Monday, April 04, 2005

The Chewbacca Defense lives on

Johnnie Cochran died last week. He may be better known as one of the defense attorneys in the OJ simpson trial, but he has a much larger claim to internet fame: he is the inspiration for the Chewbacca Defense, which is used (and abused) in internet forums (and universitites) around the world every single day. The Chewie Defense is a logical fallacy that consists of confusing your audience with inconsistent, complicated and irrelevant facts to make them agree with what you are saying, even if it doesn't have anything to do with the argument being put forward.

This was first introduced in a South Park episode in which Chef decides to sue Alannis Morisette's music company for using a song he composed 10 years earlier called "Stinky Britches". The copyright infringmenment case is clear and the music company is obviously going to lose. But then Johnnie Cochran takes the stage and delivers his famous Chewbacca defense.

Ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, Chef's attorney would certainly want you to believe that his client wrote "Stinky Britches" ten years ago. And they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pity myself!
But ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider: Ladies and gentlemen this [pointing to a picture of Chewbacca] is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk, but Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now, think about that. That does not make sense! Why would a Wookiee—an eight foot tall Wookiee—want to live on Endor with a bunch of two foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense!
But more important, you have to ask yourself, what does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!
Look at me, I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca. Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense. None of this makes sense!
And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberating and conjugating the Emancipation Proclamation... does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense.
If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.
Needless to say, this argument sways the jury and Chef is found guilty of harrasing the music industry, but everything is solved when Cochran takes pity on Chef and uses the Chewie Defense to get him off.

The internet has given rise to a new host of logical fallacies. There is the Argumentum ad Google: something must be right/good/popoular because it produces a lot of search results in Google.

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