I recently (well, not really recently, but recently enough) had a rather surreal experience with a Twitter personality whom I like and respect a lot, @PolitiBunny (who has since either changed her Twitter handle or deleted her account). We were tweeting back and forth about abortion and I brought to the discussion my argument that the propriety of the right of abortion must end at 16 weeks (although in fact I meant between 12 and 16 weeks).
Bunny seemed to be rather stunned, saying (not in a menacing or judgmental way, just as an aside of surprise) that she considered the position to be unreasonable (that is, she thought it was WAY too long into the pregnancy to allow abortion).
I went on to explain that, as a non-religious person who hasn’t had children, my ability to decide the propriety lies solely in developing a rational metric. The lines of reasoning that led to this metric are as follows:
We kill animals, plants and insects all the time. Some for food, some for sport, some because they’re pests.
We have a problem killing humans, therefore a rational foundation must be established to determine why killing, say, a monkey isn’t murder but killing a human [without cause] is.
The greatest substantive difference between apes, monkeys, dogs, cats, or other animals and humans is a quality one might call “sapience” – the ability to intuit a rational, deliberate decision which leads to controlling oneself to do something that isn’t explicitly instinctive. In essence, this is called “executive function”
This “executive function” lies almost exclusively in the prefrontal cortex
Therefore, the substantive difference between other animals and humans, which makes humans protected life, must be the emergence of the prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex forms and binds with the rest of the brain (and is therefore able to function executively) between 12 and 16 weeks
Therefore, the life isn’t protected until between 12 and 16 weeks
In my tweets I wasn’t able to lay out this concept quite so explicitly, since Twitter isn’t a playground of nuance; but, I am able to here.
The dissenting position from Bunny was that “life begins at conception”.
Now whether or not you support the right to choose to abort, and whether or not I do, is not relevant to the discussion I’m making here. And nor am I in any way shaming Bunny for her beliefs – she has a right to have and express them and I acknowledge that her beliefs are not unreasonable. The point I’m trying to bring up is the method of thinking.
You see, I started from a neutral position, followed a line of philosophy, evidence and deductive reasoning and came to a conclusion.
Bunny, in this case, starts from an assertion (“life begins at conception”) to work her way to a conclusion (“any form of abortion that isn’t medically necessary is not justifiable”).
Now I’m not picking on Bunny here – this was just a conversation that was recorded and available publicly, which is why I picked it. But I’ve had many other discussions with people about a wide variety of topics. These are with people who are selectively rational – people who start from a conclusion and engage in sophistry to support it; people who use fallacies of composition to complain about people who use fallacies of composition; people who paint whole groups with the brush of a few individuals because those individuals did the same.
This isn’t a rational way of thinking; and it’s quite disturbing to think that people I know and care about do it all the time, yet are completely unaware of it. And when faced with rational deduction that leads to conclusions they don’t like, they’re quite often shocked, or even incredulous.
This brings us to atheism. I have a friend, a very good friend, who has a belief that atheists just want to deride and impede on Christian rights to express their beliefs. This is coming from someone who I know for a fact can be rational – who I know for a fact has done research in other areas. My friend comes to this conclusion because, occasionally, some trolls show up on boards where Christians are discussing religion and they…well…troll them.
Now I think they’re assholes for doing it. Unless you’re being addressed or discussed in some way, jumping in to trash talk is just childish. But that’s not the point.
The conclusion my friend makes is that atheists just want to troll theists and somehow interfere with their right to religious expression. They’re all outspoken assholes who want to push their beliefs on others.
Now anyone who’s versed in debate theory can pick out that as a fallacy of composition. Just because some part of a group does a thing doesn’t mean the group itself is about that.
But the interesting part, here, is that my friend is an avid and outspoken #GamerGate advocate. The above criticisms of atheists are based on the very same fallacious arguments that detractors of #GamerGate use to paint it as a hate group.
But, for whatever reason, my friend is unable to see this. And doesn’t seem very interested into digging into the matter deeper (I presume because it’s uncomfortable to grapple with topics that might show oneself as wrong or even hypocritical).
And this, unfortunately, brings us to advocates of #GamerGate. Now I’m an outspoken advocate of the hashtag; I’ve said many times that you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming away from the discussion. But when it comes to addressing liberals and “the left”, and even feminism, I often find my friends making similar fallacious arguments. Now, just because SJWs claims to be “liberal” doesn’t actually make them liberal. No, just because there are people on “the left” who will never be swayed no matter how sound the evidence or reasoning, doesn’t mean that entire political spectrum is that way. Just because a bunch of authoritarians who we call “SJWs” claim to be feminist doesn’t mean all feminists are that way.
I’m sorry – I know it’s a sore topic, but that has to be said. Drawing such conclusions from a small sampling of outspoken, irrational assholes on Twitter and Facebook is, quite simply, a fallacy of composition.
Now I’m an outspoken critic of feminism as an ideology – but only the aspects I find to be fallacious (such as confusing the concept of “equal treatment” with “equal outcome” or conflating the term “wage gap” with “earnings gap”).
So ask yourself – in your discussions, especially on the topics in which you are certain you are right, are you sure you’re not starting from a conclusion or using fallacious reasoning? When addressing or discussing people you don’t like, are you certain that your criticisms can’t also be applied to yourself?
Because much of the time, you are, and they can.
This was a guest post from Allen Harris, an outspoken voice in the atheist and GamerGate communities. The views expressed in this post are those of Allen Harris and not necessarily those of Godless Mom. You can follow Allen on Twitter by clicking here. If you want to be a guest blogger on godlessmom.com, click here.