Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Libertarian Conversation on Same Sex Marriage, Part 2: False Dichotomies

There are two things which are pet peeves of mine at the moment- "Straw men" and false dichotomies. I groan inwardly when I see them, and think something like "Really? Are you so incapable of factually proving your assertions that you have to surreptitiously foist illogical, unproven assumptions on this conversation?" If the dichotomy presented is proven/documented/logical, if the two entities really are fundamentally antithetical and mutually exclusive, well and good; otherwise, dichotomies, while dramatic, are annoying. 

 Straw Man/False Dichotomy

"Straw Man" refers to an outlining of an opposing position that is formulated to discredit that position by setting up a caricature of that position that looks obviously faulty or unappealing. A false dichotomy is basically either 1. grouping an issue/position into only two groups, with most of the negative aspects of a position lumped firmly with the stance the arguer is opposing, when there are actually many more possible options, or 2. Asserting that for a particular issue there are only two possible choices, when in fact there are more. For example, saying that by staying home with my kids I am fighting the cultural trend towards the abandonment in daycare by selfish moms who put personal fulfillment above their families would be a straw man- I just labelled moms who put their kids in daycare as selfish and neglectful, and who wants to be associated with that? Never mind that there are actually many reasons that childcare is needed, and that not all moms who work use daycare, and that not all those who do use it out of selfishness, and that not all daycare experiences are the same..... but I digress. A good example of a false dichotomy would be the way I've heard feminists characterized, as I'll lay out here:
  •  Feminists (box A)
Pro-choice, selfish, believing in legal and social equality of the sexes, not gender essentialist, never willing to sacrifice their desires for their family, work outside the home wen they do not have to, career focused, neglectful of their children, Pro-gay-marriage, socialist, politically liberal, socially liberal, man-hating, matriarchy-desiring, believe that there are no differences between sexes and/or "anything you can do I can do better," controlling, bitchy, aggressive, unfeminine, not believing in absolute truth, desiring equality in the church and rejecting male rule, and the list goes on
  • Good Traditional Women (box B)
Pro-life, politically, socially, and fiscally conservative, believe in complementarianism/female submission in some form, little personal career ambition, believe in distinct gender roles, loving, attentive mothers, unselfish wives,  respect and honor husbands, homemakers, homeschoolers when possible, rejecters of daycare, must want children, family and ministry focused, deeply religious, not desiring any control or official position in the church, tend to not be aggressive, do not desire authority over men, considered "feminine", et c. 

Of course this is a false dichotomy, because a woman can be a complex and individual mix of qualities from both boxes. For example, we could have box C, which looks like this:

  • Real Woman X (box C)
Pro-life, fiscally conservative, Pro-gay-marriage, socially liberal, politically libertarian or an eclectic mix of things, believing in legal and social equality of the sexes, not gender essentialist, loving, attentive mothers, unselfish wives,  respect and honor husbands, deeply religious, family and career and ministry focused, desiring equality in the church and rejecting male rule, believing in egalitarian marriage in which control is shared, desiring neither patriarchy nor matriarchy, not man-hating, but affirming men as brothers and equals, homeschoolers, rejecters of daycare,  authors of creative work/home balance so that the priorities of home, family, and a fulfilling career are weighed and attended to, homemakers, working outside the home when they do not have to, aggressive, only sporadically/somewhat feminine,  et c. 

Very seldom, I think, is it possible to accurately reduce any issue/position to two opposing stances/views/results. People and situations are complex and varied, and there's always a third option.

 In fact, I dare say that if you want to present a choice/position as only two different and opposing options you must be able to prove your assertion. To present two positions, stances, or categories as antithetical and mutually exclusive you must be able to accurately assert that every aspect of them is so. Otherwise, you must allow for a more nuanced and specific continuum rather than two tidy, but oversimplified, boxes.

Another example of a false dichotomy comes from a brief on same sex marriage. * This book basically hinges on the idea that there are only two kinds of marriage: (that alone raises giant, red over-simplification flags for me) traditional and revisionist. They assume that traditional marriages are committed attachments composed of a comprehensive union (physical and spiritual) which should include the possibility of procreation and which has been the prop of civilization for millennia and which is not primarily based upon emotional attachment, though it is a good thing to be included. The only alternative the authors present to "traditional" marriage is "revisionist" marriage, which they present as being unfettered by commitment and solely based on romantic feeling and present emotional attachment. Thus they tie a committed, one-flesh relationship irrevocably to procreative, heterosexual unions. This is patently false- I myself exhibit in my marriage aspects of both of their ideas of marriage, and fit neatly into neither. They neither give data to prove that all marriages can be classified in one of their two categories, nor do they show any evidence which supports their assertions that comprehensive union is limited to heterosexual unions or that procreation is or should be a primary consideration in sacred or civil marriage policy. I would like to explore this particular book further, but any additional analysis deserves its own post. :) Suffice it to say that I have yet to see an argument in the marriage debate which accurately/verifiably separates homosexual and heterosexual marriages based on anything other than the physical sex/gender of the marriage partners. (need I point out, too, that it might be construed as a little offensive to assume that homosexual couples are any less committed or stable than their heterosexual counterparts based solely on the fact that they are attracted to someone who shares their gender?)

Another tactic I see is the black-and-white categorizing/ oversimplifying of a person or stance into a complex group based on one action, attribute or opinion. Some things are black and white to that degree, at least according to my paradigm, but most are not. For example, I can unequivocally say that anyone who molests a child is wrong, bad, evil, and deserving of the severest punishment, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter who they are, and no matter what other good they've done. I'm perfectly ok with categorizing anyone who molests a child as pathologically evil and faulty. However, most issues are not so simple or so easy. Many actions could be right or wrong, or more or less appropriate and tasteful, depending on motive and circumstance. People choose their positions, their beliefs, and their actions based on very complex and nuanced data, circumstances, and personalities. I believe it logically follows that if an action is not in itself a sin regardless of circumstances then to generalize it as such is inaccurate. It should also be obvious that  because an action or position is sometimes done/held by those behaving badly does not imply that everyone who holds that position/does that is also behaving badly.  For example, to say that divorce is an indication of weakness, selfishness or lack of commitment or that divorced people are hard, brittle, relationally damaged/inept or selfish would be inaccurate. While it might be true, it might also be completely false- did the person get a divorce because they fell in love with a coworker or were they simply getting out of an abusive or chronically neglectful situation? This logic is seen when anyone who is not categorically opposed to same sex marriage is assumed to also throw out ideas of absolute truth, committed marriages, political conservatism, christian authenticity, et c.

The same logic applies to shading all homosexuals as perverts or anti-religious-freedom activists who will "take a mile if we give an inch." Are there some? To be sure, but there are also plenty of heterosexual perverts and anti-freedom activists, and we don't associate their behavior with their sexual orientation. What does this have to do with same sex marriage? Simply this- I think that, to have a helpful conversation about same sex marriage, we must be clear about the assumptions we are bringing to the table, and be honest and open about how our opinions of what marriage is, and who and what homosexuals are, (and how allowing same sex marriage would affect our paradigm) affect what we view as acceptable legal policy. 

In my opinion, the more we can avoid theoretical and unproven generalizations and tend towards specific, verifiable data, the more accurate our conclusions will be. 

*What is Marriage? Man and woman: a defense", Girgis/Anderson/George

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