Logical Fallacies 1

Image by Mark Klotz via Flickr

As a long-time critic of brain death criteria and the current system of organ transplantation, I sometimes surf the web to check out discussion groups and blogs on these issues. On one blog, a woman wrote a message in the comments section concerning those who oppose organ transplantation: “How can anyone oppose organ transplantation? How can anyone be filled with so much hate?”

The woman’s reaction not only demonstrates a total lack of basic critical thinking skills, it also illustrates what happens when people follow the 1960s mantra, “The political is the personal.” Instead of arguing against her opponents, this woman accused them of being “haters.” That tactic is way too often used in debates over moral issues to avoid the difficult task of argumentation. Argumentation requires thinking, and thinking is hard work. It is easier to set one’s brain aside and appeal to emotion–saying that someone who disagrees with one’s own position is “full of hate” is an appeal to emotion and an abusive ad hominem fallacy.

Such individuals do not listen to claims by their opponents that their position is not a personal matter or that it was arrived at through reason. Debates from abortion to the moral acceptability of homosexual activity have been poisoned by the misuse of the word “hate.” But the supporters of abortion and of homosexuality (and other causes as well) who call their opponents haters are not interested in rational argument–they are interested in power. And if they take away any social capital from their opponents, they gain power at the expense of their opponents. Thus, an academic who opposes abortion, premarital sex, or homosexual practice will be labeled a hater, accused of holding “unacceptable positions,” and terminated, as happened with a professor in the University of Illinois system who presented in class a natural law argument against the morality of homosexual practice. He was later rehired after protests, but it shows the extent to which professors and college and university administrators have abandoned reason in favor of emotional screeds.

Anyone with a minimum of critical thinking skills realizes that just because someone disagrees with another person’s moral actions, this does not imply any hatred. I disagree with people who engage in premarital sex, but if I hated them I would have virtually no friends. I disagree sharply with abortion, but I do not hate women who have abortions. I feel anger toward doctors and nurses who participate in abortions but do not hate them. As for homosexuality, I disagree with people practicing it, but it no more implies that I hate them than my disagreement with premarital sex implies that I hate those who engage in that practice. Of course my opponents know this–they are not interested in honest debate. They are interested in silencing their opponents. The radical left has done well in accusing those who disagree with its agenda of reworking society in its image of being “haters” or “full of hate.” In that way, the radical left puts their opponents on the defensive and eventually silences them, by force (threatening their careers, for example) if they deem it necessary. This is dirty pool, and it is dishonest. When radical leftists accuse their opponents of hating, these radical leftists are liars–and most of them likely realize they are lying.

There are leftists, a few, who will present rational arguments for their positions and who will not stoop to the gutter tactics of hate accusations. I would hope that these honest leftists would encourage other leftists to take the high road in their arguments. And to the extent that conservatives attempt to emulate unfair tactics of the left, they should also be called to task, first of all by other conservatives. I fear that if public discourse does not get out of the gutter, then the culture war will be moving in a disturbing direction that society as a whole will end up regretting.