22 June, 2011

Fallacy Week: The Contest Fallacy

Hi guys it's FALLACY WEEK! Every day you get some fallacy action from a post I made a super long time ago at LOVE-NOS.

The Contest Fallacy

JOHN: It makes me upset when my parents always say that they wish I wasn’t disabled.
MARY: But that’s totally legit. It limits what you can do with your life and it means things are going to be harder for you.
JOHN: I mean, I get that, but how would you feel if your parents were always saying they wish you weren’t a woman because things are harder for women?
MARY: That’s so stupid, John. Being a woman and being disabled aren’t the same thing!


JOHN: I’m not saying that parents don’t have a right to say if they’re upset about their kids being autistic, but, like…it’s basically like if every time there was something on TV or in a magazine about gay people, it was gay people’s parents saying that they wish their kid could be straight and how depressed they are.
MARY: Can’t you explain how you feel without doing Oppression Olympics? People try to make their kids straight all the time. Haven’t you ever heard of Love in Action?

In both examples, John tried to explain how he feels about something as a disabled person by replacing disabled people with a group that Mary belongs to; but Mary either turned it into a contest between the two groups, or thought that John was trying to have a contest.
The first example is easier to take apart because it’s obvious how much of a subject change there is from John’s analogy to Mary’s response. John was trying to explain that your parents can imagine an easy life for you to an extent that makes your real life much harder. Mary responded as if John was saying that because women and disabled people both have harder lives, they are exactly the same.
The second example is more tricky to discuss because it involves an accusation of Oppression Olympics. Oppression Olympics basically means that you say that your minority group has it worse than another minority group. Sometimes people do it intentionally in a conflict, but other people just have a lot of trouble understanding that the problems of the group they’re advocating for are not worse than the problems of everyone else in the world. Hence the astonishingly self-centered, and astonishingly common, declaration that whatever prejudice you care about it is “the last acceptable prejudice.”
Basically, Oppression Olympics is really annoying. You don’t want to do it. But was John doing it? Let’s think back.
Did John say that gay people aren’t oppressed?
Did he say that people with autism are more oppressed than gay people?
Did he say that gay people’s parents never try to make them straight?
No, he didn’t say any of those things.
He did state that the majority of media about gay people is not about parents wanting to cure their gay kids, which is true. Such a statement could be used in Oppression Olympics, if John was trying to argue that he is more oppressed than Mary–but in fact, rather than trying to “win” by convincing her that their oppressions are on different levels, he was trying to explain his experience in a way that would be accessible to her through her experience. It’s perfectly likely that his intentions were to connect with her, not to be malicious and deny her experience as a gay person.
I do think this can be a little dodgy, and the best way to make this kind of analogy is by comparing two groups that you belong to. However, not everyone can do this; and while John made a risky comparison, he was not wrong.

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