SWR Blog Crawl from Onely. Fun with Fallacies: The Rhetoric of Singles-Bashing

The Onely bloggers fight singlism with logic and wit

Posted Sep 22, 2010

2010 SingleWomenRule.com Blog Crawl for National Unmarried and Single Americans Week

September 19-25, 2010

Bella's Introduction

As the Singles Week blog crawl continues, I am so delighted to host this guest post by our friends Lisa and Christina from Onely. In addition to writing their own brilliant and witty blog, Onely, they are enthusiastic participants in the conversations on many other blogs, including this one as well as All Things Single.

If you followed the links in my previous post to see which singles blogs made the must-read lists at two other blogs this week, then you already found Onely on both. Living Single readers may also know Onely from their previous guest posts here. Can you name the 1,138 federal hat tips to marriage? and Married in the military? You get more for your service have already been viewed thousands of times.

Many thanks, Christina and Lisa! Readers, check out the note at the end; Lisa and Christina would love to hear from you if you are interested.

Fun with Fallacies: The Rhetoric of Singles-Bashing
By Lisa and Christina of Onely

Sometimes small-minded singles bashers say things so nonsensical or nonsequitorial that you want to set them straight. But if you're like us at Onely, you're still often caught by surprise by singlist remarks like, "So you're a writer - I guess that's better than just a spinster!" And then, instead of responding with a pithy or educational one-liner like, "Which is also better than a heteronormative matrimaniac," you just stand there with your mouth gaping open like a fish as they walk away. You're damned to replay the scene for days afterward, wishing you could have put your rhetorical savvy to use for once.

Yup, we hate it when that happens. So, to keep you from suffering the aftereffects of such a scenario, we at Onely have composed the following one-act play to arm you with witty and intellectual comebacks for those awkward moments. Memorize these common logical fallacies and their retorts, and during your next infuriating encounter with a singlist, you can go all ancient-Greek-art-of-discourse on their ass.

If the Shoes Fit

CHARACTERS:

  • Jim, Single Hero
  • Henry, Singlist Villain
  • Voice

[A grassy area. It's mid-afternoon, and people are gathered around a long table covered with bright, steaming dishes of food. Silverware clinks; arms reach across the table, passing dishes. It could be a family reunion or a cocktail party or a church fundraiser. Jim and Henry stand across from one another, center stage. Stage right sit a large cooler and a small table piled high with desserts - baklava, brownies, mango sticky rice, cherry pies, etc.]

Voice: [From stage left, behind the spotlight] In a world where couplehood reigns supreme, Jim, our Single Hero, thinks he's fine just the way he is - single.

[At stage right Jim, the Single Hero, happily munches from a paper plate piled with Doritos, carrot sticks, and a few brownie crumbs. His eyes narrow as he sees Henry, the Singlist Villain, across the table. He tries to turn away but too late-Henry has made eye contact with Jim from over his wine glass, and Henry is smiling.]

Voice: But society tells Jim he's incomplete, using statements that are logically flawed because of the problematic assumptions behind them. Will he weather the singlist rhetoric or succumb to its powerful fallacies? [Cue presto staccato violin music.]

Henry: [Trotting around the table while trying not to spill his wine] Hey Jim, you here alone? You know, you're so awesome/intelligent/attractive/funny and skilled at Uno, I can't believe you're still single!

Voice: The Appeal to Flattery fallacy assumes because the speaker makes a flattering remark, the rest of the speaker's statement must be true also - in this case, that being single is deficient. A variation of Henry's remark might be, "Don't worry, you just haven't met the right person yet." This is a fallacy of Circular Argument - which assumes the very point it wants to prove - and also False Dilemma - presenting a problem (worry) that does not necessarily exist in the first place.

Jim: Thank you, Henry, for your kind words about my Uno game. I agree it is spectacular - but irrelevant to whether I have a mate.

Henry: But Jim, if you stay single, you'll be alone, you'll die alone, and it's likely that your poor starving cats will eat your corpse!

Jim: [Nonchalantly licking a few brownie crumbs off his fingertips] In that case, I better have some more brownies. [Stands up and begins to head toward the dessert table]

Voice: Here, Henry the Singlist has performed for our Hero, Jim, a triple-axel fallacy, resting on Fallacies of Presumption. In the False Dilemma or Bifurcation fallacy, the speaker presents the listener with limited choices - here, being single/alone/unhappy or married/not alone/happy - which assumes that there are no other options - such as being single/not alone, or single/alone/happy. Henry is also using an Appeal to Fear fallacy, where the sheer scariness of claim Y (you'll rot for weeks in the bathtub) adds truthiness to claim X (being single is lonely and dangerous), even though X and Y are not necessarily related at all. Speaking of one event not inherently leading to another: here Henry also relies on the Slippery Slope or Camel's Nose fallacy, arguing that one event will follow another, but not stating why or how or acknowledging the many factors and steps involved between event X and event Y.

