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Friday, 7 November 2008

Fisking Grant Robertson

Supporters of Labour Candidate for Wellington Central, Grant Robertson, have published this video to provide evidence that Stephen Franks, the National Candidate for the same electorate, is “homophobic.” I remain unconvinced; in fact, I suggest that a careful analysis of the contents show that, if anything, Robertson is the bigoted ideologue. Unlike Robertson’s supporters, I will endeavour to argue for my position.

The video opens citing Franks’ comments that he was tired of having to deal with “grumpy Christians and whiny gays;” the caption is put above the head of John Key and attributed to the National Party as a whole. This is clearly dishonest. Franks’ comments were made in a particular context; while he was on the select committee for the Civil Unions Act, he commented that he was sick of grumpy Christians and whiny gays appearing before the committee. To suggest from this that he is sick of gays and Christians in general is simply engage in inaccurate spin.

Moreover, to suggest that because Franks’ on one occasion, several years ago, was sick of them in a particular context means that it follows that the entire National party is sick of them in every context is a whopping non-sequitur. It is hard to take this kind of inference seriously except for the fact that many people actually appear to!

Turning to the video; Grant Robertson starts by responding to the arguments Stephen Franks gave against the Civil Unions Bill in parliament. After admitting that he has read the speech, Robertson does not provide any arguments against Franks’ reasons or offer any critique, he instead suggests that Franks’ arguments are “convenient” given the comments he made which “did not put the gay community in a positive light.”

Note what’s going on here, Robertson is suggesting that if a person utters comments that do not put the Gay community in a positive light, if such comments do not advance the PR agenda of homosexuals, then their argument can be written off. It apparently does not matter whether their arguments are well reasoned, sound or that the facts they cite may be true. The crucial consideration is whether everything they have stated is in the interests of the gay community.

If it is not then everything they say should be ignored and dismissed by members of parliament considering legislation. Apparently, the state should only listen to and consider the reasoning offered by those who advance the PR of the gay community.

This is not open minded tolerance, its close mindedness of the worst kind.

The other point about this opening comment on Robertson’s part is that it is clearly irrational. Robertson is responding to Franks’ arguments, not by showing there is anything mistaken about them but by insinuating he is really motivated by homophobia.

In other words, his response to a critique of government policy is to impugn the motives of the critic and attack his character. Grant suggests that Franks’ is homophobic but then immediately declines to mention or provide evidence of the charge despite the fact that he has put it out there. Moreover even if what Robertson claims of Franks were true, it actually does not address any of Franks’ arguments.

Even if people are motivated by hatred or fear in adopting a position, it does not follow that the position itself is mistaken or that the reasons they offered for its adoption were bad. If I, for example, were motivated by an irrational fear and hatred towards fundamentalists to publish books defending evolutionary theory that would not mean that evolutionary theory is based on an irrational fear of fundamentalism and that I had offered no reasons for this theory. The theory stands or falls on the evidence not the motives of its proponents. Hitler thought the world was round. Was he wrong because he was a monster?

Turning to the allegedly homophobic comments; Robertson cites Franks’ statement “I love my dog that does not mean I can marry him.” Some of Robertson’s supporters have claimed on the basis of this that Franks “compares civil unions to marrying your dog.” This way of interpreting Franks’ comments is of course easily turned into something homophobic, if Franks had actually suggested that a same-sex civil union is on par with marrying a dog, one could then suggest that he thinks that gays are like animals, and hence less than human with no civil rights.

The problem is that this is not what Franks’ said. He did not say that “civil unions are like marrying your dog” he said the fact that you love your dog does not mean you can marry it. In other words, he is stating that the mere presence of love is not enough to justify the state issuing a marriage licence.

As Franks himself clarified, he was not attacking civil unions per se, but the premise of one particular argument for civil unions; the premise that the state should recognise all loving relationships.

Now contrary to what Robertson and his supporters contend, there is in fact a world of difference between noting that one premise of one argument in favour of civil unions entails that one can marry one’s dog and the claim that all gays are dogs.

