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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

 
Argumentum ad verecundiam

by digby

Paul Waldman makes an excellent point today that goes far beyond the current argument over gun rights:

We're about to start the portion of this debate where we begin discussing specific actions the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault).

We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes, of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes, having everyone get their facts straight is important. But every one of us is potentially affected by guns, whether we ever bother to pick one up or not. That's kind of the whole point. You don't have to know how to disassemble and clean a Glock to want your kid not to be shot by one.

Far too often in political debates, even among followers of one's own ideology, one side or the other stops the dialog in its tracks by asserting their own experience and knowledge to intimidate others into backing down or shutting up. This is not to say that those with expertise should not be respectfully listened to, but the idea that one must have expertise in order to advance an opinion on the issues of the day is to make a mockery of democracy. After all, nobody can be an expert in all things --- and even experts disagree. But we all have a responsibility to figure out how our values and principles inform our positions.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during the five years I blogged pseudonymously was how to argue without resorting to authority to make my point. Not being able to use your own experience to illustrate every argument disciplines your thinking. You find that constantly pointing to your personal expertise (or to others' lack of it) isn't particularly persuasive and, most often, a pretty lazy form of argumentation.(This is not to say that personal stories can't be a very vivid way to make a point or, again, that experts should be disregarded.)

Anyway, as Waldman points out: just because someone knows all the technical details of various weapons does not mean that someone who doesn't isn't entitled to have an opinion on the subject of gun ownership. Or just because one hasn't been to war or had an abortion or owns stocks or is a crime victim, doesn't mean that you can't take a position on all those things. In fact, as a thinking person who can employ reason to all kinds of problems, it's your responsibility to do it. And you do not have to defer to the so-called experts if you disagree. It's called citizenship.










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