Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Danger of Logical Fallacies

First, it was the Jesuits at St. Xavier who challenged me to ask "why is what your saying correct?".  Debate team further honed my ability to look at opposing arguments to better understand how to craft my response to their critiques of my position.  At the University of Cincinnati, I met people not only from different walks of life but also from other countries which taught me how to broaden my world view.  Courses in philosophy and history taught me to realize that the future rarely looks like the past.

The US Air Force spent 22 years sending me to various schools (intelligence applications, air-ground operations school, Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, Air War College) and various training seminars to learn about our past so that we would not make the same mistakes in the future.  Yeah, there are a lot of people responsible for teaching me to think and challenge what you think you know and to recognize when there is a logical fallacy.

Therefore, it comes as a bit of a disappointment that a US Army major has an article published that claims the Millennial Generation (or simply Millennials) are our Achilles Heel.  Yes, Millennials are digital adepts with different expectations than previous generations yet the Cavanaugh makes a surprising logical fallacy.  Namely, he condemns a newer generation mainly because it does not resemble the previous generations of recruits entering the military.

What is so surprising about his rather myopic view is he is writing about what it will take to win future wars, not past wars.  Wars up to and including the Vietnam War were manpower intensive despite increasing technological improvements.  Therefore having a large number of fit, disciplined and primarily male troops was a must.  However, conflicts since Desert Storm increasingly used technology not just to enhance troop performance but actually replace it.

In the First World War, so many troops died because generals were still trying to use Napoleonic tactics (long horizontal lines of soldiers charging one another) despite the innovation of the machine gun.  Even after encountering heavy losses due to machine gun emplacements, generals continued to hold fast to the old instead of coming up with new tactics.

Cavanaugh is guilty of similarly holding a newer generation to the same standard as his generation.  After all, his generation was prepared to deal with modern warfare by being physically fit, educated, disciplined and not dependent on technology so why shouldn't a younger generation?

However, are we preparing to fight the last war or the next war?  North Korea, Iran, China and Russia are our most likely opponents in any future conflict.  Out of those, only China can match our manufacturing capability but has thus far not been able to outmatch our military technology.  But a much better question is what do we think they even want to?

The digital world populated by the Millennials that Cavanaugh holds in such contempt is where the next battlefield will occur.  He correctly assesses that something like a cyber attack or massive electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) will cripple us and thus he feels will leave the technologically dependent millennials lost in the mayhem.

Of course if we stop using a strawman argument and actually think about the scenario, who do we think is developing those cyber weapons to attack us?  Most likely the very Millennials that Cavanaugh eschews!

Cavanaugh is not the only critic of Millennials by far and I'm not even really defending them.  My real point in this post is to show how logical fallacies can lead to seemingly expert opinions when in fact they are just regurgitating past tropes with nothing new to show for them.

Our political discourse has been reduced to nothing more than ad hominem arguments.  Rather than attacking a position, we hurl "Libtard" or "Trump Supporter" at each other.  We now view our news, celebrities, and issues strictly in an "us or them" mentality without regard to any merits of the other side.  Iran is an enemy because they are Muslim.  North Korea is an enemy because they have nuclear weapons.  China is an enemy because they are building bases outside their borders (know anyone else who does that?).  Russia is an enemy because it interfered with our elections (know anyone else who does that?). 

So the next time you find yourself about to enter into a Facebook or Twitter war, try to understand what the points are of the person you're pissed off at.  You just might find you have more in common than you realize and may, just may, be able to convince them to at least consider your point of view as well.