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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 30, 2012

 
There is no absurdity to which they won't stoop

by David Atkins

It wasn't more than a couple of days ago that I said this, apropos of massacre prevention:

But if an armed citizen militia is to protect against outside invasion or internal tyranny, it should theoretically be equipped to do so. Yet few conservatives or NRA members would argue that random civilians should be allowed to own anti-tank weaponry, anti-aircraft missiles or military-grade explosives, much less chemical weapons.

Simply put, traditional firearms are utterly helpless in the face of the might of modern state arms. Which means that either the 2nd Amendment is hopelessly outdated for the modern era, or we need to take the discussion of "Arms" out of the realm of firearms and into the realm of much more potent technology.
The point of saying was to create a reductio ad absurdum for Conservatives: a line that proceeds logically from their current argument, but that even they would be unwilling to cross. The reductio ad absurdum is one of the most potent tactics in rhetoric because it's perhaps the most effective way of demonstrating the untenability of fallacious arguments that seem reasonable at first, but are actually crazy when put under the spotlight. One's opponent has two choices: stand by their argument at risk of seeming crazy, or abandon the argument. In theory, either choice forces a retreat or total loss of the debate.

But the rules of debate class don't really apply to the real world. In the real world where the only judge of the debate is a broken media and ill-informed electorate, there seems to be no penalty for simply clinging to fallacious arguments and adopting the crazy position. That in turn makes the reductio ad absurdum very dangerous, as it simply lets conservatives come to greater acceptance of extreme beliefs they may not have known they had. Case in point, Justice Scalia's seeming embrace of rocket launchers as Digby mentioned yesterday:

“We’ll see,” Scalia replied. “Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that can not be carried. It’s to ‘keep and bear’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons.”

“But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to — it will have to be decided,” he added.
When I engaged several conservatives on Twitter with this very scenario, all of them took great offense at my equating handheld ballistic firearms with rocket launchers. Give it another week or two, and they'll come round to Scalia's apparent point of view.

The same thing has happened during the abortion debate. I used to think it was a great idea to challenge conservatives about their supposed concern for the fetus. After all, the vast majority of conservatives, according to polls, believed that an exception could be made in the case of rape or incest. But they wouldn't kill a baby born of the same circumstances. Ergo, they must not truly believe that life begins at conception. They must, rather, believe in punishing women for daring to get pregnant outside of wedlock, or refusing to have the husband's baby within wedlock. So I would tell conservatives to pick one or the other: either they shouldn't make exceptions in case of a 14-year-old raped by her father, or they could give up the entirety of their supposed "life" argument and admit that it's all about control of women and sexual prudery.

That was a mistake. It is now almost mainstream conservatism to deny any exceptions at all on abortion, just as it's apparently within reason for the longest serving conservative justice on the Supreme Court to think the Founders would have demanded that each citizen have the right to carry a surface-to-air missile launcher.

The modern conservative has no boundaries and no shame. Everything from their economic theories to their social positions is based entirely on an ideological faith-based lack of reasoning.

Using a reductio ad absurdum on them doesn't paint them into a corner. It merely allows them to go deeper down the rabbit hole.


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