In giving my list of top ten dumb arguments, let me offer my sincerest apologies to David Letterman. After listing the arguments, let me comment briefly on each.
1. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
2. The IRS ought to be abolished and the tax code ought not to be anymore than three pages long.
3. "If I'm elected President, I will get Mexico to pay for a wall that will keep out all undesirables."
4. The U.S. tops the rest of the world with respect to all measures of importance.
5. Western civilization is superior in every respect to all other civilizations.
6. There should be a national registry of all Muslims.
7. Without exception, all government institutions are ineffective and bad.
8. Global warming is a hoax.
9. When it comes to vaccinating my children, I am a better judge of what's right than the medical and pharmaceutical establishment.
10. One does not need experience in foreign and domestic affairs in order to be President of the U.S.
1. The first outrageous assertion is based on the simple-minded belief that there are clear, easily identifiable, and persistent differences between "'good' and 'bad' guys." In a nation with over 300 million guns, how could we ever assure that the guns of the "good guys" would never fall into the hands of the "bad guys?" Oh, the "bad guys" only get their guns from the black market! More to the point, depending on the circumstances, isn't everyone, if only temporarily, capable of being a "bad guy?"
2. Were that the world was so simple such that complex issues could be handled by simple-minded proposals.
3. Were that all threats could be so easily identified and thereby contained. A wall of such magnitude is visible proof that those who need it are suffering from acute delusions and paranoia.
4. The fact is that the U.S. is the world leader only with respect financial performance. With regard to all other measure, we are in the middle, if not the bottom, of the pack. Compared to other countries, we are not the happiest, healthiest; we do not have the lowest infant mortality; we have among the highest income inequality, etc.
5. Such assertions are testimony to fact that far too many need to have their weak egos propped up. "Trumped up?"
6. Time and again, fear "Trumps" reason and acts against our best interests and ideals as a nation. ISIS will have "won" if we ever did such a horrible thing.
7. Simple-minded, black/white thinking. So private organizations are always better? GM, for one, never made any major, systematic mistakes that resulted in people being killed?
8. 97% of climate scientists are wrong? But then you're an expert in arcane matters!
9. "What medical school did you go to such that you know more than pediatricians?" Again, you're an expert in arcane matters!
10. Would you let someone operate on your brain without advanced medical training and experience? Why would we let someone operate on the "body politic" without advanced training and experience? Again, experts don't matter.
Notice that many of the propositions are based on splitting the world into "good guys, forces, institutions, civilizations, etc." versus "bad guys, etc." The process of splitting is due to some of the most archaic, primitive stages of human development.. Young children regularly split the world into good and bad guys, etc. The splits are not necessarily characteristic of the world itself.
In times of great change and stress, all of us revert to primitive modes of thinking. If we know this and take precautions, we can resist falling into primitive modes of thinking and duped by demagogues.
Notice further that many of the propositions are primitive attempts to deal with deep fears and threats to one's well-being, if not one's very existence. The Commander-In-Chief is as much the Therapist-In-Chief, the kindly uncle who can comfort us and assure us that everything is safe and well.
Beating back the forces of fear ignorance is a never-ending battle.
Ian I. Mitroff is a Senior Investigator in The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley. His most recent book is: Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments.