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How bad ideas get started: The “Apex Fallacy,” the “Frontman Fallacy,” and the murderer Marc Lepine

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Would MRAs still be into the Apex Fallacy if boards of directors looked like this?

So some Men’s Rightsers are up in arms because the powers that be at Wikipedia just deleted a page devoted to a phony “logical fallacy” invented by a friend of Paul Elam. According to the now-deleted Wikipedia page, “the apex fallacy refers to judging groups primarily by the success or failure at those at the top rungs (the apex, such as the 1%) of society, rather than collective success of a group.”

In other words, it’s a convenient way for MRAs to hand-wave away any evidence that men, collectively, have more power than women. Mention that men hold the overwhelming majority of powerful positions in the worlds of politics and business, and, I don’t know, podiatry, and MRAs will shout “apex fallacy” and do a little victory dance. Rich and powerful dudes don’t count, because of poor and powerless dudes!

On the Wikipedia discussion page devoted to the question of deleting the apex fallacy entry, one Wikipedia editor – who voted “strong delete” – noted that

This is men’s rights activist astroturfing. The guy above [in the discussion] isn’t posting examples of its usage because they’re all on websites showcasing brutal misogyny and hateful ignorance, like A Voice for Men.

He’s got a point. When I did a Google search for the term, my top ten results (which may be different than your top ten results, because that’s how Google works) included posts on The Spearhead; The Men’s Rights subreddit; Genderratic (TyphonBlue’s blog); Emma the Emo’s Emo Musings; and a tweet from the little-followed Twitter account of someone calling himself Astrokid MHRA. In other words, five of the ten results were MRA sites, several of them with explicit links to A Voice for Men. (That “MHRA” is a dead giveaway.)

The top result, meanwhile, linked to a post on the blog of the delightful Stonerwithaboner, who doesn’t consider himself an MRA, as far as I know. But he’s still kind of a shit, and he did recently confess to being (as I suspected) the person who was going around posting comments on manosphere sites as David H. F*cktrelle, Male Feminist Extraordinaire ™.

So, in other words , I think it’s fair to say that the term “apex fallacy” has not yet achieved academic or philosophical respectability just yet.

The deleted Wikipedia page attributes the term “apex fallacy” to Helen Smith, a psychologist who is a longtime friend to A Voice for Men, and dates it to an interview Smith gave to the odious Bernard Chapin in 2008.

But the idea seems to be a simple reworking of a bad idea that’s been floating around in Men’s Rights circles for a lot longer than that.

Back in the 1990s, New Zealand Men’s Rights Activist Peter Zohrab came up with what he called the “Frontman Fallacy,” a notion he spread via the alt.mens-rights newsgroup on Usenet and elsewhere; the term has been widely adopted in Men’s Rights circles since then. As Zohrab defined the term,

the Frontman Fallacy is the mistaken belief that people (men, specifically) who are in positions of authority in democratic systems use their power mainly to benefit the categories of people (the category of “men”, in particular) that they belong to themselves.  

So, in other words, if you mention that men hold the overwhelming majority of powerful positions in the worlds of politics, business, and podiatry, MRAs will shout out “frontman fallacy” and do a little victory dance. Rich and powerful dudes don’t count, because of poor and powerless dudes!

Like the extremely similar “apex fallacy,” this idea is rather too silly and facile to count as a real fallacy, but it has proven quite popular with MRAs. Looking through the google search results for “frontman fallacy,” I see links to a wide assortment of MRA sites using the term, including AVFM, Genderratic, Stand Your Ground, Backlash.com, Toysoldier, Mensactivism.org, Pro-Male Anti-Feminist Tech, Fathersmanifesto.net, Mensaid.com, and some others. Like “apex fallacy” it hasn’t made much progress outside the Men’s Rights movement.

What’s interesting about this to me is that this is not the only bad idea that Peter Zohrab has ever had.

Indeed, Zohrab had some extremely bad ideas about Marc Lepine, the woman-hating antifeminist who murdered 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989.

While Zohrab, to my knowledge, never explicitly justified Lepine’s killings, he described the massacre in one notorious internet posting as an “Extremist Protest Against Media Censorship.” Of Lepine himself, he wrote

I bet you don’t know he wasn’t a misogynist – because you have been conned by the media (as usual). In fact, he was a Men’s Rights activist (albeit an extremist one), and one of the things he was protesting about was media censorship.

Zohrab went on to say that it was clear from Lepine’s writings – or at least writing alleged to have been written by him —  that

he [was] against Feminists — not against women — he clearly states that he is protesting against various issues which are aspects of Feminist sexism.

Indeed, Zohrab seems not only sympathetic towards Lepine’s “cause” but seems to feel that he was being unfairly misrepresented:

The write-ups on Marc Lepine concentrate on character-assassination. They take things out of context, in the same way that fathers are slandered in the divorce/family court, in order to deprive them of custody or access. …

Marc Lepine was not only not sexist, as the media stated – he was actually fighting sexism!

Lots of MRAs love talking about the “frontman fallacy” or the new and improved “apex fallacy.” They don’t seem much interested in talking about Zohrab himself.

Like it or not, MRAs, this man is one of the leading figures in the emergence of the Men’s Rights movement online, and in the intellectual history of the movement, such as it is.

If I were a bit more paranoid, I might wonder if the emergence of the “apex fallacy” was some sort of an attempt as a rebranding, an attempt to push the “frontman fallacy” and its creator, the old, odd duck Peter Zohrab, with his embarrassingly sympathetic feelings toward a mass murderer of women, down that famous memory hole.

P.S. Don’t read the comments to that MensActivism.org posting, unless you want to get really depressed.

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Luzbelitx
6 years ago

@katz they don’t really think women and minorities are poorer. Because hey! rich women!

(remember, it’s always about the gotcha)

Lea
Lea
6 years ago

kats,
There is a saying a carpenter I know told me she’d heard on the job several times in response to a man complaining about the difficulty of the job,
“If it was easy, women and *racist slur” would do it”.

That’s how they think that happened.

Bina
Bina
6 years ago

My mothers family was upper class, those women all went to college, for generations, and then married professional men who supported them and their children in Luxury.

And yet, for all that upper-class mothering, you know neither how to capitalize nor apostrophize correctly.

Please explain to me why I should take your “woman racket” bullshit seriously, since you are such a piss-poor writer.

katz
6 years ago

Maybe he had a misandrist English teacher.

kittehserf
6 years ago

Those were the days … 😀

Bina
Bina
6 years ago

Oh, pardon me. Perhaps I should have said “mansplain”, since we all know he’s dying to do just that…

Schadrach
Schadrach
6 years ago

Wait, does this post argue that the fallacy of composition doesn’t exist, or that looking at a tiny slice of the most successful of a group and claiming that says anything about the rest of the group as a class isn’t a grand example of a fallacy of composition (which would be false because it is exactly that)?

Because that’s what the so-called “apex fallacy” describes, a fallacy of composition in which the part being examined to assume things about the whole is the “apex”, or the top performing bit. It’s a neologism and thus doesn’t really belong on Wikipedia any more than any other neologism, but it’s also just a specific subset of the fallacy of composition. The so-called “frontman fallacy” is similar, but rather than using the top performers as the part examined, you use the most visible members.

If you don’t get why that’s absurd, let me use a thinner slice and you’ll see it. The POTUS is black, and POTUS is the most politically powerful office in the country. Therefore, black people have institutional power over white people. You hear yourself getting ready to tell me what I just said is insane, and that looking at the most powerful black person in the country doesn’t tell you anything about black people as a class? That I just used an obvious fallacy of composition? The so-called apex fallacy is exactly this specific subset of the fallacy of composition, all I did is use a smaller “apex.”

