THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
Logic has rules. When you break one of these rules, especially when you do so for the purpose of deceiving others, it is called a fallacy. Some fallacies are so common that they have been given special names. One such fallacy is called ‘slippery slope.’ ‘Slippery Slope’ is when you start with A and make several conclusions from it, then make a final assertion, Z, with Z usually being implied as something so horrible it justifies your assertion not to do A. For example:
If you start smoking cigarettes (A), it will lead to smoking marijuana (B), which will lead to harder drugs (C) and you will eventually die from a drug overdoes, (Z). Therefore, smoking cigarettes will lead to death by drug overdose.
However, there is a catch to all this: ‘Slippery Slope’ is not always wrong!
Sometimes, the slippery slope is accurate, and the conclusions valid. In this case, slippery slope is not a fallacy, but a chain of connected but often unintended events. In these cases, slippery slope is defined this way:
- : a process or series of events that is hard to stop or control once it has begun and that usually leads to worse or more difficult things
: a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences
What we must learn is how to distinguish between the two types of slippery slope. As I mentioned earlier, one key giveaway is deception. When people are trying to deceive others, they often use slippery slope. But here again, they may not use it to trick you, but to make you think the people trying to warn you about their deception are the ones who are wrong. For example: if a person is telling you that they want to do a certain thing, and I try to warn you that it will lead to horrible consequences, that person my tell you I am the one making a slippery slope argument. They will try to convince you that the connections I am making are unwarranted, or invalid, and that it is me who is making the mistake. I found a perfect, real-world example for you:
If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After [a]while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.
Source: Clarence Darrow, The Scopes Trial, Day 2
In this example, the people in support of evolution were using slippery slope to argue that banning the theory of evolution from being taught in public schools would lead to religious beliefs being forced on people against their will. The implication is that the side who wanted to ban the theory of evolution was bigoted, so the theory should be allowed to be taught. The pro-evolution side was also connecting people of religious conviction to supposed horrors of the past while, as the same time, inferring that they, the pro-evolution side, were the ‘intelligent,’ and ‘enlightened’ and ‘cultured’ side of this case. Both types of slippery slope are present in this one example. Now let us see if we can figure out which side of the argument is using which type of slippery slope.
We start by recognizing both sides, pro and con, have an agenda. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume there may be some form of deception from both sides. This makes it difficult to use deception as a criteria for determining which side is using a fallacy, and which side is making a valid point. This leaves us having to figure out which is which another way. Luckily, in this case, we have history on our side to help us see the truth.
As history has shown us, one side did use this case to push their religion on others. In this case, the pro-evolution side won and has used the ruling from this case to force its religion on others. Yes, evolution is connected to religious belief. Those who reject God, who embrace reason, or science, or who admit to being atheists can all be put in a category broadly described as Secular Humanism. In general terms, this is the belief that man is his own god, and the Supreme Court has ruled it a religion. In fact, one of the founders of this religion boldly stated this was their belief, and that they would use the public school system to force the conversion of our students to their religion:
The teacher is engaged not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life…. In this way, the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer-in of the true Kingdom of God.
–John Dewey, father of American kindergarten and the modern US public education system
And, since this ruling, which forced public schools to teach the theory of evolution, the religion of Secular Humanism has been forced into private schools, churches and — today — it is found be held up as the only acceptable belief system in every aspect of our society. What’s more, those who still try to hold to their beliefs are persecuted for doing so — even to the point of persecution under government sanction. We see such an example in the accusation — by government — that anyone voicing their religious beliefs against homosexuality is guilty of hate speech. In some cases, these people have been forced to serve homosexuals against their will (a violation of the Constitution), they have lost their property and a few have even been jailed. So, the slippery slope argument was correct: the forcing of a belief on others does lead to persecution. The only problem is, it was not the side against evolution that was guilty of being the extremist bigots, but the pro-evolution side. This then means the side making the fallacious argument was the pro-evolution side. They were making a claim against their opponents that was unwarranted and, therefore, invalid. They were the ones seeking to deceive, not the side trying to keep evolution out of their schools.
