Writing for The Blaze Alasdair Denvil uses a Glenn Beck article on drug prohibition as a springboard to unwittingly demonstrate how a reasonable-sounding commentary can be corrupted through the use of intellectually dishonest debate tactics.
“Unwittingly” is used charitably here since Denvil claims he is dedicated to “teaching people how to discuss issues passionately” and without “distorting your opponents.” As he puts it, “It’s like fair play in sports: work hard to defeat the other team, but don’t cheat.”
Denvil begins by channeling John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle, “…That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
He then incorrectly claims that Mill’s Harm Principle “has become a standard expression of libertarianism” which isn’t true if one reads a bit deeper into Mills. This is “False premise,” number 5 in John T. Reed’s list of intellectually-dishonest debate tactics. The standard expression of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle (NAP) against physical force, intimidation and fraud.
Denvil’s concern about drugs is that (a) some young people may not know that some drug use can be harmful and even deadly, (b) libertarians don’t believe in mandatory education, then asks (c) “Is somebody really free if they’re unable to read and write?” and concludes (d) “Without a certain minimum education, aren’t you just being set up to freely make stupid decisions?”
The answer to (d) is “Yes, a minimal education is important but it has nothing to do with a mandatory vs. voluntary education,” and nobody is being “set up” to freely make stupid decisions unless coercion, intimidation or fraud are involved. This is “2. Changing the Subject” in Reed’s list.
In his attempt to “discuss issues passionately” with his “fair play” and “don’t cheat” principles Denvil is offering us the Fallacy of the False Dilemma, that the only choice we have is between government-imposed mandatory schooling or zero libertarian education since under libertarianism “education isn’t compulsory, kids don’t have to go to school.”
He apparently can’t conceive even one alternative possibility, that libertarians may offer far better education than the de facto warehousing of children in our failed inner city holding pens called “schools.”
Denvil thus seems to have a hidden agenda; he damn well wants taxpayer-funded schooling and won’t even consider that no matter what other issues may come into play coercion is simply immoral. Mill’s Harm Principle, after all, has too many collectivist exceptions that make it easy to do harm to individuals in the name of not doing harm to “society.”
Denvil goes on to offer other either/or false choices but this should be enough to demonstrate his failure to apply his own principle against “distorting your opponents.”