Episode 13: No True Post Holes

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Spring is turning to summer and the farm work is piling up.  The one general truth about living on a farm (or small farm in my case, quite small in fact, but you didn’t hear that from me) is that you will never have a shortage of jobs to do.  If you aren’t putting in something new, you’re fixing something old.  It’s just how life goes.  One of the jobs I’ve had staring at me (and staring like one of those pictures whose eyes seem to follow you!) is to re-set some fence posts.  Too many years of freeze thaw and heavy gates have them working pretty poorly now.

As time has marched on relentlessly for me (but at least it used a catchy drum beat, real up tempo), the thought of pulling posts and digging the holes clean again by hand with a shovel, tamping bar and post hole digger just doesn’t enthuse me much anymore.  My back starts telling me to rent some equipment and make the job go a bit easier and it’s already got the number of the local equipment rental place (yes, my back has its own phone).  Then that kindly old neighbor stops by and just has to tell me that no person that calls themselves a farm owner needs to use those newfangled tools and if you do then you aren’t a much of a farmer.

Now just hold on a second here.  Something doesn’t smell right, and not because I’m standing next to the manure pile.  I say look, we’ve got a barn and we raise chickens, turkey and sheep.  We’ve got a pasture.  We can talk about grazing cycles, feed to weight conversions, veterinary needs, the dangers of rabbititis, protecting livestock from wererats and all kinds of crazy farm stuff.  But, if I don’t dig a hole by hand then for some weird reason I’m not a farmer?  And he responds with “Well, no true farmer would use that equipment.”

Aha!  I know what’s going on here.  I’m not a true Scotsman, apparently.  And you say “Wait, did you just jump from farming to Scotsmen?  What the heck?  How about some warning!”.  Okay, let me explain.  This is the No True Scotsman fallacy and it’s a case where there is a desire to protect a generalization by making it more pure or true.  So, while I may fit the generalization of “farmer” my well-meaning neighbor (not a real person, one of my actual neighbors owns a bull dozer!) wants to add more restrictions by saying “true farmer” to keep some people out of the category.

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This fallacy is amazing commonplace.  I’ve taken to calling it the “You’re not a real blank fallacy” because it’s everywhere.  I like playing video games to unwind but since I didn’t play “Smash All The Things 3 : The Smashening” on its “ultra-hardcore die in real life if you die in the game” difficulty mode then, well, I’m not a real gamer.  The fact that I’ve been playing videos games longer than some other gamers have been alive (my first game was Pong) doesn’t factor in.  I could have made the counter argument that others are not real gamers if they didn’t struggle to get Doom multiplayer to run on a 56K modem – but if I did I would have committed the same fallacy.   The simple truth is that a gamer is someone who plays games.  Adding other restrictions is just a means to add a level of purity or elitism.

These examples show that this fallacy, depending on the use, can either include or exclude people from a group.  I’m a farmer, but if I use a certain piece of equipment then I’m not a true farmer.  Real gamers only play on the hardest difficulty so if you don’t play that way, then you aren’t a real gamer.  Why is this fallacy used?  Well, that’s often to create a level of elitism or purity around some generalized category.  Farmer and gamer are both quite general.  By saying true farmer or real gamer there is a desire to control the membership and maintain some level of purity.  At it’s worst, this is used to silence voices such as “Only a true such and such has any right to speak about this subject” when in fact many people might have useful and pertinent thoughts and opinions but they are not what some groups want to hear.

I imagine only a true critical thinker will really get this article (see what I did there!).  Keep your ears and eyes open and I’m sure you’ll notice this fallacy everywhere.  Now you’ll have an idea why people use it and hopefully how to avoid it yourself (it’s almost colloquial at this point).  People may not intend harm, but it’s a good idea to stay on the lookout.  For now, I think I should dig by hand because I also really need the exercise too.