We stand firm, holding onto our flimsy pictures of our self-composed purpose of life. We scoff at differences of opinions, clinging to some self-righteous superiority, willing to deprive others of their rights, hopes and voice. I find the whole practice disgustingly familiar to historical dogmas that destroyed many governments and civilizations. A common argument used to prevent open-minded thinking is the slippery slope fallacy. We warn that one step in the wrong direction leads to the bottom of the hill. So we draw a line, refuse to compromise, and prevent progress.
There must be something imbedded in human consciousness that fights against cooperation. Healthy discourse is exchanged for hopes of domination over those who differ in opinion (and needs). We create stories of horror. We fear that if we patiently listen, entertaining new possibilities, our world will come crashing down. Accordingly, to protect against fears, we recite cute sayings without scientific proof as golden rules. “Oh,” we cry. “We can’t budge on this. It is a slippery slope.” In ignorance, we label something a slippery slope, and hold tight. As if our label of “a slippery-slope” is a legitimate argument.
Sometimes we should avoid slippery slopes; other times recognize their hazards and proceed with caution~T. Franklin Murphy
Slippery Slope Fallacy
Life is a giant bundle of moderation. I can give my wife something she wants, sacrificing my own desire in that particular interaction, without succumbing to servitude to her every need. Sacrificing a “want” in one transaction doesn’t slide down a slope ending in the valley of lost autonomy. It climbs the mountain that leads to a glorious partnership, inviting a pattern of successful negotiations, building a relationship that may provide countless blessings that will satisfy some of our own wants, needs, and desires.
We act like we are cognitive weaklings, unable to negotiate, balance, and thrive in a world of differences. Cognitive skills are our greatest inheritance. We have the ability, if we dare risk, to step away from blind emotional pushes of “what’s best for me now” to a more global view that ultimately brings more blessing to the future.
”Slippery slope is one example of a fallacy. It is an argument that suggests taking a minor action will lead to major and sometimes ludicrous consequences.”~Softschool.com
Examples of Slippery Slope Fallacy
Slippery slope arguments contaminate reasonable thought in much more than political discourse. We see them everywhere:
- If we allow Johnny to choose what he will eat for lunch, he will soon be eating candy and ice cream for every meal.
- If we allow congress to impose restrictions on automatic weapons, we will lose our right to own a gun.
- If we allow the college to raise tuition rates 2%, they will soon charge more than we can afford.
- If we shorten prison sentences of non-violent offenders, soon murders will be getting out of prison.
The Magic of Assessment and Adjustment
We our endowed with the ability to assess and change. If I am flying to New York from Los Angeles, a slight directional deviation can lead to missing the target by thousands of miles. This, however, doesn’t mean that leaving the airport requires a perfect directional settings to achieve the New York objective. Over the course of the trip, several micro adjustments must be made, ultimately arriving at the goal.
Our trajectories are amendable. Fearing change because explorations into the unknown may disrupt security, stalls progress.
When Slippery Slope Fallacy Applies
There are cases when the slippery slope analogy applies. Perhaps, when we commit to a new goal, such as exercising three times a week, choosing to not go to the gym one week may lead to a slippery-slope, inviting slipping on our goal in following weeks. Yet, again, we have the power to make adjustments, evaluate why we failed, and reconnect with our goal. The belief in a slippery-slope may contribute to the complete collapse. Rigid, categorical thinking, we often can label a thinking error, that knocks our logic out of line with reality.
Dan Arlie, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, wrote, “on the positive side, understanding how slippery slopes operate can direct us to pay more attention to early cases of transgression and help us apply the brakes before it’s too late” (2013).
However, the bottom of the slope is not an inevitable landing spot. Notwithstanding, we need to recognize the power of seemingly insignificant decisions that may lead to disastrous ends. Importantly, we can make the micro-adjustments necessary to realign with our final destination.
A Few Words from Flourishing Life Society
The identification of a slippery slope is not a sufficient argument to reject taking a single first step. It all depends on the ultimate destination. Slippery slopes aren’t the problem. We encounter them daily. In conclusion, the belief that a single step unforgivingly leads to the bottom of the hill is the problem. This fallacy prevents healthy discourse, promising negotiations, and healthy experimentation.
By being aware of the hazards of certain paths, understanding a single step does not equate to disaster, we can make changes when necessary.
Arlie, Dan (2013). The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves. Harper Perennial; Illustrated edition
Pinker, Steven (2003). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Penguin Books; Reprint edition.