Slippery Slope Fallacy
We can compromise without sliding to the bottom of the slope
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 16, 2022
Sometimes we should avoid slippery slopes; other times recognize their hazards and proceed with caution.
We stand firm, holding onto our flimsy pictures of our self-composed purpose of life. We scoff at differences of opinions, clinging to some self-righteous superiority, willing to deprive others of their rights, hopes and voice. I find the whole practice disgustingly familiar to historical dogmas that destroyed many governments and civilizations. A common argument used to prevent open-minded thinking is the slippery slope. We warn that one step leads to the bottom of the hill where we do not want to go. So we draw a line, fail to compromise, and prevent progress.
There must be something imbedded in human consciousness that fights against cooperation. Healthy discourse is exchanged for attempts of domination over those who differ in opinion (and needs).
We create stories of horror. We fear that if we patiently listen, entertaining new possibilities, our world will come crashing down. We recite cute sayings that have no scientific proof as golden rules. "Oh," we cry. "We can't budge on this. It is a slippery slope." In ignorance, we label something a slippery slope, and hold tight. As if our slapped on label of "a slippery-slope" is a legitimate argument.
Slippery Slop Fallacy
Life is a giant bundle of moderation. I can give my wife something she wants, sacrificing my own desire in a particular incident, without succumbing to servitude from the single negotiation. Sacrificing a "want" in one transaction doesn't slide down the slope to the valley of lost autonomy. It climbs the mountain of glorious partnership, leading to other successful negotiations, many providing the blessings that satisfy some of our own wants, needs, and desires.
We act like we are cognitive weaklings, unable to negotiate, balance, and thrive in a world of differences. Cognitive skills are our greatest inheritance. We have the ability, if we dare risk, to step away from blind emotional pushes of "what's best for me now" to a more global view, ultimately leading to more blessing in the future.
"Slippery slope is one example of a fallacy. It is an argument that suggests taking a minor action will lead to major and sometimes ludicrous consequences."
Examples of Slippery Slope
Slippery slope arguments contaminate reasonable thought in much more than political discourse. We see them everywhere:
If we allow abortion, we will soon allow infanticide; if we permit research on stem cells, we will bring on a Brave New World of government-engineered humans. But here, I think, the nature of human cognition can get us out of the dilemma rather than pushing us into one. A slippery slope assumes that conceptual categories must have crisp boundaries that allow in-or-out decisions, or else anything goes. But that is not how human concepts work. As we have seen, many everyday concepts have fuzzy boundaries, and the mind distinguishes between a fuzzy boundary and no boundary at all. “Adult” and “child” are fuzzy categories, which is why we could raise the drinking age to twenty-one or lower the voting age to eighteen. But that did not put us on a slippery slope in which we eventually raised the drinking age to fifty or lowered the voting age to five.
The Magic of Assessment and Adjustment
We our endowed with the ability to assess and change. If I am flying to New York from Los Angeles, a slight directional deviation can lead to missing my target by thousands of miles. This, however, doesn't mean that leaving the airport requires perfect directional settings to achieve my objective. Over the course of the trip, several micro adjustments must be made.
Our trajectories are amendable. Fearing change because explorations into the unknown may disrupt security, stalls progress.
When Slippery Slope Analogy Applies
There are cases when the slippery slope analogy applies. Perhaps, when we commit to a new goal, such as exercising three times a week, choosing to not go to the gym one week may lead to a slippery-slope, inviting slipping on our goal in following weeks.
Yet, again, we have the power to make adjustments, evaluate why we failed, and reconnect with our goal. The belief in a slippery-slope may contribute to the complete collapse.
Dan Arlie, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, wrote, "on the positive side, understanding how slippery slopes operate can direct us to pay more attention to early cases of transgression and help us apply the brakes before it’s too late" (2013).
The bottom of the slope is not an inevitable landing spot. We need to recognize the power of seemingly insignificant decisions to lead to disastrous ends. Here, we can make the micro-adjustments necessary to realign with our final destination.
A Few Words from Flourishing Life Society
The identification of a slippery slope is not a sufficient argument to reject taking a single first step. It all depends on the ultimate destination. Slippery slopes aren't the problem. We encounter them daily. The belief that a single step unforgivingly leads to the bottom of the hill is the problem. This fallacy prevents healthy discourse, promising negotiations, and healthy experimentation.
By being aware of the hazards of certain paths, understanding a single step does not equate to disaster, we can make changes when necessary.
Please support Flourishing Life Society with a social media share or by visiting a link:
Arlie, Dan (2013). The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves. Harper Perennial; Illustrated edition
Pinker, Steven (2003). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Penguin Books; Reprint edition
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