Whenever a vexed public question nears some point of decision, the arguments for and against become increasingly desperate, even hysterical. That’s when common reasoning errors known as ‘fallacies’ are especially easy to spot.
Take the current furore around the issue of marriage equality.
MP Tony Abbott gave us all a beautiful rendition of the Complex Question Fallacy; by confusing several irrelevant issues with the one under consideration he makes the vote about something it isn’t. Like this:
‘If you’re worried about religious freedom, and freedom of speech, vote no… if you don’t like political correctness, vote no; because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks’
It’s one of a class of error known as ‘Fallacies of Distraction’. Here’s another:
Former MP and House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop claimed that same sex marriage was part of a progressive movement that also supports the late abortion of disabled children, polygamy and the legalisation of sex between animals and humans.
That’s a classic False Dilemma Fallacy: by pretending that there are no other alternatives, she’s declared that if you’re for same sex marriage you’re automatically for murder, adultery and bestiality. Brilliant.
But the most popular error of this class in past weeks has been the Slippery Slope Fallacy – if you allow this seemingly harmless change you begin an inevitable slow descent to chaos and madness.
Senator Cory Bernardi (who even used the term ‘Slippery Slope’) warned us that marriage equality is a ‘rainbow Trojan horse’ for sneaking radical gender politics (including bestiality) into schools while Senator Eric Abetz accepted the notion that it would ultimately allow people to marry inanimate objects, specifically the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Fallacies of Distraction serve to divert our attention away from the real issue. They’re the kind of error that, from the mouths ordinary people could be forgiven as genuinely woolly thinking.
But it’s hard to believe that highly-educated elected leaders and representatives could make such basic cognitive blunders; after all, these are people who really should (and no doubt do) know better.
Maybe they’re just distracted. Or hoping we are.