In the summer of 2005 I attended the annual district assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses here in Edmonton, Alberta. Darcy Harris gave a talk entitled, "Do Not Follow Artfully Contrived Stories". I made notes of this talk, which provides many examples of logical fallacies and manipulative language. I analysed this talk to practice spotting the ways I was being manipulated in to a particular way of action or thinking. I hate being manipulated. I do this type of analysis once in a while to sharpen my skills in discernment, and I habitually apply these principles when reading a Watchtower article.
Here's a link to my analysis
An unfortunate spinoff to my newly sharpened critical skills is I can't help analysing every appeal or call to action, including my poor pastor's sermons. Appeals to emotion don't work very well on me any more.
General comments from the talk,
It is ironic that a talk designed to warn the hearers away from propaganda is an excellent case study on how to manipulate an audience using strawman arguments, targetting and associating unlike groups as being dangerous, vague threats, and appeal to emotion. Certain words and phrases are repeated, "artfully contrived stories" and "propaganda". There are no specific guidelines given in the entire talk, however, on how to spot the propaganda. Instead, Higher Education, the Media, the Internet and Pornography are all lumped together as being under Satan's influence. Though not specifically mentioned, I believe this talk is priming the listeners to ignore critical information about the society. They are specifically warned away from from the Universities (possibly because of Critical Thinking courses), and the Internet (open and free exchange of information), without providing any evidence that these places are hotbeds for propaganda.Context:
How do Jehovah's Witnesses make their arguments sound so convincing? Are they using logical fallacies and manipulative techniques to draw the audience and the reader to a desired course of action? None of us want to think that we are robots or puppets. Can you learn these techniques of manipulation?
Lots of other organizations and groups use manipulative techniques to influence their audience. We see an average of twelve commercials per television show. Not all of these sales attempts are sinister. I like milk, and I buy a new car every four years or so. Nevertheless, it is helpful to understand how these groups manage to influence you in a particular direction, so that you are not unduly influenced, and you maintain your autonomy.Problem:
You may be witnessing someone being sucked in to the Jehovah's Witness arguments. Are they being "brainwashed", and if so, how is it being accomplished? You may be worried that you too may be drawn in to the JW thinking, against your will. When you understand how language is used to guide people in to a certain course of action, you will be able to defend, or inoculate yourself, against it's effects.Forces:
Jehovah's Witnesses talks and literature use a predictable pattern of logical fallacies and manipulative language.
A person deep in Cognitive Dissonance is desperate for any reason to maintain their pattern of behavior. You may see some creative reasoning an excuses to defend their choices.Elders
, too, are experienced in drawing congregation members to a certain course of action.
The study leader will have warned their study partner that Satan and "worldly people' will be opposed to their newly discovered spirituality. You may not be able to defend yourself against what is said about you in your absence.Essence of the Solution:
Take time to learn cricial thinking skills, including learning to spot Logical Fallacies
. By learning how arguments are designed to manipulate the audience in to believing something that is illogical, you inoculate yourself against the argument. You are then free to choose to follow or to walk away from their chosen path for you. More about the Solution:
You can practice locating logical fallacies by taking a section of Watchtower writing. You don't have to do the whole article at once. Take a small section of the article and analyse that.
1. First of all, read the article for key words or phrases.
Can you spot the manipulative language? (underline words or phrases like "should", "a reasonable person would" or "how do you feel"..with answer provided
Watch for words like "likely", "evidently". It means that the WTS is speculating and adding to the bible account.
Is the "carrot" mentioned (everlasting life on earth)?
Are code words and phrases used that have unique meaning for the JW- such as "True Christian" (only JW's), and "Conscience Matter" (an issue the JW must be careful to follow the direction of the Watchtower Society).
2. Are there any Logical Fallacies
? Learn to spot illogical arguments. Here are some illogical arguments often seen in Watchtower articles:Straw Man
- an extreme example is given first and defeated. Then the article goes on to dismiss milder examples. For instance, an extreme example of bad reporting by the media is given, quickly followed by a statement that "media feed us lies".Bait and Switch
- the article starts out with a generally accepted religious principle, "Obey Christ" and ends with "Obey Jehovah's Organization."
3. Does the topic hint at the issues worrying the Watchtower Society (for instance, constant encouragement to settle offences may mean that this is a big issue for the organization)?
4. Look up all quotes. If they do not reference the author, try doing a google
google search for the source. Are authors and bible verses quoted in context? Were they represented accurately?
Do other translations give another slant to the meaning?
Online searchable bibles:www.blueletterbible.orgwww.biblegateway.com
What was left out between the three dots?
5. Is there a setup for Cognitive Dissonance, for instance, mention of ambiguous hazard or ambiguous reward, so the reader will "fill in the blanks"? Resulting Context:
Logical arguments can only take you so far. People have many reasons for doing what they do, many of them emotional. That's OK, recognize the forces that you and your loved ones are drawn by, and adapt to them.
Many people join the Jehovah's Witnesses for emotional reasons. Trying to point out the logical fallacies may push your listener in to increasingly illogical reasons for remaining. I explain these forces in my article on Cognitive Dissonance. You may need to address the emotional reasons that a JW is drawn to the Witnesses before you tackle the logical fallacies.
The JW's in turn accuse opposers of using "Artfully Contrived Stories" to draw converts away from the "truth". In the end, you will have to make up yuour own mind on who is trying to deceive and why.
In the head of the moment an experienced debater may sound more convincing than your best argument. You may have to be content to concede for the time being. Take a few days to mull over your opponent's arguments to find the holes. Known Uses:
A side benefit to this new skill is that you will become a logical thinker not easily taken in by con artists, phone solicitors, activists, Multi-Level Marketing schemes, or politicians.