What is Genetic Fallacy?

The genetic fallacy has nothing to do with Darwin or Mendel, but a great deal to do with not liking where an argument comes from. People give less credence to views which emanate from those they detest, regardless of the actual merit of the views themselves. Every time you dismiss an argument or opinion because you dislike its source, you commit the genetic fallacy. The fallacy is sometimes called ‘damning the origin’, and we can take it that the argument is sent to hell along with its source.

 

Don’t be obsessed with punctuality. It was Mussolini who wanted the trains to run on time.

(Mussolini’s views on trains, whatever they were, are hardly an argument on punctuality. Bad men, especially verbose ones, are almost bound to say something right occasionally, much as a chimpanzee typing at random might produce Hamlet. No doubt Hitler favoured road safety and disapproved of cancer. Mussolini might have hit it lucky on the subject of trains.)

 

The genetic fallacy makes the mistake of supposing that the source of an argument affects its validity. Utterly wicked people sometimes utter worthy arguments, while saints are not immune from silliness. The argument stands alone, drawing neither strength nor weakness from its source.

This particular fallacy is often found basking in the hothouse world of fashionable ideas. A view from a currently fashionable source is given credence, but the same view would be rejected if it emanated from someone less modish.

 

The objections to the Council’s new bus timetable come only from private property developers, and can be ignored.

(Why? Private developers might well have legitimate opinions or insights on such matters. They are, alas, still bêtes noires in the world of local politics. Had the same objections come from Friends of the Earth they might have found more sympathetic ears.)

 

The genetic fallacy is nowhere more widely seen than in connection with the alleged views of a few universally detested figures. The association of Adolf Hitler with a viewpoint is generally sufficient to damn it. His predecessors, Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, left fewer writings, but have many views attributed to them. In rare cases the hated name becomes adjectival, with the simple epithet Machiavellian or Hitlerian being sufficient to remove an idea from consideration by decent people.

 

Tinkering with genes is fascist talk. That’s what Hitler tried to do.

(Actually, he did favour breeding from what he saw as superior stock, which is not necessarily the same as trying to eliminate certain dis-orders by gene-splicing. In view of his known association, one is surprised that the bloodstock industry and dog-breeding have gone as far as they have. For that matter, Volkswagens and autobahns seem to have caught on quite well, too.)

 

To use the genetic fallacy with devastating effect, all you need do is point out that your opponent is echoing arguments first put forward in Nazi Germany, then subsequently taken up by Augusto Pinochet and Saddam Hussein. You, on the other hand, are advocating points of view put forward by Mother Teresa, Princess Diana and Mary Poppins…