Critical thinking is going to be more important in this age of confused thinking and logical fallacies. Kevin Williamson talked about what he called the “one-armed paper-hangers” argument. I have never heard this technique called that, but it is worth discussing because it shows up so often, especially in op-eds and news stories.
He was critiquing a writer who said we should not consider adoption to be a viable option to abortion because, “I was adopted. I know the trauma it can inflict.” She didn’t personally experience trauma because she had a good upbringing. But she heard about the trauma from her biological mother.
The emotional argument goes something like this. I have had an experience, so that makes me an expert. “I’ve had cancer, so here is what I think about health care reform.” Another example is, “I am the parent of a child who died in a school shooting. Here is what I think about gun control.”
Having cancer doesn’t necessarily give you any special knowledge about the policy positions and economic realities of health-insurance subsidies or hospital procedures. Healthy people and sick people have a variety of opinions about health care. Being sick does provide an emotional appeal, but it doesn’t provide more intellectual weight to the argument.
And notice how this argument is often used to promote a liberal agenda. It is rare to find a headline like this: “I am the parent of a child who died in a school shooting. Here is why I support the Second Amendment.”
Sometimes the argument is reversed: “I’m a millionaire but I believe rich guys need to pay higher taxes.” This argument should be accepted because it goes against my own interests. But, again, it’s an emotional appeal and doesn’t deserve more weight than other arguments.
We need more critical thinking in our world. That’s why you should be on the lookout for “one-armed paper-hanger” emotional arguments.