Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Irony, irrationality, and self-contradiction

It is a source of immense frustration to me that people seem to be quite good at accusing those they disagree with of being irrational, while ignoring completely the irrationality of their own arguments.

And I'm not pointing fingers at any particular political or philosophical stance here; liberals and conservatives both seem to do this with equal frequency.  For example, take the recent Chick-fil-A kerfuffle.

Probably all of you know that the controversy started when Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, told the Baptist Press that his company is "very supportive... of the biblical definition of the family unit."  This started a firestorm of reaction, with gay rights advocates clamoring for a boycott (and organizing a "kiss-in," in which same-sex couples would kiss in a Chick-fil-A).  All of the "sanctity of marriage" folks responded by singing Cathy's praises.  Mike Huckabee organized a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," and from the preliminary numbers, it looks like the company may have had its best sales day ever.

Now, I have no intent in this post to address the human rights issue; I've stated my opinion on that subject loud and clear in other posts.  What I'd like to look at here is the fact that Chick-fil-A's supporters characterized this as a free-speech issue -- that Cathy had a perfect right to state his opinion, and those supporting a boycott were advocating a restriction on constitutionally protected free speech.

Interesting that when the tables were turned, exactly the opposite happened.

Remember the "rainbow Oreo?"  Of course, the huge rainbow cookie itself was never manufactured; but a photoshopped image of an Oreo with rainbow layers was widely publicized, and Kraft Foods captioned the image, "Proudly Support Love."  Gay rights supporters gave the advertisements shouts of acclamation, while religious conservatives advocated boycotts, with one outraged customer stating, "I'll never eat an Oreo again" -- and the gay rights supporters objected to the conservatives' proposed boycotts on the basis of free speech!

It puts me in mind of Ted Rall's quote, "Everyone supports the free speech they agree with."

Honestly, my own position is that if you don't like a particular company's political stance, it is entirely your choice not to patronize it.  But in this country, a CEO -- like the rest of us -- has the constitutionally-protected right to state his or her opinion.  And this includes opinions that might not be popular.

The acceptance of contradictory stances (often while decrying the contradictory stances in our opponents) doesn't end there, however.  Take a look at this website, entitled "Confuse a Liberal Use Facts and Logic" (lack of punctuation is the author's).  A brief look at the statements there (I hesitate to dignify them with the name "arguments") will suffice, because the majority of them are classic examples of the Straw Man fallacy -- take an example of a view held by the most extreme of your opponents, exaggerate it, and then knock it down, and claim that thereby you have destroyed his/her entire political party's platform.  The most interesting ones, however, are:
  • Ask them why they oppose the death penalty but are okay with killing babies.
  • Ask them why homo****** parades displaying drag, tran******s and bestiality should be protected under the First Amendment, but manger scenes at Christmas should be illegal.
  • Ask them why criticizing a left-wing actor or musician for the things they say or do, and refusing to attend their concerts, buy their albums, or see their movies, amounts to censorship, but boycotting Rush Limbaugh's or Laura Ingraham's advertisers is free speech. 
Okay, fair enough (even though I have to wonder why this guy thinks that "sexual" is a dirty word and needs to be bleeped out; but let's ignore that for the moment).  Does he really not see that the same arguments could be flipped around, and would be equally contradictory?  "Thou shalt not kill" means, so far as I can see, "thou shalt not kill;" if you're using that to argue against abortion, you have a lot of explaining to do if you support the death penalty.  (One commenter said, when confronted with this question, "A fetus never brutally murdered an innocent person," which is true but doesn't answer the question.)  Liberals who support gay-pride parades and the like as free speech, but object to a manger scene at Christmas, are espousing a contradiction, sure; especially if the manger scene is in someone's yard or in a privately-owned business, and the issues of taxpayer money and church/state separation don't enter into it.  But the reverse is an equal contradiction -- as long as the gay paraders follow the law, they are just as covered under free speech as the Christmas crèche creators are.  And conservatives are just as guilty of #3 as the liberals are; ask the Dixie Chicks.

The bottom line is that you have no real right to call out your opponents for holding self-contradictory stances while you're doing the same thing.  Both sides do it, with equal abandon, and neither one seems to notice as long as these crimes against logic are being committed by people whose position on the issues they already agree with.  And if you haven't already had enough irony in your diet from reading this, I'll end with a quote from Jesus (Matthew 7:5):  "Thou hypocrite!  First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."

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