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Appeal To Ridicule

Appeal to Ridicule:

Also called:

  • Appeal To Mockery
  • The Horse Laugh
  • Reductio ad ridiculum

A simplistic fallacy in which it is suggested an argument is false by presenting it in a way in which it appears silly and/or trivial. This often dovetails into Strawman Fallacy or Appeal to Ignorance.

"Queen Alice is using what some may call a cruel and unusual tool to break the resistance of rebel prisoners. I bet many parents would agree! Some are being forced to listen to Barney & Friends sing the "I Love You" song. I think after an hour of that they’ll spill the beans, don’t you?"

The way it's been employed by US forces involved in anti-partisan campaigns is to lock the victim in a completely dark room and play it as loudly as possible below the point at which they will lose their hearing over time. The darkness is often spiced up with non-stop blinding flashes of light at (ir)regular intervals. The use of 'quiet rooms' (like the ones used in recording studios) is interesting, as (ir)regular bursts of not-quite-deafening music can be contrasted with deafening silencenote . It's done until they inevitably have a mental breakdown or, eventually, go insane. While the wording of the example above suggested just an hour, in practice months or even years aren't unheard of. In summation it's just as if not more painful than regular torture, removes the need for dedicated Torture Technicians, and leaves no trace on the victims so you can more easily deny having tortured them if anyone asks.

As this example illustrates, stating something in a way that makes it seem silly and/or trivial does not necessarily mean it is (just/only) silly and/or trivial.

This fallacy differs from reductio ad absurdum, a legitimate debating technique; there, it is demonstrated that an absurd conclusion naturally follows from the underlying logic of an opponent's argument, therefore showing the argument as invalid. However, an attempt at reductio ad absurdum that itself uses faulty reasoning can leave you with this.

Also, just because an argument uses ridicule does not mean it runs afoul of this trope. A person who delivers a withering, logically sound counterattack in a mocking, rude manner is being a jerk. If the argument is still sound, it stands regardless of how insulting the phrasing is.

In terms of tropes, this fallacy often coincides with Too Funny to Be Evil, where an evil character can use this fallacy to get a laugh out of the uneducated masses while dismissing the hero.


Examples:

  • The most common version is simply repeating your opponent's claim (or part of it) in a silly voice, or, on the internet, repeating it in block capitals with extra leetspeak (teh horrible grammar is optional).
  • Some would argue the use of pejorative nicknames for God or the very concept of a deity such as the Magic Sky Pixie qualifies as it is used by many to disprove God not by presenting evidence, but by rephrasing it in a way that sounds ridiculous. However, aesthetically similar arguments have been used as legitimate reductio ad absurdum on the principle "[X argument] for the existence of God works equally well for the existence of magic pixies, so if I accept one I must equally accept the other." The problem arises when someone skips that argument and goes straight to using the pejorative nickname.
  • Satire, when it is done sloppily.
  • Quoting an opposing argument or slogan sarcastically. Saying "Won't somebody think of the children!" sarcastically is often effective in shutting down any argument over whether something might in fact be harmful to children.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! uses many an Appeal To Ridicule when they believe the argument of their opposition would be obviously wrong to the audience. Since they used the same arrogant, condescending tone when making actual points, it fit in to the show.
  • Schlock Mercenary got a clear example of this (immediately followed by an example of where it goes once the more civilized discussion is successfully avoided):
    Captain Tagon: But the Three-Eff-Cee guy was actually making sense.
    Ennesby: That's why the people who disagree choose to mock his message rather than attack it point by point.
  • Basically the entire point of The Debaters, a comedy debate show on CBC radio
  • 9/11 truthers like to dismiss the official story by describing the hijackers as "some Arabs with box cutters". Because clearly only the white man is smart enough to pull off large-scale terrorist attacks.
  • Complaints about racism, sexism, etc. are frequently dismissed out of hand by dominant groups as Political Correctness Gone Mad.
  • Arguments against raising the minimum wage are often along the lines of "You want $10 an hour? Why not make it $100 an hour?" This can be done anytime numbers are involved, and is difficult to unpack in any way other than to call it out as a failed attempt at a Reductio ad Absurdum.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, during the episode First Contact, William Riker is given a superficial make-over to look like an non-human while reconnoitering a species on the verge of warp contact. In other words, the human is an alien amongst the (native) arkonians. He is wounded and a medical doctor confronts him about the biological differences and asks Riker point blank if he is an alien. Riker mocks the idea, saying it is more likely he is a weather balloon than an alien. The doctor recognizes the dodge immediately.
  • Sometimes, this trope is used to misrepresent a lawsuit as a Frivolous Lawsuit. For example, the infamous "Hot Coffee Case" was not frivolous; people think it was about someone who didn't "know" her coffee would be hot and/or handled it recklessly, when in fact McDonald's was serving their coffee hotter than safety standards and had been reprimanded for doing so several times before the lawsuit was even made. Even if you expect coffee to be hot, you don't expect to need treatment for third-degree burns on your genitals after spilling a little of it.

Looks like Appeal to Ridicule—and *is*

  • Any argument that the opponent's views are so ridiculous that they deserve only ridicule. Note that such a claim can be used to justify ridiculing views that are perfectly true.

Looks like Appeal to Ridicule—and *is not*

  • When an argument or counterargument is presented with some ridicule thrown in for good measure. The validity of the argument is independent of how courteously (or not) it was delivered. For example, Bob says, "I could be a professional basketball player." Alice says, "You? Don't make me laugh. You're a lazy, overweight slob who doesn't exercise and has no discipline for taking care of your body. You're much too old, less than five feet tall, clumsy, and blind as a bat. You're too arrogant to listen to coaches and too lazy to practice. And I don't think you've done anything athletic in your life." If Alice is telling the truth, her arguments for why Bob could not be a professional basketball player are valid, even if she is ridiculing him.
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