Perhaps it’s just the over-usage by Christian apologists, but every time I hear someone use the argument that some policy or action ought to not be taken because it’s a “slippery slope” to some horrendous sin that will destroy society, I immediately think their entire argument is fallacious.
The slippery slope argument goes by another name that bugs me even more – that is when people argue that something ought to be taken “to its logical consequences.” As though logic dictates that insane and terrible results absolutely must follow some meagre policy change or other position. This terminology is much more prevalent among the more educated reactionary debaters, perhaps since we must all defer to the apparent truths that are being trotted out.
Now, I don’t think the slippery slope defence is quite a fallacy on its own. While my inclination is to think you’re full of shit, there have been a few cases where slippery slopes have proven true.
In Losing Control, Tom Warner explains how the slippery slope argument was frequently used by the religious right in the battles to include sexual orientation in human rights codes. The fear was that if homosexuality was entitled to be free from discrimination, then it was a quick and slippery slope to gay marriages and adoptions.
How fabulously right the zealots were!
Of course this example brings up the first counter to the slippery slope argument: some slippery slopes end not in the moral decay of society or Armageddon, but rather land in pools of fun, like waterslides. Sometimes the logical consequences are either neutral or a net positive to society.
Gay people getting married means more money being spent on lavish parties and gifts.
However, more often then not, the slippery slope argument seems to suggest to me that people are devoid of compromise. It gives a very dichotomous worldview where it denies that people can be reasonable and will set limits.
A great example is Vancouver’s new by-law permitting people to keep 4 chickens in their backyard for eggs.
I hope the stupidity is apparent if someone were to argue against the allowance on the grounds that pretty soon they’d be allowing entire barnyards and petting zoos in people’s backyards.
In our democratic society we very often have conflicting sets of rights and desires. We negotiate this competition through dialogue and discussion. People are generally okay with modest limits on their freedoms in exchange for greater rights or protections in other areas (cue fundamentalist libertarian disagreement).
Were the slippery slope to be a viable argument, the development of the first atomic weapon would have logically required our extinction due to nuclear fallout. Luckily for us, people are smarter than these apparent logical requirements.