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Synthesis Essay

In Demagoguery and Democracy Patrica Roberts- Miller, advocates that demagogues — those who gain power by exploiting prejudice and refrain from rational argument — are evil and proposes plans of actions for what citizens can do to restore democracy. In Chapter 4, “How Demagoguery Works,” Roberts-Miller presents the characteristics of demagoguery: “the most important characteristic is the reduction of political questions to us versus them.” Social psychologists use the term “in-group favoritism.” These terms “in-groups” (us) “out-group” (them), which refer to “social groups.” Roberts-Miller then provides us with an example, “people will often reject a source as “biased” on the grounds that the author is a member of an out-group as though group membership is sufficient proof of bias (that’s called the “genetic fallacy”).” As you now know, genetic fallacy is an argument based on unsound reasoning; it is only accepted because of its origin. Additionally, Roberts-Miller also mentions, “We don’t realize we’re engaged in the genetic fallacy because it appeals to our (often incorrect) intuition that people like us (members of the in-group) are essentially trustworthy, and people like them (members of the out-group) are not.” With this in mind, Roberts-Miller, is stating that often times we are self-consciously unable to realize we are a part of the genetic fallacy because we choose to believe information from people within our “in-group” and ignore those in the “out-group”. People tend to believe those who are within their group because they relate to their ideology and values.

Also, on October 2018, The New York Times posted a podcast called The Business of Internet Outrage : a look at the rise and fall of a right-wing website and the imprint it left on our politics. Reported by Kevin Roose, it highlights the economics of a right wing facebook page titled “Mad World News”. Mad World News began on Facebook by Corey and Cristy Pebble a married couple living in Pennsylvania who were interested in voicing their conservative opinions. At the same time, they realized that by writing posts and articles about democratic elitists, they could be an immediate success story. During the interview, Cristy says, “the most reliable way to make a story grow is to make the audience angry.” The audience Cristy is referring to is the right wing conservatives who resonate with her memes and explicit posts because the opinions of the “out-group(democrats)” are not relevant to their “in-group” . This is an example that demonstrates “in-group favoritism” because people will often reject another person’s ideas due to the fact they do not belong within the same group: genetic fallacy. 

Dana L. Cloud’s third chapter from her book Reality Bites: Rhetoric and the Circulation of Truth Claims in U.S. Political examines how truth and reality are established in US political culture. The third chapter essentially, talks about how we must not rely on fact-checking nor the “absolute truth” because it focuses more on fact rather than the big picture; she argues for a rhetorical realism—the idea that communicators can bring knowledge from particular perspectives and experiences into an accurate form of common sense. Moreover, within the Chapter she has a subsection : Complexity of Falsehood. In this subsection, she mentions Marxist theorist Raymond Guess and his argument that “falsehood is not only an empirical misrepresentation” referring to simple lies. He also presents a new category called “genetic falsehood” in which “persuaders’ motives are suspect as warranting intentional mystification.” These persuaders mentioned, are people with varying power and perspectives who mediate truth claims, which can lead to inaccurate claims made by the persuader.  

In Cloud’s analysis, she presents this controversial issue that occured in 2015,when the Center for Medical Progress, an antiabortion organization, posted online several videos recorded in abortion clinics across California, Florida, and Texas. These videos were presumed “fake” by  an American newspaper with worldwide influence and readership: The New York Times, due to the fact they had been “altered and manipulated” to create such controversy. In relation to genetic falsehood, the implicit claim that the video demonstrates the treatment of fetal remains by the staff is reasonable, but is still used in a way to reach out to antiabortion audiences. This leads to genetic fallacy because whatever may have been accurate or inaccurate about the video, the fact that its “creator has an obscure agenda discredits it as false in the genetic sense”(56). In other words, the person who created these disturbing videos had bad intentions, furthermore, it becomes inaccurate as implied by the definition of genetic fallacy.  

In conclusion, genetic fallacy plays a role in the way we perceive other people’s ideas and identities. As mentioned above, Roberts-Miller presents the characteristics of demagoguery and its ability to divide people between us vs them. A real life example was Cory and Cristy Pebble because they were able to make a living off of their “in-group”. Cloud, presents this new idea of “genetic falsehood” where persuaders motives are used to create inaccurate statements and uses the CMP example to present her case. Nonetheless, all three sources use the same concept of genetic fallacy to prove how it works and why it is impacting American societies. 


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