Today’s Bunker Logic and Reason lesson is the hilariously named Dicto Simpliciter Logical Fallacy, which is more reasonably known as the SWEEPING GENERALIZATION FALLACY.
This one is a fallacy you will see just about everywhere on social media every day.
First, let me say that, despite what you’ve been told, all generalizations are not fallacious. Generalizing is an important tool for quick and accurate communications and only in the last decade or so have really stupid people started treating all generalizations as improper and erroneous (to the detriment of the ability to communicate facts and truth.) I would even say that the problem of trying to eliminate generalizations is even worse than the Sweeping Generalization Fallacy which is more of just a nuisance. Proper generalizations are (get this – it’s in the word) things that are GENERALLY TRUE of a group or population. For example: Americans are fat. Once upon a time you could say this and people automatically assumed that you knew and acknowledged that not ALL Americans are fat, and that you were offering a general fact about the population on average. Now you can’t say something like this on social media without a thousand-thousand mental midgets bombarding the comment section with anecdotal claims (Well, I’M NOT,) or accusations of broad brush-stroking or something else equally stupid (like Fat Shaming.) I’ll leave off of this for a bit, but expect me to re-address this one in the future.
So, generalizations are generally true claims about a group or population. A “sweeping generalization” is the attempt to apply those generally true claims to any individual or sub-group within the group without offering any evidence of the claim. For example:
Americans are fat. Minnesotans are Americans, so all Minnesotans are fat.
This syllogism fails on several fronts. The first phrase does not say “all,” and cannot reasonably be assumed to mean “all.” The second phrase is generally true (not all Minnesotans are Americans, but generally most Minnesotans are Americans. The third phrase adds the “all” and makes it false.
How is this fallacy used most often today? If you’ll remember my post on Brin Bundling – (the practice of packaging a bunch of generalizations about a population together and then hanging them on a person or group without any evidence that any of the general claims apply to any individual or the group,) this sweeping generalization fallacy works in a similar way:
“I don’t know anything about Cardi B because hip-hop and rap went downhill after Public Enemy and has sucked since 1990 or so.”
“I’m not interested in meeting you friend Gary because you said he’s a Democrat and they all want to force vaccinations on us.”
“Cory is from Oklahoma so I’m guessing his dad is also his uncle.”
While generalizing is a fair practice when communicating (so long as the generalization is generally true) when generalizations are used universally to enforce behavior on people groups when individual exceptions are not also recognized, it can be used as a tool of terror or control.
“The unv@cksed are spreading the dise@se so they should not be allowed any postal service or access to government services.”
In this case we see a generalization (Yes, it is true that the thing is being spread among this people group, but not everyone in this people group is (or can) spread it,) that is also true of the contrasting people group (the v@cksed also spread it). This sweeping (and false) generalization is being used illogically and unreasonably by some people to demand unreasonable and unconstitutional things.
The solution to sweeping generalizations is FIRST: to learn the difference between a generalization (which can be truthful and accurate) and a sweeping generalization (one which “sweeps up” those for whom the generalization is not true) and treats them as if the generalization is true of them as well. Once the sweeping generalization is identified, it should be called out and corrected.
An Improper Correction (often made by stupid people):
Claim: Americans are Fat. (True)
Response: Well, I’m not fat and no one in my family is!
Claimant: No one said you were, you moron. (True)
A Proper Correction:
Claim: Since all guns are for killing, and all killers want guns, we should ban guns to keep killers from killing. (Fallacious)
Response: You, sir, are an idiot – specifically you. (True)
Thank you for attending my class.