What You Say You Are

Do you know what the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is? That’s when you say something like “No Scotsman eats pudding,” and then someone else says “here is a Scotsman, and he is eating pudding.” So you respond: “Well, no true Scotsman eats pudding.”

What you’re doing is redefining the category so that your claim about that category is always true and can’t be falsified. It’s a way of changing the parameters of the argument so you can’t lose. “All reasonable people agree with me,” you might say. Someone else, by all accounts reasonable, says “I don’t agree with you.” You then redefine them: “Well, then you’re not reasonable.”

The No True Scotsman fallacy is about using rhetorical tricks to force someone out of a definitional category. But I’ve noticed a weird inverse version, where people use rhetorical tricks to force themselves into a definitional category.

It goes like this – pick a category of people that is hard to strictly define but everyone tends to love, have sympathy for, or defend. A decent example is “people just trying to help.” Now, you claim that category while doing something decidedly unhelpful, as a shield against criticism.

“How dare you yell at me for shoving that kid into the mud! I’m just trying to help this woman park.” But here’s the thing – your own declared category isn’t real. Category is a result of actions.

You don’t become saintly by declaring yourself a saint. You become a saint by being saintly. Rhetorical tricks or not, you are the sum of your actions.

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