Sheila S. Kennedy

Illogic 101

Filed By Sheila S. Kennedy | August 30, 2006 11:52 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Media
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So much public discussion, so much ignorance.

Pat Buchanan, whose speeches always sound so much better in the original German, has written a new book, arguing - among other things - that only white Christians can participate in an authentically American culture. As Buchanan recently told Time Magazine,

"The country I grew up in was culturally united, even if it was racially divided. We spoke the same language, had the same faith, laughed at the same comedians. We were one nationality."

Talk about being nostalgic for a past that never existed! I'm about the same age as Buchanan, and the America I grew up in was anything but "culturally united." It sure as hell didn't share a faith. I realize that for people like Buchanan, we Jews didn't count, but Catholics and Protestants had a pretty rocky relationship, and even among the hundreds of Protestant denominations, there were plenty who would have taken offense at the notion that all Protestants "shared a faith." I also seriously doubt that Pat Buchanan and his buddies were laughing at the borsht belt comedians I enjoyed.

Inaccuracies aside, the central argument is profoundly illogical. As I have argued elsewhere, American culture is - and has always been - based upon acceptance of a set of ideas and governing principles, not upon shared ancestry, and there is absolutely no reason why someone whose skin is a different shade, or whose eyes are a different shape cannot accept those ideas and participate in that culture.

It's not just a few right-wing bigots who are - shall we say - missing a few marbles in the logic department. People are advancing nonsense arguments all over the place. Media outlets recently reported the results of a study looking at the music preferences of teenagers. The researchers concluded that listening to "raunchy" music makes kids have sex earlier. Assuming the media accurately reported the study (a "faith-based" assumption!), haven't the researchers considered the lesson of Logic 101 - "after this does not necessarily mean because of this?" Is it not possible that the same influences that lead kids to early sex shape their musical preferences?

Competent researchers understand the difference between correlation and causation. It's a safe assumption that every drug addict began by drinking milk - that there is a "correlation" between drug abuse and childhood milk consumption. That doesn't permit us to conclude that drinking milk causes drug addiction, or to label milk a "gateway drug!"

Logic is similarly absent from the arguments against same-sex marriage. How does permitting two people of the same gender to file a joint tax return affect heterosexual marriages? (Logically, if it has any effect at all, the effect should be to make marriage stronger, since such a policy would reaffirm the importance of legally-recognized unions.) Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, has the nation's lowest divorce rate. Does that correlation between gay marriage and low divorce rates mean same-sex marriage has strengthened the institution of marriage? Of course not. It is far more likely that the same kinds of healthy attitudes that led Massachusetts to grant equal rights to its gay citizens support healthier heterosexual marriages as well.

A little basic understanding of logic, and its use in public debate, would be refreshing. But with people like Donald Rumsfeld arguing that opposition to the war in Iraq is just like enabling Hitler, I'm not holding out a whole lot of hope.


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Sheila -- I agree with your points 100% -- except that Buchanan's speeches don't sound better in the original German, because he is too Neanderthal to write in the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Mann and Christa Wolf.

(Ok, that's from a Hoosier German teacher -- who does NOT want to be associated with the so-called RIGHT.)