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Arguments against

In response to “Return to rationality”

Written by environmental management and protection freshman Austen Ford.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the “rationality” of the most recent opinion column in Mustang News. While the words expressed may not represent the opinions or beliefs of Mustang News, setting the precedent for an article so illogical and unfounded in rationality is a dangerous statement. While I respect the opinions of the author, I’d like to examine statements and arguments made in this article.

The author utilizes a false equivalency fallacy. In comparing drinking age to homosexuality, he breaks one of the cardinal sins of rationality and logic. Lowering the drinking age is an example of a public safety argument. While I may agree with the author that a high drinking age may need to be rethought, implying the argument for lowering the drinking age is somehow like the desire of two (or more) queer persons loving each other is frankly ridiculous. Inside this false equivalency fallacy there is yet another logical leap largely looked upon by rational thinkers as a slippery slope fallacy: “No matter where the border is drawn, there are always those below the border just as responsible as those above … once we lower [the drinking age] to 20, then the same logic demands we lower it to 19, then 18, and so on.” In an article that decries the use of a slippery slope in the article title, I find it unreasonable for a “fan of rationality” to publish something so irrational.

My second critique of this piece is to discuss its thinly veiled bigotry. In utilizing another false equivalency fallacy by equating the arguments for homosexuality as arguments for incest, the author compares two radically different ideas. Incest is a biological and moral dilemma, while homosexuality is a sexual orientation. With the comparison to incest, it makes me, a member of the queer community, feel ostracized and looked down upon as a freak, as some might look upon incestuous relations. That’s not the kind of message [Mustang News] should be promoting in [the] paper. Whilst again, it is an opinion piece, looking through the eyes of a reader it seems as if the paper doesn’t care to critique pieces written for them before publication, instead giving free reign to columnists to write whatever inflammatory rhetoric they believe.

The most glaring of errors on the part of the editor is the spreading of a false narrative based on a satirical article. The author made a statement near the conclusion of the original article: “This includes people identifying as mythical creatures (Otherkins), or laws, such as in Portland, allowing furries to mate and defecate in public dog parks.” This statement is sourced from an article on “Real News Right Now,” a satirical website with hard-hitting investigative journalism such as “United Airlines Passenger Given Parachute and Ordered to Leave Plane Mid-Flight” and “Man Who Had Near-Death Experience Claims Heaven is ‘Overrun by Dinosaurs.’” It’s an atrocity that such a blatantly ridiculous statement was not examined by the editor, let alone published and touted as fact in an article that could already be construed as controversial. It removes all credibility from the piece and some from the paper that hosted it. (After writing this letter but before sending it, reference to this specific example was removed, yet the point still stands.) Editor’s note: The correction explaining this mistake can be find on the online article. It reads, “Correction: A previous version of this article included the reference, ‘laws, such as in Portland, allowing flurries to mate and defecate in public dog parks,’ from a satirical article without saying it was satirical. The reference has been removed due to its lack of credibility.”

As a queer student at Cal Poly, I’ve enjoyed the main page articles written by the paper over the last few quarters, but as the opinion columns become more and more diluted with unverified information and illogical arguments, the statement “The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News,” starts to feel less impactful, as any newspaper should at least take cursory glances at their articles to know if they’re spreading false information. In an era of fake news, I’m worried about the spread of disinformation on campus, and hope Mustang News takes initiative to combat falsehoods and uphold Cal Poly’s duty as a center of learning.

An open letter to Brandon Bartlett concerning his opinion column

Written by philosophy senior Lorenzo Nericcio.

Hi Brandon, it’s Lorenzo.

I, like many Cal Poly students, read Mustang News — and I always take note of your column. As a fellow philosophy major and philosophy lover, I try to take stock of how we are represented in popular press.

I’m not at all pleased.

Let me first turn to my audience and say something plainly: what Brandon writes is not philosophy, and it is not a “return to rationality.” I’ve made a pretty audacious claim; so, let me get into the specifics of why it’s true.

Rationality, and the conditions under which it can be said to be obtained, is itself a contested issue in epistemology and ethics. We don’t need to get into the details of the set of debates there. Instead, let’s just say that a rational person is one who is able to support their beliefs, desires and choices with reasons that are seemingly sufficient — and yes, that often includes emotional reasons, and that’s fine. Most of us, then, are perfectly rational people. There is nothing at all irrational about supporting gay rights, the rights of immigrants who enter the country illegally, or even being a postmodernist—three of your latest targets. Actually, let’s consider that first one.

