Judo Arguments

Posted: June 9, 2008 in Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

One of my favorite authors, the late Isaac Asimov, used the phrase "judo arguments" to denote circular types of reasoning.

The best example of a judo argument would go like this:

A rabbit is mammal. A rabbit has four legs. Therefore, all four legged mammals must be rabbits.  

It’s quite obvious to anyone with half a brain that such an argument is absolute nonsense. Everyone knows that there are a diverse variety of four legged mammals that are not rabbits. As a result, judo arguments are not a good method for making a valid assessment of an issue. Neither is just saying: "But, what else could it be?"

For example –

Yesterday evening I read a small article in the SLO Tribune, Attempted robbery thwarted by residents, which was about a Cal Poly student who had entered a house near the University and was trying to steal a laptop computer and a number of other items.

The student was caught and held by the residents of the house, who held him until the local police could arrive and cart him off to the local jail.

Back in January, I read an article in the SLO New Times, Hold it in or pay, which was about the problem with public urination in downtown SLO.

At the time of the article, local law enforcement was preparing to launch an "anti-urination in public" campaign.

Capt. Dan Blanke, spokesperson for the SLO Police Department, said that the ads were going to be targeted at

"…the student-age population — the demographic most often caught in the act."

and added that,

"… most public urination offenses are alcohol related and are usually issued to male, barhopping college students."

If I were to put together a judo argument, using both of those articles it might go something like this:

A male Cal Poly student was caught in the act of breaking and entering. A male Cal Poly student was caught in the act of the theft. Most public urination offenders in SLO are alcohol related. Most public urination offenders are male Cal Poly students.

Therefore, all male Cal Poly students must be burglars, thieves, drunkards and public urinators.

Of course, such an argument is absolutely absurd. Everyone knows that one cannot make such an idiotic blanket accusation. To label every male Cal Poly student that way, just because there are some Cal Poly students who fit one or two of those criteria, is patently unjust.

Why then do we, as a society, persist in thinking of the homeless as being lazy, drunkards, drug addicts, derelicts and so on?

Isn’t it just as absurd to "label" a homeless person a certain way just because there are some homeless who fit the stereotype?

I’ve never been one to mince words. Anyone who’s been reading my posts for any length of time will concede that I’ve always admitted that there are those homeless who do indeed epitomize the stereotype of homelessness. I’ve never once tried to gloss over that reality.

On the other hand, I’ve also been diligent to point out that there are numerous homeless who are not "bums." They are folks like you and me. The only difference is that they may found themselves homeless due to circumstances beyond their ability to control. They may have lost their job due to corporate downsizing. They may have undergone a medical emergency. If they are women, they may have found themselves homeless as a result of fleeing a relationship filled with domestic violence.

Isn’t it socially – and morally – immature of us to discriminate against every homeless person because of the actions of a number of malcontents? Isn’t it just plain wrong?

If we truly want to significantly reduce the number of homeless in our communities, then we have to stop seeing the homeless through eyes tainted by judo arguments. That’s the only way we’ll begin to see that there are those homeless who are worthy of our help if for no other reason than they are our fellow human beings.

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