Feb 7, 2015

Pseudo-argumentation and Same-sex Marriage

Seán Healy questions the logic used in "debates" on equal rights

Seán Healy | Senior Staff Writer

Debate demonstrates how language can be used to defend almost any point. It may seem illogical that two contradicting arguments could both be argued in a sound way. Sadly, nobody is able to argue something perfectly ethical in an appropriately perfect way. The time it takes to make a point, alone, allows counter-tactics like interruption or latching onto something, feigning to misinterpret it, then taking a purposeful route away from the relevant argument. People often refer to this as “putting words in their mouth,” and it’s just one example of manipulative tactics in debate, often used when one side has reached the end of all logical argument.

There are different types of arguments. Some arguments are complex, and have definitive faults on either side. But sometimes the answer is ‘yes or no’, and the only problem is that the opinions on both sides of debate don’t agree. In a debate like this, it’s only a matter of bringing the wrong side to realisation through the use of reason. One side in such a debate should be doomed to fail. Malformed logic, stubbornness and above all, faith, can occasionally be of the utmost importance to those on the side set to lose. These values come into play only when the argument reaches its natural end, and one side is proven to be wrong. Let’s call such arguments then, “pseudo-arguments.”


It may seem illogical that two contradicting arguments could both be argued in a sound way.

The debate on same-sex marriage should be long over; you need only Google a valid discussion on the topic by people of sound reason to see the many wrongs of restricting legal marriage from an adult because of an aspect of their identity. At this point, anyone I know who remains in need of convincing, I have run out of juice convincing. Argument for the opposition has now reached pseudo-argument, perfectly exemplified last week during Vincent Brown’s “People’s Debate”, when an elderly man became so caught up in attempting to form something mildly resembling a real point, that he accidentally screamed, “We don’t want men and women getting married!” He swiftly begged for the microphone back.

Everyone laughed, knowing what he meant to say, and had he said it, it’s possible some people would have nodded in agreement. But behind the booming voice, all we have is pseudo-argument. Here, the arguer is using basic thesis as argument. An argument must support a thesis; repeating the thesis more loudly may convince some unfortunate people, but essentially it’s stating, “Gay marriage is wrong because we think it’s wrong.” Furthermore, he said, “We want traditional family values.” Here is another tactic of pseudo-argument – using persuasive language without attaching it to an underlying argument. To whom does ‘we’ refer? Presumably he means those who will be voting against marriage equality, but why state this given piece of information at a debate? If we examine this statement, it is comparable to arriving at court, announcing that you have arrived and that you are on the opposition, and then using these irrelevant facts as your only piece of evidence. The man never explained why he wanted traditional family values.

This lack of elaboration highlights another tactic of pseudo-argument: using baseless and ambiguous ethical axioms in debate. In general, what are ‘traditional family values’, and what would make them an argument so irrefutable that he felt it appropriate to sit down moments later? Some family values result in honour killings. Some family values ban the consumption of meat, and some family values define marriage as a union of people whatever the sex. Family values differ; they can change. Many need to change, and using a term without any backup is not reasonable argument, it’s just piggybacking on positive buzzwords.

Of the more experienced people opposing same-sex marriage, one argument is that legalising marriage for everyone would be tampering with their belief system. People have the right to believe whatever they want, but this is a legal debate, and introducing religion is yet another tactic of pseudo-argument – pretending to misinterpret the topic of debate in order to introduce arguments from a topically irrelevant book of rules. It’s like me bringing my TV remote around with me expecting it to work on all TVs in general; it just doesn’t. A positive result in the referendum for marriage equality will not rewrite the bible. It will only alter the laws to which every person in this country is subjected, regardless of their religion. If you must, go on not inviting gay or bisexual people to the traditional parties of your belief system – ceremonial marriage – but don’t use that already flawed argument to support a law dictating that these groups be banned from attending all parties – legal marriage.

An argument must support a thesis; repeating the thesis more loudly may convince some unfortunate people, but essentially it’s stating, “Gay marriage is wrong because we think it’s wrong.”

Once religion has left the debate, the opposition often turns to what they perceive as science. An unfortunately common argument among some people is that homosexuality is against nature. Some may even quote the casual research they’ve done in their own time. Those who make these claims, I have observed, rarely have a PhD in science, and even if it were an abnormality (though we know very little about what  causes sexuality), what is the relevance of this point? People may be disadvantaged in life as a result of discrimination or bullying based on their sexuality, but you’ll need empirical evidence to back up any claim that people attracted to the same sex are incapable of making their own life choices. Such seeming arguments may win a few people over through baselessly portraying a sexual orientation in a negative way, but examining the core of these refutations, stating that it’s just ‘yuck’ or wrong is pseudo-argument taking the form of insult or silver-tongued bigotry. No logic is used.

Some attempt to play with logic in forming a strong empty shell of an argument. I have heard arguments based on guesswork, prophecies of widespread homosexuality, population drop; I would like to forget the times I heard phrases like, “For the species.” I could point out the absurd nature of these arguments or stoop down and scour the internet of pop science, but I think it would be enough to simply list one more characteristic of pseudo-argument – falsely presuming you know everything, and imposing your bizarre ideas on others without any factual argument.

Illustration by Seán Healy for the University Times

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