Fallacies and Self-Help

This post will not be about fallacies committed by so many self-help gurus (for that, I highly recommend this podcast). Instead I want to share how learning about fallacies helped me get out of my mind-induced funk.

This morning, my mind seemed to be stuck on autoplay of the same self-pity song listing all those past “wrongs” that “other people did to me.” And I was having trouble getting through rationally. Pointing out that those are really indifferents in so many ways (it’s in the past, I can’t control others, it’s not what others do but how I react to it…) didn’t seem to help. I knew that I needed to somehow figure out how to reinsert the wedge of rationality between my mind’s claim to truth and reality – and I just couldn’t figure it out.

During my workout walk, I played around with the idea of trying out dancing to that song. This didn’t feel very attractive to me because I prefer to dance with music. And I didn’t know of any music that reflects what my mind tends to do: Repeat the same thing over and over again but sounding new and unique. (If you know of a piece like this, please share in the comments!)

Once home, I proceeded to lift weights, which I do while listening to podcasts. The episode on the fallacy fallacy shifted my mind off that song to figuring out whether I had committed this fallacy in arguments with my recent partner when trying to disavow him of his belief in conspiracy theories. (Side note: Don’t try that! It’s not worth your energy! Conspiracy theorists tend to have habits of mind that prevent rational arguments, something eluded to in this episode…). Then I just got hooked on the podcast series on fallacies, listening to one after the other (moving into making lunch…). The one on the false dichotomy (re)inserted the wedge without me even realizing it.

A false dichotomy occurs when someone presents a choice of this or that, ignoring any middle ground, nuance, or further alternatives. You are either for us or against us. A person either cares or doesn’t – and if they don’t care, I get hurt (throw in a bit of the oversimplification of the strawperson). All the sudden I saw how my mind kept falling into this – the inner critic’s arguments are full of fallacies! Of course, that does not mean they aren’t true (which is another question), however, seeing those fallacies gives me the distance to evaluate their truth.

I don’t know whether Stoics looked into fallacies – my guess is they did since logic is an important aspect of philosophy, I just haven’t learned enough about Stoicism yet. Either way, investigating an argument is part of living (more) rationally, something the Stoics advocate. What I learned today is that I can also apply my critical thinking skills to what my inner critic dishes out. Next time he gets me down, I hope to remember to outline the actual argument and see what’s going on. My guess is that there’s a conclusion like “nobody likes you; you’re not good enough; what’s wrong with you?” at the bottom of some rather shaky premises. So, in logic speak, his arguments are false and invalid.

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