Thursday, February 26, 2009

Civil Unions, Climate Change and bogus arguments

The furious debate over civil union legislation in Hawaii is not the normal kind of topic for this blog, but it has interesting parallels to certain scientific issues—say climate change.

(Image: This native white hibiscus from Kaua'i, has little to do with the subject of this post, like many of the arguments on civil unions as well as climate change.)

The Hawai'i Legislature's House Bill 444 would grant to same-sex couples the rights currently associated with marriage. It is unlike the climate change debate in every way but this: some of the arguments abandon logic and honest debate.

You see this a lot in public debate. Folks who have honest disagreements begin to toss everything but the kitchen sink at the opposing side, presumably in hope that some of it scores points.

One assumes that the fundamental issue on the civil union issue is this: Should society continue to limit special recognition and certain tax and estate planning benefits to traditional male-female formalized marriages; or should those privileges also be afforded to non-traditional unions—notably same-sex ones.

Seems simple—I believe it ought to be this way; or I believe it ought to be that way.

But folks are desperately cobbling together arguments to “logically” support their positions.

My favorite—you hear this a lot in talk radio—is to say the issue has already been decided—in the 1998 constitutional amendment election. That's been a common complaint of opponents of Bill 444.

Actually, anyone who reads the constitutional amendment recognizes that it didn't decide anything.

What the amendment did was grant the Legislature the authority to restrict marriage to members of the opposite sex. It didn't resolve the issue, and it didn't mandate that the Legislature do so.

Here's the actual language of the Constitution, derived from that election: “Section 23. The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”

The issue at the time of the 1998 election was twofold. One, certainly, was whether the community wanted same-sex marriage in Hawai'i. The other was whether these decisions ought to be made by the courts or by the Legislature.

It was entirely possible for someone who supported same-sex unions to also have supported placing that power in the hands of the Legislature—assuming, perhaps, that a Democrat-dominated panel would take the liberal stance on same-sex unions.

(We mention this, having seen a Legislator in our district use the results of the 1998 election to justify his vote against the measure.)

So, what's this got to do with climate change? It's the issue of facts versus non-facts, and logic versus illogic. There are lots of folks out there misstating the facts, or making them up, or making contradictory assertions in support of their position on climate.

Our favorite, of course, are those who oppose any government activity in response to climate change, citing patently contradictory assertions, such as:

The world is actually cooling—there is no global warming; and anyhow, we shouldn't worry about the warming that's occurring because warming is a good thing, since it is expanding crop-growing areas.

Or this: You can't trust the scientific evidence because models are inadequate or measurements are flawed; and anyhow, this, this, and this piece of scientific evidence support our position.

Or even this, which we heard last night: There have been non-anthropogenic spikes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels before the Industrial Revolution, so this one isn't caused by humans, either. Which is vaguely analogous to saying: Lots of cats die of feline leukemia, so the cat, lying there under the wheel of a car, must have died of feline leukemia too.

It's often hard to know whether folks making ridiculous arguments are doing so knowingly in hopes of fooling others, or are simply parroting something they've heard because they've been fooled themselves.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate


Up Welng said...

thanks for discussing this and drawing the interesting parallels to the climate issue...

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of people who don't understand logic.

IMO, the worst are those who understand logic, but choose to ignore it when it doesn't suit their purposes, and choose at those times to appeal to those who don't understand logic.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a clear, concise, logical (and somewhat humorous) presentation of a terribly muddy subject.