Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weak Arguments About Valid Points

Alright. Deep breath. I'm going to do this.

I am going to set up carefully before I do it, but I know, regardless of what I say, here, someone will read this as a piece condoning the exclusion of gay people from the workforce. No. I am just trying to point out something that happens too much when people argue: flaws in reasoning.

Did everyone get that? Raise your hand if you didn't get that. Because if anyone responds to this by calling me an unfeeling monster who thinks it is okay to keep someone without a means of sustenance because of his or her sexual orientation, I am not responsible for how I may respond. No -- come to think of it, I will just delete such comments, though I have never once done that in the three year history of this blog.

So let me reinforce this: this is a post about logic in argumentation, not about a social issue, though a social issue is at the center of the argument in question. By attacking this argument, I am not saying that the gist of the point that is being made about the issue is not right. I am simply saying that the way that is is being argued is flawed.

Okay? Anyone still a little unsure? Just let me know... I'll wait.

Right. So, consider this meme I just saw on Facebook:

Clearly, it tries to establish a pattern of discrimination over time. Are these all forms of discrimination? Yes. On the most basic level -- as a form of discrimination -- the picture of the exclusion of gays fits. But, it is far from a perfect fit. (In fact, it's not really fair to those being compared. In a minute...)

The reason for this is that all of the preceding have to do with race, and not with specific behavior. One could argue that homosexuality is not a choice, and I -- in the light of a lot of complex notions -- agree (I know -- I just set myself up for attacks from the other side, but...sigh). But homosexuality is connected with specific behaviors: same-sex love and same-sex lovemaking.

Ah, (you might counter-argue) but these races in the meme were labeled as being a certain type of people with certain race-driven behaviors the same way gays are labeled by their own naturally-driven behaviors. Yeah, it quite the same? The behaviors of the races in question were glued onto them by stereotype (Italians are lazy; Irish drink too much); gay people (while they may be subject to many unfair stereotypes of their own) do, in fact, have sex with and fall in love with people of their own sex. Face value statement, coming (that means don't read "different" as "perverted" or "wrong" but as "different" -- as in not like the other): it is just a different thing.

If I were to go deeper, I could also point out the difference in the discrimination against Italians and Irish in America as compared to the treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazis, or as compared to the historical treatment of African Americans by our own country. (I always get a kick out of my Italian American brethren who carp about minority complaints of discrimination by pointing out how Italians struggled when the came to the US; or of Christians saying that the Jewish people ought to shut up about the Holocaust because of how Christians were fed to lions by the Romans. Really? Hopefully, I don't need another post to debunk that reasoning.)

In short, the idea of discrimination, itself, lines up, but the kinds of discrimination do not. If I were Jewish, I would have a real problem with the comparison of the situation of gay Americans and that of the Jewish folk under Hitler. (Let's face it: I am not Jewish, and I have a problem with it.)

Why do I point this out? Because I am sick of flabby arguments. That's all. I think it is damaging to social progress. Also, it annoys me.

In short: The point being valid does not make the argument that is used to defend it a good one. It is in this way that people get lead to incomplete conclusions and incomplete conclusions can turn into all sorts of damaging things...

(I'll say it again: I will not even entertain arguments, in comments, about the issue of discrinimation in Arizona. That's not what I wrote about.)


  1. I'm proposing a different reason for this line of argument, because it's used for other situations as well.

    For the issue of immigration, people will often make comic strips about Native Americans/American Indians rejecting immigration from European colonists, drawing a parallel between the two.

    Comparative assessments are a valid line of reasoning, because the comparison does not have to be identical: they just need to be drawn from similar premises or come to a similar conclusion.

    In this situation, I believe the comparison is not intended to liken the LGBT community (I only use this terminology to be inclusive) with victims of the Holocaust or what have you, but to liken the outcomes, and in some cases, the premises for why the groups were discriminated.

    For outcomes, it is to say that if we allow such discrimination against the LGBT community, then we are condoning the very behavior that has led to the loss of many lives in the past. Premises are more complicated. Blacks in America were once discriminated against largely because people believed the Bible endowed whites to own slaves and discriminate against blacks. The belief that blacks were lesser beings came from somewhere, and you'll find that that source often leads to discrimination against many other groups.

    While I agree that this line of argument does not completely settle the debate, I think you're posing high expectations for simple comparative analysis. The two not need be identical -- nobody would argue that the current situation completely overlaps the Holocaust. They simply need to be similar.

    1. All points well taken -- but, I still maintain that the logic is imperfect. Not hideously disjointed, but imperfect. Still doesn't work for me -- not completely.

  2. Is it possible that in an earlier era you might have volunteered to be the boy in the circus who has the job of putting his head in the lion's mouth?