In this article I’ll expose seven linguistic tricks people use to deceive you in person and online:
- Kafka trap
- Proof by verbosity
- Gish gallop
- Weasel words
- Thought-terminating cliché
The Kafka trap might also be called the SJW trap.
Author Eric Raymond coined the term Kafkatrapping in his 2010 article in which he presented a style of argument that is common today with SJW’s, but has it’s origins in The Trial a book written in 1915 by Franz Kafka.
In The Trial the protagonist is arrested and accused of serious crimes which are never specified. He receives no explanation or description of the charges, and his refusal to acknowledge that he must be guilty is what makes him guilty. The only way to stop his abuse is to admit that he is guilty.
What is the kafka trap?
In the kafka trap you are accused of being:
…and any attempt to argue, deny or defend yourself is seen as proof of guilt.
Denial is proof of guilt.
You’re guilty until proven innocent.
Any accusation of guilt is all that is needed to condemn you.
Eric Raymond laid out various models of kafkatraps in his 2010 article which I’ll share here.
Note: Kafkatrapping can be used against any perceived “ism” (racism, sexism, homophobia etc.) however I’ll simply use the terms racism and sexism interchangeably here in the interests of space.
“Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of racism, confirms that you are guilty of racism”
“Even if you do not feel yourself to be guilty of sexism, you are guilty because you have benefited from the sexist behavior of others in the system”
“Even if you do not feel yourself to be guilty of sexism, you are guilty because you have a privileged position in the sexist system”
“Skepticism about any particular anecdotal account of racism, or any attempt to deny that the particular anecdote implies a systemic problem in which you are one of the guilty parties, is itself sufficient to establish your guilt”
“Your insistence on applying rational skepticism in evaluating assertions of pervasive sexism itself demonstrates that you are sexist”
“The act of demanding a definition of racism that can be consequentially checked and falsified proves you are racist”
“The act of arguing against the theory of anti-racism/sexism demonstrates that you are either racist/sexist, or do not understand the theory of anti-racism/sexism, and your argument can therefore be dismissed as either corrupt or incompetent”
“Designated victims of sexism who question any part of the theory of sexism demonstrate by doing so that they are not authentic members of the victim class, so their experience can be discounted and their thoughts dismissed as internalized sexism”
Men’s rights activist Adam Kostakis has defined a ninth model of the kafka trap, Model J:
“Even if your innocence is proven in a court of law, this not only confirms your guilt; it also confirms the guilt of the legal system that found you innocent”
“You are now trapped in a circular and unfalsifiable argument; no one who is accused can be innocent because the structure of kafkatrapping precludes that possibility.” – Wendy McElroy
Just accept the ‘facts’:
- All men are rapists
- All white people are racist
- It’s impossible for a black person to be racist
- “Believe women” – or you’re a rape apologist
- Gender is a social construct
- White privilege
“Having shown how manipulative and psychologically abusive the kafkatrap is, it may seem almost superfluous to observe that it is logically fallacious as well. The particular species of fallacy is sometimes called “panchreston”, an argument from which anything can be deduced because it is not falsifiable. Notably, if the model A kafkatrap is true, the world is divided into two kinds of people: (a) those who admit they are guilty of thoughtcrime, and (b) those who are guilty of thoughtcrime because they will not admit to being guilty of thoughtcrime. No one can ever be innocent. The subject must be prevented from noticing that this logic convicts and impeaches the operator of the kafkatrap!” – Eric Raymond
How to deal with a kafka trap
If presented with a kafka trap don’t try to argue or deny it because your words will be twisted and used against you.
In fact, any attempt to argue, deny or defend yourself will be seen as proof of guilt, and SJW’s and trolls might say things like:
“Deny, Deny, Deny”
“There’s no smoke without fire”
“Me thinks thou dost protest too much”
My advice: Ignore it.
If possible: Put the shoe on the other foot and reverse the accusation. See how they like it.
