Formal Essay: Systematic Emma Goldwoman Criticism
A formal essay written for Portland Indymedia to systematically address serious logic and reasoning flaws in the latest of Emma Goldwoman's vitriolic pseudo-academic essays.
A Formal Criticism of "The Labor Theory of Female Value"
"Good argument, like good architecture, reveals its structural elements so that what is being said and how it is being supported lie open to the consideration of all" (1). Portland Indymedia writer Emma Goldwoman still has yet to learn this as she continues to publish unprincipled essays containing grandiose claims with little rational support. However, this article is not intended to attack Ms. Goldwoman ad hominem (ad feminem?), but rather to criticize the content of her writing in the hopes of advancing crucial critical thinking skills, a feature lacking in much of independent journalism.
The author in this case is making two broad claims: first, that "organized male violence" is the cause of modern day economic inequality and war; second, that "radical feminism" is the primary solution to these endemic problems. These two points are argued by example and by cause and given further support by a slew of logical fallacies.
First, let us consider the author's use of argument by example. Argument by example is an inductive form of proof using a few instances to assert a broader claim.
That "organized male violence" is the cause of modern day maladies seems too self-evident to bother backing up; nonetheless, she does offer the examples of the recent war on Iraq, the preceding decade of sanctions and initial Iraq war, the 1953 attack on Iran (and a presupposed sequel), recent news that only ten percent of big ocean fish remain (2), plans for a U.S. built "death camp" in Guantanamo Bay (3) which was confused with a current camp for holding prisoners, including three minors (4), the global sex slave market (5), and finally, a vague reference to U.N. policies (though which ones, explicitly, are not stated).
Are these examples true? Yes. Are they relevant? Questionably. Are the examples representative? No.
The single deepest flaw in the construction of the author's "male violence" argument is that it fails to include a representative sample of events, favoring a biased view by selecting only negative events, then using the collection of those negative events as "evidence" of a greater trend.
It is true that men dropped bombs on Iraq, but were there not also men in marches rallying for peace? Were there not men who helped the noble cause of liberating Europe from German encroachment? Although it is fair to assume it is men pushing for the building of a "death camp" in Guantanamo Bay, are there not cases of men building hospitals for the poor? Building soup kitchens for the homeless? And although it is men holding people - including minors - at Guantanamo Bay, it is also a man - Colin Powell - who is going against the Bush administration to fight for their release (4). Although those fishing in waters and depleting oceans of their fish are mostly men, those working in environmental organizations are far from exclusively women; and the bounty of fish captured from waters do not benefit men alone. Though it is an unfortunate combination of biology and economy which fuels the sex slave trade, there are male politicians alongside female ones who recognize the problem as a non-gender humanitarian issue and are pushing for greater resources to tackle the problem.
When constructing a persuasive argument, the greater the population for which you generalize, the more examples you need - and the examples should be typical, not exceptions. The author fails to address either of these points, instead opting for a non-representative sample of facts that point only to the outcome she desires to see.
Unlike the first point, the author's second point - the radical feminist solution to global problems - is not backed up with any examples. Are we to presume that this is because there are none, or was this merely lazy academia?
The second main form of argument the author utilizes is argument by cause. War is caused by male violence. Environmental destruction is caused by male violence. Rachel Corrie's death was caused by male violence.
In the case of argument by cause, we must ask the question: could the effect result from alternate causes?
Psychologists who adopt the bio-psycho-social perspective believe that psychological disorders are caused by a complex combination of biological, psychological (cognitive), and social (environmental) factors. They ask the question: what factors, alone or in combination, conspire to produce a clinical syndrome?
When examining alternate causes to the problems we face as a world, we must look at each of the biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to these problems. Is the problem as simple as a single genetic chromosome, or are there other factors that contribute?
Additionally, there is the third variable causal problem. Even if we are to accept that male violence is the cause of global strife, the causal relationship has not been established by the author. For example, there is a positive correlation between ice cream consumption and murder. Is there a strong relationship? Yes. Is there a causal relationship? No. This is due to the third variable - hot weather increases both ice cream consumption and murders - which moderates the two and explains the relationship.
In this case, the author fails to acknowledge that the effect could be the result of an alternate cause or multiple causes. This possibility does not support her worldview, and it is summarily ignored instead of openly explored.
In addition, several fallacies of argument are also perpetrated by the author. The most glaring fallacy is her post hoc argument that because men have been in power historically, the world is in shambles today. This chronological fallacy assumes that because one event preceded the other, the first caused the second. Events have more than one cause. They are also preceded by occurrences having no effect on them whatsoever. As a result, determining the relationship between two events or conditions is often difficult, especially with as complex an effect as the summation of world problems.
The second glaring fallacy committed by the author is the classic slippery slope fallacy. The author writes that because some women in some countries have experienced some loss in rights, necessarily all women everywhere will experience all loss of rights. This is a fallacy of causation that states that one action inevitably sets a chain of events in motion that leads to the ultimate extreme of that event of which no one will be able to stop - but that is not necessarily the case. Simply because something has the potential to be true does not produce the result that it will be true.
The third fallacy committed by the author is the introduction of several red herrings. The lengthy quote from War and Peace offered is of little consequence to the topic; although some may admire the male author of War and Peace, many others admire the male Ghandi and the male Martin Luther King Jr. Additionally, the emotional appeal used to manipulate readers by twisting Rachel Corrie's actions to fit the author's cause are similarly flawed, with no mention given to male activists such as the Italian G8 martyr, Carlo Giuliani, who also was murdered under similar circumstances. Both of these examples are used by the author purely as a diversionary tactic, and neither gives support to her premises or claims.
The fourth fallacy committed by the author is the use of appeal to tradition, with her evocative yearning for a return to pre-industrial "Mother Earth" worshipping culture. This fallacy is grounded in a respect for traditional ways of doing things, and its most common form of expression - "We've always done it that way" - is merely descriptive. While I would not argue that a male dominated world is superior to an egalitarian one, simply describing how things once were is does not equate successful logical argument.
The fifth fallacy committed by the author is the use of false dilemma. A false dilemma exists when you have more than the two options presented. A classic Woody Allen quote is thus: "More than at any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." In this case, the author invites us to join the "radical feminist" movement or perish. This is a false dilemma, as there are more ways to affect global change than to join the battle against patriarchy.
In conclusion, it is my hope that this paper will encourage both the author Ms. Goldwoman and her readers alike to exercise sound logical and reasoning skills. Even if not all of the above points are wholly accepted, it must be acknowledged that there are at least enough questions raised about the methods of reasoning utilized (or lack thereof) to seriously doubt the credibility of the premises and conclusions drawn within.
I would encourage Ms. Goldwoman not to alter her view but rather sharpen and refine it, as I have little doubt that in the process of that revision her dichotomous gender views will dissolve of themselves.
Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote by Elbert Hubbard: "If you can't answer a [person]'s argument, all is not lost; you can still call [them] names."
(1) Weddle, Perry. Argument: A Guide to Critical Thinking.
(2) "Only 10 percent of big ocean fish left - scientists", http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L13401450.htm
(3) "U.S. Plans Guantanamo Bay Death Camp", http://www.utne.com/web_special/web_specials_2003-05/articles/10572-1.html
(4) "Guantanamo Bay: The crime of detaining people without charges", http://www.balochistanpost.com/item.asp?ID=4018
(5) "Arroyo signs law against trafficking of women, children", link to www.sfgate.com
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