Liberal arguments use straw men, assume the argument, and use every distraction available to throw you off the main line of argumentation.
Yesterday, I began my criticism of Salon’s Scott Kaufman; I wrote about one of the fallacious tactics he used when we debated on Twitter. Today, I’ll finish off the argument, noting yet another argumentative fallacy Kaufman employed.
Kaufman’s second fallacious tactic was what I call “assuming the argument.” Kaufman took what I was attempting to argue, and extrapolated his own interpretation, presumably to make me look like an idiot, or to throw me off my game.
When I moved from Margaret Sanger’s alleged racism to her obvious and specifically delineated support for eugenics, he pulled this tactic. In her essay “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,” published in 1919, Sanger writes:
“Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit…
While I personally believe in the sterilization of the feeble-minded, the insane and syphilitic, I have not been able to discover that these measures are more than superficial deterrents when applied to the constantly growing stream of the unfit.”
This is just one example where Sanger explicitly shows her support for eugenics. But this wasn’t good enough for Kaufman. He assumed the argument, tweeting:
“What about it? Considered science at the time, later debunked, well-intentioned people supported it. And? What’s next? A war on Lamarckism? John Dewey used it to establish public school standards in the US, after all, so it’s inherently evil too, I take it? A progenitor of Common Core, designed to make children hate America and what-not? Sorry, no dice.
…why do you condemn her and not conservative author of ‘Social Darwinism,’ Charles Sumner?”
With this, Kaufman threw a handful of ideas against the wall to see what would stick. In talking about Dewey, and the public school system, he made a critical error. His implicit argument is that the eugenics supported by Sanger were also supported by others at the time, and as such, it’s somehow acceptable. If Dewey and others were just like Sanger, I’m not allowed to criticize Sanger.
I replied that “common” and “accepted” does not equal “good” or “moral.”
Additionally, Kaufman throws out Common Core, etc, assuming that’s my game, when I never once indicated that. Ever. Check the tweets. No dice, Kaufman.
Lastly, he accuses me of being critical of Sanger, while not being critical of Charles Sumner. I suppose I should apologize. I wasn’t aware that when criticizing Sanger, I had to include in my analysis every single person in all of history who ever supported eugenics.
It’s similar to when I criticize an action taken by President Obama, and someone will chime in with “Well, Bush did the same thing!” To use Kaufman’s language: And? That’s not the argument; it’s a side-track. This is a tactic used by liberals to derail an argument. If you take the bait, it transforms the argument into a maze in which you can quickly get lost. The hope is that you’ll eventually throw in the towel.
Finally, Kaufman played God. Still speaking of Sanger’s support for sterilizing and eradicating the “unfit” (mentally and physically handicapped), Kaufman tweeted:
“Do you even realize that because this is pre-modern synthesis, we’re not talking about genetics? That eugenics was meant, in part, to alleviate the pain of disabled people whose lives were naught but suffering?
…severe mental illness in the 10’s and 20’s could be a fate worse than death. Gah. You realize there wasn’t modern medicine back then, right? That incurable meant (sic) life of suffering, right?”
First, when Sanger speaks of the unfit, she likely wasn’t speaking only of those who were mentally ill, but of those who were mentally challenged. She used words like “imbecile” and “feeble-minded.”
In an unfinished draft document from the “Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Margaret Sanger Microfilm: Smith College Collections,” Sanger writes:
“One authority claims that out of our population of one hundred million only fifteen million can be regarded as intelligent. That eighty-five million have less than average mental capacity and compare to the youth of fifteen years–under this comes the morons, feebleminded, high grade imbeciles, then idiots, etc…
In any effort to cleanse and regenerate the race something must be done about the feebleminded as well as the insane. Feeblemindedness is the more serious of the problems, because it is an absolute dead weight on the race, it is an evil that is unmitigated.”
So, if this document is authentic, as it is believed to be–specifically because Sanger made a speech containing similar content in 1928—the mentally ill aren’t the number one target of Sanger, but rather the mentally challenged.
Once again, I argued that common does not equal right. I also tweeted:
“So Sanger was compassionate in her eugenics? Having a disability, mental or physical, doesn’t mean one’s life is automatically a horrific one.”
I also wrote that it wasn’t the “science at the time” that led Sanger to this belief, but an observation on her part—she saw what she viewed as lesser human life, and made a judgment call.
Lastly, I tweeted the following regarding his “it was the science of the times” argument:
“That’s the same argument people make today when they abort infants prenatally diagnosed w/ Down syndrome.”
His implicit argument—at least in my view—is that Sanger’s desire to sterilize and eliminate the mentally and physically challenged was compassionate. I view it differently.
Kaufman then called me a hypocrite, and I’m fine with that because I know I won the argument. If you want to follow the tweets, but you don’t have a Twitter account, I have screenshots of them at the end of this piece.
The point of this extremely long, two-part piece is to demonstrate how the left argues. They use straw men, they assume the argument, and they use every distraction available to throw you off the main line of argumentation. Don’t let it happen.