In my last post on logical argument, I criticized the technique of taking one fact and evaluating an entire complex system, such as foreign or economic policy on that basis. Today I shall look at an equally pernicious illogic, arguing from vague terms. Long a staple of animal rights activists, “they were here first” has shown up recently in the Aztlan claims by some Mexicans. It makes a vague sense at first glance, and it is not immediately apparent where it goes wrong. Well, there were bobcats/dark people/cacti here before the Europeans came, so maybe, er…
In the sentence “they were here first,” each individual word misleads by being vague. They. Who are they? Was this particular bobcat here in 1500? Do we know that the current bobcats around Steamboat Springs are direct descendants of bobcats that were here 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago? Or will any bobcats do for making the claim of prior ownership, just because they’re, well, the right species, and we’re, y’know, not. Are we arguing that a species has a right to exist in a particular territory because it used to? Or was only 50 miles away, instead of 200 miles away? What is the moral basis for that claim?
When a Mexica demonstrator holds up a sign claiming that this is his homeland, what is the meaning of that exactly? He is not claiming to be born in the US. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a specific property claim based on a great-grandfather’s deed. The claim seems to be “because some of my ancestors lived in New Mexico, I have some right to live in Arizona.” Actually, the claim isn’t even that good. I don’t know who my ancestors were, but from my skin I figure lots of them lived in North America before Europeans got here. Some of my ancestors were also probably Spanish, but that’s a different part of Europe. Other people who are no relation to me used to run the country I was born in, and they used to claim this territory. There were all sorts of tribes around here before the Europeans, and I must come from some of them because I’m dark. So even if my people lived 500 miles from here and stole the land from other dark people, I have a right to this territory, because I look more like the original owners than you do, and have DNA that is .0001% more like them than you do.
Update: An excellent summary of Mexican History as it pertains to the SW USA is found over at Hud's Blog-o-rama.