Progressive politics, ideas & culture


The Co-Opting—or, Mark Steyn Makes My Mother Angry

This Magazine Staff

I had a rather breathless phone call from my mom yesterday. I get the feeling Maclean’s is about to lose a subscriber, though I’m sure that scares no-one over there.

What had Mom upset was Mark Steyn’s first column in the new Big Mac (read it under Jihad is a Feminist Issue at SteynOnline), in which he suggests women, or “broads” as he calls them, should—I hope I’m paraphrasing correctly—quit whining about life in the West where they have it great, and start complaining more about the plight of their sisters in Muslim countries. Is that what he’s arguing? It’s hard to tell ‘cause he seems to be mad at so many things—specifically, in order: feminists, our unmanned Dominion, Marc Lepine, Marc Lepine’s father, the press, men (specifically men who do what they’re told under threat of death), lobby groups, abortion, Russian women who have had abortions, Russian men, Gloria Steinem, Cameron Diaz, Oprah Winfrey, the Taliban, Kuwait, Pakistan, Susan Sarandon, the Governor General’s Literary Awards, Europe, women who choose to have fewer children later in life, abortion again, and men (again).

Yikes, what a tangle. At the heart of all this, though, it’s easy to recognize a classic gambit of the young, loud right—the co-opting. Check this out:

”… that’s all a long way away for Susan Sarandon, Gloria Steinem and the other sisters whose contribution to the liberation of Afghanistan was to oppose it.”

With this nasty rhetorical swipe, Steyn implies that Sarandon, Steinem et al do not meaningfully oppose the practice of “honour killings,” in which daughters are murdered to protect the honour of families. He takes a feminist issue (of course, I know it is more than a feminist issue) and suggests that the feminists don’t care about it. He appropriates their issue not really to prove any point, but simply to run them down.

The problem is, of course, that his argument depends on a rhetorical fallacy. Here comes Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (Second Edition) again (the textbook last used on this blog to question the emotional well-being of Christopher Hitchens).

Here’s Steyn’s syllogism:

Susan Sarandon and Gloria Steinem opposed the American intervention in Afghanistan.

The American intervention in Afghanistan helped the women of Afghanistan by releasing them from the repressive rule of the Taliban.

Therefore Susan Sarandon and Gloria Steinem opposed releasing the women of Afghanistan from the repressive rule of the Taliban.

In rhetorical terms, this argument is known as Illicit Process, which is exactly as dirty as it sounds. It’s a non sequitur of the lowest order.

More and more arguers on the left are having to put up with this kind of illogical crap from the rightwing media stars. It’s easy, it sounds sort of well-argued, makes for great magazine copy, and really stirs up the readers. Ken Whyte is undoubtedly pleased that my mother phoned me over something she read in Maclean’s, as he should be.

Here’s another classic illicit process argument from the right:

Peace protestors opposed US intervention in Iraq.

US intervention in Iraq removed Saddam Hussein who was guilty of untold atrocities against his own people.

Peace protestors supported/enabled Saddam Hussein in his untold atrocities against his own people.

Sound familiar? They’ll keep trying it, as long as people keep letting them get away with it. These assertions are not true, they cheapen discussion, and they are really incredibly dishonest.

So, Mom, is that what you were looking for?

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