A Spectrum as a Slippery Slope and OMG Hitler is a Nazi!!!!

… Continuing with our discussion …

When Rebecca discussed a range of topics from being bothered by clueless gents to sexual abuse to rape, some of her critics scolded her for linking these different things together, and insisted that when she mentioned something about a guy asking her over at 4 AM for coffee being clueless that she was accusing him of rape. Even Richard Dawkins got that wrong and he is known for being smart and stuff.

This is one of those things where WikiThinking can muddy the waters. There are two named fallacies of argument discussed in The Wikipedia that people will refer to when someone discusses a range, or spectrum, of behaviors. One is the Slippery Slope argument. The other is the Godwin Principle. The former is only sometimes a fallacy … there are slippery slopes and there are times when people worry about slippery slopes that are not real. Either way, it does not matter. The spectrum of behavior exists, and it is a matter of discussion as to whether being fast and lose at one end of the spectrum makes it harder for society or individuals or whomever to deal with the other end of the spectrum. It is worth discussing. Presuming that because one senses that there is a slope that therefore there must be a slippery slope fallacy is sloppy thinking.

And you know what sloppy thinking can lead to if you are not careful. It can lead to a very slippery slope indeed! Down which we will surely slip!

The second WikiThink, the Godwin Effect, is, first of all, a joke and not a fallacy. I think it is very funny that many people don’t get that. But even if we want to take seriously for a moment that a discussion can be derailed by comparing your interlocutor to Hitler or comparing some bad thing or another to The Holocaust, I still don’t think this applies here. Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins, and a lot of other people including me and I’m guessing you are concerned about female genital mutilation, wartime rape cultures, and we are also concerned about lower level forms of misogyny and sexism. Is distraction by first world problems counterproductive? Is being dickish towards each other desensitizing and thus counterproductive?

The point is this: When we discuss the kinds of problems that range across spectra of severity (or likelihood or any other measure) it probably is a good idea to be sensitive to the effects of pooling different things together or even just mentioning them all in the same talk, and it is very important to keep track of what people are actually saying about which parts of the spectrum. Rebecca Watson said “guys, don’t do that” in a fairly off the cuff informal way about being clueless, not about wartime rape or female genital mutilation. I believe she speaks more severely about the latter. As we all do. It is respectful of the seriousness of some of these issues to keep that straight, and it is offensive and counterproductive to accidentally or, worse, willfully confound and conflate these things.

You must have seen both the slippery slope argument and the concern over Godwining used in inappropriate ways. Perhaps contributing, in the comments, an example or two will be helpful.

And now on to the next topic: Sex!

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11 Responses to A Spectrum as a Slippery Slope and OMG Hitler is a Nazi!!!!

  1. Rod says:

    Perhaps the adage, “Don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” is appropriate here….

  2. julian says:

    Even Richard Dawkins got that wrong and he is known for being smart and stuff.

    Particularly ironic considering Richard Dawkins received no small amount of flak for having pictures of Nazis and Hitler in a presentation where he was discussing the Catholic Church. From what I remember (which, honestly, isn’t much) it was entirely on topic and not in anyway meant to signify he was calling Catholics Nazis but that’s the way it was taken.

    I would have hoped someone who so frequently has what he says taken out of context and distorted would be cautious about doing that to other people but, meh, that’s life.

  3. Greg Laden says:

    Interesting point.

  4. Last time I checked Wikipedia listed reductio ad Hitlerum — the use of comparisons to Hitler as argument — as a fallacy in and of itself, since it is a blend of genetic and association fallacy. Godwin’s Law is merely an adage in the same light as Murphy’s Law, stating that the probability of a reference to Nazi Germany in an online discussion will increase the longer the discussion is allowed to continue.

  5. Greg Laden says:

    Setár, other than making sure that we don’t for a moment forget that Wikipedia is watching, how does this inform the argument?

  6. The Ys says:

    But…but…but…HITLER!1!!

    The most horrific slippery slope fallacy I’ve ever heard was brought to us by the Christian unRight:

    “We have to keep marriage between one man and one woman. If we let the gays marry, then people will want the right to marry children! And animals! They’ll want to marry dogs and cows and horses! Where will it stop?!?!”

    Non-fallacy:

    “Atheists in other regions of the world are beaten and executed for their lack of belief. While the surface conditions aren’t as extreme in the US, it is something to keep in mind when considering how the Christian unRight is trying to enforce their precepts through secular law. They’re passing statutes designed to punish atheists for a lack of belief – and to punish others for not believing in the ‘right’ god. We must stand in the way of these statutes – little steps toward a theocratic state could lead to atheists being jailed (or worse), just like they are in Iran.”

  7. Greg Laden says:

    People have always struggled with this issue of which animals to worship vs. have sex with.

  8. Kiwanda says:

    Let’s review.

    Watson complains that it

    “creeps me out when men sexualize me in that manner”

    after complaining that a man asked her to his room for coffee, while the two are otherwise alone on an elevator.

    Stef McGraw objects:

    “Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?”

    Watson uses her speech and a blogpost to conflate McGraw with nasty name-callers and rape-enablers and rape-victim-nonsupporters:

    “I hear a lot of misogyny from skeptics and atheists, but when ancient anti-woman rhetoric like the above is repeated verbatim by a young woman online, it validates that misogyny in a way that goes above and beyond the validation those men get from one another. It also negatively affects the women who are nervous about being in similar situations. Some of them have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and some just don’t want to be put in that position. And they read these posts and watch these videos and they think, “If something were to happen to me and these women won’t stand up for me, who will?””

    This was not just a situation where Watson happened to discuss “a range of topics”. You are mistaken to suggest otherwise. It was Watson who shifted the discussion from “guys, don’t do that” to misogyny, rape, and sexual assault.

    But sure, “it is offensive and counterproductive to accidentally or, worse, willfully confound and conflate these things. ” I’m with you on that.

  9. Greg Laden says:

    This was not just a situation where Watson happened to discuss “a range of topics”. You are mistaken to suggest otherwise. It was Watson who shifted the discussion from “guys, don’t do that” to misogyny, rape, and sexual assault.

    No. She did not conflate the topic, and the subject of her discussion was the range of issues. You are wrong.

    Is there some point you are trying to make by distorting the truth?

  10. Pingback: We’ve Talked About This Enough, We Can Shut Up Now (Or, Don’t Feed the Trolls) | The X Blog

  11. Kiwanda says:

    “You are wrong” “No. She did not…” “distorting the truth”

    Good points!

    You may be thinking one or more of:
    1.the quotes are inaccurate;
    2. the quotes don’t mean what they plainly say;
    3. the quotes are out of context;
    4. my conclusion from the quotes and their plain meaning is mistaken;
    5. the quotes are out of temporal order, and so are misleading;
    6. I’ve made some other error.

    Could you tell me which of these you think? Or just, give a number. Then I’ll try to guess why you picked that number.