Strange things happen when we assume we understand each other.
Almost all paradoxes arise from self-reference or from poor precision in respect to what we mean by a word. For example The Sorites Paradox deals with how you could have a heap of sand with zero grains in it.
It arises like this. Suppose we agree that a 1,000,000 grains of sand is a heap. Suppose we agree further that removing a single grain of sand will leave a heap. So 999,999 is a heap and 999,998 and so on.
But eventually we will have a heap of one grain and from the restraint that removing a single grain always leaves a heap that one grain will be a heap and after removing it, we will have a zero grain heap.
Intuitively zero grains is not a heap. Neither is one. But where does it change from heap to non-heap? We might disagree on that point and a heap in one context might not be a heap in another.
Strangely defining the crossover point won’t help either.
That argument is clearer if we replace the sand with money. What is rich? Listening to politicians talk about taxation, I am forced to assume that the delineation point is that anyone who has any money is rich. If the government needs more money, then everyone is a potential victim of their greed.
Similarly poverty is a variable. “I thought I was poor because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” is an old idea that points out the variability.
Rich and poor are ambiguous because they are contextual. Rich in Bangladesh might not be rich in The Hamptons. Poor in Toronto might be moderately well off in Nigeria.
Many activists and politicians never define the context. They leave it for the listener to fill it in. That leads to disparity of belief and eventually conflict.
An activist needs conflict. Conflict motivates.
Be Careful. You can never make sense of a false argument. We can understsnd if we learn the techniques of false argument. We can call the user on it, simply ignore them, or try to discover the missing pieces. This is not about lying. For this fallacy, only the way the argument presentation matters.
We are blessed with elections. They provide vast heaps of false argument. There is a lengthy list of types to be found on Wikipedia.
It makes an interesting game to see who can find the most argument fallacies in a one hour debate. You keep score the same way you do with Boggle.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.