In hind sight, this should have been apparent before the ruling was made. First, the schools are supposed to be controlled by the local community. By definition, this then means that forcing that community to accept a teaching it rejects is forcing someone to do something against their will. From the start, the force here was being applied by the pro-evolution side of the argument.
At the same time, it cannot be argued the other way around. If a family wanted to teach their children about evolution, they were still free to do so. Keeping the teaching out of the public schools is not force or coercion. It is just a community standard. The teaching could still be taught at home. However, once force is used to teach evolution to all children in public school, then harm has been done. Once a belief which is contrary to the prevailing sentiment of a community is taught, it cannot be untaught. This is entirely opposite of allowing people to teach their contradictory beliefs privately. In the case of a community, forcing subversive teachings into that community is an attack. And, in this case, it was an attack by one religion upon another.
Still, some might not see a difference between the community and the pro-evolution side. It might be claimed that, either way, one side was going to be harmed. Not so! The community has a right to make and enforce its own standards. This is a principle inherent in the very founding of this nation’s culture, religion and its laws. It is the whole idea behind ‘republicanism.’ This is different from democracy, or majority rule. Our founders rejected those ideas as forms of tyranny. Under republicanism, the individual still had their personal rights, but it was the sentiment of the community as a whole which prevailed. In this case, that means the local school systems had a right to keep evolution out of the public schools. And individual could still believe otherwise, and teach evolution to their children without fear of being imprisoned for their beliefs, but they had no right to force the community to use its resources to teach their beliefs to the entire community.
Another key to this case, and something that should have shown which side was being deceptive is the fact that the pro-evolution side was seeking to force all people to accept its agenda. The people who brought the suit did not have to send their children to public schools. In their argument, they implied that religious people could send their children to private schools if they objected to evolution, but notice how they ignored this principle in their own case. Why couldn’t the families who wanted evolution taught to their children have sent their children to private school? Why did they feel entitled to use the courts to force the community to use its resources to teach something to which the community objected to all children in public schools? Again, as history has shown, the goal was never about the things they claimed (that prohibiting evolution would lead to persecution i the streets), the goal was to force Secular Humanism into areas where it would not otherwise be allowed.
If we look carefully, we will find the good form of slippery slope in other areas:
The progressive income tax was passed by deception, and in spite of people warning that it was a slippery slope which would lead to excessive taxation. At one pint in time, after a certain point, people had 100% of their income taxed. In this case, the warning of slippery slope was accurate and valid.
The Social Security Act was promised as a fail-safe. It was said it would never become a retirement fund, or grow to the excessive state in which it now exists. People warned that it would become a crutch. FDR even said that, if it were allowed to grow to the size it is today, it would collapse under its own weight. It was also warned that it would become a means by which government could and would control people. Those who tried to warn us were correct on every point. The slippery slope warning was correct again.
When welfare was passed, it was sold as a minimal program intended to help the most needy among us. Again, people tried to warn that the welfare state was a slippery slope to mass dependency and control. And again, the slippery slope warnings were correct.
Most recently, we were promised Obama care would let us keep our doctor and save us money. People tried to warn that Obama care is a slippery slope to socialized medicine and total government control over our lives. Today, we see that the slippery slope warning was correct — again!
Deception is usually connected to an agenda seeking to control others. This is the key to understanding whether slippery slope is fallacious or valid. Is one side looking to force its will on another? That is most likely the side that is wrong. Is the other side simply trying to defend itself? That is most likely the side that is right. In the case of evolution, the school system simply wanted to protect the community standards. The evolution side was seeking to use force against them. In the case of taxation, everyone who cared was trying to protect their money from the government. The government was using force to take their money. Social Security was seen as a burden on those who had more as they realized they would fund those who had less. The government was using force — on behalf of those who would receive — to take from those seeking to defend their property. The same applies to the welfare and Obama care laws. Control: that’s the key. Whoever is seeking to use force to control others is almost always the side who is using slippery slope the wrong way. All you have to do to know which is which is look to see who is trying to control and who is actually trying to be left alone.