Argumentative Assertion

January 26, 2021

Argument by Assertion: An informal fallacy whereby a proposition is enforced by assertion rather than any actual proof.

See Also: Argument by Repetition

I recently read an article about something I believe really important: systemic racism. It made me genuinely angry, though perhaps not in the way the author intended.

Wired: White Nationalism is Far Worse than a ‘Disease’

Throughout the article, the author iterates through several disease analogies, both comparing them to the spread of White Nationalistic Supremacy and explaining how each analogy was insufficient, mostly because the truth is actually far worse. Birth defects, infectious diseases, cancer… nothing compares to the evils of White Nationalism.

I grew uneasy as I read it. The author wasn’t exactly wrong, but neither were they right. Their argument seems to be that these metaphors need to be discarded because they’re not heinous enough to describe the evil white nationalism really is.

And… okay, I get that. But the viral metaphor is useful for describing how ideas spread, and that is useful for analyzing just how and why we’ve seen a resurgence of this particular form of viral ideology. Discarding any tool that might help you solve the problem seems unwise, even if that tool can’t accurately reflect the whole truth.

Half way through, after having compared and discarded several metaphors, the author makes this statement:

The reality of white nationalism is closer to the opposite: It is a well-oiled machine, driven by nefarious actors with very specific goals in mind. And in this way, white nationalism isn’t much like cancer at all. There are no innocent, guileless actors, guilty only of being short-sighted. The purveyors of white nationalism live by a wicked creed that explicitly dehumanizes others.

As far as I can tell, they’re claiming that anyone who’s involved, no matter in what form, cannot in any way be innocent, but must be “liv[ing] by a wicked creed that explicitly dehumanizes others.”

Having made this rather remarkable statement, they continue on as though it were true, using it as the assumed premise for the rest of the argument and, finally, at the end, as the premise for a call to war.

Yet there was not a single piece of evidence to support their claim. They simply assumed it was true.

It is a well-oiled machine, driven by nefarious actors with very specific goals in mind.

Really? Who? Because without evidence, without hard facts, this argument is nothing but assertions. It’s just propaganda.

I believe there is racism systemically built into our society, especially into our laws and how we enforce them 1. I believe there is racism embedded in our culture and in the very assumptions of our society. But articles like this undermine the truth and distract from the problem.

Do we really need to engage in a witch hunt for nefarious actors? Is that what will stamp out racism? Does the author believe it will go away if we just find all these “purveyors of white nationalism” and… what? Shame them? Jail them? Kill them?

What do you do with a person who intentionally “lives by a wicked creed that explicitly dehumanizes others?”

Or is this a continuation of the cycle of misinformation and finger pointing? How long will we endlessly blame everyone else instead of fixing the problem?

The problems in our society are going to take a lot of work, and this is a democracy, which means we really need to work together to fix this stuff. The more we point fingers, the more we engage in wild theories and unsubstantiated claims backed by inflammatory narratives that demonize vast swaths of the population, the longer we will remain fractured and broken.

  1. For instance, we’ve expanded our prison system at an unprecedented rate: One in 100 and filled them with black people: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs