An Exercise In Polylogism
The term doublespeak was coined by George Orwell, the famous author of 1984 and Animal Farm. Doublespeak is the characterization of a self contradition that occurs in a single sentence. This phenomenon is frequently found in propaganda. The application of different classes of logics in propaganda is not new. The economist Ludwig von Mises examined this phenomenon, which he labelled polylogism.
Some time ago, I stumbled over a website run by a physician named Jan de Winter. Dr de Winter preaches the virtues of what he calls healthy living. Following all the dictates and utterings of this man would be completely impossible. No man can make head or tail out of it, although eating vegetables seems to be a persistant mantra. Have we heard that story before?
The website has sections on both smoking and drinking. Dr de Winter seems to have noted an interplay between smoking, drinking and lung cancer. By examining the texts carefully, we find a glaring example of polylogism. We shall take a look at it.
From the page about drinking we have:
"The rates of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in smoking drinkers, however, differ dramatically from those seen in non-drinking smokers; alcohol alone, therefore, may play the more significant role at this particular site. "
So Dr de Winter speculates that alcohol is the decisive factor in causation of lung cancer in smokers.
From the page about smoking we have:
"What is more, in countries where only a small proportion of women smoke, the effect of passive 'smoking' on lung cancer in women actually becomes more important than that of direct smoking."
That is a wonderful example of polylogism. Among smokers alcohol is the decisive factor in causation of lung cancer. Among non smokers it is the dilute smoke from other peoples cigarettes! This type of reasoning is pure nonsense.
If the decisive factor in lung cancer causation among smokers is alcohol consumption, then obviously alcohol consumption is also the decisive factor among nonsmokers. It cannot be otherwise.
The polylogism at play here is that one set of logics applies to the class of smokers and another set to the class of nonsmokers. It is beyond reason how a physician can write such self contradictive nonsense. What is he thinking about? Perhaps he has eaten too many vegetables. It has turned his thinking into a vegetative state of affairs. He needs to smoke a cigarette to clear up his muddled mind.