In your article “Return to rationality: Homosexuality and the slippery slope,” you said that the primary arguments “in favor of allowing homosexuality” (just a side note: what the hell? So like, you actually might consider a ban on being gay, not just gay marriage? Are you okay?) are that “love is love” and that “they enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anyone.” As just a matter of fact, I think the best argument “in favor of allowing homosexuality” (again: What the actual hell man? Are you going to go out and stop them?) is that they are consenting adults who can do as they damn well please. Did you even consider that in enumerating the reasons why one might be in favor of “allowing” gay people to be gay? If there’s one thing we learn in philosophy classes, it’s that your first step in refuting an argument is being able to charitably and correctly articulate the position held by your interlocutor. You just set up straw men and yelled at them.

Your article on immigration (which, bizarrely—actually it’s not that bizarre, Cal Poly has a distressingly low Latino population —received very little attention despite its ostentatious prejudice) is just as poor in reasoning. You write as though the only reason one might have in favor of allowing immigrants who entered the country illegally to remain in the U.S. and attend school is their gooey soft emotions. Well, first, those emotions are largely sympathetic, and there’s good reason to believe that our sympathetic emotions are our best tools for tracking moral facts (see Boyd 1988 if you want a source on that). Secondly, even if we approach immigration with a cold “utilitarian calculus,” there still remain reasons why we might be obligated to aid immigrants who enter the country illegally. The point is this: you did not address that at all. There are perfectly rational reasons for supporting total amnesty for all immigrants who enter the country illegally. Perhaps the reasons are false at the end of the day — perhaps not. You never discussed them.

Though, fortunately, no marginalized group was personally targeted in your article on postmodernism, your errors in reasoning there were, I think, the most egregious. You simply have no idea what postmodernism is. You said that postmodernism “is, in effect, the rejection of meaning.” … um, no. That’s just not what postmodernism is about. If anything, it’s about discovering meanings that we are unaware of. But even that is to oversimplify it. I’m really not a big postmodernism fan myself, but Christ, I know that just falsely characterizing an entire school of thought in an effort to say it’s useless is just negligent.

Look, I have seen you participate in class, seen you debate well in ethics bowl and seen you ask some genuinely thoughtful questions. This leads me to think that you are not, in fact, just a buffoon. Which leaves only one other possibility: you are purposely falsely characterizing views you disagree with in order to present your own obviously prejudiced, uncritical views as the “rational” option. This is particularly abhorrent. Philosophers have a duty to be intellectually honest, to be critical of their own views, and to be critical of others’ views only after they have actually understood them. Your failure to do so is anti-intellectual, anti-philosophical, and, ironically, irrational.

What’s the take-away here? I think you have, morally, three options. The first is that you stop writing. I wouldn’t ask that of you. The second is that you stop writing under the pretext of rationality. Just write your quasi-alt-right nonsense but don’t pretend that it’s a good, balanced argument. The third is that you actually return to rationality and represent your opponents’ views charitably and correctly before offering objections. You know, actually do philosophy correctly.

Until then, you are writing sophistry, and hideously misrepresenting our major. (To the reader: I swear, most of us are good, honest people just trying to understand valid patterns of reasoning.)

Anyway, see you in metaphysics. (God, that’ll be awkward, huh?)


A response to ‘Return to Rationality: Homosexuality and the slippery slope’

Written by biological sciences sophomore Jordan Riccoboni.

Brandon Bartlett, a philosophy major here at Cal Poly, recently wrote an article attempting to describe the flaws in the arguments in favor of homosexuality. I would first like to point out that while his argument is not rationally persuasive, it can be psychologically persuasive to students and community members who already possess negative views against homosexuality. It might follow that this argument perpetuates further hateful attitudes towards the LGBT+ community. However, I’m going to disregard the political implications of this article to explain why this is simply a bad argument. Some of you may have noticed this argument is flawed either by intuitive and/or rational means. While I may be beating a dead horse here, please bear with me while I point out these flaws in a large wall of text.  In “Return to Rationality: Homosexuality and the slippery slope,” Bartlett argues that the four core arguments currently being used in favor of the morality of homosexuality are ineffective, as they would dispute all possible restrictions on sexual behavior.  

