past, that "Golden Age," that mythical dream, that fairy-tale realm when a nobler humanity, a race of demigods bestrode the earth! "Ah, they knew whereof they spoke back then, those sagacious men of yore! 'They saw life steadily, and they saw it whole.' We must hearken to their voice, cling to the things they held most dear and bequeathed unto us!" Yes, you've heard it all before and gone your way and smiled your smile.

But change is in the air, healthy change, change that will foster much-needed growth, renewal, and progress. The old ways are dying and none too soon!

Yet these worshippers of those bygone days will have none of it. They're afraid of what may come with change. So, they betake themselves from the tumultuous present into a past of nostalgic colors and fragrant aromas that existed nowhere but in their fevered imaginations, where it's as warm and cozy as a romanticized Shangri-La that protects them from life and its terrible mutability.

You, too, have a problem with this coming change, as vital as it is for progress. For if change does come, you, my friend, will go under! Your vested interests, your stocks and bonds, your tax havens, your off-shore accounts, your power and privileges, everything you've worked so hard for will be swept away and consigned to oblivion as was the horse-and-buggy with the advent of the automobile!

You and your kind will continue to prosper only if the present stays as it is, as you continue to plunder the national treasury, enjoy the perks of the princely, and live off the fat of the status quo, which your class has always rigged in its favor.

So, happy warrior that you are, you take up your sword of righteousness and venture forth to do battle to hold the line against the forces of change if you're not to lose everything which you and your class have unlawfully acquired since time out of mind, as your entitlements are engulfed by a tidal wave that will destroy your world forever!


So being the enterprising fellow that you are, you resolve to cast your lot with these ancestor-worshippers, to use and exploit them as pawns on your felonious chessboard. You reach out to them to champion their cause by whatever shady means of inveterate skullduggery your fertile wit can devise.

"Change is in the air," you solemnly intone, "and change is bad! New ideas are false and old ones are true, for how else could they have lasted for centuries? (As if old ideas survived because they were "true" and not because they were propped up by the Powerful with a vested interest in staying in power!)

"Old ideas have been accepted for centuries!" (As if no one had protested against them only to be killed and imprisoned, and all of it kept out of the history books, with no one the wiser!)

"Past generations embraced the old ideas and never complained." (As if they had any choice since, thanks to censorship, the old ideas were all they knew, with their suffering hallowed as "the will of the gods"!)

"Old ideas are true ideas!" (As if old ideas when young were false, and became true with age!)

"The past has authority which should never be questioned!" (As if the past wouldn't scorn us for making it into a roadblock to progress, instead of finding new answers!)

"We must never reject the old ideas!" (As if the past wouldn't want us to reject its answers and to think for ourselves as it had once done!)

"Truth never changes, so we must always be faithful to the tried-and-true ways!" (As if the past wouldn't be the first to change its mind if it knew what we know!)

"Old ideas are true because the past has taught them to us!" (As if the most important lesson the past hadn't taught us was independence - even from itself!)

"The past would want us to remain loyal to it!" (As if remaining loyal to the past weren't the supreme betrayal of the past, which would want us to remain loyal only to its spirit of rebellion by rejecting its answers for a different time!)

"The past has spoken for all ages to come!" (As if the Dead wished to bury the Living and rule from the grave!)

"Yes! Yes!" your followers rapturously affirm! You've told them what they've longed to hear. You're their hero, their savior, their jolly good fellow! They love you. They raise you on high and bear you about. They're now on the march, and such is their frenzy that change is soon stemmed. Your perks and privileges, your pomp and power, your shares and dividends - all safe! For the past would have it so!


Now, admittedly, such simple-mindedness won't work on more sophisticated audiences! They'd be shocked and insulted by such moronic appeals. The very idea that you could possibly think them capable of being duped by such imbecilities . . . well . . . never mind!

No, in cases like this, one must be doubly duplicitous. The club-wielding Neanderthal just wouldn't do with this clientele, which needs a more intelligent, a more progressive, a more nuanced appeal. So you pivot, reflect, and voilà, you've got it!

"It's not that I'm against change per se," you unctuously purr. "Truth to tell, I'm for change. We live, after all, in enlightened times, not the Dark Ages of old. Those benighted times are blessedly behind us forever.

"No, it's not change as such that we're all against, as I'm sure you'll agree, since we're all reasonable men and women in attendance tonight, in search of a new and better tomorrow. What we're against is mindless, chaotic, irresponsible change, change for the sake of change, change without continuity with the past!"

Ah, yes! Isn't that much better? Can't you see they're warming to you, sitting bolt upright as you inflame them with infectious conviction! They're in the palm of your hand and totally yours.


The secret, as always, is to have it both ways, both eating your cake and having it, too! What the right hand giveth, the left taketh away. Now you see it, now you don't! For "mindless" can mean whatever you want it to mean or, more to the point, whatever it is that threatens your interests!

It's the old flimflam where you can be for everything in principle, but nothing in practice as you position yourself in welcoming change -- as long as it's "healthy, legitimate, and responsible" change!

But, as you and I know, they can wait until Doomsday for change to occur. In the meantime, you and your co-conspirators, who have been running the show since time immemorial, will be doubling and tripling your Swiss bank accounts!

That's how you do it, how "change" is put forward to be later withdrawn! And all it takes is a magical word like "mindless" to undo all the good that might have brought change and prosperity, had you and your band of merry men not put yourselves first to rob from the poor and give to the rich.

So never be wary about using this trick! Not only will you get them to turn back the clock by remaining loyal to the past, but think they're progressive in doing so!