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The fallacies that helped start the Ferguson riots

Unrest is often built upon faulty thinking.
Unrest is often built upon faulty thinking. Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

The Ferguson riots have many causes, not the least of which is one overlooked by many Americans: fallacious thinking. How one thinks can and does affect how one acts.

And if enough thinking is rooted in wrong or lazy reasoning mixed with strong emotions and the ability to strike out, then danger is close at hand. The reasoning mind is a powerful tool to justify the right and condemn the wicked. But poor reasoning is equally powerfully and dangerous.

This is not the academic musings of a teacher of critical thinking bent on finding examples for his upcoming class; this is reality.

Consider the situation at Ferguson. Some protesters think that white police officers will always label young black men as dangerous thugs. Some police officers think that young black men are dangerous thugs. And if enough of this thinking is taken seriously, then serious problems can foment—like a shooting or a riot.

Here are some errors in logical reasoning as exemplified in various news sources. They do not represent all the parties in dispute but have serious effects nonetheless:

Hasty Generalization: Drawing a conclusion about a group of people, things or ideas based upon insufficient evidence.

Thinking that all white officers are prejudice and will shoot a young black man on sight is a hasty generalization. Thinking that all young black men are dangerous is another hasty generalization. This type of thinking has been one root-problem with racists since its inception.

Circular Reasoning (or begging the question): Using a conclusion of an argument as evidence for the argument.

Claiming that justice has not been served when no evidence other than the assertion is circular reasoning. Other evidence must be presented. That is why there are judges and investigation of facts and arguments.

Ad Hominem ("against the man"): Attacking a person's characteristics instead of his argument.

Asserting that the color of one's skin is enough to be guilty regardless of the facts or arguments is an ad hominem. In a post-modern world, however, this may no longer be the case for some. Thus, the problem of race-baiting.

Unfortunately, critical thinking skills are not required in the vast majority of schools in America. And although such skills would not eliminate hate, it would be an excellent start to undermine the false rationales uttered by those who wish to justify their anger and hate.