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TRUMP: There are a lot of people think that masks are not good.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Who are those people?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you who those people are … waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. They’re playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good.
The concept of a mask is good, but it also does … you’re constantly touching it, you’re touching your face, you’re touching plates. There are people that don’t think masks are good.“Trump’s ABC News town hall: Full transcript”
If you ever want a textbook example of what “begging the question” really means (because it doesn’t mean what you think it does), here you go:
We ask how Beethoven’s symphony was transformed from a symbol of triumph and freedom into a symbol of exclusion, elitism, and gatekeeping — everything we love to hate about classical music today. How did the meaning of this symphony get so twisted?“How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music” (Vox)
“Begging the question” is the most commonly misused rhetorical phrase in the English-speaking world. It does NOT mean asking for an underlying question, and anytime I hear someone say, “Well that begs the question, why does blah blah blah?”, I die a little inside.
Begging the question is the assertion of a made-up premise that validates the “question” you then proceed to ask and answer.
So when Vox writes an insane article answering the question “How did the meaning of this symphony get so twisted?”, they first claim by assertion that, in fact, the meaning of Beethoven’s Fifth has been twisted. THAT is begging the question.
The go-to move by sophist demagogues like Vox and Trump to support a made-up premise is to claim that “many people” are asserting this made-up premise.
Why do they do this? Because it works.
Claiming that “many people” believe that Beethoven’s Fifth is a symbol of exclusion is the verbal equivalent of a sitcom laugh track. In both cases, it’s the creation of an artificial audience for the real-life audience to observe, an artificial audience that cues the real-life audience to accept the made-up assertion. In the case of a sitcom, the made-up assertion might be that Joey and Chandler’s hijinks with Monica and Rachel are funny. In the case of modern politics, the made-up assertion might be that wearing masks is bad for you. The process to get you to laugh/believe is exactly the same.
Seriously, try to watch Friends without a laugh track (do a quick Google search, there are a lot of these, like here). What you thought was a funny show becomes … definitely NOT funny and more than a little frightening.
Now try to read a Trump tweet or a Vox article and substitute “I think” for “many people are saying”. What you thought was a somewhat-questionable-but-okay-I guess statement becomes … definitely NOT okay and more than a little frightening.
If there’s one thing you get from Epsilon Theory, it’s this: we human beings are biologically hard-wired to respond positively to a positively-responding crowd, and every high-functioning sociopath in Washington and Wall Street and Hollywood and Silicon Valley and every other concentration of political or economic power both knows our biological weakness and uses this biological weakness against us.
Once you start looking for these artificial audiences with their artificial cues, you will see them everywhere.
This is Fiat World, where the self-serving opinions and made-up assertions of the powerful are presented to us as fact, where “many people say” that we must vote for ridiculous candidates to be a good Republican or a good Democrat, where “many people say” that we must buy ridiculous securities to be a good investor, where “many people say” that we must borrow ridiculous sums to be a good parent or a good spouse or a good American.
How do we escape Fiat World? We can’t. Sorry.
How do we survive Fiat World? Clear eyes to see their sophistry. Full hearts to reject it.