Category Archives: Weak Analogy

Oh, the analogy

A long while back, I noted that most discussions about gay marriage are more like races to who could pose one of the three tired old analogies first.  The three variables are: race, polygamy, and bestiality.  If you can pose the analogy first, you have a kind of dialectical advantage — even if the analogy isn’t perfect.  This is because there’s a kind of defensive posture the opposition must take, once the analogy is posed — they have to answer this line of argument before they can proceed with their own, and this often takes more time and energy than we normally allot for our critical discussions.  And so, for familiar structural reasons (we always have a dearth of time an energy for critical discussion), those who wield the analogy first are those who often get to claim they came out the best.

So much for the strategic argumentative elements of argument by analogy.  There are a few other things to note.  First, all analogies, in the end, are limited.  They can find some relevant feature that’s the same, but they also must have their differences.  Analogies are not identities.  Second, the form of argument by analogy in this context is off of a deep principle of justice:

Treat like cases alike

The strategy with analogy is to identify the similarity between two cases and show that because we have an unproblematic precedent of treatment with one kind of case, we, assuming the deep principle of justice, treat the other case similarly.  And so, if discriminating against gays is like discriminating against blacks, we shouldn’t.  And if discriminating against gays is like discriminating against people who want to have sex with sheep, we should.  Everything hangs on the relevant similarities between the cases, and so, everything hangs on the aptness of the similarities between the cases.  And we should, being good, rational arguers, be open to the possibility that our analogies are weak and the opposition’s are strong.  That happens.

Will Saletan’s post over at Salon is an exercise in this kind of argumentative humility.  He takes the analogy between race and sexual orientation to be a good analogy, but he’s willing to note where there may be relevant moral differences between the two.  Primarily it’s about the issue of having children.

The central, categorical objection to gay marriage is that same-sex couples can’t produce biological children together…. Just because I don’t agree with an argument, however, doesn’t mean it’s irrational. Marriage has historically been a sexual institution. A rational person can maintain that a relationship between two people categorically incapable of producing children together—that is, two people of the same sex—can’t be a marriage. That argument doesn’t justify denying them the right to love one another openly, nor does it justify denying them the benefits and honors we bestow on couples for making lifetime commitments. But it can justify a person’s refusal to accept a same-sex relationship as a marriage.

Saletan’s giving the case for disanalogy it’s due.  He follows this noting:

The argument has plenty of problems. We let old people marry. We let infertile people marry. We don’t insist that married couples produce kids. We welcome adoption and stepfamilies. Gay couples can have kids using donated eggs or sperm. Many gay people are already raising children, and doing it just as well as straight people.

All of that is true. But I’d be remiss to omit the rejoinder from George and his colleagues: Sex is a much brighter line than fertility or intention to bear children. It’s certainly a less intrusive distinction to enforce.

This is now a point about legal treatment – the law isn’t about your intentions with the marriage, it’s about what can reasonably be expected in it.  In this regard, it is right that the case for analogy between race and sex-orientation discrimination is weaker.  But, again, analogies are not identities, and to hold them to the standard that the cases be identical is crazy.

In this respect, I think Saletan’s on the right track both argumentatively and politically to acknowledge that there may be differences between these cases.  But the differences are still insufficient to break the relevance of the analogy.

How to turn your analogy to straw

Marco Rubio recently made an interesting analogy after the release of the CBO report.  He said that the likelihood of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) actually helping people is as great as the likelihood of the Denver Broncos coming back from their fourth-quarter deficit in the SuperBowl.

I know that there are still some who hold out hope that Obamacare will work, just like there were some in Denver this Sunday still holding out hope that the Broncos could come back and win in the fourth quarter.

Now, there is some debate on the matter, but let’s give Rubio the point for the sake of argument.  However, if we do, then Aaron Goldstein has a critical point to make:

But let’s not forget that the Broncos actually made it to the Super Bowl. The Broncos were the second best team in the NFL in 2013….

If Rubio is going to compare Obamacare to a football team he should invoke the 2008 Detroit Lions who went 0-16. Better still, the junior Senator from Florida could also speak of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went 0-14. This would be a far more apt comparison because when it comes to Obamacare no one wins.

Ah, a lesson in how to turn an analogy into a straw man.  At least the Rubio analogy conceded that the ACA had something going for it (at least the Broncos had a chance to make points back earlier), but Goldstein refuses even that.  Beyond this, the point Rubio was trying to make with the analogy was one of prospects, like for the future, not retrospects, looking at the past.  Oh well, when the objective is to paint your political opponents in the worst lights, saving the actual point is beside the point.

Persecution anxiety

Bruce Chapman reports at AmSpec that Christians are widely persecuted around the world, and one of the prominent examples is the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Chapman says someone should do something about it.  That’s right.  Ah, but then he hypothesizes why people haven’t already done something about it:

One reason for neglect in Washington is probably the continuing secularization of the West. Political forces that demand that domestic religious organizations provide employees insurance for contraception, that Christmas manger scenes be banned from the town park and that graduating high school seniors not be allowed to invoke God in their valedictory addresses are not the kind of people who care much about Christian prisoners in the North Korean gulag or burning churches in Egypt.

