In February 20, 1974, the American rock band Steely Dan, released the album Pretzel Logic. While the writer, Donald Fagan, claim the song had nothing to do with politics, the name of the record has symbolic relevance in today’s political turbulence.
Times were when you asked a question you a got an answer, reasonably related to the inquiry. The variance depended on the respondent's understanding the nuances of the question. More importantly, the question not only probed the respondent's knowledge, but also his or her character. It provided a compass as to where he or she stood on an issue and, to a large extent, his or her accountability.
Those days are over. Politics have ushered in a new didactic, one where the intent of the question is sidestepped, dodged, circumvented, danced around, tapped danced on — all of which are designed to avoid answering the question, but insert "talking points." Accountability no longer factors into the equation. Understanding answers and their embedded "talking points" require a degree in deciphering illogical pretzel logic. There would be no hint of irony if a political interview would be sponsored by Snyder of Hanover Pretzels.
Take this answer from with Senator Roy Blunt who was recently asked the following by the interviewer. “If Barack Obama, on a phone call with another world leader, suggested an investigation into someone who also happened to be the frontrunner from the opposing party, would your party be fine with that?”
"Well, I will tell you that for eight years we were constantly challenged on my side. The president (Barack Obama) should be impeached for this, the president should be impeached for withholding records with Fast and Furious, the president should have delivered–"
For those familiar with common logical fallacies, this answer represents about half of the 15 most common, including straw man, false dilemma, and slothful induction fallacies, among others. Perhaps the most glaring is the personal incredulity fallacy where Senator Blunt doesn’t see the evidence laid before him implicating the president so, there must be another explanation for the call which exonerates him from any wrongdoing.
Besides displaying the art of the dodge and eschewing accountability, its practitioners also demonstrate a remarkable lack of courage to stand up for what is right, regardless if it means impugning a member of their own party. This fecklessness does nothing more than put party before country and principles. There is a connection between power and corruption and for those having succumbed to the seduction, derailing any substantive argument has become one of their useful feints.
In World War I trench warfare it was said that never before had so many given so much for such precious little ground. The same can be said for the hopes of the American people who have witnessed common sense and truth as casualties of this political war. The art of compromise has been slain, too, by this poiltical conflict’s “take no prisoners” mentality. If King Solomon were alive today, his sword would be dull from dividing so many babies.
Yes, the loser is the American people who stand divided by two warring political parties that practice the art of deceit rather than transparency. All as they that stand determined to annihilate the other in their quest to dominate the body politic.
While events precipitated by a force greater than simply recognizing the rampant illogical arguments employed by both parties is no doubt needed to reconcile this great divide, it is no less important that we not be duped by pretzel logic. We need to be smarter than that.
As Daniel Kahneman’s explains in his extraordinary book, Thinking Fast and Slow, we all can benefit in every aspect of our lives from understanding how errors in our thinking can lead to erroneous conclusions. The esteemed professor shows how we can learn to differentiate between fast, intuitive, and emotional decisions, and slower, deliberate, logical ones. Logical thinking leads to less emotional reactions, no matter how much our propaganda-in-chief tries to stir them.
It’s time to start calling the politician’s bluff and maybe even send them a pretzel.