Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

One small step backward for a man

Posted by Ron Coleman on September 3, 2007

One giant leap in reverse for logic and public policy debate. Instapundit falls for the “man on the moon” fallacy:

Arianna Huffington … asks: “In the Age of Terror, Isn’t Busting Toe-Tappers an Insane Use of Our Law Enforcement Resources?” Put me down for a yes vote on that one.

It’s the same argument, just sideways, as the old, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they ” — anything. Anything that has nothing to do with putting a man in the moon. It is a fallacious argument meant to simulate the argument a fortiori, to wit, if they can do the larger A (put a man on the moon) surely then can do the much, much “smaller” B (serve good food on an airplane, get the cable guy to come on time, whatever). Of course B does not in any way flow from such an A; the issues are unrelated; there is no such proof.

Here, too, a major and minor premise are advertised as related and one deducible from the other, but here it is in reverse: If we have time for vice squad activities by law enforcement, “all the more so” we must have already “put a man on the moon,” i.e., solved terrorism. Oh, we haven’t done B? Then what business do we have doing A?! See what a bad idea A is?

But A does not flow from B at all. They have nothing at all in common at all except for the fact that both are described under the very broad rubric of law enforcement functions. But a reduction in vice squad activity in a Midwestern city has no bearing on the resources that will actually be made available, consequently, in the activities of entirely different law enforcement agencies, in different places, involving personnel with entirely different qualifications, in fighting terrorism — just as a posited reduction in traffic enforcement, drug enforcement, zoning laws and even burglary, rape and assault investigations are utterly unrelated to terrorism. All these things are “small” B’s to the larger A, but besides being smaller and both being done by people allowed to carry guns, they are completely unrelated.

It’s a very bad faith argument, a cloak for the true argument, which is, “I don’t like public morals laws.” So then come out and say that, and make that case. But the juxtaposition with terrorism is the chicken’s way out. It not only cloaks the bad argument but wraps the maker in a cynical mantle of patriotism and concern with terrorism. I’m not surprised to see it from the phony Huffington. As to Instapundit — here Glenn is simply caught up in his libertarian disdain for public morals laws and has switched his law professor brain entirely in favor of a head full of mush.

Too bad. If Glenn is against laws that prohibit solicitation of intimate activities in public facilities, I’d like to see him make those arguments, not endorse fake ones like this. “In the Age of Terror” has no more logical force than urging your favorite policy because it’s better “for the children.”

UPDATE: A related argument, from Kim du Toit, and one from Michelle Malkin.

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10 Responses to “One small step backward for a man”

  1. In age of terrorism….

    At my blog I consider the bad-faith formulation of our time — “In age of terror, X” — the first refuge of blogging scoundrels.

  2. You expected, what, reason, logic and good faith from Arianna?

  3. No, but from Glenn I did.

  4. The fact that both of these activities do fall in the law enforcement category undermines your case. It is more similar to asking, if they can put a man on the moon in 1969, we can’t we put a man on Mars forty years later. The subject is in fact related.

    Now, there may indeed be good reasons for not going to Mars in 2007, or why we need to patrol bathrooms to make sure people don’t clandestinly ask for sex, but the case you make here, that somehow law enforcement activities should not be re-prioritized because of the war on terror is weak indeed.

    There are limited resources availible for law enforcement. If they are spent in one way, they cannot be spent in another. Granted, the particular skills used to identify bathroom toe-tappers probably are not relevent to combating the war on terror, but the dollars used to purchase those skills could have been used in other ways.

  5. I just think, as an empirical matter, that you’re wrong, Dave. “Law enforcement” is such a broad category of activity that the prevention of terror and the prevention of squalor have really nothing to do with each other besides sharing a formal definition — preventing illegality. If bathroom-prowling programs are canceled, not a penny more will go to “finding Bin Laden”; and if it did, finding him (well, finding his moulderin’ body; he’s dead) will not be any more likely.

  6. That’s some mighty fine “lawyering” Ron. Couldn’t agree more.

  7. Unless Bin Laden was trawling mid-western bathrooms looking for sex…

  8. Ron,

    This ‘prevention of squalor’ (as you term it) happened in an international airport.

    I certainly happen to think that this sort of thing is foolish regardless of anything else. Asking for sex, clandestine or otherwise, should not be a crime of any sort, and I certainly don’t consider it ‘squalor’.

    However, it seems inarguable to me that spending resources on one law enforcement activity prevents them from being spent in another law enforcement activity. If I give a dollar to Joe Bathroom Patroler, I can’t give that same dollar to Bob the Homicide Dectective or Frank the Counter Terrorism specialist. Unless you are proposing that more dollars are availible because of Joe Bathroom Patroler’s activities (he pays for himself in other words, perhaps by increased public support of police funding, something I find highly unlikely) his activities do reduce the availibility for alternate activities.

    Of course, hunting Bin Laden personally is far removed from this. I don’t think you would argue though that any counter-terror activity that doesn’t personally involve finding Bin Laden should not be considered anti-terrorism (if they can’t find Bin Laden why should they have airport security?) Certainly mid-western towns have had roles to play in combating terror before, and will again.

  9. […] my blog I consider the bad-faith formulation of our time — “In an age of terror, X” — the first refuge of blogging scoundrels. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social […]

  10. […] I sure hope not.  I expect to see Glenn online the 46 times a day I check his site.  This is notwithstanding the fact that, despite his considerable talent — and, of course, galactic power over the blogosphere and the personal lives of each and every one of us — he seems to be a sucker for awful comparisons. […]

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