The reasoning of Robertson’s supporters seems to be this:
P. If one premise of one argument for P entails Q then P is analogous to Q.
But this is clearly false: the North American Man Boy Love Association has offered arguments for Gay rights which utilise premises that entail that paedophilia is a loving relationship between adult and child. Many gay people are aware of these arguments and reject them precisely because they have this implication. Does it follow that these gay people believe that all homosexuals are paedophiles? Of course not! They simply reject these particular arguments and ensure that those who defend ‘gay rights’ use other arguments that do not entail support for paedophilia. To suggest that anyone who rejected NAMBLA’s argument because of its absurd implications then believes that all gays are paedophiles is ridiculous.

Take another example, Grant Robertson supports abortion. Grant is also aware, I am sure, that one argument for abortion rights, proposed by Peter Singer, entails that infanticide is permissible. Does Grant admitting this problem exists with Singer’s argument mean that he thinks abortion is on par with infanticide and that he is ok with this? Clearly not. He simply concludes that this particular argument is flawed.

So contrary to Robertson’s supporters, Franks did not suggest either directly or by implication that “civil unions is like marrying your dog”.

Its interesting that when Franks’ points out that Robertson has confused a claim about a premise with a claim about a conclusion and has cited him out of context that the response is not an apology and retraction; instead Robertson’s supporters, boo, hiss, shout “shame on you” and continue to affirm the false claim Robertson makes against his opponent. No attempt is made to suggest the original allegation was inaccurate or apologise. These people apparently think that it is ok to accuse people of malicious intent without evidence or to back their claims up and that when the claims are refuted they simply maintain them anyway. Who is the bigot here? Not Franks.

Its worth noting that even if Franks’ had claimed that having “a civil union is like marrying your dog” it does not necessarily follow that this is offensive or “does not portray the gay community in a positive light.” It depends upon what respects Franks’ said they were alike. It is true, for example, that heterosexual relationships are like marrying ones dog in some respects as both, for example, occur on earth; both involve at least one human, both can take place in the 21st century, both can happen in the middle of the day etc. Of course in other respects they are quite different. Marrying a dog, for example, (if one consummated the union) violates the law of God whereas a heterosexual marriage does not. But the point is that whether saying they are alike is offensive depends on the way in which they are said to be alike.

Interestingly, even if one misrepresents Franks’ comments, it is clear that he only stated they were alike in that both were loving. Is this what Grant finds offensive? Apparently to say gay relationships are loving “does not portray the gay community in a positive light.” Would Robertson prefer that people said gay lovers hate each other?

Finally let me say some comments about Franks’ argument. While Franks refers to a person loving one’s dog, elsewhere he pointed out that a common premise utilised by defenders of the Civil Unions Act entailed that incestuous unions should be recognised by the State. In this he is absolutely correct; many people who defended the Bill did so on the grounds that:
(1) the government should not discriminate against any loving committed relationships;
The problem is that it is a fact that:
(2) incestuous and unions with multiple partners can be loving and committed;
However, [1] and [2] entail that:
[3] incestuous and multiple partner relationships should be recognised by the state.
Hence if one affirms [1], one is rationally committed to supporting incestuous marriages. Now despite howls and boos from Robertson’s supporters, it is difficult to see what is wrong with this inference. The argument form is clearly valid, it follows the form: all A’s are B, x is an A; therefore x is a B. To deny this form is to affirm that all things of a particular sort can have a property and also some can not, which is a contradiction. Robertson’s supporters may be suggesting that it is homophobic to not contradict oneself but I doubt they are that stupid.

Seeing the argument is valid, the objector needs to reject [1] or [2] as false. The whole point of the argument, however, is to show that [1] is false by showing the absurd conclusions it entails. Moreover, Robertson’s supporters in the You Tube clip clearly support [1] one of them asserts very loudly that something like [1] is true. So presumably their claim is that incestuous couples or polygamous couples never love each other, but that is clearly false. The only sensible thing then is to suppose they support [3], but then if that is the case, then why is it offensive to suggest that homosexual unions are like incestuous ones? They apparently see nothing wrong with incest.

