Editorial: Using children to gain moral ground

The question is raised as to whether children should be used for emotional appeals

Can we put a lid on the call to “Think of the children”?

This spin is so manipulative (and meaningless) that it actually has its own entry in wikipedia.

Here’s what they have to say:

“When used as a plea for pity, this appeal to emotion can constitute a potential logical fallacy…”

An emotion appeal becomes fallacious when it is intended to subvert rational thought. In other words, when an argumentative plea for pity hinges on the emotional appeal of “thinking of the children,” the speaker may really intending to shut down any other viewpoint.

In arguing in favour of constructing a bike park in the John Phillips Memorial Park, one could argue that such a park would show that the “fading generation” (coined by a Facebook fan of Sooke Mountain Cycle) cared for children, the future generation.

This sets up the parallel argument: if you’re against the park, then you don’t like children.

Nothing can be further from the truth. While I don’t have the statistical base to back up this claim, I’m willing to bet that there are many fine residents here in Sooke who sort of like children AND have a range of interests that go beyond a bike skills park. In fact, a bike skills park may not even be a part of their mental landscape. Yet, oddly, they may still like children.

Yes, there is a place in this world for a call to think of the children. The entry in Wikipedia ties it to social justice.

“While when used as an appeal for sympathy for weaker members of society, or the social good of the long-term health and viability of a society,” continues the entry in Wikipedia, “it can constitute an argument for social justice generally accepted as appropriate.”

In other words, issues like child labour, child soldiers, child abuse, access to education, food and shelter, the right to thrive … these are all viable reasons to plead for the reader/listener to think of the children. You might also include broader social issues like burgeoning debt, the erosion of the middle-class, insidious “internships” for bussing tables at Fairmont hotels, and unleashing science from political and corporate influence in the list.

Somehow, fitting a bike skills park into the argumentative call for the public to “think of the children” reminds me of that old Sesame Street, “One of these things just doesn’t belong.”