Ally S
6 years ago

@Schadrach

The problem with the apex fallacy is that it is bast on a straw man attack on feminist discourses of power. Feminists do not point at the most powerful minority within a group to prove that everyone in that group has the same power. Rather, they talk about men being disproportionately represented in the highest positions of power because such a phenomenon is evidence that men as a class have greater access to power. Feminists talk about structural inequalities found in statistical trends, social meanings, and institutional codification of behavior as constructed by the patriarchy.

So yeah, while it technically is a fallacy of composition, it is useless for MRAs. You really should read the older pages of this comment thread because your argument has been addressed at least a dozen times. You have brought nothing new to the table.

Ally S
6 years ago

based*

Ally S
6 years ago

Also, your example with the POTUS is flawed because feminists do not point at the smallest subgroup of the most powerful – they point out the disproportionate male representation in all of the highest positions of power. The example is absurd because it turns out that, even though the POTUS is a man of color, almost no one else in the highest positions of power in the US is a man of color.

Allison
Allison
5 years ago

Ally: It’s sad, because you’re so close to getting it.
“Also, your example with the POTUS is flawed because feminists do not point at the smallest subgroup of the most powerful – they point out the disproportionate male representation in all of the highest positions of power.”
This group is also a horribly insignificant percentage of males that exist. Most males don’t have positions of power, and more males than females are also homeless. It really says nothing that “the richest people are men”, while ignoring that the poorest people are also men, while simultaneously ignoring that the richest men have mothers and wives and daughters who benefit from being related to rich men while required to do nothing to benefit from the man’s success. That’s just willful ignorance.

“The example is absurd because it turns out that, even though the POTUS is a man of color, almost no one else in the highest positions of power in the US is a man of color.”
And almost no man is in the highest position of power. And, given a variety of public policies and court standards, it doesn’t appear that simply “having a few men in power” actually benefits all other men… and in fact, seems to screw them over, considering the current divorce and alimony and child support laws.

Just because some men have power, doesn’t mean that any other “men” benefit because some other men are in power. That is why “patriarchy theory” is silly, and this is exactly what the Apex Fallacy is pointing out.

emilygoddess - MOD
emilygoddess - MOD
5 years ago

Except that’s not patriarchy theory says. Find me one feminist claiming that all men benefit from some men being in power. I’ll wait.

Now, if you want to talk about whether men are disproportionately likely to have access to power because of their gender, then at least you’ll be engaging with the actual patriarchy theory.

weirwoodtreehugger
5 years ago

Allison (man socking with a female name?),
Class privilege and gender privilege are different things. You’re conflating the two. Poor men still have male privilege. For example: Wal-Mart was recently sued for sex discrimination. In one of their managerial handbooks it actually said men should be promoted over women because they’re more likely to be the main breadwinner. Nobody would argue that a Wal-Mart worker of any gender is economically powerful, but still male workers are privileged there.

Tyler
Tyler
4 years ago

A great example of the apex or frontman fallacy would be people saying, we have a black president, therefore there can’t be any racism problems anymore. Feminists themselves would point out the Apex/frontwoman fallacy if people started saying sexism was over because of a woman getting elected president. Then you will want to take this “bad idea” out for a spin. I don’t totally agree with the way the Apex fallacy was used but it is a valid idea and in an age of sound bites and really shallow identity politics it’s important to remember hey politicians are more than their skin tone or body parts or, “family values”, or someone I’d like to have a beerness. They vote and do things and it’s important to look closely at whose interests they really represent.

weirwoodtreehugger
4 years ago

I don’t think it’s the same thing. Barack Obama is a single example of someone from an oppressed group gaining power. MRAs call it the apex fallacy when you point out that the majority of people in powerful positions whether it’s in politics, academia or business are men, therefore it doesn’t make sense to say that men are the oppressed group. They’re dismissing a whole pattern. The people who say we have a black president therefore racism is over are holding up a statistical outlier and pretending it’s the norm.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
4 years ago

Tyler, you don’t really seem to understand how the so-called “apex fallacy” is actually defined and used.

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