How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies Part III

10-24-2021Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Peace and Joy in Our Lord Jesus Christ!

The third tactic I want to address is known as argumentum ad populum or the "appeal to the people." This tactic uses emotion and hyperbole to appeal to the feelings of an audience and bring them to his or her side without demonstrating the validity of his or her position.

This way of arguing a point assumes that an idea is true if it's popular. To assume that just because something “is popular then it must be true” is familiar to most of us. For example, you may want to buy something and so you do some research. You may look at the ratings based on what others are saying about it. If it has a “five-star review” you may be tempted to purchase it. The item that you are purchasing might be popular but there is no guarantee that what you receive is going to be what was depicted in the reviews. Just because it is popular and receives great reviews by lots of folks does not guarantee it is going to work.

This sort of arguing is especially important to understand when it comes to reaching the truth. Determining the truth based on collective enthusiasm does not make something true. We must not determine the truth based on popular sentiment. The temptation is to say: “Well all these people can't be wrong.” There was a picture from Nazi Germany that shows hundreds of people perform performing a Nazi salute. There is one guy in the middle of the picture with his arms firmly folded across his chest. It was clear that he was not going to give the Nazi salute. Obviously, he is standing up against the horrors of Hitler's regime. That took courage for him to go against the crowd but of course he was correct in not joining the Nazi salute just because that was the popular thing to do.

So popular sentiment is not a good reason to support a conclusion. Yet billions of dollars are spent on advertisements selling a brand often based on fake reviews trying to convince the consumer that “you must have this item because everybody else thinks it is great”. Similarly, you don't take a poll to figure out what is objectively true - even polls are generally described as “opinion” polls. Never mistake an opinion poll as a way of determining actual truth.

Bottom line: just because something is popular, it doesn't guarantee that it is true. What does guarantee the truth? Objective truth guarantees the truth. Not my truth or your truth but rather the Truth – God’s truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Objective reality and not popular opinion guarantees the truth. Just saying, “Oh well, a bunch of people believe it so it must be true.” If 90% of people believe the earth is flat, would that make it flat? The idea that you can just take a poll, or you can go with the crowd and the crowd will inevitably lead you to the truth is absurd.

To all three types of arguing, “the appeal to the stick” (argumentum ad baculum) which is the threat of force or the argumentum ad hominem - "arguing to the man," which it consists of attacking a person or the organization instead of the person’s moral or logical position, or the argumentum ad populum - "appeal to the people” which appeals to feelings and not facts all short circuit the reasoning process. Often these sorts of arguments attack the person when it should be attacking the argument. Once you can identify the sort of way people are framing their position, the better you will be positioned to take a stand rather than be canceled by those who would rather not hear or even discuss the truth.