In my previous entry, I discussed projection, which is a universal phenomenon amongst collectivists. In this entry, I will examine a fallacy that is more or less the flip-side of projection: Special Pleading.
Special Pleading is almost as endemic as projection in collectivist arguing. Remember that collectivism relies on attributing a flaw on the whole of human beings (such as sinfulness or selfishness). Collectivism also relies on transcendent standards (such as God or the State) which must be excluded from these flaws. If one tried to do the logical thing and transposed these professed flaws to the standard, the belief system would be easily defeated.
Here are two direct examples:
(1) “Everything has a cause. If that’s true, then the universe must have a cause. That cause, we call God.”
(2) “People are too selfish and violent to cooperate in a society. We need a way to keep people in line. This is why we need the State.”
The Special Pleading is obvious in both cases. In (1), the believer both posits that everything has a cause, and excludes God from this “everything,” since he does not want his entity to be caused. In (2), the believer posits that people are too selfish to cooperate, and then posits an entity in control of society, the State. But the State is made of people, and if those people are “too selfish to cooperate,” then the State itself cannot exist, since there is nothing controlling the people who compose the State, forcing them to cooperate.
Recognizing the Special Pleading in (1) and (2) exposes the hypocrisy of the belief system and its proposed universal flaws (“original sins”). It shows that the belief system is fundamentally incoherent. Without god being the first cause, there is no monotheism. If the State is not necessary for order, then there is no more justification for the State. The correct tactic to use here, once again, is not to go on the defensive, but rather to expose the Special Pleading and defeat your opponent’s position.
I say Special Pleading is the flip side of projection because they are used in different contexts. Projection is used when the collectivists attacks his opponent’s position, while Special Pleading is used when the collectivist tries to justify his position. It is crucial for the atheist or Anarchist debater to detect these fallacies every time they present themselves, because doing so can turn around a debate, and not doing so can mean getting dragged down into unproductive issues and not being able to get off the ground.
In both cases, the Special Pleading is used to disguise criminal immorality. All Special Pleading is fundamentally an attempt to rationalize away or validate evil.
Once we stop seeing god as a special being and start looking at it purely from a moral standpoint, we find that this god fellow is far more immoral than any human being has ever been. The layers of Special Pleading used to disguise this are numerous: “God is good because whatever God says is good,” “evil exists because Satan put it there” (then who created Satan?), “God has his reasons, we can’t presume what they are” (can’t we say the same about any other mass murderer?). Similar arguments apply to religions specifically.
Likewise, the extortions, thefts and murders committed by the State every day are glossed over with excuses like “the State acts in our name” (did the Nazi State act in the name of the Jews?), “the State is a necessary evil” (how can something evil be necessary?), “by voting, we validate the State” (can two people vote to kill a third?). The same arguments, of course, apply to the nation, the law, and other such constructs.
The violent history of religions and States also provide some rich veins for Special Pleading, usually under the form of the No True Scotsman fallacy (“they weren’t real Christians,” “real democracies never do war”). When you try to use concrete evidence that refutes a moral claim made by Special Pleading, you will see this sort of argumentation. In my opinion, the best avenue to take in these cases is to simply note the use of the No True Scotsman fallacy but not engage your opponent on it (because it will inevitably lead to little points of detail which you may not be best equipped to deal with), and go back to the Special Pleading instead.