“The kafkatrap is a form of argument that is so fallacious and manipulative that those subjected to it are entitled to reject it based entirely on the form of the argument, without reference to whatever particular sin or thoughtcrime is being alleged” – Eric Raymond
Proof by verbosity (aka “proof by intimidation”)
“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit” – W.C. Fields
Proof by verbosity (aka “proof by intimidation”) is an argument that is so convoluted, jargon-laden and unintelligible, that the audience is simply forced to accept it, or admit their ignorance, and the fact they can’t follow it and don’t understand it.
This style of argumentation is often used by experts, or at least wannabe experts with a good vocabulary. It’s purposely making your argument difficult to understand in an effort to intimidate people into accepting it, and no one can argue with you because they don’t understand your answers or what you’re really saying.
You can’t understand it, and it sounds smart due to all of the big words and technical jargon, and this person seems, or at least sounds like an expert (or is an actual authority or expert) and they seem so confident about it all, so it must be right… right?
Chris Langan is probably the best example of proof by verbosity (I’m not attacking Chris I like him) here is an example from his CTMU (Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe)
“In the Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe or CTMU, the set of all sets, and the real universe to which it corresponds, take the name (SCSPL) of the required extension of set theory. SCSPL, which stands for Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language, is just a totally intrinsic, i.e. completely self-contained, language that is comprehensively and coherently (self-distributively) self-descriptive, and can thus be model-theoretically identified as its own universe or referent domain. Theory and object go by the same name because unlike conventional ZF or NBG set theory, SCSPL hologically infuses sets and their elements with the distributed (syntactic, metalogical) component of the theoretical framework containing and governing them, namely SCSPL syntax itself, replacing ordinary set-theoretic objects with SCSPL syntactic operators.”
How to deal with proof by verbosity
If someone presents you with a proof by verbosity, ask them to simplify it and explain it to you in a way that a 5-year-old could understand.
If you are unsure if an argument is an attempted proof by verbosity ask yourself:
Is this argument designed to be understood?
Is it designed to be confusing and obfuscate?
Is it unnecessarily convoluted and unintelligible?
“This dictum is named after computer scientist C.A.R. Hoare, who said, “There are two methods in software design. One is to make the program so simple, there are obviously no errors. The other is to make it so complicated, there are no obvious errors.”
This applies to logical arguments as well: you can make the argument so simple that there are obviously no errors. Or you can make it so complicated that there are no obvious errors.” – Religionswiki
The Gish Gallop is a style of argumentation in which someone asserts as many different half-truths and falsehoods into as short of a timespan as possible, rapid fire machine gun style, knowing that their opponent has no real chance of debunking and refuting every single point presented in the limited time given.
The Gish Gallop is about the quantity, not the quality of arguments, it’s about overwhelming people with as many falsehoods and fallacies in the limited time available. It is named after Duane Gish the young Earth creationist who employed it.
Many Gish Gallop arguments attack straw men and refute points no one made, and are often full of PRATT’s (Point Refuted a Thousand Times) but that doesn’t stop intellectually dishonest debaters from presenting them as if they were sound and valid arguments however.
The Gish Gallop is frequently seen in online listicles and YouTube videos: “101 reasons why X” (However upon closer inspection, you may discover that each of the points made are weak or invalid and lack evidence and quickly fall apart upon scrutiny)
Why the Gish Gallop is difficult to deal with
- The Gish Gallop debating style seems impressive to the audience, simply because there seems to be so much evidence on your side (seemingly much more than your opponent has)
- It puts the opponent on the back foot because they either have to spend all of their time addressing the many fallacious arguments presented, or ignore them and make their own case, in which case you can accuse them of lacking counterarguments, being unable to refute your points etc.
- It takes longer to unpack and refute a fallacy or falsehood than it does to assert it, and it’s impossible for your opponent to counter and refute every point made in the limited amount of time allowed in a debate (In a debate an opponent might only have twelve minutes to refute 25+ falsehoods presented, an impossible task)
- Even if you counter some of the Gish Gallopers arguments they can say, “Yes, but what about…” (insert the 20+ untouched arguments you haven’t had time to address)
- To the uneducated or uninformed audience member unfamiliar with the arguments, it takes time to fact-check, debunk, refute etc. the Gish Gallopers points and most people are too intellectually lazy to put in the effort
On the spot fallacy
The Gish Galloper can also employ the on the spot fallacy:
“The on the spot fallacy (OTS) is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater is considered wrong (or even incapable of having an opinion) if they cannot recite specific data or technical minutiae on some topic. The fallacy asserts that one must be an expert on a topic in order to discuss anything related to it (and, at that, an expert with flawless memory)” – RationalWiki
How to counter the Gish Gallop
In a debate setting I recommend addressing the audience first and alerting them to the Gish Gallop technique, and to the fact that you simply don’t have time to respond to every single argument. You may only have 12 minutes in your rebuttal.
