Stephen Chavura shares his thoughts on the above post by Centre for Public Christianity founding director, John Dickson.
Dickson says it is “just a slippery slope argument”. The assumption is that slippery slope arguments are fallacies per se. They are not. In fact, all public policy analysis considers the potentially negative side effects of proposed laws and policy, however just. In other words, they consider slippery slope scenarios and judge the prudence of proposed laws and policy accordingly. The best of intentions often have bad side-effects. The question is: How plausible is the slippery slope scenario? Why does Dickson think it is unconvincing to suggest that if SSM is approved then programmes such as Safe Schools will be even more emboldened and even harder to stave off? Dickson does not say.
Dickson then asks why CM hasn’t rather adopted the strategy of positively defending traditional marriage. A good and fair question. First, in terms of strong arguments for classical marriage, the problem is that the institution has been so battered and bruised over the years that it is in fact hard to offer arguments that are simple, that pass the pub test (only one ‘therefore’ permitted [two ‘therefores’ if it is an inner-city pub filled with intellectuals]). In other words, it’s difficult to just state in a sentence what marriage is about anymore. The cultural knowledge and experience, the cultural instinct for marriage has been massively diminished over the past 50 years. But that’s not the fault of the advocates of classical marriage – this is the situation they are in and they have to find other ways to convince people not to vote for something that will plausibly setback a marriage culture even more, not to mention have seriously detrimental consequences for school children and religious freedom in general.
Good arguments in favour of traditional marriage are available. I have read clever and insightful philosophical arguments in favour of traditional marriage, but, if letters to editors and FB posts are anything to go by, they have had minimal impact on the public. The arguments that people repeat are the simpler (but no less important) arguments of Marriage Alliance and the ACL: the broader institutional consequences of SSM (Safe Schools and religious liberty) and the entitlement of a child to know his/her biological parents. Increasingly people are saying they will vote ‘No’ based on the bad behaviour of many SSM advocates.
Second, to positively defend the rhetorical strategy of the commercial. Many people have been saying – I don’t think Dickson is one of them – that the question of SSM can be separated from the question of Safe Schools, et al. This is partly true. They are conceptually or intellectually separable or distinguishable but not separable in real life. An example: Take the Work Choices policy (2007) of Howard. It was about whether a worker had the right to negotiate a flexible contract directly with an employer. The ALP and the unions told Australians that it was a cynical and unjust policy because it would result in the weakening of the unions and, therefore, of workers’ strength and well-being. To point out in response that whether workers deserve the right to negotiate their own contracts and the likely effects on unionism and worker strength are two separate issues would be misguided and probably disingenuous.
Again, although they are distinguishable from the philosopher’s armchair, in real life actions have consequences. You have to discuss the likely consequences – immediate and long-term social – of new laws and policy. Anyone following the progress of gender re-education classes and religious freedoms over the past year in the UK, Canada, and the US can see that the slippery slope scenario of the MA commercial is plausible.
In terms of what the average fence-sitting Australian thinks, well this is something that is hard to speculate about, but let me say that I have received messages from numerous people who have changed their views based on arguments identical to that made in the commercial. Furthermore, as I said earlier, I have been looking at online comments for a while and I have lost count of the times I have seen people say that they have changed their mind from a Yes to a No based on things like Safe Schools and general SSM bullying.
Finally, let’s not fall for some fetish for positiveness. Being positive is great, but it’s also the case that there are things out there that ought to be feared and pointing that out may well be the best strategy for this particular issue in this particular cultural climate. Sad as that may be.
Keep up the great work, Marriage Alliance.
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Dr. Stephen Chavura
Steve is an academic held in high regard. A researcher, writer and lecturer, he has taught at Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, and Campion College. His research and teaching areas are political science and history. He achieved his Ph.D. in History of Political Thought from the University of New England after completing a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Government, History and Literature with First Class Honours from Western Sydney University.