File this under “casting pearls before swine”, but I’ve finally snapped.
The Twin Cities’ “alternative” media is where logic goes to die.
So today will be the first of a 2,000 part series trying to introduce bloggers (and I’ll say “of all stripes”, but we all know who I really mean) to some of the rudiments of carrying on a logical argument.
(And yes, a few conservative bloggers as well. Illogic isn’t the exclusive province of “progressive” bloggers. Not at all.
Today’s installment: the Tu Quoque Ad Hominem.
With the “Marriage Amendment” working its way through the Legislature, and likely to not only get through but win big in the fall of 2012, the usual framing is underway from the left.
In and among the usual (“bigot!” “Hateful!” and so on) comes the question “I wonder how many of the people voting for this amendment are divorced? Why should they be telling anyone about marriage?”
Leaving aside that that only makes sense if you presume that gay marriage is immune from divorce – and it is not – it’s an example of the Tu Quoque Ad Hominem – which presumes that if someone has ever said, done or believed anything different than what they are currently arguing, then the current argument is wrong.
Now it’s true that, all other things being equal, only one of the two positions can be right (if, indeed, they are black and white, right or wrong issues with no gray areas, which accounts for rather few things in real life) – but that has nothing to do with whether the current position is, in and of itself, wrong.
The fact that someone’s earlier positions, statements or actions disagree with a current position, statement or action could stem from lots of things; that the person has changed their position for good reason; that they’ve grown, either as a human being or “in office”; that that he or she is a hypocrite (meaning “holds other people to moral positions to which they don’t hold themselves”), that he or she merely hasn’t thought things through all that well, or that they’re just plain flip-flopping. Or maybe more than one of them. Whichever – it doesn’t, in and of itself, invalidate their current argument.
There may be other reasons the argument is invalid – reasonable people can disagree on, to go back to the original example, gay marriage; some may even change their positions over time. But some prior inconsistency doesn’t even make, much less prove, the case.
Go forth and sin no more.
(It’s about this point that some joyless scold – I’m thinking “Tild” or “Spotty” or “Minnesota Observer”, will dig diligently through my blog and find some example of me using exactly this logical fallacy – in effect, saying “Mitch Berg shouldn’t be yapping about logic, since he has been illogical”. And the circle turns).