Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 17, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: Stuck on a slippery slope

By Mary deWolf
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — We’ve all seen the commercials. A guy subscribes to cable. As a result, a series of unfortunate events occurs and ultimately he ends up in a ditch with an eye patch, falling through a glass ceiling into a dinner party, selling his hair to a wig shop or spending an unusual night with Charlie Sheen. The moral of the story is to get rid of cable and get satellite. Amusing, but ridiculous, right?

Right! These ads are examples of the classic “slippery slope” argument — a false logic often used to block change.

The slippery slope fallacy goes like this: If A happens, then eventually B, C … X, Y, Z will happen, too. It assumes Z is the same as A. So, if we don’t want Z to happen, A must not be allowed to occur.

Let’s take the example of gay marriage. Despicably, Rick Santorum argued that it would lead to unnatural acts involving humans and dogs. There’s no evidence that we would think it’s OK to go down that path. Another slippery slope argument claimed that allowing gays to marry would destroy all marriage as an institution. The end, point Z (destroying all marriages), is not at all like the starting point, A (allowing gay marriage). In fact, those who support gay marriage could just as well have said that banning gay marriage would lead to a ban on all marriage, every bit as ridiculous and erroneous.

We see the slippery slope fallacy used ad nauseam. We can’t do background checks for firearm purchases or ban assault weapons because that would lead to taking away hunting rifles, probably even BB guns.

Or, we can’t help working folks earn enough to make a living, say raising the minimum wage to $10.55 to get us back to where we were in 1968 because, as Rush Limbaugh ranted, “Why not $15, or $25, or $50, or $100 an hour?” Because, Rush, nobody thinks it should be that high. We just think it would be fair for working people to make what they did in 1968.

Those who attack the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) have conjured up some particularly slick and steep slopes. Of course, the ACA would lead to socialism — probably a totalitarian government takeover. Justice Scalia warned that we would all be required to eat broccoli. Palin said we would murder our grandmothers — a slope that is also created when considering legalizing assisted suicide.

And Syria? That’s a tough one for us, but slippery slope arguments don’t help. Those opposed to air strikes maintain that we would be forced to continue down the slope to manned combat or we will be seen as weak. Those favoring strikes warn we’ll be seen as weak because we didn’t stand up to Syria. Iran and others will be emboldened to act rashly. Similar arguments led to war in Iraq 10 years ago and, of course, that went well, right?

The slippery slope argument is bogus and dangerous. It hampers intelligent decision making by giving false choices.

Popular culture is enamored with the rant from Jeff Daniels’ character, grumpy anchorman Will McAvoy, in the television series “The Newsroom.” McAvoy maintains that our country used to be great because, “We stood up for what was right…  We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason.” There are obvious contradictions to that assertion, e.g. slavery and child labor. But McAvoy has a point. Let’s get off the slope and try harder to engage in principled arguments leading to honorable decisions.

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This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at jwund@frontiernet.net.