To the editors:
Reading the account of George Thomson's epistolary encounter with Linda Bowles caused a bittersweet chuckle in me [Hot Type, June 21]. Bowles is the prime example of what I call Credible Irrationalists, highly regarded, or at least successful, opinion makers who can't think worth a damn. Credible Irrationalists offer up nothing more than logical errors and school-text fallacies, but because of their credibility (which today means you only have to appear in print), they have enormous sway over public opinion.
What Mr. Thomson was pointing out in his reasoned argument was a list of some of the homophobic fallacies that define antigay discourse. Bowles's questions about bisexual men and pedophiliacs is an example of the slippery-slope fallacy (see your first-year Introduction to Philosophy text); Thomson correctly points out that a key factor, consent, renders the "argument" invalid.
But Bowles is no thinker; she is the Elmer Gantry of neoconservative demagoguery. To expect an answer other than the one she provided is like asking a rabid dog for a kiss on the face. Of course you will be attacked.
We live in an age of Credible Irrationalism: Dinesh D'Sousa's assertion that since some free blacks owned slaves, racism played no part in slavery; Rush Limbaugh's incessant use of outdated and disproven research; feminist teaching that all penetration is rape; this list goes on, ad infinitum. I have tried frequently to express this point among friends who have some influence themselves, but I'm always returned an askance glare and diffident smile.
But the proliferation of Credible Irrationalism ought to give us pause. In Hitler's Mein Kampf, the 11th chapter, he outlines his reasons for separating the races, citing that, in nature, different animals, no matter how alike, do not mate outside their group. Hitler was making the classic apples and oranges fallacy, comparing species (who cannot mate) with races (who can and very often do mate). Now suppose the Germans were of a mind to dismiss this fallacy, and its writer. Maybe 12 million people would not have died. Unfortunately, Hitler appeared in print, and that was enough to give him credibility.
I hope we don't make the same mistake with Bowles and her ilk.
[Name Withheld by Request]