Henry: [Following Jim earnestly] You know, I hate to tell you this, but if you eat any more brownies, you're never going to find a wife!

Jim: Who says I want a wife?

Henry: Ummm, don't you? I mean, doesn't everybody?

Jim: Not particularly. Maybe if I met someone fantastic. Or maybe not even then.

Henry: Oh sure you would. You'd want to protect your kids, get tax breaks, cheaper insurance, all that.

Jim: I just don't think I deserve all those privileges simply for being married. That's screwy.

Henry: But it really is a privilege to be married. We're the ones starting families, participating in our communities, teaching values to our children. . . The government just wants to support those of us who like to do good and serve others.

Jim: [Jerking his thumb toward the cooler] So you'll go get me another beer?

Voice: In this exchange, Henry is once again relying on Fallacies of Presumption, in this case to convince Jim he should get married. In the False Dilemma or Bifurcation fallacy, the speaker presents the listener with limited choices - here, Henry presents Jim with two options: married/privileged/civilized or unmarried/disprivileged/uncivilized - which assumes that there are no other options - such as being unmarried/privileged, or unmarried/civilized. Henry is also making an Appeal to Authority, an argument that assumes that any statement made by an authority figure/organization must be true. Because the government - an authority - privileges married people in its laws and rhetoric, Henry believes that married people must deserve that privilege. And as a consequence, Henry devalues Jim's potential to do good work in the world just because he's single.

Henry: You sound so defensive. Probably because you're not actually happy being single - how could you be?

Jim: And you're not actually psychic - how could you be? Trust me, I'm perfectly fine.

Henry: Obviously, you're in denial. Who's going to want you wearing those Ronald-McDonald shoes?

Jim: I wear the shoes because I like them. And I like myself. And I like everyone here [gestures toward large table and then pauses for a moment as though thinking deeply]... Except for you.

Henry: Wow, Jim. I always knew you were crazy, but bitter too?

Voice: Henry's taken the conversation to a new low: First, Henry has engaged in an Ad Hominem Argument as he attacks Jim's personal character (supposed defensiveness and unstable mental health) and dress (fancy red shoes). A personal attack is committed when a person substitutes abusive remarks ("you're bitter" or "get a life") for evidence when attacking another person's claim or claims. This line of "reasoning" is flawed because the attack is directed at the person making the claim (Jim) and not the claim itself (being happy and single). The truth value of Jim's claim that he is, in fact, happy and single, is independent of Jim himself. No matter how repugnant Jim's red shoes might be, he can still make true claims. Further, Henry has also made two Hasty Generalizations - about Jim's personal feelings and about what potential partners might think about Jim's red shoes. No one except for Jim can say whether or not he is actually single and happy, nor can Henry predict when that attractive color-blind stranger on the other side of the dessert table will notice Jim's shoes and think they're fabulous.

Jim: Wow, Henry. I wasn't crazy and bitter before, but I'm getting there now. I came to this party to see friends and eat brownies, but I end up defending my personal life choices.

Henry: Okay, okay. You're right - I got carried away. So let's say you're actually happy being single. How come you hate women/men/couples/children so much?

Jim: Because they make it hard to hear the voices.

Henry: [Eyes wide, starting to slink away] I think I'll just. . . go. . . get you that beer. . .

Voice: Jim must resort to a nonsense reply to ward off the Complex Question Fallacy, which occurs when a question relies on a problematic assumption (that Jim hates women/men/couples/children/marriage). This fallacy forces the respondent to condemn himself; in the very act of answering the question - no matter what Jim says - he will implicitly agree with Henry's initial presumption that Jim does, in fact, hate women/men/couples/children. Jim's snarky response also subverts Henry's efforts to construct a Straw Man, a fallacy committed when a person ignores his/her interlocutor's actual position (Jim's happiness being single) and replaces it with a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position (man/woman/child/couple-hating Jim). This kind of logic is faulty because attacking a distorted version of a position does not constitute an attack on the position itself - in other words, Jim's happiness as a single man ≠ Jim's personal feelings about other men, women, children, or couples.

Jim: [Raising his voice as Henry moves away] I like the bottles from the top. The ones on the bottom sit in the ice and get all drippy.

[Henry, looking over his shoulder at Jim while shuffling toward the cooler, almost runs into a woman strolling from stage left.]

Henry: Excuse me.

Woman: Excuse me. [Noticing Jim] Hey, great shoes.

[Curtain]

[Note from Bella: After I read this, I suggested to Onely that they have the play performed on YouTube. They love the idea and welcome anyone who is interested to get in touch with them and then go for it!]