Here’s the analogy behind Chapman’s explanation.  Those who oppose mangers in town squares and compulsory prayer are like those who put Christians in gulags and burn churches — they sympathize with the oppressors.  In Chapman’s eyes, secularism is religious oppression lite.

Chapman’s error is that those who oppose state-sanctioned religious displays do so precisely in the spirit of opposing oppression.  Sure, it may feel like being oppressed when the state capitol doesn’t have a manger scene – you’re not getting complete control over the state.  But that’s not oppression, that’s a reduction in your undeserved and disproportionate power.

And so the analogy isn’t just false, it’s entirely backwards — you get the kind of oppression of gulags and church burnings when you have a state that endorses only one kind of religious view.  You see, the secularization of the West isn’t motivated by the desire to oppress the religious, but by the desire to reduce religious oppression.

Santa brought you a fallacy

USA Today recently reported that “not all Christians believe there is a War on Christmas.”  Most who don’t have this belief have the contrary belief – that not only that there is not a war on Christmas, but that the holiday is doing just fine and one doesn’t need to force it on the non-believers.

But Larry Thornberry at AmSpec sees a fallacy:

A recent USA Today story carried the headline “Not all Christians believe there is a ‘War on Christmas.’”  Hardly surprising. Not all Christians believe Elvis is dead. The obvious escapes many, pious or heathen.

The title of the piece is “Objection, Your Honor. Relevance?”

Two important things.  First, ad populum arguments are not failures of relevance.  Otherwise the fact that something is ‘traditional’ or ‘common sense’ wouldn’t lend any support to anything.  But it does – else conservatism would, at it’s core, be a fallacy.  Ad populum arguments suffer, instead, from problems of weak authority – the matter is whether there are other reasons undercutting the authority or the accuracy of those attesting.

Second, the analogy between those who don’t believe in a War on Christmas and those who believe Elvis is still alive is mighty ridiculous.  The difference between the two is that Elvis-death-deniers fail with empirical evidence.  War-on-Christmas deniers distinguish being oppressed from tolerance.

 

Ad Fuhrer-em

We’ve been doing a lot of Ad Hitlerem-spotting these days at the NS, but, hey, it’s the season of the Godwin.  Check out the statement from Brenda Barton (R) from Arizona on Facebook:

Someone is paying the National Park Service thugs overtime for their efforts to carry out the order of De Fuhrer… where are our Constitutional Sheriffs who can revoke the Park Service Rangers authority to arrest??? Do we have any Sheriffs with a pair?

I object for a few reasons.  First is just linguistic.  It’s der Fuhrer.  Second is analogical – how in any way is using the force charged with protecting the parks to close the parks like Hitler’s abuse of power in Germany? And park service rangers are given police force training.

Here’s the rich part.  Barton’s responded to criticism of her post, and she’s issued the following clarification.

What I did suggest, rather directly, was that the National Park Service enforcement personnel (referring to them as ‘thugs’ for their reported behavior) were simply following orders of ‘their leader’ – and I used the German phrase for emphasis, Der Fuhrer. . . .I am referencing the Presidents behavior as indicated by his actions. The Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary defines ‘Fuhrer’ as ‘(2) a leader exercising tyrannical authority. . . . As many are aware, some recent comments of mine on Facebook have touched a sensitive nerve with many people. Additionally, many have simply taken my posting out of its contextual environment. . .  Had I chosen my words differently, or had the President offered to use the power of his office to lessen or mute the public impacts of this impasse in Washington, we might not be having this discussion.

OK, so the defense is as follows:

1. When I use ‘De Fuhrer’ I just mean ‘tyrant’

2. When I used the term it was for emphasis, and to take it as more is to take it out of context.

3. It’s the president’s fault that I had to compare him to Hitler.

Point-for-point, silly.  In fact, to use 1 and 2 together is inconsistent.  The term ‘Fuhrer’ has the emphasis it does not because its usage as leader, or even tyrant, but as THAT tyrant named Adolph.  The context of using ‘Fuhrer’ is the context of exemplifying Godwin’s Law.  3 is amazing.  In effect – it’s not my fault that I can’t think of another apt analogy… I mean the guy’s literally like Hitler when he does this!   (This is, really, a case of instead of backing away from the Ad Hitlerem, but embracing it!)

My Godwin-Sense was tingling

CRUZ Budget_Battle-0a51e

In Godwin’s Law news (and another instantiation of the Ad Tyrranem -Ad Hitlerem), Ted Cruz’s recent Senate speech has a classic:

I suspect those same pundits who say [defunding Obamacare] can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. . . .They would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans

In this case, it’s not an argument that what’s being opposed is wrong, but that not actively opposing the thing is wrong.  I think, then we have two different forms of the ad Hitlerem.

