Modern Code of Conduct

Who Is A True Indian? The No True Scotsman Fallacy

If there’s one thing most of India will rabidly fight each other over, its about who gets to be called a true Indian. Some people say a true Indian is secular, others say true Indians live by Vedic principles. True Indians are Sachin fans, true Indians don’t mind standing in ATM queues for our Jawans, true Indians are liberal, true Indians know jugaad, true Indians believe in Gandhi, true Indians make fun of Gandhi, on and on the fight goes.

Here’s my two paisa (true Indians don’t use the expression two cents) on the debate. There is no such thing as a true Indian. Nada, nil. The count is zero, as invented by the true Indian Aryabhatta, although he wasn’t one either.

No, I’m not saying the present generation has completely lost their Indian-ness (related post on that) till there is no one left in the country who qualifies to be in it. I’m just saying the prefix ‘true’ is completely meaningless, except as a tactic to get votes maybe. An Indian is a person who is a citizen of India, but that rules out everybody’s favorite true Indian Akshay Kumar so here’s a more relaxed definition- ‘A native or inhabitant of India, or a person of Indian descent’.

The true Indian claim is a perfect example of an informal logical fallacy known as ‘No True Scotsman’. As you might have surmised from the name, we are not the first country to have this problem. It is a fallacy because the debater is claiming that the definition of a group includes certain characteristics such as having a certain culture or having a certain set of political or religious beliefs. However when confronted with evidence that there are people in that group who don’t have those traits or beliefs, the debater says they weren’t true members of that group. For example a guy I know keeps claiming that a certain political party is very clean or good for the country. When I asked him about specific quotes or incidents involving members of that party, he would say they are not ‘real’ party men. How convenient right?

Here’s the algorithm for how this works:

Person 1: All X are Y
Person 2: Clearly, not all X are Y
Person 1: All true X are Y

Here’s some examples:
P1: All Indians speak Hindi
P2: People from many southern states don’t
P1: All true Indians speak Hindi

P1: Hindus don’t eat beef
P2: Kerala, N. East
P1: True Hindus don’t eat beef

P1: South Indians are dark, North Indians are fair
P2: First of all it doesn’t matter. Second- example here, example there
P1: Real South Indians are dark and real North Indians are not

P1: We should all stand in ATM queues without complaining. Our Jawans at the border don’t complain
P2: Here’s a retired Jawan who’s not happy about standing in the queue and don’t like being brought into this
P1: True Jawans don’t complain

P1: Men don’t cry
P2: Baw-haw, boo hoo
P1: Real men don’t cry

This logical fallacy is used not just to defend group stereotypes, but also to deny any kind of belief that can be invalidated with evidence. Its a great defense mechanism. For example:

P1: Global warming isn’t real. The science isn’t in
P2: Points out three truckloads of evidence
P1: The real science isn’t in. All those scientists are bought and their research is paid for by vested interests

Evidence is useless because the debater goes back in time and changes the definition at its source. Don’t get trapped into pointless arguments with such people. Instead call out what they are doing by name. Say “oh yeah, there’s no true Scotsman’. Its a catchy phrase to start making your point and more importantly, the only way to really counter a logical fallacy used in debate is to call it out by name and explain exactly how it works. People use these logical fallacies even unknowingly because they play on emotions and distract listeners from the truth.

At the beginning of the discussion, ask them how would we know if what they are saying is right. Ask them to agree upon some way of checking its validity before you question it. If they say a certain political party is clean, ask them how to measure that exactly. Should nobody in the party have been convicted or prosecuted for corruption? Or should they simply be less corrupt than another party? If so, how do you measure that. Then go about presenting evidence

Any hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. That doesn’t mean it has to be false but there has to be some way of checking. If somebody says its dark outside, you should be able to open a window and see if its dark and they should agree that they were wrong if you show them its still sunny outside, not say that’s not true daylight.

If you want to read more about logical fallacies used in argument, try this website or find the follow by email or Twitter button on this blog for more in this series

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s