I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 5 March 2014.
If there’s one fallacy the Enlightened love more than any other, it’s this one. Invoking it is a pure self-esteem boost; it jolts the system like a small shot of espresso. Says to the utter to himself, “Boy, are you something: how far above the others you are!”
Statistical proof of the fallacy’s standing comes from New York‘s “‘Wrong Side of History’ Seems to Be on the Right Side of It”, which showed the phrase appeared over 1,800 times in bien pensant organs in 2013, up from 500 in 2006. The magazine calls the fallacy “the soft bullet of utter dismissiveness” and that “[p]rogressives have made it their mark of Zorro.” (Also showing explosive growth is the logically equivalent “The right side of history”.)
Our dear leader, perhaps fatigued from delaying Obamacare one more time, said of Vladimir Putin’s entry into Crimea that the Russian ruler was “on the wrong side of history“. Mr Obama meant that it was politically and morally wrong for Putin to have done this because on this side of history, these actions are wrong.
If that’s so, then there was a date at which invasions like this were not wrong, and not wrong is right, or at least acceptable. Before (say) 1789, mankind was in darkness, brutish, ignorant, and in agreement that territorial expansion was the bees knees. Then, somehow—nobody knows how, perhaps a miracle—the light appeared! Mankind (womankind, too!) stepped into the blazing sun of truth and, aided by the guillotine, expunged the blackness.
Unfortunately, guillotines dull, the hangman’s rope wears, and the axeman’s arm tires. So there are still a few unenlightened wandering to and fro, literally mired in the wrong-side-of-history. What these folks need is a stern “dialoging”, they need their “awareness raised”, they need “exposure” to new ideas. Then the world will glow.
Or Mr Obama’s statement might imply not an Enlightenment but a gradual shift. After some date (say) 2000, sufficient numbers of mankind voted against incursions. This carries the idea that if sufficient numbers hadn’t, then incursions would till be dandy. In other words, moral and political truths are defined by votes. A lovely and clear, but appallingly frightening idea. Any demagogue with a pretty tongue can make “truth.”
Whoopi “It Wasn’t Rape-Rape” Goldberg lectured Nigerian and Ugandan presidents Goodluck Jonathan (I adore his name) and Yoweri Museveni on their countries’ adoption of laws to discourage man-on-man sex. “People,” she said, “Would face up to seven years in jail for promoting equality.” “Wrong side of history,” she said. There is no logical difference between Goldberg’s and Obama’s arguments, except that Goldberg was careful to say “My opinion” several times.
Notice, and notice with all your might, that neither Obama nor Goldberg nor anybody who uses this fallacy offer as argument anything but the fallacy. Mr Obama did not say why Mr Putin’s actions were wrong other than they were on the “wrong side of history.” Obama may have had other arguments but he assumed everybody knew them and, a fortiori, that everybody accepted them, even Mr Putin. Since Mr Putin obviously did not accept them, as anybody exposed to these missing-but-tacit arguments obviously should have, then something is wrong with Putin. Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested a weak form of mental illness, and others are eagerly believing this.
Goldberg, and the Goldberg inside all progressives, acted identically. The arguments which purport to show man-on-man sex is moral and that marriage should be redefined are never stated, they are assumed. “Equality” as Goldberg used the word is like an incantation, meant to be all the proof needed.
Longtime reader Luís Dias contributed this last example, which shows the “wrong side” isn’t always a fallacy. Suppose you and a friend witness a guy clonking another on the head with a portable plastic newspaper kiosk and your friend says to you, “How medieval.” Your friend is clearly not saying the action is wrong because a preferred method of dispatching enemies in the eleventh century was conking, only that that method was then popular.
But people often use “It’s medieval” fallaciously, particularly with regard to cultural institutions like the Catholic Church, calling its rules “medieval” and therefore wrong. Of course, the Church got its start well before the medieval period, so not only do people argue badly, their grasp of history is like a drunken ninety-year-old arthritic’s who lost two fingers in a hunting accident.
Update Apropos from George Will:
…Secretary of State John Kerry: “It’s a 19th-century act in the 21st century. It really puts at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G8.”
Although this “19th-century act” resembles many 20th century (and 16th, 17th and 18th century) acts, it is, the flabbergasted Kerry thinks, astonishing in the 21st century, which he evidently supposes to be entirely unlike any other. What is more disconcerting—that Kerry believes this?…