We should teach in our schools how people use tricks to make bad arguments appear to be good ones. This would be the first step to create a citizenry which is able to spot when the powerful - such as politicians, the media and advertisers - are tricking them. This would enable our children to lead happier lives and is an essential step to create a properly functioning democracy.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay about tricks used in arguments in 1830. He listed 37 different stratagems that people use before describing what he called the “Last Stratagem”.
The Last Stratagem is used by people who are desperate and have no better arguments to use. It is the stratagem that Grant Shapps used to counter the criticisms of Raquel Rolnik about the bedroom tax.
The Last Stratagem is “to become personal, insulting, rude…It consists in passing from the subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself, and in some way attacking his person…in becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. It is an appeal from the virtues of the intellect to the virtues of the body, or to mere animalism.”
Schopenhauer notes that that the Last Stratagem requires no great skill. “This is a very popular trick, because everyone is able to carry it into effect.”
Rolnik’s argument that the bedroom tax was causing severe and unjustifiable suffering to some of the most vulnerable in society was backed up by evidence. Shapps may have effectively destroyed it by using Schopenhauer’s Last Stratagem. He will be pleased that, by use of this trick, he has “won”.
Of course, the real losers will be the desperate people – many disabled, carers and children - whose plight Rolnik was highlighting.
If we did have a citizenry who had been taught to recognise Shapps’ trick for what it is, then he would not have been able to use it because it would have been met with widespread derision. He would have had to use proper arguments, such as some relevant facts.
It would be perfectly possible to teach our children to recognise when people – including the powerful – are tricking them. What is lacking is the political will to do so. Perhaps, the powerful do not want a citizenry able to spot their bad arguments?