Rhetoric 101

New Article, Rhetoric 101: Smoke and Mirrors and the Gay Marriage “debate”: Protecting Yourself from Time-Honored Fallacies. Recently, my favorite Astronomy forum “Cloudy Nights” hosted a Gay Marriage topic: “should we allow gay marriage?”

The thread was an unmitigated disaster. By all accounts a similar debate on Astromart was even uglier, but this one quickly degenerated into defamatory conduct, name-calling and personal attacks. I came home from vacation to discover no one from the GLBT comnmunity was represented in the thread. To me it appeared that the heterosexual community was arguing both sides of the topic as a spectator sport.

I “came out” on the thread to make sure everyone was able to associate the topic with a flesh and blood name and face and real human cares and concerns. I managed about four carefully composed posts before the proprietors deleted the whole thread in despair and inposed a permanent ban on sex, politics and religion. The whole experience was unsatisfactory for everyone, and I almost left the membership for good.

Personally, I would never go to an Astronomy forum for that kind of topic. Moreover, I condemn the whole idea that our civil rights are debatable — despite the fact that is precisely what is happening across the whole nation. What happened here?

What I saw was that (a) the level of debate on that thread was of low quality and no one had the training to control or moderate it; (b) the most objectionable aspects of the thread were assertions that could be stopped cold when anyone challenged them as basic rhetorical fallacies, and (c) the religious gay-bashers were losing good-guy points, but my side was losing votes in the US House and Senate. The other side risks loss of face. We risk continued loss of basic civil rights that we have never had in the first place. The debate and the stakes here are unfairly lopsided.

I wrote “Rhetoric 101” as a primer to help make sure thinking Americans remember their basic debating principles. Right now, few Americans mind being seen as anti-gay, but almost no one wants to be caught red-handed in sleazy debating tricks that were first codified over 2,000 years ago. Do pick up this topic and have yourself a good read.

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