An Appeal To The Masses is one of the laziest, weak minded, and philosophically revealing fallacies one can engage in. In short, this is the form of such an argument:
Conclusion X is true because everyone (or a majority of people) believes it.
That’s all there is to it. It simply asks you to believe a conclusion because everyone else does. To this I ask the classic question: If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you? That’s what we’re dealing with here, a childish immature mentality – and it just gets much uglier as adults adhere to it.
This fallacy is also known as an Appeal To Belief, Argumentum Ad Populum, Argument By Consensus, and Appeal to Majority. It’s very close to an Appeal To Authority – but the authority in this case happens to be a large group of people – and rather than the authority figure having some special knowledge which is unknown or unknowable to us and our puny minds, the authority is simply the populace, and they somehow have the power to democratically establish facts!
In the great addiction debate, the fallacy is often used like so:
Everyone knows addiction is a disease – why don’t you just shut up and accept it.
That’s pretty simple. It’s also used more specifically in regard to 12-step methods of recovery:
The 12-Steps are the best (or often “only”) way to recover from addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous works for X millions of people, it’s in X number of countries, and is used by every treatment center.
Big deal. At one time, most doctors believed that bloodletting was a great medical treatment for any condition. Most everyone believed the earth was flat, and that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Just because a particular belief is the norm or in wide usage doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true. Scientific facts are not established by consensus – they’re established by the presentation of evidence and logical arguments based on that evidence. Just because I could get everyone to believe the Earth is flat doesn’t make it so.
Just like the Appeal To Authority, the Appeal To The Masses is particularly attractive to those with low self-esteem and loads of self-doubt. People who put more weight on acceptance from others, and view others’ thoughts and opinions as more valuable than their own, are likely to both fall for, and end up using Appeals To The Masses – and more likely to go for a specific form of it:
The Bandwagon Fallacy
The Bandwagon Fallacy (aka The Appeal To Popularity) takes this basic form:
Belief Y is popular – therefore it’s correct.
Such an argument is targeted at your most primitive fears – that you won’t fit in. “Why do you have to be the guy who ruins the party by bringing facts into the equation? Just go along with our irrationality – we don’t necessarily fully believe the conclusion, but we think it’s good, and by the way, we’re too lazy to check its validity.”
Usually, I witness people in the recovery culture chastising people about the importance of accepting the disease concept, but occasionally I’ve witnessed a strange mind-game that resembles the previous paragraph. When the in-crowd of steppers are discussing the disease issue with someone who’s on the verge of busting the myth with some truly critical thinking – they start saying the following points:
- We don’t mean that it’s a literal disease, it’s a disease of the mind.
- It’s just a disease of the spirit – you get that, right?
- We just meant it’s like a disease, not literally a disease – and that helps a lot of people, so it’s a good thing
- Its dis-ease, because you’re not at ease. That makes sense right? Be cool about it. It’s not bad.
- It just helps people make sense of things.
- AA has no opinion on the disease concept, that’s an “outside issue” – but it helps a lot of people to see it as a disease, so it’s alright to believe it.
This is a strange phenomenon, but it’s the application of a roundabout social pressure to believe the disease conclusion. They offer up several different interpretations of the significance of the term “disease” within the recovery culture, express equal approval for each others’ vastly different conceptions, and then somehow endorse the disease belief because it includes all of these (which may be the use of an anti-concept), and attempt to put the critical party in the position of feeling “uncool” and “close-minded” if he stands by the real meaning of disease and judges the concept’s applicability to substance use. They’re essentially saying “we all think it’s a good idea, and you should too – and stop asking so many questions. It’s cool to just accept it and not think about it. You don’t wanna be uncool, do you?”
The difference between the Appeal To The Masses and The Bandwagon Fallacy (Appeal To Popularity), is that the former says everyone else “believes” therefore it’s true – while the latter says everyone “approves” or that the view is “popular” and therefore to be accepted as probably true – “hey jump on the bandwagon with us, it’s cool up here, we’re all easygoing and into it, and we’re not gonna try so hard (because trying is uncool) to be black-and-white thinkers by determining the truth or falsity or even a stable definition of this particular belief (the disease model).
It doesn’t matter whether everyone believes the earth is flat – if you know it’s true, stick to your guns – you’ll discover the new world, and be much cooler in the long run.