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Corpus Argumenti Lauretti
by Dr Charlie Sharpe
Since the same arguments which Dr Laura supporters use come up repeatedly with the appearance of each new supporter, I have decided that someone needed to make a list of them for easy reference. I intend for this list to be a time-saving device for Dr. Laura's critics: From now on, whenever a Laurette argument rears its ugly head, we can simply point it out by number. In this way all (even Dr. Laura supporters) may see how common and egregious these fallacies are and how much time is wasted refuting them over and over again. I encourage regular readers to print their own copies of this list and future updates, that they, too, can join in the campaign to stamp out these arguments and liberate the Laurettes from their error.
Laurette Argument #1 Anyone who criticizes Dr. Laura must do so as a result of a guilty conscience because he (or she) is involved in one (or more) of the "immoral" activities Dr. Laura condemns (the "struck a nerve" argument).
Premise: Dr. Laura condemns people who do x (e.g. "shack up") Premise: You oppose Dr. Laura. Conclusion: You must oppose Dr. Laura because you do x.
This is an actually not an argument. It is an assertion which attempts to explain why people oppose Dr. Laura. The conclusion is, in reality, an unproven inference drawn from the stated premises.
Fallacy: Circumstantial argumentum ad hominem/Poisoning the well; Prejudicial language.
It could also be accepted as a sweeping generalization/dictio simpliciter if you accept the premise (see Laurette Argument #2) that as a general rule people will always oppose anyone who criticizes their "sins" (presuming as well that the actions in question are indeed sinful or immoral).
Laurette Argument #2 Anyone who opposes Dr. Laura must be opposed to moral standards (e.g. a liberal who ascribes to the amoral, hippie philosophy of "if it feels good, do it").
This is another explanation, a broader corollary of #1. Whereas #1 explains the opposition in reference to a specific grievance, #2 explains the opposition as a form of universal dichotomy (that which opposes good must be evil; that which opposes "moral" must be "immoral."
Fallacy: Bifurcation/ False dilemma; Argumentum ad hominem/Poisoning the well; Prejudicial language.
Laurette Argument #3 People who don't like Dr. Laura don't want to hear the truth. They want to be spoon-fed and told what they want to hear.
This is a combination of #1 and #2 including the reverse of the sweeping generalization outlined in the explanation of #1. Rather than being repelled from whoever criticizes their sins, it claims that people are drawn to those who tell them what will validate the choices they have already made, and explains the opposition to Dr. Laura as being because she is not one of those such people. Again there is the assumption that Dr. Laura tells the "truth," i.e. that Dr. Laura represents what is objectively moral. (Dr. Tim gets credit for first spotting the combination of #1 and #2.)
Fallacy: Argumentum ad hominem/Poisoning the Well; Prejudicial Language; sweeping generalization/dictio simpliciter
Laurette Argument #4 Since some people post vile, moronic, foul-mouthed attacks against Dr. Laura on alt.radio.talk.dr-laura, all people who post there to criticize Dr. Laura are foul-mouthed, vicious jackals. (The Connie argument).
Fallacy: Composition; Converse Accident/ Hasty generalization; Guilt by association; Misleading vividness; Spotlight.
Laurette Argument #5 Since so many people are getting so upset about Dr. Laura and saying such terrible things about her, it must mean she's on the right track (the "persecuted prophet" argument).
This argument is based on the a variant of the premise stated under #2 above that implies that man (or, most commonly, a degenerate subset of man known as the "liberal") is inherently evil and, as evil, will naturally oppose what is good; therefore the goodness of something or someone can be measured by the amount of opposition encountered [from liberals].
Fallacy: Argumentum ad misericordiam/Special Pleading; Affirmation of the Consequent; Drawing an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise.
Laurette Argument #6 Since so many people listen to Dr. Laura, she must be right; twenty million listeners can't be wrong (obverse of #3; the Glenn Sheller argument).
Fallacy: Argumentum ad numerum; Argumentum ad populam.
This sometimes mutates into an Argumentum ad crumenam: Dr. Laura is making x millions of dollars because so many people listen to her show; she must be right.
Laurette Argument #7 (originally submitted by Dr. Maddi, revised by Dr. Charlie) It doesn't matter if Laura is a hypocrite. Even if she hasn't (doesn't) always followed her own moral standards, they are still right, and we should follow them (Attacking the messenger).
The argument presumes that Dr. Laura's moral standards are in fact correct, and ignores the counter-argument: why should we follow them when she herself does not always see fit to do so?
Laurette Argument #8 Attacking Dr. Laura for her own actions and personality constitutes an ad hominem, because the messenger is irrelevant to the message.
This is essentially the same as #7 dropping the concession the Dr. Laura might be a hypocrite and inserting the refinement of the rhetorical flourish of the claim of an ad hominem fallacy committed on the part of Dr. Laura critics. However as it was pointed out by Charles Kinbote it is only an ad hominem if the person's character is irrelevant. That is not the case with Dr. Laura, as she claims to be a living embodiment of her message and its validity.
Laurette Argument #9 This argument seeks to invalidate criticisms of her hypocrisy by maintaining that Dr. Laura is preaching against the mistakes she made in life and teaching the lessons she has learned from those mistakes. (The "Teacher" argument.)
