Amateurish Attempts at Philosophy: The Hans Landa Fallacy

At the beginning of the film “Inglorious Basterds”, Col. Hans Landa, the Nazi “Jew Hunter” and main antagonist of the story, pays a visit to a French farmer who is hiding a Jewish family in his home. In the course of their conversation, Landa mentions how most people are disgusted by rats for no apparent reason except an instinctive repulsion, while squirrels – close relatives of rats that, like their less popular cousins, can bite and transmit diseases – wouldn’t get the same hostile reaction, in fact, people like the farmer might find them adorable and put out a bowl of milk for them. He compares this to the racial hatred of National Socialism: The whole “persecution of Jews” thing isn’t about some discernible difference between them and other races or ethnicities, it’s just a matter of course for some groups of people to be naturally repelled by some other groups of people, just as with animals.

Now I get that, in the context of the film, this isn’t meant to be a sophisticated ethical discussion on the merits and discontents of… well, genocide, but a piece of intimidating dialogue meant to strike fear into the farmer’s heart, but I still think of this scene whenever I hear a certain type of argument that I find quite annoying, yet keeps appearing in discussions of topics ranging from politics to technology, and is put forward even by extremely smart people in some contexts. It goes along the lines of, “Well, in case A you demand some reason to believe or do X, but in case B, which is at least superficially similar, you believe or do X without having any good reason whatsoever.” This seems to appeal shamelessly to the laziness of one’s audience, to their unwillingness to either give up an unjustified distinction between cases A and B, or find some reason why these cases are and should be distinguished.There is, of course, an inconsistency to be resolved, but not necessarily the way the HLF proponent wants us to. Now, I realize that others may have written on this topic before me, and also given this kind of fallacy a less offensive name, but I got a blog to run. Let me still emphasize that any fallacious argument may be used to justify anything from mass murder to the wrong choice of furniture for your living room, and my nomenclature is meant as a dumbass pop culture reference, not as an attempt to equate everyone making these kind of points to a Nazi.

So let’s look at two of the most prominent examples:Read More »