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Logical inversions

Many prominent arguments today just don't make sense

"'Logic!' said the Professor half to himself. 'Why don't they teach logic at these schools?'" Professor Digory in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was complaining about the fatuous reasoning of the children in the novel who did not believe in the existence of Narnia.

Today the problem is not just that logic is untaught. Many people, including some of the most well-schooled, do not believe in logic. How else to explain the almost comically bad thinking that passes for policy analysis of some of the most important issues of our day?

When the Supreme Court legalized "virtual" child pornography (see "Images have consequences," May 4), many of the nation's most prominent newspapers defended the decision. Portraying themselves as First Amendment fundamentalists, they editorialized that even the most offensive speech deserves protection; otherwise, all of our freedoms are in jeopardy.

And yet, nearly every newspaper that took this position also pushed for a campaign-restrictions bill that would limit political speech.

Do they believe the founders of the nation, when they drew up the Bill of Rights, intended to protect computer simulations of adults having sex with little children-and not protect American citizens expressing their political opinions in the course of electing their representatives?

And even if liberal journalists reject the "original intent" approach to constitutional interpretation, if we need to protect all speech no matter how offensive, then shouldn't this apply to speech that they find offensive, namely that of special-interest groups, lobbyists, and grassroots activists?

Or consider the cloning debate. Most everyone agrees that using cloning to produce a human baby is wrong and should be banned by law. But many people, including influential scientific groups, believe that "therapeutic" cloning, producing embryos whose stem cells and other genetic material can be used to treat disease, should be allowed.

In other words, it is wrong to use cloning technology to produce a living baby. But it is right to use cloning technology to produce a baby that is killed for its spare parts.

Surely, therapeutic cloning is more of a moral problem than reproductive cloning. The latter is wrong too, since it violates God's design in the natural order, which ordains reproduction by means of sex, an arrangement that results in the family, the offices of husband and wife, father and mother. But a cloned child would not be a soulless monster, just the twin of some adult, and would be entitled to all the rights and value of any other human being.

But to clone a child and to deny his rights and value by not letting him grow up, instead using him as a macabre medicine for sick adults-surely this is even more problematic morally. Indeed, a major reason why reproductive cloning is immoral is that it requires the production of scores of embryos before one actually "takes," with the other embryos then being destroyed.

Of course, conservatives are often accused of being similarly contradictory. How can you be against abortion, goes one charge, but be in favor of the death penalty?

But clear, logical thinking requires the ability to make distinctions. It is wrong to kill an innocent person. It may not be wrong for the state to kill someone who is guilty. A baby in the womb is not the moral equivalent of a convicted serial killer or an al-Queda terrorist.

The contradiction is really on the other side. How can you oppose the death penalty, but be in favor of abortion? How can you be against executing Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 innocent men, women, and little children, but be for executing, without trial, a baby who isn't even born yet and who hasn't hurt anybody?

Fallacies like these litter the field of public-policy discourse. Why is the American Civil Liberties Union so zealous for the First Amendment, but so indifferent to the Second Amendment? Aren't they in the same Constitution?

How can public-school teachers get away with saying that standardized tests encourage rote memorization and "teaching to the test" when the tests they are complaining about involve reading paragraphs, answering questions about them, and doing math problems, measuring reading and math comprehension, but not rote memory at all? And why is the ability to memorize a bad thing? Why do those who believe in euthanasia think suffering merits the death penalty? Hasn't it always been more despicable to kill a sick, helpless person than someone who can fight back? Don't sick people need to be cared for, not exterminated?

Mental clarity is generally a prerequisite for moral clarity. And being able to recognize bad thinking is necessary for citizens in a free society-otherwise, they will not remain free very much longer, but be at the mercy of the spin doctors and the demagogues.