Bartlett begins by providing a “trivial example” (yes, very trivial) that compares accepting homosexuality to lowering the drinking age. He stated that if one would like to lower the drinking age, and used arguments such as “age is a social construct,” “I am just as responsible as plenty of 21-year-olds” and “people just under the drinking age have ways of getting alcohol anyways” that this would be ineffective. The reason he gives for their ineffectiveness is that these arguments would refute all possible drinking ages, that they argue everyone should be allowed to drink alcohol. Bartlett states that these arguments could apply equally to lowering the drinking age to 19, 18 … and even five. Is it plausible that the same logic that would argue for lowering the drinking age to 20 would also allow for it to be lowered to to these ages? Do these statements actually dispute all possible drinking ages?  I actually was not aware that a five-year-old was just under the drinking age and was able to acquire alcohol despite the age restriction. Nor was I aware that a five-year-old is as responsible as a 21-year-old. Or that age, a measurement of the number of years one has been alive, is a social construct in the same way it is argued that gender or sexuality are. Simply because a clear distinction cannot be made between a 21-year-old and a 20-year-old, or a 20-year-old and a 19-year-old, and so on, does not mean there are no differences as that process continues (a classic use of the decision point fallacy.) Now let’s talk about his main argument and its premises.

The first premise of Bartlett’s argument is:

The main arguments used in favor of homosexuality are “love is love,” “they enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anyone,” “sexual taboos are just social constructions anyway” and “past societies allowed it.”

Let me first point out that these are merely a series of vague statements, and in their vagueness they can be more easily applied to other arguments. This distorted depiction commits the straw man fallacy, i.e. the “misrepresentation, exaggeration, oversimplification, fabrication, or distortion of your opponent’s ideas in order to make them easier to attack.” These arguments do not accurately depict his opposing party’s side, but are rather weakened versions that can more easily be debated. Bartlett takes these otherwise well-rounded arguments and “bumper-stickers” them. By  using them in this way, Bartlett can umbrella them over other acts such that they apply to other acts like incest and “otherism”(but presumably others as well.)

The strong, complete versions of these arguments would include (but are not limited to):

First, if two people (who are right-minded and of a mature age) love each other who happen to be the same gender, then it is no different than any other kind of love. Second, if a relationship is between two consenting adults who either love each other and/or enjoy relations with each other, then nobody should have a problem with it. The fact that someone is gay does not harm you or anyone else. Finally, there is no reason for the taboo around homosexual relationships, society created these based off of outdated moral judgement and religious beliefs. Of course, these are just the less vague, specified, and more argumentative parallels of the statements Bartlett used as examples. These are not the only directions one could take and arguments one could make in favor of homosexuality.

Now for the other premise:

The arguments in favor of homosexuality remove the restrictions on all sexual behavior and do not set any other clear borders.

First of all, this depends on the first premise in that it assumes the previously mentioned arguments are in fact the main arguments (rather than “straw man” versions of them.) I’ll explain why at least three of them don’t argue for the removal of all restrictions on what is sexually acceptable and unacceptable.

“Love is love”

This would mean if you’re being loved and are happy then it doesn’t matter who you’re loving (i.e. their gender). This would not include situations in which one thinks they’re in love through coercion, mere inexperience, or ignorance. The condition of love clearly sets a border.

“They enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anyone”

This obviously would only apply to sexual behaviors that are, firstly, enjoyed by BOTH parties and, secondly, do not hurt anyone (including physically and emotionally). However,this argument  clearly sets restrictions that would typically exclude most incestuous, pedophilic, and/or other sexual behaviors that do not have these conditions met, but would include consensual homosexual ones.

“Past societies allowed it”

This argument commits the “appeal to tradition” fallacy. Fallacious arguments do not prove nor disprove anything. This argument cannot be used effectively as an argument, something Bartlett was correct about. However, I would say that this is terrible argument because it is fallacious;not because it does or does not conclude that all sexual activities are permissible. Simply because people in the past thought something was moral/immoral, does not mean we should think the same thing today. This applies to it being argued on either end; past societies have also harshly condemned homosexuality. Although, I’ve mainly heard this fallacy committed on the other such as with “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman,” etc.

The conclusion of these (false) premises: that the arguments in favor of homosexuality are ineffective and do not set clear borders for what is sexually acceptable and unacceptable behaviors is also fallacious. Suppose I argued these arguments (as Bartlett does) by saying they would permit all sexual acts such as incest, pedophilia, bestiality. I would be committing the slippery slope fallacy; i.e assuming there is a slippery slope when there is not sufficient evidence of the inevitability of the event or subsequent events. The first event being that these mentioned arguments successfully argue for the acceptance of homosexuality and the subsequent event being that all other sexual acts would also be permitted. I hope I’ve convinced you that they do not do this.  First, the conclusion of the argument is based on false premises, making it neither sound nor cogent. Second, the premises are unacceptable because they contain fallacies, therefore proving nothing. Even if the argument contained only one of these flaws, it would either be unsound or not rationally persuasive. This argument lacks any true premises or real facts (other than what the author has apparently read on bumper stickers) that prove the alleged slippery slope.

