Thursday, September 15, 2005

Isn't Namecalling a Bit Dangerous . . .

. . . when your name is "Hyman"?

I’ve said many times that of the wide variety of issues I have with Mark Hyman, his specific opinions on issues rank no higher than third, as far as importance. Above his specific positions are the fact that he is forced on viewers by Sinclair Broadcasting and, most importantly, his hopelessly sloppy thought and argument.

His latest offering is a case in point. Hyman rails against the New York Times (I’ll pause a moment to let you get over your shock) for editorializing against allowing 14-year-old girls to be wed to adult men. (By the way, this commentary is a Reader’s Digest version of a longer article Hyman penned for that esteemed periodical, The American Spectator.)

Is Hyman upset because this might put a crimp in his social life? I’m assuming not; instead, I take him at his word—that he thinks the newspaper has a double standard because they have also editorialized against parental notification laws. According to Hyman, this means that the Times doesn’t value the well-being of underage girls and is ignoring their welfare in order to trumpet the wonders of abortion-on-demand.

Here’s the thing: I don’t necessarily have a problem with parental notification for underage girls to get abortions. It’s a surgical procedure, and one that their legal guardians are entitled to know about.

What I do have a problem with is simplistic reasoning and namecalling in lieu of actual argument. While I might not agree with the Times’ position on parental notification, I can understand their argument (and those of others on that side): minors who reveal their pregnancy might be punished by parents, particularly if the pregnancy is the result of incest.

There is nothing inconsistent with the Times’ reasoning—the difference is in the situations involved. The Times is against underage marriage because to allow such unions would lead to the possibility of physical and sexual abuse of the child. The same concern is at issue with parental notification of abortions.

Moreover, opposition to underage marriage is an opposition to an act that could lead to the sexual abuse of the child. It is, if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun, a prophylactic move—one to prevent a future action from occurring. With an underage child who is already pregnant, the damage (in a sense) has already been done, and the idea is to minimize its negative consequences. It’s an issue that involves what happens “after the fact.”

Again, this isn’t to say I agree with the arguments against parental notification. But to pretend that there aren’t legitimate concerns on both sides of the issue and that the Times’ positions on these two separate issues represent some egregious lapse in ethical consistency impoverishes the debate on all issues by falling back on what is essentially name-calling: your positions seem contradictory, ergo you must be incapable of reasonable thought and are not arguing in good faith. Not only is this name calling, but it’s inaccurate name-calling to boot.

Just in case he felt this version of the name-calling technique was too subtle, Hyman ends the commentary with a flurry of vitriol, claiming the Times’ editorial board represents the thinking of “free-love hippies” suffering from “drug-induced psychosis.”

It’s exactly this sort of poisoning of the well of public discourse that is Hyman’s greatest sin.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.63


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