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March 10th, 2019

How Facebook Earns My Eyeball Time

It isn’t as often as I like, but Facebook does earn my eyeball time every now and then. I keep bigots and idiots off my “Friends” list, and I block in a heartbeat any homophobes and/or Tump morons I see in the comments, so I probably don’t get it as bad as some people. I’ve been wandering the social media landscape ever since the BBS days and I’ve learned how to keep the dogshit and chewing gum off my shoes. The advantage to social computer networking is the connections you and your online friends make to news and information you might otherwise have missed in the mainstream media conversations.

Like the other day, when a guy in my friends list posted a link to this blog post…

Motte and Bailey, Particle Physics Style

“Motte and bailey” is a rhetorical maneuver in which someone switches between an argument that does not support their conclusion but is easy to defend (the “motte”), and an argument that supports their conclusion but is hard to defend (the “bailey”). The purpose of this switch is to trick the listener into believing that the easy-to-defend argument suffices to support the conclusion.

This rhetorical trick is omnipresent in arguments that particle physicists currently make for building the next larger collider.

So the blog post is about arguments among particle physicists…which was a good read all by itself. But I have seen this little rhetorical sleight of hand over and over and Over in arguments about sexual orientation and gay equality and I never knew it had a name and a formal definition.

Here’s more about that…

Motte and bailey (MAB) is a combination of bait-and-switch and equivocation in which someone switches between a “motte” (an easy-to-defend and often common-sense statement, such as “culture shapes our experiences”) and a “bailey” (a hard-to-defend and more controversial statement, such as “cultural knowledge is just as valid as scientific knowledge”) in order to defend a viewpoint. Someone will argue the easy-to-defend position (motte) temporarily, to ward off critics, while the less-defensible position (bailey) remains the desired belief, yet is never actually defended.

In short: instead of defending a weak position (the “bailey”), the arguer retreats to a strong position (the “motte”), while acting as though the positions are equivalent. When the motte has been accepted (or found impenetrable) by an opponent, the arguer continues to believe (and perhaps promote) the bailey.

Note that the MAB works only if the motte and the bailey are sufficiently similar (at least superficially) that one can switch between them while pretending that they are equivalent.

Source: RationalWiki

Consider: As gay kids are starting to get more visibility in movies and TV aimed directly at a young audience, you hear complaining that The Media is sexualizing our kids. The argument there is portraying same sex crushes is a further example of the slide into sexual moral oblivion, pushing sex on kids too young to be exposed to that. A variant of that complaint is allowing transgender kids to even be visible in pop culture, let alone have crushes.

Now, you can argue that pitching products, whether they’re consumer goods or movies and TV shows to immature kids with blatantly sexual imagery isn’t helping them become mature adults. But I’m not sure going back to a 1950s set of broadcast standards is the right answer either. Sex is hard wired into us and at a certain age those hormones are going to start percolating and ignorance is never a good plan at any age. Plus, they’ve been doing that to teen and preteen girls since I was a kid, though granted it’s more blatant now. There’s a difference between teaching kids healthy attitudes toward sex and teaching them they’re only valuable as people to the degree they’re desirable.

And none of this is an argument for keeping gay kids invisible. The unspoken premise there is that treating their lives on screen the same as anyone else’s is sexualizing children, because sex is all there is to homosexuality. As Vito Russo wrote, “It is an old stereotype, that homosexuality has to do only with sex while heterosexuality is multifaceted and embraces love and romance.” So the motte here, the easy argument to make, is media companies and advertisers shouldn’t be treating kids as sex objects and bombarding them with hyper-sexualized imagery. The more difficult argument, the bailey, is gay visibility in the media is all part of the militant homosexual agenda to sexualize children, the better to prey on them. And how it goes is you argue that gay kids have crushes too and need healthy role models too and the bigots argue that sexualizing kids is predatory and it might feel like you are arguing past each other but no…they’re avoiding your argument altogether and sticking to the one they know they can win, as if winning that argument also wins them the other. That is how they play the game.

I can think of others…how lowering moral standards leads to social decay and acceptance of homosexual behavior is a lowering of moral standards that only speeds the decay up (the fall of Rome and all that…). My experience arguing this stuff is it usually Begins with the bailey and segues into the motte as I try to pick apart the argument that letting us live our lives openly to the same degree as everyone else contributes to social decay. Sometimes the motte is random examples of heterosexuals behaving badly and gosh we don’t want any more of that do we so keep the gays in the closet please. More often it’s random examples of gay people, usually gay men, behaving badly. As Anne Frank put it in a different context,“What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.” And so it goes. The easy argument is behaving badly is…well…bad. The hard argument to make is They’re All Alike, because that’s basically admitting you’re a bigot and bigots only own their cheapshit prejudices among themselves, or when resigned to the Lost Cause.

Sometimes the motte and bailey are about religion and homosexuality. The bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. Religious freedom means I get to disapprove of homosexuality. Yes, but why should your religious beliefs govern everyone else’s lives? The bible says it…I believe it… And so on. We’re currently in this country arguing in the courts and in the public square that giving gay people and same sex couples equal access to goods and services, equal access to representation in the media, full equality in our civil rights laws, tramples the religious freedom of people opposed to…well…having to share the world with us. Arguing that people in a democracy have the right to follow their own religious convictions is the easy argument. Arguing that gay people and same sex couples must face barriers in their everyday lives that others don’t used to be an easy argument too back in the 1950s and 60s when we were dangerous sexual deviants and a cancer on society. Not so much anymore.

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