Monday, September 25, 2017

A Twitter User's Dishonest Recap of My Debate [Clinton Wilcox]

A few weeks ago, I engaged in a debate with Matt Dillahunty at the Bible and Beer Consortium in Dallas. Our debate resolution was "should we have a right to die?" (I'm not a fan of that resolution; I prefer resolutions to be in the form of a statement.) It was my first live debate, although Matt and I had debated previously on the topic of abortion on a friend's podcast.

The audience I had to present for was definitely hostile to my point of view. I even had someone heckling me during the cross-examination portion (which Matt apologized for during the break) and during the Q&A. Unfortunately this is one topic that's very emotionally charged and it's difficult to get people to think rationally about it. I did have two people come up to me after the debate and thank me for presenting, telling me that it was the first time they'd ever heard a reasonable case for my position. A woman also came up to me afterward and asked for my contact information because she'd like to have me out to present at some point. So I do know that at least some people were positively impacted by my arguments.

But then there's Twitter user Maurice Reimann, who tweeted out the following:
Now, I'm not delusional. I know that not everyone is going to be convinced by my arguments. But the Twitter user above was dishonestly distorting the arguments that were presented. You can watch the debate at the link he provides, but I just want to quickly go over these statements in his tweet and show how dishonest they are. There's also no doubt I could have done much better during the cross-examination portion. I have improvement to make, that's for sure. However, Reimann is completely misconstruing the arguments that were presented.

This is a clear case of poisoning the well. Reimann is trying to present Matt's case as good as he can and my case as ridiculously as he can. If you don't even understand the arguments being presented, though, then you can't say you were not convinced by them.

#1: Matt "talks explicitly about end of life only" and Clinton "equates with abortion, suicidal teenagers, vegetative state, euthanasia"

Matt didn't talk explicitly about end of life only. It would be more accurate to say he talked about end of life barely. As I showed with my arguments, very few people actually end their lives because of severe pain or fear of severe pain. They end their lives because they want to control the timing and method of their own death, and dying with dignity. But Matt refused to talk about any other end of life cases. It was like we were debating abortion and he was only focusing on rape cases and refused to talk about other cases. As I showed, the case Matt wanted to focus on were the extreme minority of cases. He refused to talk about any others.

Now, I didn't equate it with abortion. I did mention a possible abortion case but the reasoning behind it was one of euthanasia -- will you kill the child because of a debilitating illness or allow the child to live? And speaking of that, how can Reimann call this "equating with euthanasia" when euthanasia is literally about end of life? The act of euthanasia is a doctor killing a patient with a debilitating illness. Dillahunty and Reimann may not be familiar with the literature on end of life issues, but I am. And suicidal teenagers and people in persistent vegetative states are very relevant when it comes to the end of life discussion. If there is such a thing as a right to die, that means that everyone has it, and we have no right to tell a distraught teenager that he can't end his own life. People in persistent vegetative states have lost their higher brain function and may never regain it (though some have), so are we permitted to end their lives? These are all relevant questions to the end of life discussion. Matt's incessant focusing on the hard case of people at the end of life in extreme and unrelievable pain wasn't getting at the heart of the issue, to say nothing of the fact that I showed the position I was defending does not necessitate I think it is always wrong to take a human life. But my view is nuanced, whereas Matt's was not, and he tried to sidestep the questions about whether or not we should permit suicidal teenagers to end their lives (and other questions, as well).

#2: Matt "requires heavy regulation and checks" and Clinton "invents arbitrary 'natural right' to life but not to death."

First, Matt may have required heavy regulation and checks, but he was being inconsistent in his views by requiring those. He also refused to take a position on whether or not anyone else, such as a suicidal teenager, had a right to die.

Second, I did not invent an arbitrary natural right to life, nor was I arbitrary in stating we don't have a right to death. A right to life is at the very heart of our judicial system. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our Creator with natural rights, and among these is the right to life. The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law. What generates a presumption against killing you is that you have a right to life.

My view of natural rights was also not arbitrary; in fact, it is so commonsensical that many people assume this, even when trying to argue the opposite. Consider when I tried to push back with a thought experiment about our government killing homeless people, who do not contribute to society, away from the eyes of the public. The audience kind of turned on me because it was so hostile (it should have been obvious to any charitable person listening I was not denigrating homeless people but was responding to Matt's view about their lack of rights). Matt responded that they're valuable, but that's my view, not his. My view is that people are intrinsically valuable and so we ought to respect their rights. Matt was borrowing from my view of rights in order to avoid a barbaric conclusion from his own. Unfortunately because the crowd was turning on me and Matt was unfairly criticizing my use of thought experiments, in the heat of the moment I chose to abandon that line of reasoning.

I will add that a friend who had attended my debate suggested I may have made a mistake by trying to argue natural rights at the debate, and he may have been right for a couple of reasons. First, there was not very clear communication about the format of the debate. I thought we only had 15 minutes for opening speeches, when in fact we were given a half hour (Matt was gracious about this and was trying to be conscious about not taking too much more time than I took for my opening speech). If I had prepared for a half-hour presentation, I could have said more about the concept of rights. But at the end of the cross-examination, I ended up having to think about how to connect the dots between having a natural need translating into having a natural right, but we ran out of time before I formulated my thoughts. That was my fault for not having a better answer at the ready in case Matt challenged me on that.

Finally, my view of a "right to death" naturally follows from my position. The government cannot grant a right that violates the natural right of an individual, which means the government cannot grant a right to death because that's a violation of a person's right to life. You may not be convinced by the language of natural rights, but to call them arbitrary is just absurd.

#3: Matt was not arguing "this is a blanket right to die, go ahead" and Clinton made "slippery-slope arguments left and right"

It's true that Matt stated he wasn't arguing for a blanket right to die, but that was part of the problem with his view. He focused on one rare set of people at the end of life, when the debate resolution was regarding a right to die, in general. Matt didn't offer a nuanced view, so it is not clear why his position wouldn't entail a blanket right to die. Simply saying that doesn't make it so.

Additionally, I did not make slippery-slope arguments left and right. I made one slippery-slope argument, and I had to qualify it at the beginning because Matt had talked about fallacious slippery-slope arguments in his opening speech. I qualified my slippery-slope argument by saying that like most fallacies, this fallacy is not always a fallacy. A slippery-slope is not a fallacy if there is warrant for it, and I showed from other countries, such as Belgium and Denmark, that there is warrant for my slippery-slope argument. But again, making one slippery-slope argument is not making them "left and right."

#4: Matt argued "death is an unavoidable consequence of life; you can't avoid it" and Clinton argued "suffering builds character."

It's true that death is an unavoidable consequence of life, but it doesn't follow that we then have a right to hasten it. And again, he never answered the question of why we all don't have a right to hasten it if people who are suffering at the end of their life do.

This is the only argument of mine that Reimann managed to get right (and only half-right). I also added that suffering makes us empathetic to the suffering of others. Of course, these arguments don't necessarily apply to someone who is in extreme and uneasable suffering at the end of life, but again I conceded that my position does not entail that it is necessarily wrong to end these peoples' lives as an act of mercy. But I am familiar with the literature on end of life issues, and I was addressing a right to die in general, whereas Matt was constantly harping on one rare, extreme case.

To reiterate, I know that not everyone will be convinced by my arguments. But I think I was at least clear enough to make my arguments understandable by anyone sufficiently open-minded and willing to treat people charitably.

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