Tag Archives: Bad Arguments

Take this job and shove it

Sitting now on Capitol Hill is a bill, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims "to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes."  Put another way, equal work ought by law to equal equal pay.

Enter AEI Scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, writing in the New York Times op-ed page.  She points out, let's say correctly because this isn't the point, that some women earn more than men:

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

Sounds like great news.  Those women won't need the legal recourse proposed in the bill.  For that reason, I don't see the relevance of this point at all.  So let's call it a red herring.  I also don't see the relevance in some of her other apples-to-oranges points:

Moreover, a 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that the aggregate wage gap “may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

In addition to differences in education and training, the review found that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to take care of children or older parents. They also tend to value family-friendly workplace policies more than men, and will often accept lower salaries in exchange for more benefits. In fact, there were so many differences in pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual effect due to discrimination.

Hurray again for these men and women, but the issue is equal pay for equal work, so this would seem likely not to apply–another red herring.  No one, I think, could honestly say she ought to get paid the same as someone else even though she's not doing equal work. 

Her argument gets worse.  In addition to instances where women make more than men (again, that's great so long as everyone is equally and fairly compensated), the passage of a bill meant to remedy inequality will put an end to debate on the matter:

Some of the bill’s supporters admit that the pay gap is largely explained by women’s choices, but they argue that those choices are skewed by sexist stereotypes and social pressures. Those are interesting and important points, worthy of continued public debate.

The problem is that while the debate proceeds, the bill assumes the answer: it would hold employers liable for the “lingering effects of past discrimination” — “pay disparities” that have been “spread and perpetuated through commerce.” Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism.

I think the bill assumes the answer to the question of equal pay for equal work.  On those other questions, I'm sure the good folks at the AEI will keep us busy. 

As I conclude here notice one thing–the use of quotes to suggest some kind of ominous future.  Those quotes from from the "findings" portion of the bill.  They're like the hopes and dreams of the bill, in other words.  They hope that making employers actually pay people equally for equal work will have this effect.  They're not alleging that employers must remedy historical wrongs.  They mean they can't continue to do wrong.  To suggest they do is to invent an entirely new and silly argument–a hollow man.   

One final point, as a general rule, dear authors, "picking out quotes" with "dick fingers" is just "wrong." 


Some maintain that arguments are dialogues and such therefore be evaluated as such.  I have my doubts about this view, because so many of the arguments I encounter seem to be monologues, or at least the critical parts of them don't have anything to do with dialoguing with someone who disagrees with you (assuming the back-and-forth exchange is what is meant by "dialogue").  They seem–the critical parts–to be old-fashioned inferences of the inductive variety, or variations thereof.

Here's an example.  Today George Will argues ("superbly" according to some twitterers) that collective action to address an economic crisis is bad.  His argument, such as it is, goes something like this:

1.  During the depression, FDR's NRA attempted  price-fixing as a tool of economic recovery;

2.  One of those charged with overseeing this program admired Mussolini;

3.  Those who attempted to sell goods or services for less than the fixed price were punished  (just like in Cold War Poland);

4.  Today, as in the Great Depression, the government is trying to aid recovery:

Today, as 76 years ago, economic recovery is much on the mind of the government, which is busy as a beaver — sending another $26 billion to public employees, proposing an additional $50 billion for "infrastructure" — as it orchestrates Recovery Summer to an appropriate climax. But at least today's government is agnostic about the proper price for cleaning a suit.  

5.  But, in 1937 the Great Depression got worse:

In 1937, FDR asked in his second inaugural address for "unimagined power" to enforce "proper subordination" of private interests to public authority. The biggest industrial collapse in American history occurred eight years after the stock market crash of 1929, and nearly five years into the New Deal, in . . . 1937.

6.  Therefore:

The NRA lives on, sort of, in this Milton Friedman observation: Pick at random any three letters from the alphabet, put them in any order, and you will have an acronym designating a federal agency we can do without.

That's the best I can do with this argument.  In the first place, Will hasn't done anything to show that price-fixing (or the New Deal) caused the industrial collapse of 1937.  Second, there seems to be no analogy between stimulus spending on teachers, firefighters and police (among others) and arguably misguided price-fixing in the Thirties.  

Now had this been some kind of back and forth of a dialogue, WIll might have anticipated that.  But he didn't.   

Because it has a dormitive power

Throughout the internets there has been headsratching and headshaking over this op-ed by NYT's David Brooks-in-training, Ross Douthat

He begins by admitting that the arguments of gay marriage opponents have so far failed:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

Good for him, those arguments are bad.  Not to be outdone by them, however, he's going to offer one of his own, which, as you'll see, is worse than the ones he's just rejected, because, well, it's the same!  Continuing directly:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

Get that–marrigage is uniquely admirable because it's distinctive, particular, difficult, and uniquely admirable.  But this is really just the tradition argument again–straight non-divorcing marriage is admirable because that's what we admire it, it's our ideal of something admirable.  Nothing else is unique like it (although one would have to admit that gay marriages are pretty darn unique). 

