Sunday, October 9, 2016

An Imaginary Conversation

Imagine you are an avid lover of coffee. I mean, who doesn’t like coffee? Beans artfully roasted to an aromatic crisp and then meticulously stripped of its life-giving essence. But you know what, I get it. Some people like it. Some people don’t. And that is quite fine.
Now further imagine that there is this guy (let’s call him Paul) who insists that, for some reason, you are not permitted to have coffee.  

“Why is that?”, you inquire.

“I don’t like it.” Paul retorts.

“Erm… so? You don’t have to partake in it…”. Your brows furrow in puzzlement. 

“I don’t like it. I don’t want you to have it. I don’t want other people to have it. I don’t want my children to imbibe this black fluid. Drinking coffee is revolting and no one should be allowed to sip this shit.”

“But it is not repulsive to coffee drinkers.”

“Were you born loving coffee?”, Paul demands.

 “Well, no. Not personally. Some people are coffee drinkers from day one. Some realize they like coffee after sampling various beverages."        

 “Ah hah, see! You were not born with it.”, Paul sounded triumphant.

“I don’t think I am following…”           

 This means you can change your drinking preference.

“But I don’t understand why I should have to change my drinking preference just because it was not an in-born trait.”

“What is so difficult to comprehend? It is a choice. This means that coffee-drinkers may be able to influence other people to switch to coffee. And these hipster cafes are not helping at all. What with their constant listing of coffee on their menus. It is almost like coffee was the most normal beverage to order.

“You are really starting to lose me. It seems rather unlikely that tea drinkers would be influenced to switch to coffee, just because coffee is listed as an option on the menu. And also, what exactly is wrong with drinking coffee?”           

 “What? It is obvious coffee is bad. My Father said so.”

“Your good Father also said that shrimp, pork, and shellfish are bad. You seem to enjoy your lobster and bacon just fine.”          

 You are taking it out of context.”

“And what exactly is this context?”

             “You are cherry picking the prohibitions laid down by my Father.”

“Erm, no. You are the one doing the cherry picking.”         

 “I don’t even like cherries.”


“Look, think about the children! They are going to walk around and see people drinking coffee. Their malleable young minds are under assault. This is child abuse and we cannot have that.”

“I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with that. Speaking of which, isn’t it worse then that your Father had indoctrinated you with ridiculous and arbitrary beliefs about “untouchable” foods when you were a “malleable young mind”.” Is that not child abuse?

“You take that back! How dare you slander my Father. Of all people, you should know that mocking my Father is a punishable crime!”

“So when coffee-drinkers tell their children it is okay to love coffee, it is taking advantage of their naiveté.  When your Father does it, it is a constitutionally protected right. You can’t have it both ways.”

“Double standards are acceptable when protecting society from the ills of coffee drinking.”

“But coffee drinking does no one any harm. Why don’t you just live and let live and accept that not everyone subscribes to your taste?”

“What are you talking about? There is harm aplenty. I can cite at least one research backing up the adverse effects of caffeine.”

“And for each of those, there are at least ten other peer-reviewed journals suggesting otherwise. I believe the science is pretty settled on this one.”

“No it is not. I am sure you have heard numerous anecdotal stories about coffee drinkers scalding themselves due to unsafe drinking practices.”

“Yes but look, if you indulge in unsafe and promiscuous drinking practices, these risks present themselves, whether you are a coffee drinker or a tea drinker.”           

 “Your point being..?”

“Jesus, my point being there is no reason to single out coffee! Your objection should be towards unsafe drinking practices, not coffee per se!”

“Bah, you can argue all you want. Coffee drinking is morally contemptible. And to say that it is just as acceptable as tea drinking is to destroy the sanctity of Tea.”

“What? The sanctity of tea..? Goodness, this is ridiculous. You cannot dictate what other people can have or cannot have based on your own preferences. This is beverage bigotry.”

“As expected, you are resorting to name-calling. That is so disrespectful. Calling me a bigot for my coffee intolerance is being intolerant of my intolerant views. You are just as guilty.”

“I hope you know that the expression “tolerance” loses its meaning if it is also expected to be extended to intolerance.”         

  “Now you have lost me.”

“Not unexpectedly, if I may say so.”

“Was that a jibe? I hope you realise that your condescending attitude wins you no arguments or friends.”

“Not friends worth having. But it wins arguments all right.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Totally Gay Arguments

TODAYonline published a letter from one Stanley Teo on 5 October 2016 titled "Inequality of marriage should continue". Hopefully, the title was selected by an editor, and not of the author's choice. It does not augur well for persuasiveness when one's arguments begin with an endorsement of inequality. 

My interest was immediately piqued. A part of me hoped that the conservative right had finally stumbled on some solid arguments against gay marriage. These hopes were quickly dashed. Mr Teo simply rehashed the same old, evidence-free assertions.

He argued that allowing same-sex marriage is a slippery slope. He asked, if love and commitment were the only requirements for marriage, then what about incestuous unions and polygamy? This incest argument always comes up. Occasionally, bestiality is thrown in, you know, just to up the yuck factor. 

This is a straw-man argument. No one ever said love and commitment were the only criteria for marriage. Mr Teo employed this fallacy to mischaracterize the position of gay marriage proponents, to allow himself a score a cheap point (what about incest/polygamy?) against a fabricated position. Gay marriage supporters say that allowing gay marriage celebrates love between two consenting adults. Gay marriage supporters also point out repeatedly that gay marriage does no harm to any person, and does not injure heterosexual unions. This "do no harm" principle is an important limb of the arguments in the pro-gay marriage camp. Mr Stanley Teo completely ignores this and proceeds to assert a false equivalence between gay marriage and incest, which clearly cannot be said to "do no harm". I should not need to, but for the sake of conservatives reading this blog, I should add that this applies, mutatis mutandis, to bestiality.

And what about polygamy you ask? In my humble opinion, if the parties entering into the polygamous relationship are doing so with full transparency and mutual consent, then I respectfully submit that it is neither ours nor the State's business to butt in (no pun intended). 

Not satisfied with making just one fallacious point, Mr Teo then went on and brandished the Conservative's argument du jour -  "but think of the children!" he cries. You could almost imagine the tears well up in his eyes as his sluggish mind turned to all the poor kids who had to grow up with two fathers or two mothers. 

"Same sex parents are detrimental to kids!", he laments. Teo then went on to adduce a bevy of peer-reviewed literature to back up this bare-faced allegation...wait, what? he didn't? Oh I am sorry, yes, I forgot that people like Mr Teo are often quite allergic to the idea of "evidence" and "science". 

I apologize. That was unfair. I am sure Mr Teo had upon him good academic authority for making such assertions, much like climate change deniers and flat earth theorists. I mean, sure, it may well be a settled view among academics that climate change is real or that children brought up in a same-sex family fare just as well as peers who grew up with heterosexual parents, but hey, why let facts get in the way of prejudice right?

Furthermore, such arguments completely ignore the fact that marriages routinely break down, e.g., by divorce or death in the family. Going by his logic, should we also make divorces illegal to "protect the children"?

For some one who is anti-gay marriage, Teo sure makes some totally gay arguments.