On the news tonight there was coverage of protests in Washington against the Iraq war. There was a soundbite of an Iraq veteran saying “You can’t support the troops and oppose the war, because the troops support the war.”
These thoughts flashed through my mind in quick succession:
- Argument, very concisely expressed.
- Bad argument.
- Bad, but interesting.
Why interesting? Well, consider what this fellow must be assuming. Put another way, what co-premise would, if true, make this argument strong?
Presumably something like, “if you support somebody, you have to support what they support”.
This is similar to the technical notion of transitivity: if A supports B and B supports C, then A supports C. Conversely, if A doesn’t support C, then A doesn’t really support B.
So we get:
Now it seems to me that this assumption is obviously wrong as a general principle. For example I can support my child without thereby being obliged to adopt whatever ill-considered attitude they might adopt.
From a “critical thinking” perspective, the argument is really a “fallacy of equivocation” – i.e. an argument that is fallacious because it “equivocates” on a key term, meaning that it uses a key term in different ways in different places.
The term “support” means one thing when you talk about supporting the troops, and another thing when you talk about supporting or opposing the war.
But there is a deeper issue here – the idea that allegiance to a group requires allegiance to the beliefs of that group. Something profound (and presumably of evolutionary origin) in the human psyche makes us tend this way. Many human organisations promote the idea and owe their continued existence to its power. But it is of course a dangerous idea.