Dr. Laura has used this argument herself when confronted about her past."'Rabbi means teacher; I are one,' she says." and "'I live my values,' she says, and offers one of her favorite quotes: 'A hypocrite is somebody who says, "Do as I say, not as I do." A teacher is someone who says, "Do as I do, not as I did."'"[Leslie Bennetts, Vanity Fair September 1998.] However, numerous critics maintain that she is a hypocrite who does not live her values.
There are numerous points to be made on the subject of whether Dr. Laura is a hypocrite or not. some of them refer to behavior in the past; others are connected to behavior that is still ongoing. The point is the "Teacher" argument is not applicable to Dr. Laura: "I did this, and it was wrong; so I'm here to teach you: Don't do it." is not Dr. Laura's message. That is not how she approaches her callers's problems; she does not place them in the context of her own life. She says very little about her own life unless it serves to show her as the embodiment of her message. Finally, although she has violated many of her own rules, the real point is that she has not taken responsibility for her actions and instead makes excuses she would not tolerate from her callers.
She has admitted to having premarital sex with a college boyfriend. [Patricia King and Kendall Hamilton, "Listen Up, Callers: No Whining Allowed," Newsweek, May 27, 1996.] However she does not discuss her past transgressions in an open manner, only grudgingly with little elaboration, admitting only to having made mistakes or having a "background that would curl your hair." She has never, to my knowledge, specified what these mistakes were on the air. Instead of addressing her past, she makes excuses such as the "Statute of Limitations" defense as TJ calls it, emphasizing that things that were done long ago in the past are irrelevant, that she should not be criticized for them. In this manner, she attempts to avoid taking responsibility for them. She also uses the excuse that these mistakes occurred before her conversion when she had no moral structure, again avoiding taking responsibility for her own actions as she demands of others. "I regret talking about my mother before. I didn't have the religious framework then. I am what I am now." Janet Wiscombe, "I Don't Do Therapy." Los Angeles Times Magazine January 18, 1998.]
Laurette Argument #10 (derived by Dr. Charlie from Dr. Maddi's submission, #7) You have no right to call Dr. Laura a hypocrite. You are all hypocrites too, therefore your criticism of her hypocrisy is invalid (Casting the first stone).
The premise that we are hypocrites is unspecified and unsupported. Sometimes it is implied that we "liberals" only attack conservatives and ignore the failings of other liberals. (Not all of us are liberals, anyway). More often it takes the form: "You criticize Dr. Laura for being rude and mean, but you're rude and mean too: You are hypocrites." Several people have pointed out numerous flaws in this argument, such as: people do not come to alt.radio.talk.dr-laura looking for help with their problems only to find themselves treated abusively, and the Laura critics have never claimed to be attempting to set a moral example, as Dr. Laura has.
Furthermore this is merely an excuse to exonerate Dr. Laura. She is not to be held accountable for her hypocrisy because her accusers are hypocrites themselves. Therefore her hypocrisy is allowed to go unchallenged, and we are expected to tolerate it, because none of us can claim not to be guilty of hypocrisy at some time. This can be seen as another camouflaged example of conservatives adopting a motto from the bad ole sixties they blame for ruining the country when it suits their purpose--the motto being taken from the Gospel story of the woman to be stoned for adultery "let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," [John 8:3] and the command, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged," [Matt. 7:1] which the sixties counterculture made its own.
Fallacy: Argumentum ad hominem; Tu quoque; Two Wrongs.
Laurette Argument #11 Dame Autour's argument: In truth this is not a fully separate argument: it is based on combining elements of a couple of the arguments already listed to create an elaborate strawman argument based on a perversion of the Wiccan Rede ("And if it harm no one, do what thou wilt," transformed into "What is right for you is the right thing.") It is, however, the best, most original, and most ingenious Laurette Argument to date. Here is how it goes:
Dr. Laura stands for moral absolutes; therefore people who speak out against Dr. Laura must be moral relativists (Laurette Argument #2). In moral relativism the rightness or wrongness of a behavior is relative to whether the person committing the behavior feels it is right or wrong. (In other words moral relativism says that the commission of an act is acceptable if the person who commits the act feels that it is--"What is right for you...." or "If it makes you happy...") Moral relativism then must tolerate all behaviors that the individual feels are right for them or that make the individual happy. Since people who commit acts such as robbery, murder, rape, pedophilia, etc. find these acts acceptable and it makes some people happy to do these things, moral relativism to remain consistent and follow its premises to their logical conclusion must then tolerate murder, rape, pedophilia etc. as well (Strawman). However moral relativism is not logically consistent because moral relativists refuse to tolerate all behaviors: you refuse to tolerate people who disagree with your views--people like Dr. Laura who believe in moral absolutes. This exposes you as hypocrites (Laurette Argument #10).
Fallacies: Tu quoque; Argumentum ad Hominem; Prejudicial Language, Strawman.
Laurette Argument #12 She's just an entertainer.
Tell that to her. She believes that she is bringing about a rebirth of morals and values to save a decadent society. "I ran downstairs," she says "and yelled, 'Lew, I'm a priest and my mission is to help God perfect the world!" [Joannie M. Schrof, "No Whining" U.S. News and World Report, ] "'I am a prophet,' she proclaims with unapologetic grandiosity, "'This is a very serious show." and "I want to make an impression. I have to get people's lives on track. I am a prophet. A prophet takes a big metal spoon and hits the pan: Hello! I'm here!" [Janet Wiscombe, "I Don't Do Therapy." Los Angeles Times Magazine January 18, 1998.] (Dr. Laura later denied having said she was a prophet, but Wiscombe insists that she did say it *twice.* See the Bennetts article) "In front of her new California Mission-style house [in] an exclusive gated community in the San Fernando Valley, her husband has placed a sign that alludes to Schlessinger's lofty goals: ON A MISSION, it says. 'I am getting people to stop doing wrong and start doing right,' she says." [Leslie Bennetts, Vanity Fair September 1998.] If Dr. Laura does not believe herself to be an entertainer, which is clear from the quotes attributed to her, then this argument is invalid. Her fans do not believe she is just an entertainer. The articles cited above quote numerous testimonials to that effect.
Furthermore, since when have entertainers been immune from criticism about the influence they have? Lenny Bruce was just an entertainer. 2LiveCrew and gansta-rap is just entertainment. Television is just entertainment. People argue that these things have (or had) harmful influences; Dr. Laura is among those people. Even if Dr. Laura were just an entertainer, it should not shield her from the scrutiny and criticism of those who believe that she might represent a harmful influence. It has not shielded other entertainers.
Laurette Argument #13 If you don't like her turn off the radio. (Also takes the form of, "Why do you listen to her if she upsets you so much?")
It's a free country; we can listen and comment on her show it we want. If we disagree with her views and believe that she represents a harmful influence is our civic and moral obligation to monitor what she says and speak out about what we think is dangerous. Not to listen would be to tacitly condone her positions and influence.
Laurette Argument #14 By listening you only increase her ratings.
Ratings are determined by surveys conducted by agencies such as Arbitron. The results (currently estimated as approximately 17.5 million listeners for the Dr. Laura Show) are projected based on a sample group chosen by the surveying agency. (Dicky Dunn has posted an explanation of the statistics involved.) Unless you are contacted by one of these agencies and agree to fill out and return a logbook of your radio listening habits indicating "The Dr. Laura Show" as one that you had listened to, the surveyors, the people who determine ratings, have no idea that you are listening, and you do not count towards her ratings. I, for one, have never been contacted. They do not know that I listen. Therefore my listening does not count, and has never counted, towards her ratings.
Laurette Argument #15 Complaining about her will only increase the amount of press she gets. You are just making her success easier.
This argument assumes that any publicity, even bad publicity, will attract more listeners to The Dr. Laura Show thus ensuring that it will stay on the air. While that is unknowable, it is plausible that even bad publicity will attract new listeners. However, that would most likely have only a short-term effect. Most people would likely only tune in to satisfy their curiosity; they may not become regular listeners. (If they don't show up in Arbitron surveys, it won't matter in any event.) Many of them, after hearing her themselves, may become critics, thus increasing the criticism she receives, and informing others of her flaws. The argument also assumes that the aim of her critics is to have her removed from the airways.
Laurette Argument #16 You're just jealous.
Although this argument might, at first glance, appear out of place and better suited to the ad hominem section, it is not misplaced. This argument has appeared in two forms: 1) Dr. Laura's are jealous because they do not have a radio show of their own or they are jealous of her success or wealth (the troll version); and 2) Dr. Laura's critics are jealous because they want to be the ones to tell everyone what to do (the Frank Chapman version, "one peacock resents another," and "it's your fantasy to bring the whole world over to your view."). So both are related to Dr. Laura's radio success, either financially or in having a platform to air her views, of which her critics are resentful. It is especially likely to be applied to other writers or entertainment personalities who criticize her. Dr. Laura has used this argument herself: "She recently dismissed an author who wrote a less-than- glowing review of her new book. 'His books must not sell, because I've never heard of him,' she sniffed on the air. 'He must be jealous.'" [Janet Wiscombe, "I Don't Do Therapy." Los Angeles Times Magazine January 18, 1998.]
Fallacy: Argumentum ad hominem/Poisoning the Well
Laurette Argument #17 She's expressing what she thinks is right, and there is nothing wrong with that. (The Lighthousekeeper argument)
Ironically this argument, as it was originally stated defended Dr. Laura by resorting to moral relativism, assering that all opinions are equally valid, including Dr. Laura's. The argument uses the First Amendement freedom of speech clause to argue that Dr. Laura has the right to express her ideas. This is true, but her critics have the right to express their opinions as well.
(dead links updated or removed 12/2000)
The best and most comprehensive listing of informal fallacies; some explanation of the priniciples of forming logical arguments. Based on examples from alt.atheism.
Another very good list of fallacies with explanations. Slightly more technical.
A dictionary of philosophy. Look for "informal fallacy." Short list of fallacies, but other definitions may be enlightening to the adventurous.
Short list of fallacies. Extended explanation of how to form logical arguments.
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