M Scott Peck tells an anecdote at the beginning of People Of The Lie, in which a young man, already depressed after the suicide of his older brother, worsens. Dr. Peck discovers upon interviewing the boy that his parents have given him a gun for Christmas. Not merely a similar gun to the one his brother shot himself with, but the same gun. The parents’ reasoning was blinkered to the point of being bizarre. The gun was expensive, therefore it was still a nice gift. No other issues occurred to them.
A mother in CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce stands at the edge of heaven, refusing to come inside, demanding that her son be brought to her. What is best for the son, or even for herself, is waved aside as unimportant. She claims she loves him most, because she is the mother. This hits home at the moment, as we again try to remove a woman as guardian over her adult son, a severely undertreated schizophrenic. In her mind, only she cares for him. In my mind, because of her need for his dependence, she has stolen his life.
Criminals protesting their innocense will also attempt to seize on a single point, holding it aloft as a lone card they believe should trump all others. “They never interviewed my wife, like they’re supposed to.” Never mind that the police have the robbery on film, or found the drugs in your sock drawer, or the victim’s blood on your shoes. “They never interviewed my wife.” Anyone who deals often with criminals knows dozens of these excuses: “It wasn’t a valid search warrant because…” “They didn’t ask if I’m diabetic…” “I can prove I sold that gun to my brother…”
Arguing from a single point to the exclusion of all others is a common faux logic. Sometimes the single point is compelling: “He fired a shot at me.” More often it is true as far as it goes, but inadequate to making the case. Recent political points of this nature include “We helped Saddam in the 1980’s.” “Freedom House continues to rate Iraq and Afghanistan as non-free.” “Rep. Murtha was a marine.” Taken alone, these are merely ironic. They don’t trump anything. The avoidance of irony is not a firm basis for policy on foreign affairs, science, or hamster empowerment.