23 October 2010

The Slippery Slope

Please promise me you will never use the slippery slope argument. It's just lazy and its only result can be maintaining the status quo. We don't live in the best of all possible worlds. Therefore, any issue of any importance will be a slippery slope. This doesn't mean people shouldn't take a stand.

Say you're arguing that increasing surveillance, especially on people who have no criminal records, is a slippery slope: before you know it, all our rights are gone. Now just imagine, there is someone making the exact opposite argument. Let terrorists or criminals or whomever have the knowledge that they're not being watched, and it's a slippery slope: before you know it, "they" will be ruling the streets (the pro-surveillance argument reminds me of that old French adage - "you should beat your wife everyday; if you don't know what she's done wrong, she does" - horrible, isn't it).

Between the both of you and your slippery slope arguments, nothing can be done to change the status quo.

Like I said, any issue of import is inherently situated upon a slippery slope. The slippery slope argument just looks at the extreme at either end of the issue, rather than at all that complex grey stuff in the middle. So instead of taking issues to their "logical" extreme, people need to take a stand: come up with a solution, try and break the problem up into smaller bits so they can be addressed concretely. I don't care how you do it. But until we live in a better world, there's no point in looking at theoretical extremes. They're glib and useless.

It's ironic that the slippery slope argument is actually a slippery slope itself: a slippery slope to poor reasoning and intellectual laziness.

I'm now stepping off my soapbox. Back to knitting next post.


Elise said...

Thank you! I *hate * the slippery slope argument! Besides, if we let people get away with a slippery slope argument, pretty soon all logical analysis will be lost and we'll have anarchy! ;)

Ally Johnston said...

Well said.

queenie said...

At the same time, I think it's good to keep your wits about you as to which direction we're heading in, don't you think? Encroaching on one liberty - in certain situations - doesn't necessarily mean that ALL liberties are sure to go. But it DOES mean that we're heading in the direction of encroaching on liberties. . . .

I love the example of watersheds. Which watershed will the droplet of the proposed (and argued over) action land you in? Each of us has our favored side in the tough dualities between individual vs. collective and other opposing values. Perhaps we can view the 'slippery slope' argument as a device to point out which way the pendulum appears to swinging? That way, we can see that the discussion needs to include the underlying values at issue - freedom vs. security, for example.

Glad to have stumbled across your blog! Best wishes.