- Ramón Ortega Lozano and Aníbal Astobiza Monastery
- The Conversation*
Many authors (Walton, Rudinow, Hartog) have analyzed the slippery slope fallacy as an argument that proposes that when a first step is taken in one direction, a series of inextricable consequences will ultimately lead to a disastrous outcome.
A fallacy is an imperfect argument, that is, with formal deficiencies that make it irrational.
For issues addressed by the slippery slope, the results are always negative. That is why they are usually a good breeding ground for science fiction, especially for dystopias.
However, despite being based on imperfect arguments, the slippery slope does not prevent some reasonable criticism from being made about the consequences that could result from excessively risky interventions.
Maria Teresa Lopez of the old woman analyzes in his book “The Slippery Slope: The Practice of Moral Argument” that a conservative use of argument will justify the rejection of the new, for fear that it will lead us to disaster.
On the contrary, a critical use invites us to be prudent in the face of practices with uncertain results.
The vaccine and the slippery slope
When the vaccine against virus SARS-CoV-2, They did not stop giving arguments that warned of the possible negative consequences on their social impact.
Many of them corresponded to the slippery slope classification, since renouncing formal logic, they warned of a possible disaster. One of the main issues raised was whether vaccination should be obligatory. Or if it should be at least for some groups.
From here on, speculation began about the social division that being vaccinated could bring against those who were not.
In fact, one of the first ideas that was considered to show the dangers of this possible inequality was exemplified by the idea of citizens who could travel, because they were vaccinated, and citizens who could not, because they were not.
Is it possible that a fallacy ends up becoming a reality? At present, the vaccination passport it appears to be and will materialize shortly.
Under the argumentative logic of the slippery slope, the possibility of the vaccination passport is a bad idea and represents a discriminatory and illiberal measure, because it leads us in a direction with uncertain results.
Consider three population groups that may not be vaccinated: a) those who cannot, because they have a medical contraindication (age, health conditions and / or other factors); b) those who do not want to (anti-vaccines or for simple reasons of autonomy); and c) those people who do not have access to the vaccine.
Would these people have their mobility freedoms restricted due to not having a vaccination passport? What do we do with these groups? Is it possible to think of a black market for forged vaccination passports?
As can be seen, sometimes catastrophic metaphors who state slippery slopes can state truths, even though their argument is imperfect (irrational).
Even when a measure such as the vaccination passport seems insufficient to prevent the risks of contagion, because, as Beriain and Rueda analyze, it is not even proven that vaccines produce a sterilizing immunity. Or what is the same, it has not been proven that the vaccinated cannot infect or transmit the virus.
Risk as the foundation of the slope
The concept of risk is currently understood as the probability that an event with a negative impact takes place or that a factor increases the probability of this happening.
In the healthcare field, risk factor are those conditions that within a chain of related events serve to identify causes proximate to the development of a disease.
The interesting thing is that this idea of risk always supposes a control social. The “healthy” society has predictable and desirable behavior, and what deviates becomes deviant behavior.
In other words, there are behaviors that must be controlled to avoid risks.
Due to the current pandemic we can see multiple examples. Suffice it to mention the use of the mask. When it comes to social control, it is not referring to sanctioning laws for not wearing the mask, but rather to the fact that it is society itself that monitors and controls its use.
Who would see well, today, that a person sneezes or coughs without a mask? Even if he was playing sports outdoors, his behavior would be censored. Or, at least, it would not be seen with good eyes.
Therefore, health, risk and social control are closely linked concepts.
It is therefore important to note that the weight of this control does not necessarily come from a state power, but from a narrative.
Health anthropology has analyzed that the narrative around risk can have as a consequence fear, anxiety and anger. Examples we have seen during the pandemic, such as the reprehensible attacks on health professionals by their neighbors.
New pending vaccinated and unvaccinated
Within the risk narrative, the implementation of these passports could be acceptable.
As mentioned above, the slippery slope can help us generate a critical thinking, to carefully analyze the possible outcomes of an action.
Should we venture, then, to raise other issues based on the vaccination passport?
It seems necessary to enunciate some, although their purpose is none other than caution, that is, to propose limits that it would be unacceptable to exceed in the face of this possible social division between vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Could a similar passport be used to enter certain entertainment venues (discos, bars, restaurants, cinemas)? Could an employer ask a candidate, after signing a private data transfer contract, to show his certificate of immunity in order to be hired?
If the SARS-CoV-2 virus becomes a endemic respiratory infection, which is very likely, will vaccination passports still be useful? Will vaccination passports be based on a given vaccine or certain levels of antibodies in the blood?
These and many other questions arise from following the slippery slope argument in its critical-prudential use and deserve to be examined if we do not want to end a social division between vaccinated and unvaccinated.
*Ramón Ortega Lozano is a professor of anthropology at the University of Nebrija and Aníbal Monasterio Astobiza is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of the Basque Country. This note originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.