This article does not provide evidence of a bad argument; it’s a bad argument in and of itself. This article does not prove the existence of a slippery slope; it commits the slippery slope fallacy.  I would like to propose a new title for the original article: “Return to irrationality: homosexuality and a slippery slope fallacy”.

Arguments for 

In defense of Brandon Bartlett

Written by philosophy senior Mitchell Cairns.

It does not come easy to us to question our most deeply held beliefs. It feels like a personal attack when others do it. It feels like an attack on everything that makes you, you. However, it does not have to be this way. In fact, we should constantly be questioning everything we think to be true. Only by doing so can we ever hope to find an understanding of the world around us. Should Copernicus not have questioned whether the sun really revolves around the Earth? Should Newton not have questioned motion and gravity?

Of course, questioning is not only used to find new positions. It can be used to strengthen arguments. In Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy,” he begins by doubting everything he knows, such that he can develop what he hopes to be a true understanding of the world. Most likely, Descartes was not changing any of his core beliefs with this work. He wanted to simply strengthen his arguments for the existence of his god.

In Brandon Bartlett’s article, he did what philosophers have been doing for millennia. He challenged the arguments made for the morality of homosexuality. But the article was never about the morality of homosexuality. It was about the validity and soundness of the arguments being used to defend the morality and, in turn, the legality of homosexuality. In doing so, Bartlett forced the reader to reconsider the arguments they may have used in defense of it. He forced the reader to make better, stronger arguments. And while homosexuality may have been what he wrote about, that was just a farce: not many people reading a college newspaper in California in 2017 are questioning the morality of homosexuality, but it is still just relevant enough to draw people in. However, they may be experiencing moral dilemmas more difficult to consolidate, and trying to rationalize their moral world view on them. With his article, Bartlett gave these people the tools they need to do just this.

If Plato had not included Simmias and Cebes, and their arguments from the harmony of the lyre and the weaver’s cloak, in his “Phaedo,” then the reader might have considered these objections themselves. And if that had happened, then the reader might have dismissed Plato’s work completely, and thought his arguments not worth anything. But Plato did include them. And in doing so, his arguments were more strongly presented to the reader. Plato is still a major crux of academia two and a half millennia after he lived. Be like Plato.

In between

Not for or against Brandon Bartlett

Written by history sophomore and Mustang News columnist Elias Atienza. 

Hi Mustang News staff and readers, it’s Elias, your friendly road hating, classical liberal columnist. As one of Brandon’s fellow columnists in the opinion section, I would like to comment on his recent attempt to tackle the arguments in favor of homosexuality.

First, I would like to say that I understand the hurt behind the article. The LGBTQIA community has been persecuted for centuries. Homosexuality was deemed a mental illness until the 1970s, homosexual acts were illegal in many countries such as Great Britain until between 1967 and 1982 and same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in this country until 2015 in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case. I won’t pretend to know the struggles our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters have gone through and continue to go through, especially in countries where they’re still persecuted such as in Chechnya, where there are reports that gay individuals are being rounded up and imprisoned. The group still faces substantial discrimination in our own country.

But what I do understand was Brandon’s intent. His intent was never to hurt members of the LGBTQIA community. His intention was to explore the arguments for it and why they might be considered a ‘slippery slope.’ Many conservatives argue the same exact thing when it comes to gay marriage, a slippery slope to other acts considered ‘immoral’. What’s next? Polygamy? Bestiality? It’s a common fear among them. It’s an unfounded fear, but a fear that must be addressed. You don’t change people’s minds by endlessly insulting them. You talk to them. That’s why political discussions in this country are in such an ugly place, because people want to endlessly attack each other over pitiful partisan crap.

Should his arguments have been better refined? Yes. Should the editorial process have been more thorough in identifying his sources such as the satirical article about furries defecating in Portland parks? Hell yes, because, like Austen Ford wrote in his letter, in an era of fake news, we need to be worried about the culture of misinformation that plagues our political discussions.

Is the amount of controversy that has been generated reasonable? No. But I’m glad people have spoken up. They are defending their beliefs. Brandon never meant to hurt the LGBTQIA community, only to strengthen their arguments and get others to question their own beliefs. As my friend Mitchell Cairns wrote in his letter, “It does not come easy to us to question our most deeply held beliefs. It feels like a personal attack when others do it. It feels like an attack on everything that makes you, you.” But such challenges also help us understand that which makes us passionate about our positions, and what makes us identify ourselves as liberal, conservative, libertarian or another political identity. Brandon was trying to do this. He failed miserably, but that was his attempt.

I do eagerly await Brandon’s argument about why Loving v Virginia is a slippery slope towards legalizing bestiality and nude beaches.

*These letters to the editor have been edited for clarity

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