Direct Ad Hitlerem:

You do X or propose X

Hitler did X or proposed X

Therefore, you’re like Hitler and X is wrong.

Here, I  think Cruz is making an indirect form of Ad Hitlerem.  It runs roughly:

He does X (and X is wrong)

We can stop him from doing X

His doing X is like Hitler’s doing Y

Therefore, he’s not only wrong to do X, but we’re wrong (read: appeasers) to not actively oppose and stop his doing X.

My view about Ad Hitlerem is that it’s a weak analogy, and that’s the case for both direct and indirect.  A further thing about the indirect form is that it depends on the direct form.  Essentially: This guy is like Hitler , so this guy is bad (Direct form); If you can stop a guy who’s bad like Hitler, you should as to fail to do so is appeasement (Indirect form).

Ad tyrannem

glenn_beck

OK, the old Godwin’s Law observation with Ad Hitlerem is standard.  And we’ve here noted the Ad Stalinem.  But Glenn Beck just used, in his NYT interview, an analogy with Mao Tse-Tung with similar effect.

 I think these guys (progressives) are the biggest danger in the world. It’s the people like Mao, people that believe that big government is the answer, it always leads to millions dead — always.

For sure, Hitler analogies deserve their own name, but they are of a specific class of arguments by analogy roughly captured as the argument by analogy with some tyrant, so I’ve proposed Ad Tyrannem as the general class.

Oh, another irony is that not but a paragraph up from the implication that progressives will be putting people to death, Beck wishes that the American people could just get along.

Ad Stalinem

obamarodeoclown

We’ve had discussions of the Ad Hitlerem and Godwin’s Law here at the NS a few times.  There’s a close cousin to it, which is the Ad Stalinem.  The argument runs in the form:

You did X

Stalin did X (or something like it)

Therefore, your doing X is wrong.  And you’re like Stalin.

Arguments by analogy have trouble with relevance, and this one has plenty. In recent news, a rodeo clown took over the mic at a state fair in Missouri and put on an Obama mask.  The announcer asked if they wanted to see Obama run down by a bull.  That’s pretty crazy.  The rodeo clown in the mask has been banned for life from participating in rodeos in Missouri, and all the other cowboys have been required to attend sensitivity training seminars.

The RIGHT, instead of feeling a little silly for catering to people who think that having bulls trample a president in effigy is good political commentary, they rush to these guys defense.  This is where the Ad Salinem comes in.  So here’s a taste of it over at the American Spectator:

I’m surprised, in the efforts to lynch the Obama Clown and brainwash other cowboys with sensitivity training, that the Obama regime and cronies have failed to recount one of my favorite Stalin stories from long ago.

After a hard day’s work, Uncle Joe blessed a Moscow circus with his presence. The clowns performed a bit that contained (what Stalin perceived as) political commentary obliquely critical of him. Yet the audience roared with delight at the funny clowns!

True to form, Stalin had his armed guards line up the clowns in center ring and execute them, on the spot.

Then, as a clever follow-up on Stalin’s part, he had the guards turn their guns on the audience and slaughter dozens. Call it a curtain call: it was curtains for all.

Oh, the dangers of mocking Great Leaders.

For arguments by analogy to work, there must be some important factors in common between the cases.  Here are a few.  1. The objection to the clown’s portrayal of Obama wasn’t about criticizing his policies, but about the racist overtones of the portrayal. 2. None of the consequences visited on him are from the Obama administration, but from the Missouri State Fair officials.  3. Nobody in the audience had anything bad happen to them.  4. If you look at the picture closely, you’ll see that it looks like the guy’s got a broom halfway up his butt.  He should be fired for that, solely.  That’s not funny. It’s weird. Even for a rodeo clown.

A bad analogy is like a slacker boyfriend

Check out the report on the new conservative women’s movement, or conservative feminism at AmSpec.  The best part was that they thought the best way to reply to the Republican war on women meme was to analogize the Obama Presidency to a bad date or an unreliable boyfriend.  That’s, by the way, not a way to relate to women in a way that will undo the thought that the Republican Party doesn’t take them seriously.  See the video:

The NSA knows about your analogy and slippery slope

In response to challenges to the legality and morality of the NSA’s surveillance program, President Obama said we should have a healthy debate about it (video HERE).  This occasions George Neumayr at the American Spectator to make this comparison:

He is open to a “healthy” debate about it. Holder and Obama are like drunk drivers who cause a pile-up and then stroll back innocently to see if they can “help.”

And when President Obama makes it clear that the content of the calls is not monitored, Neumayr sees a slope looming:

In a few years, the line will move to: yes, we are listening to your calls, but we are not recording them; yes, we are forcing you to pay for abortion but we are not requiring you undergo one.

The trouble is that in both the analogy and in the slippery slope, we have Neumayr assuming that the harm is already in the surveillance as it is.  Notice that both of the Obama replies to criticism has been to challenge that thought — the harm of surveillance would be on content.