ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 20: SLIPPERY SLOPE

My research isn't exactly scintillating to the average person. It's an application of concepts from a physical science (geography) to a social one (political science) in an effort to expand what we know about things like partisanship and voter turnout. Oh, but the last sentence of my dissertation is really interesting: "In conclusion, fire up the gas chambers and start killing people."

According to some people, this is the inevitable conclusion of science. It's also one of the most bleedingly obvious examples of a slippery slope argument that you're likely to see.

Slippery slopes are technically a subset of non causa pro causa fallacies, but they're unique in their incremental approach. A standard NC argument asserts (wrongly) that A causes B. The slippery slope asserts that A causes B, which in turn causes C, D, and E, which ultimately causes F. The trick is to get the listener to accept the argument by presenting plausible arguments (banning assault rifles opens the door for other kinds of weapons to be banned) contained in an implausible larger argument (banning assault rifles inevitably leads to a ban on all gun ownership).

Cue Ben Stein. Is he ready? I know I just used him last week, but I think he's rested.

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

And there we have it. "Science" leads to killing people. We start with a harmless idea about the evolution of bacteria and, some indeterminate number of steps later, we're gassing people. The argument leaves many questions unanswered, most likely because Mr. Stein is not very good at making arguments. For instance, can we clarify what "science" is? Does geography count? Sociology? Library Science? Second, how many steps are between Librarianship and Genocide? Is there any possibility for intervention before we get to mass murder?

Anton Scalia, dissenting in Lawrence v Texas, approves.

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.

There you have it; if a ridiculous, unenforceable "sodomy" law is repealed and we let teh gays butt-fuck with impunity, it's only a matter of time until incest and man-on-llama are legal.**

The implied undercurrent of every slippery slope argument is "Where will this madness end?" It disregards the human capacity to understand subtle differences (i.e., consenting adults having sex versus someone ass-plowing a barnyard animal) because the authors of such arguments likely lack it. In my experience, the best way to destroy a slippery slope is not by pointing out the illogic (too much effort expended on a dunce who probably won't accept your argument anyway) but simply by turning it around. The next time you hear "If gay marriage is OK, why not polygamy or man-on-dog?" feel free to respond with "OK, if you want to play the slippery slope game, if it's legal to ban gay marriage, why not interracial marriage? Or inter-religious marriage? WHERE DOES IT STOP?!?!?"

You'll feel dirty, but you did it for the greater good.

**Google image search failed me, but this is where I wanted to post a picture of a very worried-looking llama. Turns out they're relatively unflappable.

13 thoughts on “ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 20: SLIPPERY SLOPE”

  • I wanted to post a picture of a very worried-looking llama. Turns out they’re relatively unflappable. LOL

    Damn librarians! They will be the End of Civilization yet!

    Sometimes though, there really is a "slippery slope", esp when it comes to establishing a legal precedent or a propaganda tactic.

  • Your questions about banning interracial marriages or inter-religious would be just fine with most of those that appose gay marriage. How about you ask them if we should make the ban retroactive and ban yours. In order to get their attention you have to gore their ox.

  • All this discussion of fallacious reasoning will only lead to the downfall of modern civilization. (Fallacy? Fallus? COINCIDENCE?) Why, I bet if Ed makes it to "Ed vs. Logical Fallacies Part 22," we'll have mass hysteria! Trouble with a capital T! Dogs and cats… living together!

  • I love the reverse slippery slope on the gay marriage argument! I'll have to use that one. I usually try to say something like: Let's make divorce illegal and adultery a capital crime. Now THAT'S protecting the sanctity of marriage…

  • Along with southerners voting contrary to their real political interests, the prevalence of slippery slope arguments is one of the horses I love to beat when I talk about politics. Imagine my joy at seeing both issues addressed so ably.
    I blame the purveyors of the slippery slope for the persistent failure to achieve reasonable compromise on several issues in American politics. Most other countries have figured out some kind of reasonable compromise on abortion. It seems clear to me that there is a broad consensus for some reasonable policy outcome between allowing disturbing partial-birth abortions and the even more disturbing option of banning abortion even in cases of threat to the mother, incest and rape. Yet, those are the two options that seem to define the debate on abortion. Why? Because both sides are offering slippery slope arguments. Any attempt at compromise is merely the first step toward down the slippery slope.
    Why on earth does the NRA, great ally of the party of individual responsibility, oppose gun fingerprinting and penalties for gun misuse? The list goes on and on.
    Slippery slope arguments are nothing more than arguments against moderate compromise made by individuals who are paid to represent one side of the issue and therefore stand to lose if compromise ever really happens.