The honest thing to do then would be to simply admit that this argument is a bad one and offer another one. But of course they do not. When an argument for civil unions is refuted, they resort to quoting out of context, character assassination and dogmatic assertions of the falsehood even when its mendacity had been shown.

It is then unwarrantedly claimed that Franks’ comment in one context applies to all times and places and are held in this absurd way by everyone in the National Party. Moreover, any other argument against their position is irrationally dismissed and ignored on the grounds that it does not further their political agenda to consider it. Apparently this is the type of activity that some Labour supporters consider open minded tolerance.

Matt (posted by Madeleine)


  1. Get this fucking post down immediately you bigots or I will report you for breaching the campaign rules and get your whole site ripped down.

  2. Case in point; censorhip and abuse shrouded in anonymity instead of a reasoned response.

    Go ahead and report us. You have the law wrong, and even if it was right we are not an NZ hosted site.

  3. When we get back in (yes, it will happen) we will make the rules even tighter so filth like this blog is never allowed.

  4. who are you sad homophobic people and where does your venom and bile come from? i find your post really depressing.

  5. Hi Anon

    What I find sad and depressing is educated people who respond to criticism of their ideas by (a) ignoring their actual arguments (b) engaging in character assanation (c) trying to psychoanalysis their opponents

    And if you want to know where the ‘venom’ comes from, it’s from seeing this kind of close mindness being used to restrict other peoples freedom to express their opinion and to denigrate peoples reputations. That makes my blood boil.

    I am a Ethicist and Theologian, my views on the moral and theological status of homosexual conduct are the result of study and reflection. I suspect I probably have done more study on this question than most of the politicians and media personalities who pontificate on it. I have the right to express these views. When people threaten me with censorship, verbally abuse me and slander (usually hiding behind anonymity when they do), purely for my theological beliefs that motivates me to stand up to them and call it for what it is.

    I will continue to do so regardless of the results on Saturday.

  6. Even *if* Franks does discriminate against gays there is nothing wrong with that: "discrimination" is just the word the politically correct brigade use to criminalise choice. Choice does not violate the non-aggression axiom of classical liberalism and therefore I have no objection to it.

    Note that the politically correct brigade only tolerate what they approve of and desire to criminalise everything that they disapprove of - your charming anonymous commenter is an excellent example of this.

  7. Come election day that smirk will be wiped off yor faces and this and plenty more bigotes sites (are you reading this "bereta"?) will be shut down. You think your smart but your not. I bet you dont even have those so-called "degrees" every bigot like you that i know is way smarter than the hate filled stuff I see here. You will be shut down.

  8. Anonymous: please don't bother to post comments until you have something civilised and reasoned to say. Thank you in anticipation of your consideration for others.

  9. Hey anonymous posters: Keep it up. You're really helping the cause you oppose.

    I've always like Stephen Franks. Despite any disagreements we might have over moral issues, he has the intellectual honesty to admit that an argument for a liberal cause, however popular that cause may be with his intellectual peers, does not get a free pass on that basis, but must still be subject to ordinary scrutiny.

  10. When an argument... is refuted, they resort to quoting out of context, character assassination and dogmatic assertions of the falsehood

    My thought when I read this (tame version), "the last resort of the logically challenged."

    That was before looking at the comments.

  11. Hmmm... I came here to see what was going on because I saw mention of it on Kiwiblog. I wasn't intending to comment because I figured I'd disagree with much of what you say, and I do (not the fisking, but yourposition on the substantive issues).

    However I feel bound to coment because of anon's contribution at 11.19 & 1.56 yesterday.

    To him, or her, I'd point out that they really need to go away and look up the word "bigoted". When they're done, having rediscovered their dictionary, they could try "totalitarian".

    It's people like anon who will ensure that, while there's people like me who disagree with what MandM and others like them say on occasion, we'll always be prepared to defend to the death their right to say it.

    Or to put in in a way you might conceivably understand: Make the rules tighter? Oh please, go ahead and make my day.

