Appeal to Authority

The “Appeal to authority” fallacy is becoming quite common in political discourse. Particularly when someone who would typically line up with an opinion different from the one making the appeal says something in line with the appealer’s belief. For instance, if I’m a gun rights supporter (and I am), I must naturally support that one time Wayne LaPierre of the NRA came out against campus carry in the 1990s. If I am a libertarian (and I am) I must naturally agree with Milo and Ben Shapiro, even though they don’t agree with each other. Christians point to Anthony Flew and more recently, Leah Libresco. Atheists, especially New Atheists, have many stories of reading the Bible, usually, if not exclusively the first three books, being abhorred and abandoning Christianity. Their patron saint is Penn Jillette.

More common in editorial circles is to first point out before you speak that you work in the field, in the off-chance working in a field makes you an authority. This approach has made it into our nation’s collective effort to make headlines longer, more unwieldy and condescending. “I’m a doctor, we should keep the Individual mandate”, “I’m a CPA, Trump’s tax plan is a disaster”. I guess I should find solace in that it’s a less egregious form of clickbait. We’ve not yet seen “My work in THIS field gives me better insight into the impact of Trump’s DISASTEROUS tax plan”, but that doesn’t mean we won’t. There is progress at least to point to other opinions instead of just voicing ones own as objective fact, but it never feels like it comes out of an effort to reinforce a bubble instead of contributing to the discussion. Either one comes across the article on their own, in which case it gives off the sense that, from the outset, the author is affirming that by virtue of being smarter than you, you should agree with him. When presented in a discussion, “This guy agrees with me and he’s smarter than you, you should agree with him, but mostly me”. Depending on the issue, the most common trump cards are Stephen Hawking, the Pope, Jesus, Regan, FDR, JFK, MLK, Ben Shapiro and Richard Dawkins.

As an aside, ever since Donald Trump became President, the term “trump card” has become an awkward one. However, in this political climate, I assume “silver bullet” could be seen as inciting violence or supporting the NRA, so I can’t win.

I am convinced that there is one exception to where the appeal to authority is rarely, if ever used: in the gun control argument. Primarily because there is never nuance to it. It begins with “We have to do something now so this never happens again” and ends with “You must want dead children” without any discussion about practicality in the razor-thin middle that reads “We as a nation need to finally have a real discussion on gun violence” in faded chalk. Secondly, it does not appear that nobody who holds faith in gun control has learned anything about guns in the time between Virginia Tech and Las Vegas. The prevailing ideas are still that automatic weapons are just readily available (They haven’t been since at least 1968), that training is not a legitimate way to teach firearm safety (firearm safety apparently relating only to locking the gun in a safe), that gun free zones are not tactically vulnerable (gun free = nobody to shoot back, aka “A soft target”.),  that a gun ban is still logistically feasible because Australia did something similar to it (despite the fact there are more guns in circulation than people that live in this country.)  and most interestingly, that there are red flags for mass shooters, namely that they are mentally ill (conflating “mentally ill”, something that can be roughly quantified, with “morally bankrupt” which cannot be.)  Even police officers, such as the new Chief of Police in Houston, who openly spout these beliefs don’t seem to believe any deeper than platitudes listed above. To the movement’s credit, there do not appear to be any members of that particular party that have said anything in opposition to the party line. This unique brand of cohesiveness is cancelled out by the fact that the party line is irrational by default and only well-intentioned if you assume the speaker doesn’t fully understand the deeper parts of what he is suggesting.

I will grant one thing, because of the torrent of information, a debatable portion of it accurate, it is certainly tempting to find one smart guy who said one smart thing in a very smart way, and ascribe to it the title “coup de grace”.

Look at the landscape now, the New York Times and CNN for instance, were at one point, reputable, reliable sources. Now even they are a crap shoot. For every story on an Amtrak derailing, they have yet another watershed moment in the interminable Trump/Russia charade that some within CNN are on camera declaring has nothing to it. MSNBC/Slate and FOX/Brietbart have each slanted further in their respective direction than they already were. Meanwhile, third-rate websites designed more for outrage than anything else like Gateway Pundit and The Root and others are being presented as counter to the corrupted establishment but are their own brand of horrible. Perhaps, in light of all of that it is easier to say “Well, Jesus said this” as an example for socialism, use a single-verse argument and die on that particular hill, but as those who only use John 3:16, “Think of the children”, “Evil corporations” or “because terrorism” on a given subject and nothing else soon learn. Much more is, and should be, needed to convince the skeptical.

Two weeks ago, we talked about how we are coming to a point where everything is considered offensive by someone, and because of that, society has no choice but to talk about everything. Despite it’s dangerous implications in one direction, there is hope that a more nuanced discussion on what actually was offensive will take place. When that day comes, and it has to, I am hopeful an end to appealing to one thing some guy who usually lines up against us said and start concerning ourselves more with the content of the argument. I could quote someone here, but what good is that? We need to learn to let the idea speak for itself.

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