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Old January 20, 2013, 01:12 AM   #1
JohnKSa
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Join Date: February 12, 2001
Location: DFW Area
Posts: 18,346
If it saves ONE life...

Why the statement:“We must do it my way if it saves even one life.” is the enemy of rational decision-making, how it cuts off constructive debate and how it attempts to vilify all who oppose the person making the statement.

It allows the claimant to avoid rationally justifying the proposed course of action.
It contains no justification for the course of action recommended since the content of the claim that would normally stand as a justification is a hypothetical/conditional statement. It doesn’t claim, “This way is better BECAUSE....” It claims that “This way is better IF...”. That would be acceptable if there was some reasonable attempt made to prove the truth of the conditional/hypothetical, but such a proof is generally not forthcoming. The claimant gets away without having to prove anything, and certainly without doing any sort of cost/benefit analysis comparison with other proposed strategies. This is possible because the construction of the statement deflects attention from the value of the strategy and focuses exclusively on the desired benefit.

It discourages opponents from performing comparison cost/benefit analyses and from proposing alternate solutions.
It not only allows the claimant to proceed without providing any cost/benefit analysis, (cost/benefit analysis being the basis of rational decision making) it actually prevents, or at least strongly discourages such an analysis by casting all who disagree as passive murderers. By constructing the argument so that human life is weighed against something other than human life, it places the person who objects to the strategy being “supported” by this argument in the position of stating that something else is worth more than human life. This effect is even more pronounced when the argument is about saving children. After all, what could be more valuable than a child’s life? Anyone who disagrees must be a cold, heartless, unfeeling monster at best, and, at worst, passively homicidal. Again, this is a result of emphasizing the proposed benefit to the point of virtually excluding any analysis of the strategy.

It “Poisons the well” with regard to those who oppose the proposed strategy, marginalizing the opposition and allowing/encouraging non-critical thinkers to dismiss any such opposition.
Because it casts the opponent as a monster, it is a construction which results in a poisoned well fallacy. The opponent’s strategy may actually be more beneficial, but because the statement makes it seem that he values something more than a human life, anything he says will be dismissed by those who live only by sound bites or who are emotional thinkers.

It is a logical crutch because it can be used to support virtually any proposal.
Because it neither contains nor requires any cost/benefit analysis, it can be used to support virtually any strategy preferred by the claimant as long as that strategy is not completely and utterly bereft of any value whatsoever. For example: “Let’s ban automobiles. We must do it if it saves even one life.” Of course, banning automobiles would save many lives, but there are clearly reasons why banning automobiles is not a good strategy even if it would save lives.

It is misleading because it oversimplifies the topic and ignores reality.
It misleads the listener by concealing the fact that humanity routinely makes cost/benefit decisions which weigh the value of human life against other activities or benefits. We all understand, at some level, that making rapid transportation widely available carries with it a significant cost in human life. However, it is agreed (even if it’s rarely stated outright) that an ongoing string of deaths is worth the benefit of moving about rapidly and conveniently. Society agrees that losing some lives to transportation accidents is not sufficient rationale to ban, or even severely restrict, rapid transportation because rapid, convenient transportation provides significant benefits.

It’s one thing to look at something like transportation, which many would consider an absolute necessity, and weigh its cost in human life, it is far less pleasant to contemplate the fact that society is willing to accept significant loss of life to preserve forms of recreation. The recreational use of alcohol is a perfect example of this. We all know that drunk driving kills many people each year, but society is unwilling to ban the recreational use of alcohol in spite of that cost measured in human life. Swimming pools, snow skis and trampolines are other examples of recreational devices and associated recreational activities which society accepts in spite of the fact that they demand regular payments in the form of human suffering and loss of innocent life.

To the extent that it is effective, it owes any such value to the fact that it is a clever trap, as opposed to a proper argument with a rational justification and logical construction.
It can be complicated argument to counter, and therefore, particularly in a situation where a long rebuttal is difficult or impossible, it is the rough equivalent of asking the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” and then demanding that the questioned person respond with ONLY a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It places the opponent in a position of being unable to answer without taking more time to explain/rebut than is often considered reasonable.

One quick and fairly simple response to it is:
“What an absolutely useless method for problem solving and what a truly short-sighted and shallow criterion for success. Rather than simply jumping at the first solution proposed because it might possibly save a SINGLE life, it would make FAR more sense to brainstorm for as many solutions as possible, compare those solutions carefully, and then pick the one that is MOST effective.
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