Ben Shapiro: The magical logic bomb
Why Shapiro’s Debating Style is Disingenuous
Shapiro’s debating style is impressive and compelling, but doesn’t help you better understand both sides of an issue. This makes it play well in YouTube clips or on Fox News, but it won’t help you become a better debater or policy advocate yourself.
This is not a problem unique to Shapiro or conservative pundits in general. The fact that we see these personalities in media, says more about our preferences as consumers of political media, than it speaks to flaws or virtues of these commentators. Shapiro and others are good at learning what the public responds to and emphasizing it. The attention they get is a result of our own preferences, so it would be hypocritical, as a public, to put them on a pedestal and then blame them for the resulting selection bias. And often, they aren’t the ones posting the clips that we see on social media, and framing those clips with choice of title and context. This framing has big influence on how we internalize their comments.
I see similar problems in the rhetorical styles of the progressive political commentators I follow on YouTube. Two such personalities are Jimmy Dore and Lee Camp. While I find their ideas compelling, they are always selecting the worst of the what happens in the political world, so they can keep telling a consistent, easy to consume, narrative. While I agree with much of what they say, I’m not in a position to objectively evaluate all the specific issues that get raised on the show. This means I’m indulging in “Idle Outrage”, basically, that I’m an inadequately informed member of the public who just enjoys watching political youtube videos, because they tell me what to think and give me something to get mad about.
I only have the time and attention to understand specific issues well. I focus on public finance, accounting, and how social and political relationships create ineffective systemic economic behavior. I think we end up doing a lot of stuff that is unnecessary, unproductive, or harmful, simply because we don’t understand how to do finance and accounting well enough. Outside these issues, there’s a lot I’m less informed about. When it comes to criminal justice, international relations, drug policy, immigration, healthcare, or issues with personal rights related to gender and sexuality, I simply don’t know enough to be leading discussions, even though I have convictions as to where I stand on these issues.
I disagree with Shapiro’s views on most issues. This makes it easier for me to point out problems in his rhetorical style. If you agree with his views, or like watching him because you feel he articulates your sentiments, I don’t have a problem with that but I will say I disagree.
Let’s dig in.
“Ben Shapiro Destroys Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments”
Let’s look at what Shapiro is doing, rhetorically speaking. Contrary to what the clickbait title suggests, he is not “destroying” their argument. Instead he is only asserting a different position, and using some analogies to describe his view of gender.
Gender and biological sex are categories. Discussions of categories are often hard to do right, because different categories often involve closely related things of different types.
I’m a wannabe mathematician, an amateur computer scientist, and a casual programmer. In mathematics and computer science, type theory and category theory are entire subjects in their own right. To completely understand how our language works, it would be necessary to master these subjects. Unfortunately, I haven’t learned type theory and category theory in depth. I’ve only learned enough to know they are relevant here. What I do want to point out is that sex is a biological category, while gender is a social category.
Mathematical category theory describes “algebraic structures”. While this is not equivalent to the everyday notion of a “category”, they are closely related. In mathematics, a “category” describes a complete, self contained, algebraic structure. Our linguistic and conceptual structures of association, can be described as mathematical categories, and the mathematics of category theory describes the limits and capabilities of our linguistic and conceptual structures of association.
A category, in everyday speak, is a particular linguistic or conceptual association. Meanwhile, a mathematical category, could be used to describe comprehensive structure of many such conceptual labels. I imagine that what we call a category in everyday speak, might actually be called a “type” in mathematics.
Sex describes an organism’s reproductive biological role, while gender describes social features and expectations of a person based on sex.
Organisms in the animal kingdom, such as homo sapien, are generally male or female. This comes down to the question, in sexual reproduction, do they contribute the sperm or the egg?
Meanwhile, your gender, as a human in society, is described by being a “boy” or a “girl”, or by being a “man” or a “woman”. These words carry a lot of expectations with them, and don’t just describe whether you make sperm or eggs in your free time.
Shapiro is stating that the way he applies gender as a label corresponds 1 to 1 with biological sex, and furthermore that biological sex is fixed by genotypic identity at birth.
Genders, as a social type, are based on biology. Asserting that gender and sex correspond 1 to 1, is not a ridiculous idea, because sex is what gender is based on in the first place. But even two closely related associative labels can have differences. I don’t agree with Shapiro’s view on sex and gender, and I find it problematic and oppressive.
Now, individuals aren’t always free to choose the way categories apply to them. Shapiro points this out with regards to age. Another example would be your birth citizenship. You can change your citizenship, but it requires a process that is not just based individual self description. On the other hand, some categories are completely self determined by individuals, at least in modern society. You are free to choose your religious or political affiliation.
Gender, categorically, can not be equated with age, citizenship, or affiliations, and is something that needs to be described itself. We need to determine what extent gender is about individual expression or should be assigned by society, whether our norms based on gender are overly restrictive on individuals(for example, not allowing boys to wear dresses), and how individuals and society negotiate their interactions and expectations. This is not an easy thing, and the issues people face are about much more than bullying or mental illness.
Shapiro, while I expect he understands these complexities, doesn’t bring this nuance into his rhetoric, and because of that I find it problematic.