Slippery Slope is Not a Fallacy
And why our "radicals" are not radical at all
Slippery Slope discourse has characterized my corner of Twitter for a while so I felt the need to repeat something:
Slipper Slope is not a fallacy. It is a description of an argument/justification for a position being sufficiently vague to also justify further positions that the original arguer did not intend to support (and may in fact oppose).
To put this formally, imagine I support some policy A. When asked, "why do you support A," I answer "well I believe in X and X supports A." Assuming that the reason/value X does indeed support A, we may have a problem: what if X also supports B, which I oppose?
The most obvious example of this is with the "Love is Love" argument that conservatives referred to as a slippery slope. Are they correct? If we are taking the argument at face value, yes. Why?
For most of us, Love can be described as an intense and intimate felt connection we have with another human being. But with such a basic and broad concept, "Love is Love" has little substantive meaning beyond "any people who have an intense and intimate felt connection with each other should be able to get married." Questions immediately emerge regarding the ethics of particular kinds of relationships. What is the point of marriage? Does gay marriage sufficiently satisfy this point? When can people consent? What is okay within a relationship? Etc.
The problem we face is that we start with these vague principles that sound really nice but carry little substance, and then we try to jury-rig increasingly convoluted "patches" to answer ethical dilemmas we intuitively find difficult. Perhaps the answer is to start from a more solid foundation, but that would of course mean that certain activities our ethics certify as "OK" today will be revealed as unjustified. There is a strong personal attachment to the value of autonomy, since abandoning it puts us all at risk of realizing we aren't good people, or that our pleasures may not be justified.
Even the "radicals" among us don't seem to grasp this. Marxoids and radical feminists making calls to end "domination" or "exploitation" without realizing that at their core these ideas are based on a positive affirmation of autonomy. You won't see any meaningful challenge to porn or prostitution or Capital or the value-form until you have a more substantive sexual and social ethic than autonomy mediated by harm/consent. And you can't appeal to real harm/consent as a way out of this: it isn't that harm/consent have been perverted; it's that the concepts themselves are broken at a fundamental level.
On the other hand, the conservatives who whine about the slippery slope provide no more substantive ethic in replacement. They too are slaves to the value of Autonomy, as empty as that is. They watch their traditions and temples and families be torn apart and replaced by strip malls and daycare workers and declare this "Communism!!!!" Of course, the conservative declares this because to admit the truth, that it is the economic system and the values they hold dear they that is the direct cause of their disappearance, would be to admit that they are entirely wrong about the world. Such existential crises are painful. As I have said before:
And so each side conjures up a phantom: fascism for the Left and communism for the Right.
Acknowledging that we live under neoliberal capitalism would demand conservatives realize their value of tradition is undermined by the economic system they support and would demand progressives to realize their value of autonomy is in support of an economic system they oppose. Hence why both prefer self delusion.
We have moved far from the original point of this piece, but I want to return to this point: We can not, we MUST NOT, build our ethics around vague principles that sound nice. We must begin from concrete issues, and build an ethic that is clear, not vague. Is there a non-Liberal (aka non-Autonomy/Harm/Consent-based) justification for gay marriage? I personally believe there is (and I intend to formulate and present it on here in the future). Can we develop a more substantive way of talking about gender and trans issues? It seems like this is a necessity (although I am not sufficiently well-versed to be able to justify one position or the other). Is there a unique value to tradition that is worth being upheld in the face of Capital? Is there a genuine moral value to continuity in communities that might demand certain restrictions on free movement of people? These questions and more cannot be resolved from within the framework of Autonomy because Autonomy cannot justify anything. And Harm/Consent cannot rescue it. It is time for a new ethical paradigm. Time to move beyond the various Liberal errors regarding how society and the individual operates as well as what counts as an ethical justification. Only then will we escape slippery slopes and the endless debates about "real" freedom, if there is such a thing at all.