The question begged here, of course, what makes it admirable in the first place.  This is especially interesting because he's just knocked down all of the reasons for thinking it's admirable.  Being unique, or difficult, of course, are not reasons for admiring something.  Nor is something being admirable a reason for admiring it.

Skipping a few bewildering paragraphs, he warns us about what is to come if we fail to beg the question with him:

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Allowing homosexuals to get married will only bolster the case that they're more awesome at marriage than straights are.  Once people begin to realize that, then gay marriage will be a moral necessity–even for straight people.  At least that's what I think he's saying, because I fail to see the context of "morally necessary." 

More absurd, however, is the idea that marriage's being (as Douthat conceives it) a great idea of Western Civilization justifies discrmination against gay marriage.  Well, in the first place, it's not really an idea of Western Civilization (traditional Western-Civ marriage isn't anything like this alleged ideal).  Second, he's just told us that argument sucks (and it does). 

Third, and most importantly, legally recognizing homosexual marriage doesn't mean straight marriage is not a great idea, even if it were.

I wanted to make history

Here's an entertaining misuse of an argument schema (or topic as they were once called):

KRAUTHAMMER: It’s only nine times the length of the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln was answering an easier question, the higher purpose of the union and soldiers who fell in battle. The president had an easy answer. He could have said I wanted to make history with health care and to do it I have to raise your taxes. … End of answer.

He's talking about Obama's response to a question about health care and taxes–a response that went 17 minutes.  Aside from the fact that Krauthammer's argument just blows, as the Gettsyburg address wasn't a response to a specific question about policy, the form of this argument is ludicrous.  Imagine–every policy matter less important than the preservation of the Union (or the tyranny of Northern aggression, depending on your viewpoint) must be discussed for a time commensurate with its relationship to the Gettsyburg Address.

Cornell, ever heard of it?

Thankfully Cornell University's very excellent philosophy program is off the hook for the following travesty:

What follows is a series of ad hominem tu quoques.  For instance:

One could argue that, but one would be wrong.  Perhaps she should have taken a logic class as well.

Courtesy of the guys at Sadly, No!

On the pier

Some military types together penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing against gays in the military.  Some of their arguments are manifestly absurd–like this one:

And the damage would not stop there. Legislation introduced to repeal Section 654 (H.R. 1283) would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates "nondiscrimination" against "homosexuality, or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." Mandatory training classes and judicial proceedings would consume valuable time defining that language. Team cohesion and concentration on missions would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them.

We don't need a study commission to know that tensions are inevitable in conditions offering little or no privacy, increasing the stress of daily military life. "Zero tolerance" of dissent would become official intolerance of anyone who disagrees with this policy, forcing additional thousands to leave the service by denying them promotions or punishing them in other ways. Many more will be dissuaded from ever enlisting. There is no compelling national security reason for running these risks to our armed forces. Discharges for homosexual conduct have been few compared with separations for other reasons, such as pregnancy/family hardship or weight-standard violations. There are better ways to remedy shortages in some military specialties than imposing social policies that would escalate losses of experienced personnel who are not easily replaced.

"Nondiscrimation" (in quotes!) sounds odd, to say the least, in the context of an argument arguing for systematic and legalized discrimination against homosexuals.  Aside from its grade C sophistry, this argument repeats the claim uttered by many that their civil rights would be infringed upon if homosexual marriages are legally recognized–a claim made in a recent commercial against gay marriage.  See here for entertaining commentary on that particular advertisement.

On the other merits of the piece, the authors argue many–too many–would leave the military (in a time when we need them all).  The primary cause would seem to be the "forced intimacy" required by military life: 

Section 654 recognizes that the military is a "specialized society" that is "fundamentally different from civilian life." It requires a unique code of personal conduct and demands "extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense." The law appreciates military personnel who, unlike civilians who go home after work, must accept living conditions that are often "characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy." 

Not having been in the military, I can't really attest to that (anyone?).  But one can easily imagine it.  What might be a counter example to this–perhaps the only comprehensible worry on behalf of those afraid of homosexuals, at least the only one the authors mention–might be some other military which allows gays to serve openly.  And indeed there is one, or two or more.  The authors write:

Some suggest that the United States must emulate Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada, which have incorporated homosexuals into their forces. But none of these countries has the institutional culture or worldwide responsibilities of our military. America's armed forces are models for our allies' militaries and the envy of our adversaries — not the other way around. 

They might have just added: those countries, however, serve red herring, a nutritionally deficient form of sustenance, in their MREs.  The question is whether allowing gays in the military–especially in Canada, a country very much like ours, with troops committed overseas in various operations–has affected military service in Canada.  Did mass amounts of people leave the military?  The fact that our military might be the envy of our adversaries is immaterial and irrelevant–unless, of course, they "envy" it's not gayness.