  12. thanks mandm for the post, after a thorough read I can assure you that this fence sitter will now be voting labour tommorow.

  13. Wow - "venom and bile" and "Hate filled" indeed.

    Anonymous - please take the time to take a long hard look in the mirror. Pot - meet kettle.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. The venom and bile is being hurled in one direction only and it is not coming from MandM.

    Q. Where in the above is the abuse? where are the threats? where is the hatred? where is the contempt? where is the acrimony?

    A. In the comments section.

  16. Thank you Madeleine. Steve hasn't seen this yet but it looks just about spot on to me.

  17. Hi Catherine, Stephen is an awesome guy and I know he doesn't wish anyone ill - the suggestion that he hates gays or christians, or that his words meant that, is insane.

    The response from Robertson's supporters in the above comments, really says it all though. They will stoop to anything to win.

    Their slander of Stephen was ridiculously uncalled for and it really made us mad - we are just sorry we couldn't get it online sooner, Matt had written it two days earlier but I was knee deep in exams so I couldn't check it over for him which we knew, given the nature was important we were both ok with putting it up.

    The good thing is that it is now officially our most read post ever - hundreds of mostly Wellington based IP addresses have come here to see it so that is something small to be pleased about. Stephen once gave me incredible support and assistance when he didn't have to so if there is ever anything we can do to help him we are extremely willing.

    We are absolutely gutted about Wellington Central and Stephen's position on the list is really sad too - National need their heads read for putting him so low down there.

    At the last minute as we went to vote Matt recalled what Rodney Hide had said at a meeting we were at, he said "if you want to change the government you can either vote for ACT's top 5 or National's bottom 5". We had been wrestling with do we vote ACT or National but knowing where Stephen was on the list made it simple.

  18. That's what I can't understand - why National would put such a talented politician as Stephen so far down their list!

  19. National have not abolished the Electoral Finance Act yet. While the law stands, rest assured we will do everything we can to make you pay for this piece of electoral engineering that you ommitted to leave your name and street address on it and on every other election related blog entry.

    We have taken copies of this blog so we can prove you did it even if you try to cover your tracks and edit the pages.

    You will regret taking us on you hate filled bigots.

  20. Yeah, I'm the one who is hate filled!

    Is someone taking the mickey? These posts cannot be serious.

  21. Have you forgotten what the left are capable of Madeleine?

    You have been in the 'real world' for too long if you think these comments are not for real.

  22. That is precisely what Matt said too.

    No I have not forgotten, I just suffer from optimism.

  23. Hilarious that Anon has such a high opinion of oneself that he/she thinks he can shut down blogs or webpages.

    Sorry to let you down Anon but I have a feeling going by your language and your cowardice by hiding your identity that you probably don't even have the ability to get yourself dressed in the morning.

    But you're entertaining so prove me right again!

  24. Have y'all considered that maybe Anonymous is a troll to whom it is not worth responding? I suggest ignoring him or her.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Anonymous ( the hate filled one)

    Why dont you post as your real name: Sonny Thomas.

    LOL! which hate filled anonymous post?

    Why am I not surprised to see the name of a lefty student unionist offered as the identity of the "hate filled" anonymous?

  27. I thought this piece was very relevant:

    "...instead Robertson’s supporters, boo, hiss, shout “shame on you” and continue to affirm the false claim Robertson makes against his opponent."

    The crazed and frenzied ranting by people like Anon in the comments reminded me of Genesis 19 ( where the men of Sodom, young and old, demanded Lot's guests be brought out so they could have sex with them. No reasoning -- just pure animal-like raging instinct.

    But this is what we should expect. Consider Romans chapter 1:;&version=31;

    As I understand the progression from verse 21 onwards, first people give up on their knowledge of God. This leads to the darkening of their minds and futility of their thought. Second, they forget God and worship created things rather than the Creator. Thus God gives them over to sexual impurity. Following this depravity, God gives them over to homosexuality.

    But finally and most terrible, God gives them over to a depraved mind. Perhaps part of this is the thinking displayed by Anon and others like him.


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