You can try to refute every single point made by a Gish Galloper online if you have the desire, time and energy. Otherwise you can select their best points for rebuttal, or the overall theme of their argument and try to counter those.
“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” – George Orwell, 1984
Doublespeak is ambiguous language used to deceive and mislead you. It is the exact opposite of plain speaking.
“Doublespeak is language which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It is language which makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unpleasant seem unattractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility; language which is at variance with its real or purported meaning. It is language which conceals or prevents thought.” – William Lutz, Doublespeak
Doublespeak is commonly used throughout the corporate world, in banking and finance, the legal system (“legalese”), the military, and of course by politicians to avoid answering questions without directly stating that they’re ignoring the question.
Perhaps it would be easier to understand Doublespeak if we heard some:
Former US President Bill Clinton using Doublespeak
A funny example of extreme political Doublespeak from Tampa governor Rick Scott
Doublespeak is used by politicians and the military to make war sound less gruesome:
“I reminded the soldiers and their families that the war in Iraq is really about peace.” – US President George W. Bush, April 2003
In 2014 Israeli military commanders used Doublespeak when they described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza as “mowing the lawn”.
The four main categories of Doublespeak
There are four main categories of Doublespeak:
- Deliberately ambiguous language used to deceive and mislead you
- Euphemisms (words or expressions substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something offensive, unpleasant, or embarrassing)
Examples of Doublespeak euphemisms:
- Adult entertainment = porn/sex shows/stripping
- Creative accounting = dishonest accounting methods used to cheat the tax department by exploiting loopholes and presenting figures in a misleadingly favorable light
- Downsizing/rightsizing = workers being laid off
- Revenue enhancement = tax increase
- Capital punishment = death penalty
- Collateral damage = unintended deaths and injuries of civilians during war
- Enhanced interrogation methods = torture
- Ethnic cleansing = genocide
- Freedom fighter = mercenaries and soldiers who are US allies fighting for US causes (if the same fighters were fighting for the other side they would be labelled “terrorists”)
- Friendly fire = when someone is accidentally shot, killed, or injured by someone from their own army
- Human trafficking = modern day slave trade (mostly women and child sex slaves)
- Peacekeeper = nuclear bomb
- Jargon When specialized language is used excessively by professionals (bankers, lawyers, politicians etc.) to confuse or obscure the subject matter to persons outside of the circle – such as clients, customers, voters etc. it becomes doublespeak
- Gobbledygook/bureaucratese When meanings are made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms in an attempt to overwhelm and confuse the intended audience
e.g. “It is a tricky problem to find the particular calibration in timing that would be appropriate to stem the acceleration in risk premiums created by falling incomes without prematurely aborting the decline in the inflation-generated risk premiums.” – Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman
The problem with Doublespeak as author William Lutz quite rightly points out:
“All who use language should be concerned whether statements and facts agree, whether language is, in Orwell’s words, “largely the defense of the indefensible” and whether language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
“Clear language is essential so that both parties understand what they are agreeing to. In any contract that you enter into, you have to understand what your obligations and rights are under the terms of that contract.”
“If a company writes a contract in such a way that consumers think they understand what their obligations are, but in reality don’t, they may agree to something they don’t understood, and ultimately cannot fulfill. When companies use anything other than straight-forward clear language to describe the terms of an offer, they’re not dealing honestly in the marketplace, they are setting up consumers to fail.”
How to deal with Doublespeak
If you hear someone being intentionally ambiguous and vague in their language, and/or if you feel that they’re using Doublespeak in order to deceive and mislead you, ask them to explain what they mean in clear and plain simple English.
