Non sequitur, in Latin, means “it doesn’t follow.” The term commonly refers to statements that have no relation to the current topic of conversation, but it can also be used for a pseudological argument where the conclusions don’t follow from the premises. I found a good example in NPR’s “All Things Considered” segment on Tea Parties, linked to by Slacktivist. Slacktivist focused on Lorie Medina, a middle-aged stay-at-home mother, but it was Katrina Pearson, described as “32 and African-American, the daughter of an absent black father and a white teenage mother,” who caught my interest.
She speaks about why she is involved in the tea party movement:
Statistically I should be, you know, with two or three other children, maybe a couple of different men, in, you know, some run-down apartment on the other side. Statistically that is what it is. That’s what gets me, and that’s what keeps me moving in the Tea Party movement – is because I -that is the welfare state. That is the redistribution of wealth. And to think that the country can go through a redistribution of wealth is just – I just can’t, I just can’t.
This is a non sequitur. More specifically, it is an example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this.” This fallacy is basically faulty use of cause and effect. For example, one might observe that, when ice cream sales increase, so do deaths by drowning*.
My previous entry also included a post hoc, ergo propter hoc: a mother who blamed the government for seasonal flu vaccine shortages, despite the fact that seasonal flu vaccine shortages were caused by the presence of, and consequent need for a vaccine for, the H1N1 flu, which even she couldn’t blame on the government.
Pearson’s statement is an even more textbook post hoc, ergo propter hoc. She observes that many people in her demographic have a low quality of life: “two or three other children, maybe a couple of different men, in, you know, some run-down apartment on the other side.” She observes that most of these people are on government assistance programs. She concludes that “that is the welfare state,” and that government assistance programs cause a low quality of life and should therefore be stopped.
Perhaps I’m reading too deeply into this. After all, she never says outright that she thinks welfare makes or keeps people poor, although it’s a common conservative belief. But, given her understanding of their condition and her vehement opposition to redistribution of wealth, the only other option is that she wants them to remain poor because she thinks that being poor is their own fault.
Let’s hope she’s just logically challenged.
*Both of these events are caused by warmer weather.