Some Thoughts About Some Thoughts

A friend of mind recently posted on the internet a few thoughts.

Tim Wildmon, (Don’s son and as a function of “divine right of kings theology” crown prince of the American Family Association) was recently raving about President Obama suggesting that some people had made enough money. This enraged Wildmon, he was incensed that someone should suggest the he could ever make enough money. Tim Wildom and Gordon Gecko agree, in contrast to the Bible: “greed is a good thing.” … If the rabid-foaming-at-the-mouth Republicans are so bereft of the love of God, of compassion for man, and for virtue to the extent that they refuse to raise taxes on the rich while raping the poor, then I wonder if it is not best to let them have their way – shut down the government. Those who will not consider imposing a modest tax on the rich while pilloring the poor are idealogues and collossal frauds. … “But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do not they blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” James 2:6,7. That passage must not be in the Republican Bible. … So let me get this straight: Kelsey Grammar can end a 15-year marriage by phone, Larry King is on divorce #9, Britney Spears had a 55-hour marriage, Jesse James and Tiger Woods (while married) were having sex with everyone, 53% of Americans get divorced, and 30 to 60% cheat on their spouses. Yet, same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really? Re-post if you find this ironic. I did.

First, as one who has taught Critical Thinking at the college level, it was very easy for me to spot in your comments what the logicians refer to as “pseudo-reasoning.” Strong rhetoric like “divine right of kings theology,” the “crown prince,” and “raving” all serve to stimulate the emotions but do nothing to advance a substantive argument. While there is nothing wrong with being passionate about one’s views or even punctuating one’s comments with strong rhetoric, where it becomes illicit (and why such use of rhetoric is called “pseudo-reasoning”) is that it tends to move the readers’ emotions in the absence of substantive evidence and argument. In other words, when the rhetoric serves as a surrogate for reason, it becomes “pseudo-reasoning.” Such rhetoric can cause the readers to embrace a conclusion because of the force of the emotions and walk away mistakenly thinking they just read a powerful argument. But what they are experiencing are powerful emotions, not thoughts, evidence, or arguments. Now it might just be the nature of the venue in which you’ve published your comments that it doesn’t lend itself to such sustained reasoning. I only hope your readers keep this in mind with they read your comments.

Second, you make a subtle shift in stating Wildmon’s position. At first you have Wildmon raving about the President’s “suggesting some people had made enough money.” But then you imply that Wildmon holds that “greed is a good thing.” This is a non-sequitur. The former has to do with the propriety of someone making a suggestion about people making enough money. The latter has to do the people making enough money (what you call greed). An example might help illustrate the subtle illicit shift. Suppose an adult at the grocery store sees someone else’s child having a temper tantrum while the child’s parent is apparently oblivious. Suppose further that the adult then says something to the parent, suggesting that the child ought to be disciplined. Now the parent might be “incensed” at the adult. But the parent’s anger is about how inappropriate it is for an adult who is not the parent to be making such a suggestion. But this is not the same as saying that the parent himself thinks that the temper tantrum is appropriate. In other words, it is two different things to say on the one hand that it is not the place of the adult to make the suggestion and to say on the other hand that temper tantrums are appropriate. Thus, for Wildmon to be “enraged” that the President would make a suggestion about some people having made enough money does not entail that Wildmon thinks that it is not possible for people to make enough (or too much) money. His rage is the inappropriateness of the President making such a suggestion. Even if it was greedy for people to make beyond what is enough money, it is not the place of the President to make such judgments any more than it is the place of the adult to try to discipline the child (or chide the parent for not disciplining the child) while knowing that tantrums are inappropriate. For a third party to observe that such a judgment is inappropriate for that adult to make does not mean that this third party approves of temper tantrums. They are only enraged that this adult was sticking his nose in somebody else’s business. Wildmon is enraged (rightfully so) because it is none of the President’s business whether anyone has made enough money. This is true even if making such money was a matter of greed. It should be clear, therefore, that the second paragraph only builds on the pseudo-reasoning of the first. Since any argument is missing, you seemingly have to compensate by piling on the rhetoric in order to make sure that the emotions stay sufficiently stimulated so as to carry the reader over the threshold of being persuaded. For Wildmon to say that he thinks it is none of the President’s business whether someone has made enough money does not entail that he is “befeft of the love of God, of compassion for man, and for virtue.” It certainly does not entail that he is “raping the poor.”

