Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Might People View Prejudices As Irrational

If you're going to make derisive arguments about how far the apple falls from the tree,1 you had best protect your parents by having something intelligent to say. When you have nothing more substantive to offer but ad hominem abusive about the children of celebrities and adherents of religions you don't like, well, discretion is the better part of valor.2

Ben Shapiro asserts that "the values espoused by Hollywood parents infect their children", and provides (among others) the following example:
[Is it any coincidence, for example] that the sexually over-the-top and androgynous Cher, had a daughter, Chastity (Chaz), with sexual identity issues?
Forgive me for asking, but what exactly is it that would make somebody believe that Cher is androgynous? Is it her tradition of wearing long hair in feminine styles? A wardrobe that often seems inspired by Vegas showgirls - but under the apparent belief that showgirl costumes aren't sufficiently revealing? And Cher is simultaneously "sexually over-the-top" and "androgynous"?

Perhaps it's that Shapiro is confused by the fact that Cher isn't a conventional beauty, but it would be rather childish for him to say, "Look at Cher's face - she looks like she could be a man", let alone to suggest that her facial features caused her child to have gender identity issues. But if you look at anything else, what could possibly be the source of Ben's confusion? Seriously - I've seen lots of pictures of Cher, and I really can't recall any where I was even slightly confused about her gender.

And then there's the issue of the father... the late Sonny Bono, staunch Republican, former Member of Congress. You would think that the last name "Bono" might have clued Shapiro in, but apparently not. I'm reminded of various long-discredited psychological theories that blamed mothers for autism, effeminate behaviors of boys, homosexuality, and the like. Chaz Bono has a male gender identity? It must be mom's fault. Ron Reagan is gay? It must be... Nancy Reagan's fault?

When I hear people who fret that people can catch homosexuality or gender identity issues, as if they're diseases, I think it says more about the speaker than it does about the subject. That is, I rarely encounter somebody who appears to be secure in his own gender identity who believes that the exposure to an ostensibly androgynous parent will turn a child into a cross-dresser, transexual or homosexual.

Shapiro also attacks Oliver Stone, whom he suggests places no level of import on "religion and pro-Americanism", because one of Stone's children recently converted to Islam. I suspect that, had Sean Stone converted to Orthodox Judaism, Shapiro would not be singling him out as an example but, you know, "wrong religion". Sean Stone has made the statement, "People don’t like Ahmadinejad, but that doesn’t warrant a war or an uprising." Forgive me, but I'm not seeing any "anti-American" sentiment in that statement, nor any basis for Shapiro's claim that Sean Stone is "a backer of genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad". If that's the best quote Shapiro could cherry-pick, you would think he would have been able to recognize his attacks as baseless.

Over at The Non Sequitur, John Casey challenges similarly weak reasoning by Dr. Keith Albow, in which Albow attempts to characterize David Brock as "a dangerous man" supposedly feeling that "he’s unloved and unloveable, shunted to the side" because he was adopted.
Many adopted children are tremendously well-adjusted, but for some reason, this man feels he’s unloved and unloveable....
Casey observes,
... when I make up these arguments for quizzes on fallacies I feel as if I'm being unfair. Nice to be proven wrong. I think.
It's no surprise to find that the logical reasoning behind reactionary prejudice like Shapiro's falls somewhere between weak and absent, but it remains somehow disappointing that people like Shapiro and Albow can so easily find platforms to espouse and advance their attacks and prejudice.
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1. Via LGM.

2. When you start trying to count the fallacies in Shapiro's claims, you can quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer volume. Ad hominem abusive, post hoc, composition, genetic fallacy, guilt by association, spotlight, straw man, questionable cause, biased sample, hasty generalization, begging the question, appeal to spite....

Logical fallacies can be used to prop up an argument the speaker knows is weak, so as to mask its weakness. William F. Buckley, Jr., was a master at that art. They can (and will) slip into anybody's thinking, because we are all human and are thus all susceptible to flawed thinking. Sometimes, though, the speaker offers them with sincerity, and establishes a pattern of earnest, habitual illogic that reveals him to be a weak, undisciplined thinker.

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