Lessons in Being Illogical, or How to Make a Worthless and Stupid Argument

Although I now live about 500 miles from my hometown, I try to keep up on somewhat-local news there. I follow the local paper on Twitter as part of this effort. On my bus ride today, I ran across a tweet of a letter to the editor, and it read as follows:

If gas prices keep going up the way they are, and are supposed to hit a projected $5 by summer, how are people going to afford to even leave their house?

I have a cabin on Secord Lake, by Gladwin, and my parents are already talking about selling their boat. Hauling the boat back and forth from our house to the cabin will be way too costly, and leaving it at the cabin and paying for the gas on the water will be insane.

I don’t think the government realizes how much gas prices affect the middle and lower class people of this country. Something needs to be done about it very soon.

In the past two years at Secord Lake, the houses/cabins for sale have been rising drastically. It is very sad to go up there and see all these places for sale when in reality it is mostly due to the high gas prices and people not being able to afford it.

Doesn’t the government want us to spend money and get the economy going again? Well, lower the gas prices and let us live a little.

I will try to avoid the politics of this by focusing on the stupidity of this argument. Essentially, this dude is saying that the government should lower gas prices so he can take his parents’ boat up to his cabin on a lake in the middle of Michigan. Pursuing a career in academia makes me a hawk for poorly presented arguments (I deal with crappy arguments in student papers and try to get them to think in more sophisticated ways than you see presented above. Sadly, no one did this for our friend up there.), and thus, I give you flaws on two levels: logic and audience.

First, logic. Since when does the government magically control gas prices? This letter makes it appear as if some entity called the U.S. Government can wave a wand and lower gas prices, rather than taking into account the complicated environmental and geopolitical factors that affect the price of gas (e.g. threats to the Suez Canal, dealing with Iran, general fear about unrest in the middle east that drives oil speculation through the roof, etc. etc.). I was talking with my boyfriend about this, and I think he put it most eloquently: “The U.S. Government doesn’t control the world.” Furthermore, because I assume this is the kind of guy who whines about how the Democrats have ballooned the government in the past four years (I will save my disagreement for another time), this assumes that the government is so big, so powerful, that it can (and should!) control other countries’ behavior(s) and control the economy on this particular issue. Just not your behavior or economic issues you decide are not regulable.

My second gripe here is audience. This guy obviously self-identifies as “middle class” and lumps himself in with “lower class” folks within the bounds of his argument. I hate to point this out, but this guy has two homes. He has a regular house and a cabin that is obviously some distance away, since the crux of his gripe is that he has to pay too much for gas to get there. Additionally, he has a boat. Or at least his parents do. Really? If you’re going to make an argument about the dire situation of gas prices, I really don’t think it serves you well to base your complaint on the fact that you may need (want?) to sell your boat because it’s too expensive to use it and you can’t go to your second home as often as you’d ideally like. If he had, perhaps, expressed concern about people being able to afford gasoline for their cars to just get to work, then I think we’d be maybe on to something–except for the fact that gas prices were this high at the end of George Bush’s term in office, as well, and really has little to do with drilling, as we’ve increased domestic oil production in the last four years so much so that we export more gas than we import.

I suppose asking people to be logical when considering political issues could be too much, but considering the audience you’re playing to should be a pretty basic step in political discussions. This is why Mitt Romney sounds, as Rachel Maddow has put it, a bit like Thurston Howell when he forgets he’s talking to people who don’t make ass loads of money every year and don’t, for example, own NASCAR teams. Even Gingrich and Santorum are better at considering audience than Mitt.

I guess I’m just saying try not to sound like Thurston Howell III when you’re trying to complain about the price of gas, ’cause it makes you sound like a douchebag.

Never fear, Lovey, we'll not sell our boat!