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Red Herring: Now is Not the Time

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Now is Not the Time is a rhetorical technique in which someone attempts to end a discussion, divert attention from the original issue, or conclude that something should not be done by asserting that “now is not the time” or some variation of that phrase. It can be considered a variant of the Red Herring but is common and distinct enough to merit its own entry.

As an attempt to end discussion or divert attention, the fallacy would have this form:

 

Premise 1: Issue A is being discussed or argued.

Premise 2: Person P asserts that now is not the time to discuss A.

Conclusion:  Issue A should not be discussed now.

 

Alternatively,

 

Premise 1: Issue A is being discussed or argued.

Premise 2: Person P asserts that now is not the time to discuss A.

Conclusion:  The discussion should switch to the issue of when the time would be right to discuss A.

 

Both are fallacious arguments because simply asserting that now is not the time does not prove that discussion of the original issue should cease.

When used to fallaciously argue that something should not be done now, it would have this general form:

 

Premise 1: Person A proposes doing X.

Premise 2: Person B asserts that now is not the time to do X.

Conclusion:  X should not be done now.

 

This is poor reasoning because simply saying that something should not be done now does not prove that it should be done now (this can also be seen as circular reasoning).

While this fallacy has no logical force, it can have considerable psychological force. This fallacy is most often used in the aftermath of some terrible event, such as a school shooting. In such cases, it can draw psychological force from the belief that there should be a period of mourning or reflection after a terrible event. The fallacy is also often phrased in a way that makes it appear that doing X now would exploiting or misusing the event. For example, in response to a gun control proposal made after a school shooting, a politician might say “now is not the time to score political points.”

This fallacy can also gain an illusion of reasonability because there can be good reasons as to why now is not the time. For example, strong emotions can lead to poor decision making (see the various fallacies involving emotional appeals) and hence a case can be made for waiting for the feelings to cool. As another example, decisions made in haste can also prove defective, so taking the time to consider and reflect can be reasonable. The problem with the fallacy is, of course, that the person committing it is not offering these reasons; they are relying on psychological rather than logical force to support their conclusion. But what if someone does offer those reasons?

If relevant reasons are advanced that support the claim that now is not the time, then there would no longer be a fallacy of reasoning. For example, if someone presented credible evidence that laws hastily created in response to an awful event, such as a terrorist attack or particularly gruesome murder, often have serious negative consequences, then this would provide a good reason to wait on passing such laws. But even this can be misused in bad faith.

A person can provide good reasons that now is not the time but do so in bad faith. In this case, the person’s intent is to use a reasonable argument in a bad faith to divert attention, end discussion, or conclude that nothing should be done. This tactic is often used to delay until memory and feelings have faded in the hopes that nothing will be done. This has the following general form:

 

Premise 1: Person A proposes doing X.

Premise 2: Person B gives reasons that now is not the time to do X.

Conclusion:  B says that X should not be done now, but their intent is that X should never be done.

 

As would be suspected, the person using this tactic will not reveal that their goal is that X never be done. Instead, they will pretend that they just want a delay. As such, they are operating in bad faith.

While determining bad faith can be challenging, if someone uses this tactic repeatedly for the same issue, then that can be evidence they are operating in bad faith. For example, if a politician always responds to gun control proposals made after school shootings and other mass shootings with “now is not the time”, then it is reasonable to suspect that they are operating in bad faith and are using this rhetorical tactic. If that same politician quickly exploits other awful events, such as a murder committed by someone who entered the country illegally, to advance their own legislative agenda, then it would be even more reasonable to suspect they are operating in bad faith.

 

Defense: The main defense against this fallacy is to check to see if a relevant reason is being offered as to why now is not the time. If no such reason is offered, then there is no reason to accept the conclusion. It is also, as always, sensible to consider if the person is operating in bad faith; exposing this can help weaken the psychological appeal of the fallacy.

If someone does offer a relevant reason that now is not the time, you should still consider whether they are using this argument in bad faith. Most commonly this involves arguing that now is not the time when their bad faith intent is to delay until interest fades, thus preventing anything from being done.

 

Example #1

Senator Bedfellow: “As a nation, we all mourn the loss of these schoolchildren to a crazed gunman. It is a tragedy that they were killed. But now is not the time to get caught up in the politics of gun control to score partisan points. It is a time for thoughts and prayers.”

 

Example #2

Senator Bedfellow: “As a nation, we all mourn the loss of those killed yesterday. It is a tragedy that they were killed by a terrorist. But now is not the time to get caught up in the politics of anti-terrorism to score partisan points. It is a time for thoughts and prayers.”

 

Example #3

Senator Bedfellow: “As a nation, we all mourn the loss of the young person killed last month. It is a tragedy that they were killed by a person in this country illegally. But now is not the time to get caught up in the politics of immigration to score partisan points. It is a time for thoughts and prayers.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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