It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the 'reduction to the absurd'...It can't be, of course, that the Princeton students never get argument that comes in the form of taking a principle you know your interlocutor holds dear and presenting him with other things that could fall within the principle that you know he'll object to. It's irritating to be on the receiving end. The one who wields that argument is playing with ideas, fun-loving, and challenging. The one on the receiving end doesn't want to play along. He may get super-serious and offended: How dare you talk about something I hold dear alongside those horrible things that all decent people loathe?! It's an argument with which older, calmer people needle the emotional young.
Scalia never said homosexuality is like bestiality. Here's the passage in his dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that heats up his opponents:
State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are... sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.Now, it's rhetoric to act like he equated homosexuality with bestiality. It's rhetoric to say — as the Princeton student did — "Do you have any regret or shame for drawing these comparisons you did in your dissents?"
It's rhetoric to respond to that question — a demand for an account of Scalia's inner life — by mocking the student's inability to understand rhetoric. That was cold, intentionally cold. Hey, you Princeton guys are supposed to be smart. But Scalia could have chosen a warmer approach without selling himself out. That question could have been answered:
Actually, I do have feelings and I know that many of the opinions I write upset people, but what would cause me regret or shame would be to let things like that sway me from deciding the cases according to the law. I'm a judge, and when I'm doing my judge work, I have to stick to being a judge. And part of being a judge is to demand that a case express a rule that can be applied to other things that are similar. The question in Lawrence was whether moral feeling, standing alone, is enough to support a law. If the majority was saying no, then it needed to commit to that proposition across the board, and I was testing that, and a test really does need to be sharp and probing. I get that it pains you, but step up and argue with me. Tell me why bestiality is different from the other things on the morality-only list. Actually, it's pretty easy: The animal has feelings. We have feelings. Animals have feelings. Feelings matter. But as a judge, I can't do feelings. Come on, have some empathy for me in my plight!I've gone on quite long about Scalia, but Scalia wasn't the inspiration for this post. What got me started on this track was the difficulty readers had with 2 of yesterday's posts that entailed the use of rhetorical devices. One consisted of 2 quotes: "What is the gun community going to do about this tragedy?"/"I dunno. What is the gay community going to do about Penn State?" This linked to Instapundit, who provided the source of the quotes and who now has a couple updates that suggest he's getting pushback similar to some of what I see in my long comments thread, e.g., "Professor Althouse, the comparison is absurd, bigoted and offensive any way you cut it. You should be ashamed of yourself for linking to it with approval."
See? Shame on you! I am offended! Come on, think about it. Figure out the puzzle. It's an analogy, pithily phrased, and thus an occasion to pick apart the ways in which the 2 statements are/are not parallel. Many readers in my comments thread did understand the rhetoric and deal with the coherence of the analogy, but many fell into the sort of expression of outrage that's so common and so dull these days. At least show you understand the rhetoric and then tell me it's in bad taste to be humorous and challenging over topics so raw and painful.
The second post that got me started on this topic was the one that linked to this Matt K. Lewis item "The media should be ashamed of its Connecticut coverage." I'd quoted only the last few lines of that piece, where he proposed "some common sense media control." He's doing a twist on the post-Newtown gun control arguments, switching the right under threat from the 2d Amendment to the 1st Amendment. I thought that was clever and thought-provoking, but unfortunately some readers didn't get it. One said: "Professor Althouse, I'm not sure whether you got punked or if you get that this article is satire and are endorsing it's [sic] specious point." Oh, jeez, that's annoying! I like to keep things crisp around here. Are people going to be so dull that all humor will need arrows pointing at it saying it's humor?
Actually, I see that the 2 comments I've selected for quotation here are by the same person. Maybe he's simply pretending to be dull and doing the Theater of Outrage. That's rhetoric too, and I need to get it.