Talking-to-Brick-WallEver feel like you’re talking to a wall?  Getting no respect?  They’re not even listening to you? Frustrating isn’t it?  Well, get used to it.  If any of the following situations describe you, you have no right to even express an opinion.

1. You cannot hold a valid opinion on war (or anything else, for that matter) if you are not a veteran.  A record of military service is used regularly as a litmus test for opinions on any local or national political issue. I’m repeatedly amazed at the letters to the editor that ask what some office seeker’s military record might be.  It doesn’t seem to matter all that much if the topic under discussion calls for knowledge of military matters.  If opposing candidates are both veterans, we can discuss issues.  If only one served, drafted or not, the issue is settled.

Sometimes, even being a veteran might not be enough.  Apparently, you must have served in a capacity that meets the standards of the critics.  The ultimate came with a letter to the editor last week criticizing the choice of two  African-American veterans being honored for their post military community service.  “Why… pick two people who had never been in combat instead of checking with African-Americans who have been?”   Huh?

I’m not sure what goes through these minds when neither candidate has any kind of military record.  “Obama…?  Romney…?  Maybe I’ll just boycott the whole thing…?”

2. You cannot have a valid opinion on abortion if you are a man. Unless you, by chance, happen to agree with the speaker.  My first, but not last, experience with this sort of dismissal happened clear back in the 1960s.  The big concern at that time was birth control, which was becoming more and more common with the availability of oral contraceptives.  It’s hard to believe today how controversial the topic was at that time– a lot like the way some people argue abortion now.  Two female acquaintances were discussing “the pill.”  The first, apparently assuming that either my Catholicism or my testosterone determined opinions on all topics,  held up a hand and brushed me off with “You’re a man!” as if that ended the discussion.  Unfortunately, I was so put off that I didn’t even call her on it.  But, then again, neither did I continue the support I had been trying to give her.

3. You cannot be trusted to vote on a school bond issue if you aren’t a taxpaying property owner.  This one is wrong in so many ways. Your point of view is worth hearing only if you are directly paying for this and could produce receipts if necessary.  And you can only be considered as one of those paying for this if the money comes straight out of your pocket in the form of property taxes. The part of your rent that the landlord uses to pay those property taxes doesn’t count.  Taxes on the purchases you make from local merchants don’t count. Other special assessments don’t count.

4. You can’t express an opinion on same-sex marriage because you’re a conservative Christian.  Or a Godless liberal, for that matter.  This is a good moment to point out that nobody, and no particular group, is totally innocent of employing this argument when the opportunity arises.  It seems as if we see people on both sides of any question happily dismissing the opposition’s opinions when they can get away with it.  Logic be damned. Conservatives love to do it. Liberals love to do it.

5. So you’re not gay,  …not the right color,  …not a union member,  …never been the victim of violent crime  …or physical abuse?  So I was a little misleading about the five reasons thing.  Obviously the list could go on and on.  More examples would be more like flogging the proverbial dead horse. The point has been made.

This is one of those instances of fallacious reasoning that is hard to pin down with a specific name.  The speaker claims some sort of special status because of a situation you actually have very little, or no, control over. You didn’t choose to be gay or straight; you didn’t choose to be Black, White, or Purple.  You can’t really help the fact that your life attitudes seem more conservative than liberal.  And the fact that you’ve never been the victim of violent crime probably has many and varied causes, not the least of which is sheer luck.   Whatever the case, having missed the special status of the speaker does not make you a bad person.

Or incapable of reasonable thought.

And allowing people to get away with employing this fallacy of disenfranchisement is rewarding bad behavior.

Bill Morgan

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