Common Fallacies in “A Song of Ice and Fire” Blogs

Strawman

This is the tactic of writing up your opposition’s argument in such a way that you can knock it down easily such as “They think GRRM doesn’t follow any rules, that he just wants to burn it all down,” when what they actually argued was: “GRRM doesn’t follow your rules.” This kind of tactic is a waste of everybody’s time as the arguments go by one another in the night without interacting. If you want an actual conversation, respect your opponent, take their arguments seriously, and engage honestly.

 

Ad Hominem

This is a frequent rant on a variety of blogs. Instead of civilly analyzing and conversing, it is just a fulmination of insults, labels, and personal attacks in the general direction of the opposing side. It is fine if people want to vent their angst, emotions, hormones, and dissatisfaction because the world does not conform to their expectations or desires, but it is not useful for those who want to engage in inquiry. On other occasions, a perfectly rational, incisive arguer will simply throw in a gif or video that extends a middle finger to their opponent. This too is schoolyard garbage. Productive conversations require civility. If one cannot manage that, it is just spew.

 

Category Mistake

This is a bit more sophisticated, but it consists of the following steps: The proponent sets up a category of writing, thought, and perspective with a set of rules. They then assert that “A Song of Ice and Fire” fits into that category. Voila! Therefore, “A Song of Ice and Fire” must follow those rules. There are several things wrong with this reasoning. First, one cannot make up a set of rules for a category simply because the vast majority of what you have read conforms to those rules. You are not an official. You have to prove that a) the category exists; b) that the rules you are describing exist. Next, you have to prove that “A Song of Ice and Fire” necessarily fits that category and only that category. If your category is “fantasy”, you have an uphill battle because Martin has stated repeatedly that a) he is writing a hybrid of fantasy and historical fiction; b) he has a problem with Disneyland fantasy AND Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

 

Projection

This fallacy happens an immense amount because readers are becoming personally involved in the story, identifying with the characters, putting themselves in the world, and relating deeply to people and events. This is the mark of good story telling, but it also leads to the replacement of the author’s mind with that of the reader’s. This is especially problematic when the generation gap is as big as this one is. Martin is a baby boomer in his late 60s. The bloggers are primarily millennials in their late teens and twenties. Not only is there a perspective gap of enormous proportions, there is a societal and cultural gap of almost unbridgeable proportions.

 

Baby boomers, who are like Martin, are realists, mature, and have an appreciation of the difficulties of moral, political, and social questions. The millennials who blog, generally, are the opposite. There is little to no respect for process, disagreement, or perspective. For example, Martin once wrote he avoided places like Tumblr because they were not moderated. A millennial Tumblr blogger responded that he did not know what he was talking about and proceeded to instruct him in how Tumblr was superior because the group would eliminate anyone who transgressed the rules. Martin replied that he would take her views under advisement. If I were he, I would have thrown up my hands. The future is in her hands, someone who believed a lynch mob was a good way to govern a group. Reasoned discourse cannot take place in that kind of environment. Dissenting views are, not just shouted down, they are harassed. That is a recipe for a confederation of dunces (not literally, just not as good as it should be).

 

New Criticism

The most difficult fallacy to redress is the one that argues based on a form of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism. Termed the new criticism in its early years, it is a system of analysis that divorces the text from the author. There are various forms of it. Some versions emphasize the reader’s experience, others the higher meaning or meta narrative. All kinds reject the author’s background, previous writing, and, most important, the historical context of both reader and author. Because of the millennial sensitivity to private concerns, those bloggers will reject any information about the author’s private life as rude, insensitive, and/or intrusive. An emphasis on structure, character purpose, and themes replaces any kind of contextualization. Martin’s most likely intent is lost in a miasma of artistic sophistry.

 

Tin Foil

If an argument does not conform to the accepted understandings, it will be dismissed as “tin foil” – meaning crazy, ridiculous, a paranoid conspiracy theory. This denunciation is particularly problematic for analyzing “A Song of Ice and Fire” because the story is riddled with conspiracies. The most famous or infamous, depending on one’s point of view, theory is Preston Jacobs’ “Dorne Master Plan”. (I prefer the label “Martell Master Plan” because it is more accurate and it is alliterative.) But, there are others such as Tyrion Targaryen, Quentyn Is Alive,  Daario = Euron, and the Children Are Not the Good Guys. It does not matter that there is a fair amount of evidence for all of them. Because they do not fit the accepted understanding in some way, they are relegated to tin foil designation. This is a particularly bad result for readers trying to comprehend what is going on behind the scenes. Martin’s conspiracies, sleights of hand, and stunning reveals are a significant part of his showmanship, one of the reasons re-reads are so rewarding, and why a work of historical fiction can be such an intensive learning experience.

 

Moralism

While the type of argument I am listing under moralism is not the moralism fallacy in logic, it is close enough for my purposes. This type of fallacy occurs when the arguer’s sense of right and wrong becomes grounds for interpreting the text. For example, a moralist will argue that: because Tywin Lannister used unscrupulous, repulsive, and awful acts like the Red Wedding to establish his regime, that regime must be condemned, cannot be viewed any other way, and Martin is teaching a moral lesson, most likely Ned Stark’s way is the superior one to Tywin’s. The preceding is not analysis of the text. It is the rendering of a moral judgment on characters in the story. While there are morality tales, particularly the Roman Catholic ones during the Middle Ages, “A Song of Ice and Fire” is not one of them. Martin is presenting a series of moral quandaries, but no obvious solutions. It is part and parcel of his exploration of the “human heart at war with itself”. We miss the opportunity to have a rich, rewarding discussion of these moral quandaries when they are summarily dismissed with phrases like Full stop and Morality 101.

 

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