Ask them to explain it to you as if you were a five year old.
Don’t let them hide behind $50 words and incomprehensible language.
Here is a good 7 minute video on Doublespeak with author William Lutz:
“Doublespeak is not a slip of the tongue or a mistaken use of language, it’s exactly the opposite. It is language used by people who are very intelligent, and very sophisticated in the use of language, and know that you can do an awful lot with language.” – William Lutz, Doublespeak
Weasel words (aka “appeal to anonymous authority)
Sometimes people try to introduce anonymous authorities into a conversation in order to make their arguments or claims sound more persuasive and valid than they really are.
Journalists frequently to do this and use “weasel words” to put people on the spot by saying things like:
“It’s been said that…”
“They say that…”
“People are saying…”
If anyone tries to use anonymous authorities against you to prove their point in an argument, you can simply ask them:
“Who said that?”
“Who are they?”
You need to do this because a lot of people talk shit, and are more than happy to lie to you, and to pull bullshit stats out of their ass in order to deceive and mislead you, and to persuade you to their way of thinking.
However when you ask them to backup their stats or verify their source they can’t do it.
You need to question any anonymous authority that is presented to you.
See also negative pregnant statements:
Negative pregnant statements
In response to the question: “Do you owe this person money?”
You might reply: “I do not owe this person $1, 000” (implying that you might owe them $500, $1500 or some other amount)
Watch out for any ambiguity in speech.
A thought terminating cliché is a lazy statement that is used to shut down a discussion or a debate, and to get you to stop thinking and stop asking questions. They’re commonly used by intellectually lazy and/or intellectually dishonest people, especially in cults, new-age, religious and spiritual circles when they don’t have a good answer to your question, or a valid counterargument to your point.
Thought terminating clichés
“It is what it is”
“That’s just your ego talking” (When asking a valid question, or challenging a Guru or Spiritual teacher)
“You think too much”
“I have a right to my opinion”
“That’s just your opinion”
“That’s just what you think”
“It’s common sense”
“Everyone knows that”
“Everything happens for a reason”
”Some things you just can’t explain”
“Life isn’t fair”
“Rules are rules”
“Why? Because I said so”
“I’m the parent, that’s why”
“You’ll understand when you get to my age”
“You can’t always get what you want”
“You win some, you lose some”
“That’s just wrong”
“You just don’t do that”
“Only God can judge”
“It’s all part of Gods plan”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways”
“Were you there?”
In an argument
“Get over it”
“Just forget it”
“Let it go”
“Who hurt you?”
“You just don’t get it”
“We will have to agree to disagree”
“To each his own”
“Don’t be silly”
“Don’t be stupid”
“Don’t be that guy”
“You’re being ridiculous”
“Who do you think you are?”
“Who are you to…”
“Just do it!”
“You never know until you try”
“You gotta do what you gotta do”
“We all have to do things we don’t like”
“We’ve already had this conversation”
“We’ve already been over this”
“The customer is always right”
“If you don’t like it, don’t buy it”
“If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one”
“It was his time”
Thought terminating clichés add nothing to the discussion, they’re simply an attempt to shut it down.
Let’s finish this article on deepities.
A deepity is a statement that sounds deep and profound, but is actually trivial or meaningless.
The term was coined by American philosopher Daniel Dennett, actually it was coined by the teenage daughter of one of his colleagues.
“A deepity is an apparently profound observation that is ambiguous. It has (at least) two readings and balances precariously between them. On one reading it is true but trivial, and on another reading it is false but would be earth-shattering if true. That’s a deepity.” – Daniel Dennett
“Love is just a word” (on one level that’s true, but you could say that about anything e.g. “death is just a word” “word is just a word” etc.)
“Everything happens for a reason”
“Beauty is only skin deep”
“Age is just a number”
Deepities are also known as “Pseudo-profound bullshit”.
There you go, seven linguistic tricks people use to deceive you:
- Kafka trap
- Proof by verbosity
- Gish gallop
- Weasel words
- Thought-terminating cliché