Rejecting partisan arguments because they are partisan is… partisan.
According to Nizkor.org, the genetic fallacy “is a line of ‘reasoning’ in which a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself.”
The process of argumentation—building up, and tearing down arguments—is an easy one. Well, it should be, if one adheres to logical constructs, and avoids fallacies. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes what is perceived as a fallacious argument is not in fact fallacious. That being said, I have found that argumentative fallacies are most often used to steer a debate off topic–even unconsciously. When one’s position is lacking in substance, and at least partially indefensible, argumentative fallacies can help one avoid, or even “win” debates which, if argued properly, would have been lost.
Recently, a friend (henceforth referred to as Jim) posted something on social media regarding the Hobby Lobby case. In the post, Jim mentioned that he was proud of his parents for their refusal to shop at Hobby Lobby. Other comments suggested that Hobby Lobby was anti-woman, and bigoted, etc. I left a link in the comments section to an article I had written months ago—which can be viewed here—in which I lay out several pertinent facts regarding Hobby Lobby’s stance on contraception. I specifically outline that Hobby Lobby didn’t oppose contraception at large, simply the four that were classified as abortifacients:
“Is Hobby Lobby now allowed to enter women’s homes in the dead of night, and steal their birth control? Are they anti-woman? No. The court decision means that closely held corporations (a corp in which 50% of the value of the company’s outstanding stock is owned by five or fewer people) no longer must provide coverage for contraceptives to which they are morally opposed. Hobby Lobby, in particular, only objects to the abortifacients, which constitute four of approximately twenty contraceptive drugs, and devices. So, if a woman works for Hobby Lobby, she still has access to sixteen forms of contraception under her insurance. So excuse me if I’m not clutching my pearls because a woman might have to purchase her own abortion pill after a night of unprotected sex.”
Jim then posted that he had stopped reading after the words “disseminated by the left,” which appear early on in the article. He then told me to find a non-partisan article, and he would read it. Someone else then commented that partisan language shows bias—and I suppose that sealed my fate. One cannot be partisan, or biased, and also truthful. If one is biased, all information they disseminate must be false. That was the argument being pitched. Jim fell prey to the genetic fallacy.
We all have biases; it’s simply a part of living. Over the course of our lives, we develop certain beliefs, and these beliefs are predicated on our own life experiences. While those experiences do indeed shape our beliefs, they do not prevent us from formulating arguments based on logic, and reason which exist outside the scope of those experiences. We have the ability to examine our own biases, and separate them from facts, and evidence. It is a critical piece of human psychology to think in the abstract; it allows us to understand different points of view, and play Devil’s advocate.
For example, it is the job of a prosecuting attorney to convince a jury that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, to do this, he must present evidence, both factual, and circumstantial, which corroborates his position. Despite his desire to see the jury reach a guilty verdict, the evidence provided must still be of sound quality. Additionally, to be able to present sound evidence for his case, he must examine, and grapple with the opposition’s perspective, thus thinking in the abstract. The bias of the prosecuting attorney has no bearing on the facts he may present, just as my natural bias toward conservatism does not have any bearing on the facts related to the Hobby Lobby case. It is empirically true that Hobby Lobby still provides sixteen varieties of contraception. It is empirically true that only the abortifacients were removed from coverage. Those are simply facts. My biases, while guiding my presentation of the information, do not invalidate that information. I fully understand that some believe Hobby Lobby to be anti-woman, but the facts of the case don’t bear that out. I came to my conclusion only after examining both sides of the issue, as one must. Is it anti-woman to be morally opposed to abortifacients, and as such, not want to fund them with your own money? Is that a fact? No, it’s an opinion. But the facts remain the same.
It is intellectually dishonest, and cowardly to refuse to read, and take into consideration an opinion that contravenes one’s own simply because it contains “partisan language.” It’s a cop-out.