America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Begging the Question
7 February 2016
Alan and Bert were sophomores at Dugald Macpherson High School and they'd been arguing all week about which of them should invite Stacey Perkins to Spring Fling. Now it was Friday and Stacey still—miraculously—did not have a date. So the boys sat across from one another at their cafeteria table, two flimsy paper trays of nachos between them, and they watched Stacey dawdle her way through the lunch line. Her backpack sat next to Alan on his bench, which meant he was closer to her, but it also meant she would be facing Bert across the table, so Bert could hold her attention more easily—these were all factors both boys took into account, and as they waited for their opportunity to speak with her they reasoned desperately and illogically against one another.
"If she goes to the dance with you then you'll probably kiss her and you'll start dating, and things will get weird between us and that's not fair because you've both been my friends for a long time," Alan protested, committing both a straw man fallacy and a slippery-slope fallacy.
"Maybe she and I will kiss, maybe we won't," Bert said, reasonably. "How long have you been in love with Stacey anyway?"
Alan ignored Bert's loaded question and stirred his liquid cheese with a stale tortilla chip. Then he leaned forward and counted on his fingers. "You went with Becki to homecoming. And with Liz to Winter Ball. You always go with the hot girls. Let me ask Stacey this time," he said, simultaneously committing fallacies of false cause, anecdotes, cherry-picking, and special pleading. "It's what a good friend would do," he added, adding a no-true-Scotsman fallacy as he did so.
Both boys were anxious for Stacey to sit down at the table and resolve the issue for them, but the object of their affections had paused in the lunch line and stood gaping at the ceiling lights as the rest of the sophomore class filed around her toward the nachos, sour fruit, ranch dressing, and cartons of one percent milk.
"She likes me better and you know it," Bert suddenly proposed, placing the burden of proof on Alan.
"I find that difficult to believe," Alan said honestly, committing an inadvertent fallacy of personal incredulity. "In fact," Alan continued, "Beth, Cindy, and Aubrey all said I should be the one to ask Stacey because they think she likes me."
It was a convincing blend of bandwagon and appeal-to-authority fallacies, and it shook Bert's confidence enough that instead of aiming for a middle-ground fallacy he fell back on a classic ad hominem attack.
"You don't even know how to dance," Bert said quickly. He sucked his teeth and studied his nachos, pinching jalapeno slices shamefully off the chips and into one corner of his tray.
Alan grew red in the face and hissed, "At least I don't flail around out there like an idiot the way you do, if that's what you mean." He sat up straight on the bench and did his best imitation of one of those frantic airblown dancing advertisements you see outside used car lots.
The tu quoque fallacies could have gotten ugly, but Bert recognized such a course would get them nowhere.
"Whatever," he said. "Listen. We need to make a decision. She'll be back here any second. My idea is, why don't we just ask her together? Then she can decide which of us she wants to go with." In saying this Bert displayed a shocking ignorance of female sensibility and also clumsily balanced a black-or-white fallacy with a middle-ground fallacy.
"You're just afraid to let me ask first, because you're afraid she'll say yes," Alan challenged, employing an inspired accusatory style that was half-dare, half-straw-man fallacy as well as an insinuated ad hominem attack.
"You have a better idea?" Bert asked.
"Yeah. Let me ask her first like I said."
"No. We should ask her together because that's the only way it's fair," Bert said, using circular logic and a burden-of-proof fallacy to fortify his ignorance of proper dance invitation etiquette.
At that moment Stacey appeared balancing a tray of nachos. She stepped over the bench to take her seat beside Alan.
"Hey Stacey," Alan said. "Nachos, huh?"
"Yeah," she said. "How's it going?"
"Listen Stacey," Bert interrupted. "We've got something to ask you."
"No we don't," Alan said, widening his eyes significantly.
Stacey looked back and forth between the boys and folded open her carton of milk.
"Well I have something to ask," Bert said.
"What is it?" Stacey asked innocently.
"Wait! No," Alan said. "I do too." He tried to sound as friendly as he could while glaring across the table at Bert. "I mean, we both wanted to ask you—"
"Are you guys gonna eat your jalapenos?" Stacey asked suddenly, committing no fallacy at all.
Jacob Buckenmeyer is a writer, educator and former journalist in Washington state. He holds degrees in journalism and creative writing. His fiction has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal.