Brigan’s Law: How the Ad Hominem Fallacy Threatens the Rights of the Most Vulnerable


I opened up a set of news videos this morning and was smacked in the face with a report about Alfie Evans. So much going on here, including an attempt to render parents meaningless in the lives of children, but what’s also in my head is a set of related ideas I didn’t have time to put into yesterday’s video, and which will come up in Part Two of “Blood, Sweat & Tears.”

One of the forms of abuse thrown at fat activists is the idea that fat people are somehow, by definition, unreliable advocates in our own behalf, that the only reliable opinions about fatness must come from thin people. Look at the “rebuttals” to any discussion of fat rights and welfare and the first thing that happens is the speaker, even if they’re of a “normal” weight, gets called “fat.” As if that matters.

Imagine if this same criteria were applied to other freedom fights. The American Revolution is invalid because it was instigated and fought for (primary) by Americans; the American Revolution would be valid only if, say, a contingent of visiting Peruvians had shown up in Philadelphia and said, “We who have no dog in this fight and who are therefore the most qualified to make this decision have decided that, yes, you should become a sovereign nation.” Only whites can confer rights on to blacks. Only men can confer rights on to women. Only people who don’t have cancer are qualified to make decisions on behalf of cancer patients.

This is, of course, the Ad Hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the argument. There’s a mirrored version of this fallacy which presumes that only people with a vested interest can discuss an issue, i.e. that men can never discuss issues involving solely women, rich can’t grok poor… This is also the fallacy at work when someone uses an isolated, conveniently compliant member of a demographic to presume to extend a position to the entire group, i.e. “My girlfriend thinks my rape jokes are funny, so any woman who says I’m a creepy asshole is wrong.” It’s also what’s behind calling a black woman a “traitor” if she happens to not be a Liberal.

The path through this mess of non-logic is, of course, to address ideas, not people. This factor is crucial if we are to protect those most vulnerable. It is only through the act of vicarious advocacy that the voiceless have a voice. When the UK declares all individual voices advocating for Alfie Evans invalid because they are not the voice of Alfie himself (an infant, as well as someone grieviously ill), they are refusing to look at the reality of Alfie’s situation. The declaration that Alfie must be left/made to die ignores the fact that Alfie cannot, by definition, protest. In addition, since the wishes of his parents (people whose will would have been considered, until recently, the legal equivalent of Alfie’s) pose no harm to child, there is no reason to deny their choice to move Alfie to Italy to pursue further medical care. If Alfie really is “brain dead” as the NHS claims, allowing further health care — at his parents’ and funders’ expense — at worst does no harm. Granting parents, or anyone, the right of vicarious advocacy is too threatening to the government’s tidy illusion of “choice.” Anyone who actually cares about Alfie as an individual is, for those who live by the Ad Hominem fallacy, too “conflicted” to make a decision on his behalf. This, tidily, means the “impartial” government has to take charge of the matter. And that means, if enough people vote for you to die, you have to die.

It doesn’t matter one damn bit whether the person arguing for fat rights, health and welfare is fat or not. It doesn’t matter whether the person who wants to give a sick kid one more chance is “emotional” or not. It doesn’t matter what race your political adversary (or friend) is. It doesn’t matter whether someone pointing out an injustice has or has not suffered from that injustice personally.

Which brings us to Brigan’s Law. You’ve heard of Godwin’s Law, of course. This adage, created by some guy nobody never put in charge of nothing, is used to shut up people citing history to point out the flaws in someone’s argument. Our history is rife with eugenics, pogroms and crowd hysteria, so, seems to me, it’s perfectly reasonable we’d be discussing the Nazis fairly often. Of course, we should add Stalin, Sanger, Kellogg, the Hutu, Ceaușescu, et al. into the mix, but Hitler remains the most immediately recognizable member of that hit parade. Yet, because some lawyer decided in 1990 that any debate that includes a mention of Hitler automatically turns into a disposable joke (regardless of what’s actually being posited,) we’re now all under orders to forget all those maimed and murdered people.

I’m calling bullshit.

Brigan’s Law:

If you are, or are making a good faith effort to advocate for, someone who would have been killed by the Nazis, you get to talk about Nazis as much as you damn well please.


Pass it around.

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