How do you sway others to support your heartfelt convictions, beliefs and causes when they don’t feel the same way? One tactic is the ‘opportune argument’. An ‘Opportune Argument’ provides a logical, and usually economically rational, reason for supporting actions a person already wants for an entirely separate heartfelt believe.
Opportune Argument: (definition). An argument we champion because it supports a conclusion or belief we already hold, for reasons separate to the logic of the ‘convenience argument’. The convenience argument provides new, and accessory, reason to convince others to embrace or support our beliefs.
Refugee example: A classic example is people who feel compassion for refugees, trying to convince others to help refugees because there are economic benefits that result from a refuge intake, even though the person presenting the argument is motivated by compassion, not economics.
The Risks Of Convenience Arguments
We sometimes rapidly search for these ‘convenience arguments’ and then champion them, because we believe it will encourage the outcome we seek, even if not for the motive we embrace. The danger is that we search for these convenience arguments to justify beliefs, the same way we search for something like car keys. We stop searching immediately we find something and can easily pick up and do not care very much about what we find, as long as it seem to fill our need. There is an old joke that goes like this:
Why is it that when I have lost something, I only ever find it in the last place I look? Answer: Is it because once you find what you are after, you stop looking?
But stopping the search as soon as we find an ‘opportune argument’ that justifies the actions we want for our own reasons, is fraught with risks.
Adopting opportune arguments too quickly is a trap. We already have our passionate belief telling us what we want, and any new argument that results in what we want can be so appealing that we just want this new argument to be true. Like we do not care if others helping refugees are motivated by their own greed, as long as the refugees are genuinely helped.
So if we have a strong belief that something is ‘right’, and we search for an argument that supports our belief, we stop looking as soon as we find anything that helps our cause, often without actually fully examining all aspects of what we have found. The problems arise when we are not really examining the pros and cons of every argument, but have already made up our mind and are just searching until we find an argument we can use as a tool. We may overlook counter points of view, and often do not even search through the details of the very argument we have embraced as supporting out cause. If we believe the argument will persuade others (even though it is not what persuaded us) then we have an ulterior motive for accepting the argument we have found.
The ‘stop when we have found what we seek’ most often occurs when the belief we already hold is a moral rather than logical belief, so we seek logic to support persuade others not accepting our moral position. We have already made up our mind about what is correct and have a such deep moral conviction that we wish to end our search as quickly as possible and lobby for our cause.
Almost everywhere we find deep moral convictions, we also find ‘opportune arguments’ as tools to persuade those not convinced by the moral arguments.
The dangers of these opportune arguments:
- We may inadvertently be supporting an argument with the also supports positions other than our cause, and may be accidentally giving support to causes with which we strong disagree.
- An opportune argument is often adopted because a specific group, is seen to be accepting that argument. The argument adopted is seen as supported by ‘others’. This means the argument adopted often not scrutinised by the person citing the opportune argument. Embracing ‘opportune arguments’ without conviction in those arguments, creates the risk of having embraced arguments that on further inspection are determined invalid. This then reflection poorly on those who had embraced arguments later revealed to be unsound.
- Further, we may be ignoring counter arguments, simply because they do not satisfy our search, which may provide reason to rethink our original position.
Any topic where morality and the sense of what is ‘right’ becomes a magnet for ‘opportune arguments’. Religion is a classic case, as in essence religion is all about belief, rather than foundation in logical arguments. If you have a religion, you may have many sound arguments to support your beliefs, but you may be able find ‘opportune’ arguments others have adopted, either in support of your religion or another, as clearly unsound calling in to question the reasoning ability of some religious people.
Back to the classic case of refugees. There are many with a passionate belief that refugees must be prevented from entering their country, and others with a passionate belief more refugees should be allowed to enter their country. With such passionate opposing beliefs held, ‘opportune arguments’ are rampant.
I recently encountered what to me seem clear examples recently of people I admire, and who support the same belief I hold, using what to me are poor ‘convenience arguments’ to support the case against preventing refugees from migrating to Australia. To me, it just seems morally wrong to take such steps from preventing refugees from arriving, even though I can see some logical arguments for limits. But I recently heard Wahid Aly, who clearly holds what to me is an admiral belief in accepting more refugees and immigration, quoting the ‘ageing population problem’ as justification when debating with Dick Smith. To me, to hear someone so logical, and with what I feel is right on his side, adopting such a poor ‘opportune argument’ is just sad. This argument suffers problems (1) and (2). Firstly, this is supporting the idea that rapidly growing populations are the secret to economic success and therefore every country should take steps to encourage population growth in the economic interests of its citizens, which in the end is a policy that benefits on the rich. Secondly, if growing the population is the secret to success then Australia should ensure these people go to other countries in greater need of the economic benefit. The humanity of accepting refugees, which I suspect is the real motive of Wahid Aly becomes lost. Debate on population is complex, but embracing a position that never ending population growth is the path to prosperity in order to support refugees is extremely dangerous. The reality is even if housing more of the worlds people does come at a cost, then and Australia should accept a share of those people because Australia is better placed than most to bear that cost.
I also recently heard the argument ‘Australia needs to double our population to enjoy economic prosperity’, cited, again to support immigration and accepting refugees. Again, admirable belief, poor ‘opportune argument’.
I can also provide what to me seems a clear case of ‘opportune argument’ which demonstrates danger (3). I recently watch a program attempting to understand the position the ‘KKK’ is taking in modern America. A person the program proposed was a representative of that organisation was quoted as justifying a position of white Anglo-Saxon supremacy based on biblical text. I am willing to believe there may be biblical text stating ‘races’ should not mix, but surely the only ‘races’ known in the biblical environment are people of ‘middle eastern descent’ and the ‘romans’ who surely would be the original ‘Latinos’. Would there any Anglo-Saxons in the bible other than the actors playing the roles in Hollywood movies?
Great caution is required when adopting ‘opportune arguments’ to avoid the dangers listed. Sometimes it must be accepted that the original moral argument is actually the only real argument, and economic justification of every moral position is not required.