It may be a mistaken impression on my part, but it seems that in the last few years one quick way of getting smacked down in a debate is by making "slippery slope" arguments. The general retort is that slippery slope thinking leads to logical fallacies.
Is this really true? It occurred to me tonight that many debates that people engage in are "slippery slope", if they have anything to do with the future. So arguments about Calvinism may not be SS, but arguments about global warming, or marriage, or foreign policy generally are. Maybe I'm not catching the distinction, but most discussions that have to do with where we're headed include weighing the probabilities of where we will end up. It seems to me that calling someone out for their fallacious "slippery slope" argument may just be a lazy persons way of avoiding debate. But I may be missing the distinction.
Let me give you a famous example of a societal debate that, I'm sure, included a lot of slippery slope argumentation: In 1965 the Moynihan report was published, which raised alarms about the state of the African-American family.
I would imagine that opponents of certain family-hostile welfare policies, no-fault divorce legislation and overall loosening of sexual mores in the 1960s offered slippery slope arguments. For setup, take a look at this line from the report.
"Both white and Negro illegitimacy rates have been increasing, although from dramatically different bases. The white rate was 2 percent in 1940; it was 3.07 percent in 1963. In that period, the Negro rate went from 16.8 percent to 23.6 percent."
Among those of us who look in dismay at the awful state of marriage and family cohesiveness in 2013, an illegitimacy rate of 23.6% would be a miracle right now. The current rate for the country is over 40% (source, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The percentage for African Americans is quite a bit higher than this average.
Haven't we traveled a good distance down a slope here?
I was reminded of this after seeing this opinion piece in Slate tonight: Legalize Polygamy! No. I am not kidding.
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.
As the marriage debate got revved up over the last few years, I wasn't the only one to point out that the same logic used to legitimize same sex marriage was completely applicable to legalizing polygamy and polyamory.
Every cultural change and trend alters the terrain that we as a society walk. Some of them take us down paths that have an angle. It doesn't seem like a logical fallacy to wonder where we'll end up.
[H/T for the polygamy article: Instapundit