Stop with the Slippery Slope

I can’t say this enough.


It has long been recognized as an error in the structure of an argument that leads to an irrational conclusion. (Technically “informal fallacy.”)

How does this play out?

Allowing some legalization of marijuana will not lead to wholesale acceptance of all drug use. Legalizing some forms of assisted dying will not lead to medical murder. Banning assault rifles will not lead to removal of all gun rights. Legalizing abortion will not lead to infanticide.

While in any rational world the slippery slope does NOT make for a good policy argument, it is however, a good emotional argument. That is really too bad. It is an argument that is based on fear (What if this happens, and that leads to the other, and then more? It will be AWFUL.) Well, sure, if you focus on the irrational end point, who wouldn’t be scared, but the argument is flawed. It is based on little or no evidence, and a reliance that events will occur based on this lack of evidence.

To some extent Judaism has succumbed to this fallacious argument. The Talmudic rabbis, fearful that someone would inadvertently break a commandment listed in the Torah, created barriers surrounding the commandment….just in case. And these perimeter fences became entrenched in law. Instead of relying on an individual’s ability to reason, to understand the commandment, and to behave accordingly, the rabbis created a buffer zone. For example, one can not drag a chair across their lawn on Shabbat? Why? Because that could create a furrow, and a seed could fall in the furrow, and it could germinate, and so it would have been the same as plowing the land. Seriously, me dragging a chair outside on Shabbat is the same as me plowing a field? Do I not know the difference?

Did they intend for observance to become thoughtless? Did they intend for Jews to follow precepts blindly?

Personally, I want to examine the choices before me. I want to understand the parameters of a law and I want to explore how my actions (or inactions) will play out. I don’t doubt that this is a harder way to approach life, critical thinking always is, but it is valuable. It is worthwhile. It keeps me grounded (and away from those pesky slippery slopes).