The “I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of society” fallacy.

As someone that is actively involved in politics I get into a lot of debates some of them are formal and others informal. However, pretty frequently the reason given in support of or against certain issues or matters of public policy is reduced to a very small list of points that are designed to stop the conversation cold. These aren’t well-reasoned arguments, but rather they are rote rhetorical devices that simply have no proper place in a debate at all.

This evening I will discuss one of my least favorite of these rhetorical devices. It is a device that, when someone convincingly argues one way the opponent will respond in the form: “Oh, well, I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of society”.

I dislike this for more reasons than I can list, but here are a few that roll off the top of my head:

  • First off, this rhetorical device is a distraction that intentionally diverts attention from the real issue at hand to some other peripheral issue. It tends to befuddles the other participants in the debate and, at the same time, confuses the audience. This tactic is really just a type of escape pod that anyone who has the unhappy chance of being argued into a corner can use by first simply feigning vulnerability and then deploying this weapon. Let’s Imagine a debate between a conservative and a progressive over healthcare reform, abortion, and women’s rights. Now, secondly let’s imagine that the conservative has made a a convincing case. Well, in this case the progressive simply needs to argue thusly:”Oh you’re a hater, and we all see how bad you are! I mean seriously, if this guy got his way then we’d all be walking around with doilies on our heads and about a half-dozen children hanging from our limbs; and I, for one, wouldn’t want to live in that kind of society.”In my imagination I can already see the heads nodding in horrifying automatic approval …
  • Secondly it should be completely obvious that by using this device the rhetorician is not merey using an appeal to emotion but rather they are absolutely reveling in the fact that they are doing so. No, not everyone is William S. Burroughs, so please stop the pretense.
  • Third, it is simply arrogant  to deride someone else’s potentially well-thought-out positions while, at the same time, offering little more than an indignant logical fallacy as the basis of your own sociopolitical outlook. Moreover, the statement  ”I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of society” presupposes that there exists a possibility for a more desirable political arrangement than the one that exists right now. However, and here’s the kicker, using the statement implies that the one saying it understands the whole damn system better than the rest of us.
  • Fourth, some may say that the person employing this device is just as much a part of society as anyone else and is therefore entitled via the democratic process to make a political position just like anyone else. I concede this insofar as the position is congruous with the preconditions of a limited government. If the item in question is incongruent with the limiting principle (i.e. the Constitution) then the point isn’t properly political in the first place.
  • Finally, the word “society” is a misnomer. A Wikipedia author defines ”society” as:

    A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

    On the other hand, what we are actually talking about is government action. governments are not society, and it’s an enormous error to equate the two. Yes, government has a role in society but society is the organism upon which the institution of government is built. Not the other way around.

Just an observation: I do find it very funny that nearly every political persuasion uses this device. Often times conservatives talk about the moral decay of society and, because they wouldn’t want to live in that kind of society, they draw a clear line to certain areas of government action. No less often do progressives deride the lack of fairness in society and then, because inaction would be too horrible a thing to consider, they draw the line to different types of action. Libertarians talk about free market principles as if it were a metaphysical force rather than an economic observation and thus draw a line to government IN-action; which is just a very specialized type of action.

And so I guess, just to close this rant, please consider making a well-reasoned case for your arguments rather than this rhetorical device. I sure know that I will take more time going forward because, I for one wouldn’t want to live in the kind of society where everyone used nothing but silly rhetorical devices to get their point across.