Third, you have committed what logicians call the fallacy of false dilemma. A false dilemma is when one implies that there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more than two. (There is such a thing as a true dilemma when there are only two alternatives; like saying that God either does or does not exist.) The rhetorical value of committing such a fallacy is that when you offer your readers only two alternatives (hoping they won’t notice that there are actually more than two) and one of the alternatives is clearly unacceptable, then you illicitly force your readers to accept your other alternative. When you imply that if we do not raise the taxes on the rich then we will have to “shut down” the government, this is a false dilemma. Since presumably no one would want to shut down the government, then “obviously” (so the fallacy tries to persuade) we need to raise taxes on the rich. But, of course, there are a lot of alternatives between these two options (like cutting government’s egregiously wasteful and sometimes destructive spending). Now someone might say that what my friend was referring to was the alternative of either passing a given bill (which included the tax hikes) or time would expired on the current budget (which would mean that the government would have no more money to spend and would effectively “shut down.”) In this case, it is not a false dilemma. But in response, I would take exception to the expression “shut down the government” as it indeed does imply the false dilemma I’m referring to. This is so because the expression is deliberately intended to convey the false impression that all government services would cease if the debt ceiling was not raised and a new budget was formed. This is simply not the case.

Fourth, you do not explicitly tell us who are these who are not considering imposing a modest tax on the rich and at the same time “pilloring” (I think you mean ‘pillorying.’) the poor. I suspect the implication is that it is those of the ilk of Wildmon (which would include me). I deny this charge. I counter charge that what government is currently doing (by many of those who favor such a tax hike) is more of a rape of the poor than those  you characterize as “idealogues” (I think you mean ‘ideologues.’) They are deliberately creating and maintaining a constituency of dependents who eventually have no choice but to vote to keep those in office who will stick it to the rich and give them from the public coffers what they need or think they are entitled to. Now I am not here mounting any argument for my charge. Such arguments can and have been made in other contexts.

Fifth, the quote of James 2:6-7, again while rhetorically powerful (After all, the likes of Wildmon are supposed to be impressed with what the Bible says, are they not? Perhaps Wildmon has not gotten this far in his New Testament yet! (if I man indulge in some rhetoric of my own)), does nothing to substantially advance an argument. One thing that certain Bible scholars try to remind Bible readers of is an interpretive device called “context.” The passage of James has nothing to do with government policy but rather has to do with the conduct of individual Christians in the context of the church (i.e., the assembly of believers in Christ). Now, while it might sometimes be the case that there is overlap in what might be morally obligatory for Christians within the assembly and what might be morally obligatory for public policy, there are other times where they clearly have nothing to do with each other. (Government is strapped with the duty of protecting its citizens by means of, for example, a police force. But hopefully no American would advocate that the Church should maintain an armed police force of its own. If we have not learned this from our Bible, let the testimony of history be enough to persuade us against such horrors. Further, the Church is strapped with the duty of maintaining the proper forms of conduct in the assembly of believers. But hopefully no American would advocate that the Government should try to regulate our ecclesiology. Again, if we have not learned this from our Bible, let the testimony of history be enough to persuade us against such horrors.) So, whether James’s admonition (undeniably addressed to the believers in the assembly) might have implications (and even applications) for the debate over society’s (or Government’s) responsibility to the poor, this would need to be argued (again, which perhaps your venue would not allow). The mere quoting of a verse is not enough to prove the point.

Last, you list all the statistics regarding marriage (that I’ll grant for now for the sake of argument) and then comment “Yet, same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really?” asking your readers if they too find this ironic. But it is not clear to me what the implication is that you find “ironic.” You could be saying (1) that marriage is already destroyed (so that there nothing left for same-sex marriage to destroy) or (2) that there are far worse threats to the institution of marriage (and these threats are indicated by the statistics) so Wildmon should not waste time working against same-sex marriage. If it is the latter (i.e., if you mean (2)), you do not tell us what these other threats are. That is, you do not here (nor do you necessarily need to as you may have done so at length in other places) tell us what you think are the factors that have given rise to these regrettable statistics about marriage. But even if you did tell us, it does not follow that same-sex marriage is not also a treat. To say that cigarette smoking is dangerous to the health of teenagers is not contradicted just because someone points out that more teenagers are killed by suicide than by cigarette smoking. Even if suicide kills more teenagers, it does not mean that cigarette smoking is not also dangerous. So why would one be so critical of a group who is trying to reduce or eliminate cigarette smoking among teenagers by touting the other (even greater) dangers to teenagers? Likewise, even if there were other dangers to the institution of marriage (and even if these other dangers were greater dangers) it does not follow that same-sex marriage is not also a danger. One would have to make that specific argument. So, there would not be anything “ironic” at all about Wildmon making the efforts he does in trying to stave off the additional threat of same-sex marriage.

If it is the former (i.e., if you mean (1)) then this seems to be simply false. I see no reason to conclude that the institution of marriage is already destroyed such that there is no need for ministries like Wildmon’s. Further this point seems far too trivial to warrant the degree of rhetoric you are using. I suspect that you are really trying to imply that same-sex marriage is not at all a threat to the institution of marriage. That seems to better explain why you would find Wildmon’s position ironic. But, as I said above, such a claim is not proven by your appeal to the statistics. (Again, you need not necessarily had made his argument here. Perhaps you have made it elsewhere or perhaps you have (or could) direct your readers to others who have make the argument for you.)
Just some thoughts.

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