While this is being written Trump and his fellows have lost 59 court cases relating to the election. It is, as always, worth noting that Trump’s kraken legal team generally have not alleged widespread fraud in their court cases—for the obvious reason that there are consequences for lying to a judge. After Fox News and other right-wing media outlets started attacking voting technology company Smartmatic, the company responded with legal notices. This resulted in a surreal event on Fox, with a news segment being aired that debunked the election fraud lies made by its own hosts. One infers that Fox lawyers know it would be a disaster if they had to go to court—again, a place where lies about election fraud can have real consequences.

Forbes has a clear summary of the failed claims Trump and his fellows attempted to use to overturn the election for those who want a recap of the particular untruths. Even Trump’s own Attorney General has disagreed with him, stating that there is no widespread election fraud. The electoral college has met and what remains is Biden’s inauguration. Despite all this, Trump and his supporters still claim that there was widespread voter fraud, and that Trump won the election. Anyone who disagrees with them is dismissed as deceived or a traitor and there seems to be no evidence that will convince them that their claims are not true. This suggests the possibility of an epistemic epidemic. That is, there could be millions of people with extremely defective or even diseased belief forming systems. As with any disease, this is not a condemnation of these people—but a recognition of a serious condition that needs treatment.

It is also worth considering that there is also an ethical epidemic. That is, there is a widespread moral disease or condition affecting many people. Those who are lying about the election would be suffering from an ethical rather than epistemic defect—they do not believe what they are saying but are lying to achieve some gain for themselves or their group. For example, someone might make claims about widespread election fraud or even bring a lawsuit to fish for a pardon from Trump. While it can be difficult to sort out ethical defects from epistemic defects in such situations, it does seem reasonable to hold that those in the leadership of the Republican party know that there is no widespread voter fraud. Hence, their claims to the contrary will tend to be the result of ethical defects. But as one moves out into the general population, it seems possible and even likely that many Trump supporters believe the lies about widespread voter fraud. I know people who seem sincere in these beliefs—they are certain that widespread fraud occurred and relentlessly post on social media in support of Trump and his lies. While I do not know what is in their hearts and minds, the evidence is very strong that they believe what they are saying. Given the overwhelming evidence against their beliefs, they must have an issue with their belief forming mechanisms (which is obviously true of all of us sometimes).

Since they lack true evidence for their beliefs about election fraud, their beliefs must be founded on psychological factors and bad logic. The likely logical errors include many classic fallacies. One is clearly wishful thinking (the fallacy of believing that something is true because one wants it to be true). Much of the “reasoning” consists of various fallacious appeals to authority (accepting a claim based on what an inadequate authority claims). These involve accepting the claims of Trump, his allies, and the right-wing “news” outlets that are making these claims when they are clearly defective as experts in this matter. There is also likely to be the use of the fallacy argument from authoritarian (believing a claim because an authoritarian makes the claim)—this would occur when people believe there was fraud because the authoritarian Trump says so. These fallacies are obviously not unique to Trump supporters, but such a widespread infection that presents a danger to American democracy demands additional investigation into the causes of this outbreak and the development of an effective treatment of this epistemic epidemic. Fortunately, the errors seem to be common fallacies—there seems to be no new strain of bad logic loose in the population.

 

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