Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Sometime Fallacy: "If You Don't Like [Fill In The Blank], Don't [Fill In The Blank]"

"If you don't like ... don't ..." is a form of reasoning I see in social media outlets fairly often. 
I see where it has a certain appeal. After all, our preferences can often be respected simply by the common sense of skipping our dislikes and serving our likes. 
Here's an example: 
If you don't like grapefruit juice, don't drink it.
Okay, that works. 
I don't drink beverages that I do not like. Apple cider vinegar, for example, a legendary cure for many ills (according to Mother Earth News, at least), is something that tastes nasty to me, even when watered down substantially. So I don't drink apple cider vinegar. No harm to others, no foul.
Does this reasoning always work?
Let's try another one.
If you don't like pencils, don't use one. Okay, that works too, at least to the point that if what I don't like is using a pencil. But what if what I don't like is having to read things written in pencil? Then it would be more like this: If you don't like reading pencil writing, don't read pencil writing. 
Still, that seems okay. 
There is, however, a problem with that approach. My preference begins to impact interrelationships between me and others. 
For example, a child completes a homework assignment in pencil; the parent requires the child to redo the homework in pen, "I don't like reading pencil writing, so redo your homework." That works too. Except when the child states, "Dad, the teacher said we aren't allowed to turn our homework in written with pen." Now, for the simplistic "if you don't ... don't ..." to work, we have to concede that it is acceptable to impose our preferences on others.
Here's yet another example of how the reasoning breaks down.
We used to live near Bardstown, Kentucky. That town is the home of Maker's Mark. You know, the bourbon with the waxy red seal? If you don't like Maker's Mark, don't drink it! Okay, that works. But what if what is going on is that you don't like the smell of sour mash which is part of the distilling process? It hangs low on the community for weeks and weeks at a time. "If you don't like the smell of sour mash, don't smell it?" Excuse me? Do you mean don't breathe?
Ultimately, many of the "If you don't ... don't ..." formulations simply evanesce like a vapor when held up to thoughtful analysis.
Maybe John Dunne had the answer?
In one of his best known poems, he wrote, "no man is an island, Entire of itself." In that view of things, the choices we make, or do not make, the preferences we serve or ignore, all these things touch more than us each alone.
Now, in the light of the liberty I value, I recognize that each other must be allowed that same liberty that I prize for myself.
"If I don't like drinking beer, I won't drink beer" works well, but if I embody my dislike for the taste of beer in a rule that none may drink beer, none may brew beer, none may sell or serve it, then I have embodied the notion of my liberty in a mallet with which my own liberties may be savaged. So there is a limit to be discovered in the enjoyment of my liberty if my liberty is to be preserved.
Sometimes that limit is expressed in the none-too-blunt, "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose." So we constrain the "If you don't like getting punched in the nose, don't get punched in the nose" contention with this better rule, "Don't punch people in the nose."
Now, to the point of it all.
Mixed in with the "if you don't like ... don't ..." litany is this little ditty:
"If you don't like abortion, don't have one."
That reasoning works very well.
So long as an abortion consists on a non-Donne-ian act, one that is truly an island to itself, then simply foregoing the disliked abortion is a good way to allocate and preserve liberty.
But what if abortion is not an act that consists of one person, like an island, taking an act that affects only their interest? What if the abortion act is more like the great, dreaded, "Big one" in which the San Andreas fault rips California  from its moorings and sends millions into the Pacific?
In other words, what if abortion KILLS someone other than the woman having the abortion, or maims but doesn't kill them? What if, as much as abortion supporters hate this idea, what if abortion ends the life of a human person?
Then, if that is the case, saying "if you don't like ... don't ...." makes as much sense as saying "If you don't like rape, don't rape." The problem with the approach is that, apparently, rapists either like raping, or they rape despite their revulsion to the act.
So, thank you for reading this far. 
Thank you for thinking about what goes into maintaining liberty. Thank you for entertaining the possibility that some things that are dressed in the clothes of liberty are, in fact, kinds of tyranny that actually would prefer to eat liberty for breakfast and pass it through their bowels like a hot, steaming pile, than actually surrender preference to principle.
Here's Donne's complete poem. Your reward for sticking this one out to the end:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.