The slippery slope fallacy!
So, here’s the scene; it’s summer, 2003 or so, and I’m at the gas station filling up on my way home from the health club. As usual, I’m listening to NPR, and I’ve got two kids in the back seat of the car. Since I almost never use air conditioning, all the windows are open.
At about that time, Massachusetts is debating whether to allow gay marriage in that state, and Diane Rhem is hosting an interesting show where she’s invited a number of pretty smart people to discuss the issue. I decided to leave my radio on after I turned the car off, so as I’m pumping gas (and making googly faces at the girls through their open window), I’m listening to the continued discussion.
Then she starts taking phone calls.
Here’s the thing; I think that most NPR shows are very well done, Diane Rhem’s show in particular. My opinion of them often goes down as soon as they open the phones. No matter how skilled the screener is, some inarticulate moron always manages to get through, and today was a stunning example of just that.
So, Diane does her lovely and gracious greeting, and that’s pretty much where it all went off the rails. The guy – I don’t remember where he was from – starts off well enough, though with the typical ignorant stance of most anti-equality folks; he was concerned about a “radical” shift in the way society functions that gay marriage would bring about. I was only mildly rolling my eyes about his claim that gay marriage would “destroy traditional marriage,” but I lost it when he proceeded to ask, “What’s next?!”
That, Folks, right there – “What’s next?!” – is a surefire indication that things are going to get stupid in a big, fat hurry.
Our caller was sure – SURE, I tell you! – that gay marriage wasn’t just going to lead to a devaluation of ‘traditional marriage’ (whatever the hell that meant in his fevered, frightened little brain). No, no, Friends and Neighbors! Gay marriage was going to lead to full-on social anarchy! “If we let the gays marry, what’s to keep the Mormons from going back to polygamy? What’s to keep someone from marrying his sister? Or his dog? Or his TOASTER?!”
Yes; he actually insinuated that gay marriage would lead to toaster marriage. I startled both of my children (and most of the customers at the gas station) by screaming at my radio through the open windows.
And that, right there, is the slippery slope fallacy; the argument that, if we allow this thing, A, to happen, a whole cascade of other, usually catastrophic and often ridiculous effects, B-Z, will necessarily follow. Now, it may well be true that if A, then B and C and D, but the slippery slope argument doesn’t bother to articulate a relationship between A and any of the resultant effects.
The other day, I was engaged in a “discussion” on a friend’s facebook wall about the FDA’s efforts to ban trans fats from processed foods (my friend invited me to the discussion as a counter balance to her crazy in-laws). Before long (I think it took all of two back-and-forths), we went from the FDA banning trans fats to the banning of coffee and donuts, to the complete and total revocation of any and all gun rights.
Wear rhetorical cleats, People; don’t slide down the slippery slope.