It’s fallacy exploration time again and today we’re going to tackle the No True Scotsman (“NTS”) fallacy. Generally, it occurs when a member of a group attempts to disassociate herself from the actions of a fellow group member by claiming that the other group member wasn’t ever really a part of the group. Basically it means that a person re-defines the group to exclude the “undesirable” actor leaving themselves and their precious narrative free from consequences.
The most common usage of the NTS fallacy is a Republican deeming a fellow republican to be a “RINO”, Republican in name only. Another common usage is the saying, “Conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed.” Here are some quotes from a serial abuser of the fallacy:
“Republicans lost last night but conservatism did not, and that is, to me, one of the fundamental elements of last night’s results. Conservatism did not lose; Republicans lost last night.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/8/2006
“Conservatism did not lose last night. Conservative was not on the ballot.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/5/2008
“Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/7/2012
I use El Rushbo as an example because it is my belief that the epistemic closure of conservatives in general as enabled by their preferred media does not allow conservatives to honestly and objectively analyze or understand why conservative ideas sometimes fail. I understand the incentive for the conservative media to abuse this fallacy. They are invested in a narrative and gain financially by doing so. They do not have a duty to accurately inform you contra their narrative. The rank and file conservative has a different incentive. They just don’t want to believe what their lying eyes and ears are telling them. I get this as well. It’s not enjoyable to be wrong. However, the lazy NTS fallacy severely diminishes your ability to be “right” going forward (if that’s something you care about). Would you run your business or family this way? In my business if there is a mistake or outcome that we don’t like, we perform a root-cause analysis. We don’t make up plausible excuses that conform to our narrative and then quit investigating.
There is no ideology or belief that is correct or “right” every single time. People that have that sort of expectation or belief have to delude themselves to maintain their narrative. When you see people use the NTS fallacy, you should be (rightly) skeptical of their motives. They have crafted what they think is an unassailable position. They are just aping their media sources/heroes by painting themselves in a corner and lashing out/playing defense. That demonstrates someone arguing in bad faith and they should be roundly mocked. Why? Because it is very likely that they would have cheered the actions that they are decrying if they produced results that furthered their narrative.