In law school, my professors warned against over-reliance on slippery-slope arguments – arguments that take a proposition and extrapolate that some event will inevitably follow from it.
A recent, well-known slippery slope argument decried that recognizing gay marriage would lead to the sanctification of matrimony between humans and animals.
Sometimes, slippery-slope arguments are illuminating: If you cave and give your toddler one cookie after he whines for it, your toddler will probably whine for a second cookie. Hence, the argument goes, do not cave on Cookie No. 1.
But slippery-slope arguments usually suffer from a lack of rationale. They offer no argument to support the connection between Point A and Point B (or Point Z), and they ignore the possibility of a middle ground. A slippery-slope argument is also sometimes referred to as fear mongering.
My husband tells me I follow a pattern in how I argue with him. I refuse to divulge the arc of my logical engagements, mostly because it has been summarized to me as neither logical nor engaging. He regularly relies on analogies in his argumentation, so much so that I believe my sisters are preparing a book of his greatest comparisons.
We all have habits, including habits in how we argue and debate. Some habits are helpful, like waking up early to exercise. Other habits are unhelpful, like waking up early to begin another day of online gambling.
Our national discourse appears to have stumbled into a habit of its own. I call it the Zero-Sum Game. I also call it unhelpful.
No one reading this needs me to recount the many tragic, frustrating and disappointing events we have recently witnessed. They span politics, race, gender, nationality, and every other distinction we could identify or create. Besides the layers of their complexities and challenges, they share one unique trait.
They are bartered, for argument’s sake, as points to which there can only be one, very stark, counter-point. The proponent is made out as a fool by her opponent, who scoffs that to believe one thing necessarily means to disbelieve another. The argument – the game – depends upon the illusion that in any exchange of ideas, there can only be two options. Extremes are required, polarity is fundamental, consequences are stark.
If you believe black lives matter, you must also believe only black lives matter.
If you believe certain policemen have used unreasonable force during certain encounters, you must also believe that other policemen deserve to be taken out by a sniper’s bullet during an otherwise peaceful protest.
If you believe all men are created equal, you must also believe all men are treated equally.
If you believe that a man committed a terrorist act, you must also believe that anyone sharing his ethnicity, language and/or religion is also a potential terrorist.
If you believe some guns should not be sold to civilians, you must also believe that all guns should be removed from commerce.
If you believe a white male athlete raped a woman because he felt entitled to do so, you must also believe that all white male athletes feel similarly entitled.
If you believe Donald Trump should not be president of the United States, you must also believe every piece of liberal propaganda.
No one should be dissuaded from an opinion because of its opposite. No one should be discredited because they are focused on one thing and not every thing. No one should be disqualified because of an exaggeration.
I think sleeping is a restorative activity that I would like to do more of, but that does not mean I don’t think being awake has its perks. I love sweet potatoes, but that does not mean I don’t also enjoy a good French fry. I am a terrible cook, but that does not mean that all women are terrible cooks.
We live in a world of nuance, of baby steps, of more exceptions than rules. We have to recognize and respect the details. We cannot consider the forest until we’ve addressed the trees.
Most issues are not black and white. Gray matters.