Tag Archives: Civil Rights

It’s the differences that count

1 Dec

Have you heard these remarks?:

  • We, humans, share 98.8% DNA with chimps; so of course, Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct!
  • Rights for the transgendered is a civil right’s issue, just like it was for African-Americans!
  • Why is it NOT okay when a suicide bomber kills a bunch of innocent people, but the Bible condones Samson’s act of bringing down the crowded pavilion to which he was chained, killing many?

I heard this latter issue discussed the other day. The radio show host responded by putting aside the similarities and focusing instead on the differences.  As I was listening, I realized how often I had been subject to this confusion-producing tactic.  Obfuscation can occur when arguments highlight the points in common.  Often the distinctions and differences go unmentioned, yet they can quickly bring clarity to the controversy.

Trading on what appears to be a significant showstopper, the powerful appearance of similarities between examples, can be a case of redirection.  In informal logic, we name that fallacy the Red Herring.

What is a Red Herring?  It’s a tactic based on a tradition in northern coastal town markets (but likely to occur anywhere deception is needed).  Imagine a weekly farmer & fisherman’s market. A policeman spots a pickpocketer.  Blowing his whistle and gathering reinforcements, he sics his hound dogs after the thief.  Speeding by a fishmonger, our criminal grabs some mackerel or other fish and throws it behind him at the yapping dogs like a stick.  The animals change course, suddenly motivated by the prospect of a tasty treat!

So what are we to do when an opponent moves the spotlight to their defended case and how it’s no different than an example, 100 % accepted by current society?

Gently acknowledge the similarities; don’t dispute them.  But then YOU redirect the discussion to the fact that differences often are critical.   Offer this example:

  • Two glasses of clear liquid.  One contains nothing but water.  The other holds water and one teeny, tiny eye-dropper-measured partial milliliter of arsenic.  I think any reasonable person would say that the invisible drop of the poison WOULD make a difference!

If you can’t think on your feet to discern differences between examples, then ask your interlocutor some clarifying questions to uncover what he thinks the pertinent commonalities might be.  That will buy you some time so you can think clearly.  However, if nothing comes to mind, there is NO shame in saying with humility that you need some time to think about the issue he brought up.  Ask him if you all can revisit the topic in the near future.  The other person, someone whom God also created in His image with the ability to reason, will likely look at you with a tad more respect.  And that is gain.  Then go do your research and do follow up with him.  You’ll grow in your thinking skills and learn something about how your friend thinks.  And you might change his mind!