Argumentative Framing

In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative.
– Ted Cruz

One of the interesting factors in debates is how people decide to frame their arguments. This is usually done to be part of a larger scheme. However, this limits the factors of the issue. It can also maliciously be used to adopt non-argumentative strategies such as name calling.

For example, we frame abortion as a “women’s rights” issue. Yet, far more factors play into the issue. It can easily be framed as a health issue. The health of the mother or fetus can be argued as a basis for or against abortion. It can also be a family issue, since the father could be involved along with the rest of the family. Yet, it is primarily framed only as a women’s rights issue. This could be done for several reasons. One way is to attach the idea of an attack on rights to it, that the idea of preventing unfettered access to abortion is attached to some kind of right turns opponents into authoritarians who will strip away personal liberty. The other method is the ability to call someone who opposes a “sexist”. This of course is not an argument nor is it helpful in debate.

Another issue framed in a negative way is immigration restrictions, either through directly banning certain groups or enforcing existing laws. It is very easy to frame it opposition to unfettered immigration as “xenophobic” or “islamophobic”. Of course, it is easier to frame it as an issue as one involving security. This is especially true when the travel ban was announced for a temporary period until proper vetting mechanisms are in place. This is also true when the very act of being undocumented is a crime. This alters the arguments made. Either enforcing laws is bigotry, or not enforcing the laws makes us less secure.

This pattern presents a disconnect between the different arguments. When one presents a particular argument, it is usually assumed that the opponent is against your argument, rather than possessing their own. It would be assumed that being against abortion makes the opponent a sexist, and being for it makes one a murderer. These extremes are not useful in any discussion. It cannot be thought of that the opponent has different priorities or ideals. The opponent must be against mine. It is important that the framing of an issue does not get in the way of argumentation.

Positive Dehumanization

Perhaps an interesting factor in society is what could be called “positive dehumanization”. This occurs when we dehumanize people by elevating them to a status beyond humanity. This occurs most often with authority figures, particularly judges and scientists, but can also occur on a group basis as well. This is dangerous as it creates a blind trust in a group of individuals, who may often become anonymized.

It is probably standard procedure to immediately accept any political outcome regardless of its logicality as long as it benefits your side. This is, of course, bad thinking. But it gets dangerous when it applies to judges. When a court issues a decision, do we look at the logic behind it? Do we look at any criticisms? When we fail to analyze decisions critically, we unintentionally give a veneer of superiority to the judge. There can be no such thing as an incorrect ruling! Judges can’t be biased! We should thank the judges for damaging our political opponents (and nothing more. And we wonder why our society is so politicized.) What about the fact that the judge in question was a classmate of Obama’s and was in his area a few days before the ruling? Alt-Right conspiracy theory! There is totally no way a judge could be corrupt!

This puts the commentary on Trump’s “so-called judge” comments in an interesting place. First, as a basis, this means that attacking the judiciary (while holding any position) is wrong. Placing judges on a pedestal does not bode well for the future. Not being able to criticize judges on any basis, for childish reasons or not, sets a dangerous environment where criticizing any judge becomes a social taboo. Judges are supposed to recuse themselves on any possible conflict of interest or if there could be any source of bias. This, admittedly, would include race or ethnicity. Perhaps Trump should have pointed to his involvement in La Raza, but race and ethnicity are also important factors. Why do we complain when black defendants get an all white jury? Every factor must be taken into consideration when ensuring a fair trial.

Scientists are also another key example of this trend. We often see articles about “experts” declaring something. We do not usually care how many agree or disagree, and don’t look into their credentials (unless their name is Sebastian Gorka). What university are they related to? Who peer reviewed their papers? Was the paper well received? Was the paper paid for or endorsed by a third party? Was the method correct? It doesn’t matter as they are “scientists” who can do no wrong.

By taking a series of “experts” as an anonymized group, one places blind trust in a group of individuals. It is important to be skeptical of everything, even from so-called authority figures. One can not attach a term to a group or individual and suddenly exempt them from criticism because “they know better”. Placing them in a larger group masks any issues such as agendas or flawed logic or studies hidden. All this does is block needed queries.