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.
A lot of the time, when you are having a conversation about disability and/or ableism, the person you are arguing with will make a fallacious argument. Most of the fallacies I’m describing in this post are fallacies of relevance. Wikipedia describes fallacies of relevance as “presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question.”
Fallacies of relevance can be very difficult to respond to for several reasons.
1. They involve an abrupt change of subject, which can confuse and distract you, causing you to lose your train of thought. Depending on your disability, this can have the effect of making you have to quit the conversation altogether.
2. Often the change of subject isn’t obvious–it may even be unintentional on the part of the person who’s using the fallacy, if they are responding emotionally rather than logically. You may end up feeling that something isn’t right about what they said, but unable to identify exactly what it is.
3. A lot of these fallacies involve stating something irrelevant that is true. You may become confused and think you are wrong because the other person said something true.
4. A lot of these fallacies involve stating something irrelevant that is related to violence, the speaker’s personal feelings, or other emotionally powerful themes. You may become uncomfortable and think that it would be wrong to disagree, because you might be implying that you don’t care about violence, people’s feelings, etc.
I have experienced 1, 2, 3, and 4 in real-life and online conversations, and as a result I’ve become super interested in sitting around by myself and deconstructing what happened–why did I feel like I was wrong even as I sensed that the other person wasn’t being fair?
In these examples, John is a disabled self-advocate, while Mary is using various fallacies to oppose him. From example to example John and Mary are different people and have different relationships with each other. I tried to give John a few different disabilities, since most of these fallacies are fairly universal. But I felt awkward doing this, because I was mostly writing from my own experience; I hope I haven’t stuck in disabilities that don’t fit the example.
The Harder Fallacy
JOHN: I didn’t like the story we read in class. It was told from everyone’s point of view but the son with CP, and whenever it talked about the disabled son, it would just list everything he couldn’t do. We never learned about his personality or how he felt about anything. I thought it was an offensive portrayal of a disabled character.
MARY: Come on! Are you saying it’s not harder to have a kid with cerebral palsy? That’s a ridiculous thing to say.
John wasn’t talking about whether it’s harder to have a disabled kid than a non-disabled kid. He just wanted the disabled kid to have a point of view and a personality, like the other characters. If someone wanted, they could easily write a story that portrayed a family having a very hard time coping with their son’s disability, while still portraying the son as a well-rounded character and not a plot device.
Mary was responding to a totally different statement, which she made up in her head and is pretending (or actually thinks) is what John was saying. The way the harder fallacy works is that when someone makes any comment about disability being portrayed offensively or inaccurately, you respond to the following imaginary statement: “It isn’t harder to be disabled and it isn’t harder to live or work with a disabled person.”
(Fun fact: some people use a form of the harder fallacy to defend statements like, “This weather is retarded.” Their argument is that having an intellectual disability is harder than not having one, so therefore intellectual disabilities are bad, and words relating to them can be used to mean “bad.” I guess this is a legit argument, except that most people who make the argument don’t apply their “harder life=synonym for ‘bad’” rule consistently, and only apply it to stigmatized groups.)
The Uncomfortable Fallacy
MARY: Wow John, it’s so nice of you that you do that program where you go bowling with people who have special needs. I really admire you because I’m not the kind of person who can talk to special needs people.
JOHN: Well, they’re just people. I’m sure you could come bowling with us and it would be fine.
MARY: No I can’t. When I’m around special needs people, I feel really uncomfortable and don’t know what to say.
This is a less classic fallacy, and not quite an argument; but I think it’s worth exposing. Mary is confusing a feeling with a fact. She interprets her discomfort with “special needs people” to mean that they are a homogeneous group which one needs certain skills to interact with–skills which, she concludes, she must not have.
If Mary always feels uncomfortable around an entire minority group, it’s probably because she hasn’t been around people from that group very much, or has heard a lot of bad things about them. There is no way an entire group of people could be so similar that one person possesses the ability to either get along, or not get along, with all of them. The uncomfortable fallacy is when you think that being uncomfortable around another person necessarily indicates something about the person.
(Fun fact: You may be wondering why John considers this an argument, when Mary just told him he has admirable skills and is nice. Remember, John is disabled. From Mary’s attitude towards disability, we can guess that she probably doesn’t know John is disabled. But John knows that John is disabled, so he’s probably thinking, “I wonder how Mary would feel about me if she knew I was disabled. Or if she does know, why is she talking to me and why did she tell me she’s uncomfortable around other disabled people? Does she think I’m not really disabled?” And so on. Although Mary meant to compliment John, she simultaneously insulted him which makes him feel, well, uncomfortable.)