  • Okay, Ed. Let's see if your suggestion works.

    So, John, let's do a "moderate compromise" on the abortion issue. If I must turn over control of my uterus to the state, which body part are you going to turn over control of to the state? Make sure it's something that is dangerous, life-changing, body-changing, health-compromising, job-prospect compromising, wage-earning compromising, life style depressing, takes months to complete and ends with excruciating pain. Just to make it even and all.

    Then we'll trust that TPTB will be "reasonable" and "moderate" with that power and won't force either of us to do anything so harmful when we don't wish to.

  • Ed, Ed! I’ve found another slippery sloper!
    The possibility of some regulation of abortion does not cause state control of the uterus any more than the state already controls our entire bodies and lives. The state has the right to deprive me of all of my property and freedom and electrocute me, but may only exercise that right under certain conditions.
    My point is that the unresolved, radicalized debate that has been underway for the last couple of decades has a negative impact on politics in this country as a whole. Mostly, I think the status quo is a tremendous boon for Republicans. I do believe that there is a compromise solution that could gain consensus support. It wouldn’t shut the far-right up, but it would give them less purchase among more moderate conservatives. Furthermore, I believe that treating the debate as a slippery slope, either/or situation actually increases the likelihood of an outright ban.
    I am convinced that a policy incorporating a window of time after conception in which women may choose to terminate their pregnancy with “no questions asked” combined with a series of well-defined conditions (rape, incest, health of the mother/fetus/child, etc) under which women could terminate their pregnancy beyond that time window would have very broad support, and certainly broader support than either the status quo or a complete ban. If the time window is sufficiently long, the regulation would impact a very small proportion of cases.

  • The right has no interest in doing anything except talking about outlawing abortion. They get far, far too much mileage out of bitching about it and using it as a piece of red meat to rally single-issue voters.

    I agree with John to the extent that I believe many people who are not on the extreme ends of the abortion debate (all/none) are troubled by open-ended No Restrictions arguments. There's not a single right that we enjoy in this country that is without limit, and it's an untenable (and illogical) argument to claim that any restriction on abortion will inevitably lead to the government exercising de facto ownership of part of your body.

    I think we could get an awful lot of people on board with an idea like: 5 months unrestricted, no-questions-asked access followed by a period with appropriate exceptions for medical necessity. As for the ancillary regulations that bother a lot of people (parental consent laws, etc) are much more problematic than pro/anti choice diehards concede and would have to be left out of the debate.

    I'm sure you consider a time window to be a serious restriction, but giving five months to make a decision without needing to medically justify it would fall far outside of what the courts would consider an undue burden.

  • not a llama, but still:

    …unflappable.

    I can see what you're saying about the fallacy of slippery slopes, without a doubt, but when it comes to abortion, hearing about "compromise" makes me very, very nervous. Unlike in a situation–like gun control–where an individual's action impacts lots of others (possibly in the form of bullets impacting), and it's understandable that there should be some social restrictions in order to protect other individuals, an abortion doesn't, you know, threaten others. Unless you believe the fetus' rights are equal to the rights of a whole actual born person. Which, come to think of it, these lunatics do. Damn.

    The real solution, I think, is for people who don't think abortions are right to carry on NOT HAVING THEM, rather than being overly concerned about teh baybeez. [/threadjack]

    Anyway. Let's start a movement to ban straight marriage, and tell people that we have to do it, because if we let straight people get married, then the gays will just want to do it too!

  • Peggy, I know you are kidding about banning straight marriage, but I think that's absolutely what should be done. If people want to say that marriage is a religious institution, then what the holy heck is the government doing regulating it. Any two homo sapiens (or maybe more than two) should be allowed access to the bundle of rights and regulations that constitute the legal concept of marriage. Folks who want to actually be "married" could then have their favorite religious institution declare them "married" according to that institution's rules.

    Of course, this would mean that everyone would claim to be married, but then the religious folks could rest easy knowing that same-sex marriages aren't "real" without screwing with their civil rights.

Comments are closed.