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Slippery Slope

by Hans Bluedorn

Slippery Slope

I thought that Tuesday was going to be the last chance I would have with the election rhetoric. But as it turns out, as of this writing, it's still going strong.

The logical fallacy of Slippery Slope comes up from time to time as an attempt to dissuade someone from taking a particular course of action. This argument objects to a proposal in question – like whether or not to legalize marijuana – not because of its inherent faults, but rather out of fear it would create a "slippery slope" that would irreversibly slide events into a chain of disasters – marijuana today, heroin tomorrow. (By the way, I don't support legalizing drugs.)

For example: "No, Johnny, you can't buy that snare drum. We do not believe in loud rock music and once you start on that path, that is where you'll end up – touring the country hooked on dope."

A Slippery Slope argument usually does not answer whether the item in question is actually right or wrong, but rather predicts a chain of events which could happen once the first link is granted. Nothing is said aboutHOW this concession would create such a chain – propelling events into destruction – but an aura of fear and premonition is felt all the same.

Here are a couple Slippery Slopes I found in the more recent news:

Quote: "A recount does not resolve the question. There must be a legitimate vote to begin with, and this did not happen. At issue is the integrity of the vote, the legitimacy of the next president, and the credibility of our democracy." – Jessie Jackson at a Chicago press conference November 10

Jackson's essential argument is: "One double voted ballot not counted today, tomorrow anarchy." While an "illegitimate vote" may be a bad thing and could lead to the evils he listed, Jessie Jackson says nothing to back these things up. How will an illegitimate vote cause these evils?

"Joseph Lieberman on NBC's "Today" show warned that an unjust election will cause America to "go into the new century divided with a president who does not have legitimacy." – From the Yahoo website.

Why would the election be unjust? How does it lead to a divided country?

It is important to note that with almost all Slippery Slopes, there is involved an appeal to fear. Dire consequences are predicted and fears are aroused that events will precipitate into something nobody will want. This fallacy tries to get you to think with your legs instead of your head.

How do you deal with a Slippery Slope?

The reality is, when dealing with situations like this, each individual concession should be treated on its own merits. An improper ballot should be treated as an improper ballot, not as the beginning of anarchy – unless there is some reason to believe it will lead to that. A drum should be treated as a drum and not necessarily as a road to "The Beatles." Legalizing marijuana should be treated as legalizing marijuana, not as legalizing all drugs. Unless it can be shown it will necessarily lead to it, superfluous material should be ignored.

You must insist that the arguer show you why he believes each step of his proposed chain is likely to occur. If he can do that, his argument may be valid.

Your turn to guess the fallacy.

The following election quote was also found on the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition website (headed by Jessie Jackson). There is illogical reasoning/reasonings to be found in this quote. See if you can find it/them. Hint: Jessie Jackson attacks something other than the argument.

Quote: "The worst result [in this election] would be one that left Americans believing that this election was stolen in a state whose Governor is George Bush's brother. That would be a nightmare no matter which man became president.

It is dubious enough that the person who won the majority of the popular vote in the country has not been declared the winner. Particularly since the electoral college was invented largely as a scheme to allow Southern states to count slaves as three_fifths human, insuring their domination of national elections for the first decades of the Republic. We cannot compound that by foreshortening a complete and impartial investigation of the Florida allegations. Now is the time for justice, not for politics." – Jessie Jackson on the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition website

Here are a few fallacies to choose from:

A. Genetic Ad Hominem: an attempt to prove a conclusion false by attacking its source (its genesis), not the argument itself.

"The only reason why you disagree with me is because you were abused as a child."

"That church cannot possibly be good. It was formed by an unregenerate heretic."

B. Innuendo: inferring something bad is going on without actually saying it.

"I find it funny that my opponent opposes a minimum wage increase considering the fact that he has accepted over one million dollars from big manufacturing companies."

"It is very suspicious that the defendant was found just one block away from where the crime was committed."

C. Hasty Generalization: over generalizing about something without a sufficient sample.

"All Fords are bad. I once owned a Ford and it was junk."

"I don't think anybody lives in North Dakota. Everybody I ever talked to who was from there didn't live there anymore.

D. Appeal to Ignorance: saying something is true because it hasn't been proven false.

"You can't prove you didn't steal that car so you must be guilty."

"No evidence has been found that there isn't life on other planets. Therefore, we are not alone in the universe."

E. All of the above.

Copyright November 21, 2000, all rights reserved. 7520 views


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