Argumentative Bankruptcy: The Current Year Argument
“I can’t believe that it is 2020, and we are still debating things like this”. How many times has one seen an argument of this nature? Be it in a casual discussion, a full-fledged debate, or simply in imagery and signs brought to some sort of protest. The current year argument, while used mostly in a rhetorical manner, is one of the most constant arguments used, in particular regarding progressive causes.
The reason why I link the current year argument with progressive causes, while still being used less often in various other contexts, is to highlight a rather disturbing aspect; that by using this argument, someone tends to subscribe to a type of flawed logic: that a particular cause’s value derives mostly from the modern context where it is inserted, rather than through its actual validity. Allow me to provide a couple of very different examples.
When it comes to, for example, slavery, it is something that the average person living in a civilized society would consider to be abhorrent, and the current year argument is often used when it comes to discussing modern slavery, whilst taking a back seat to the usual criticism of societies who still allow slavery, be it through inertia or downright cooperation. Even then, the way that this particular subject is approached, is through an active criticism of societies who have not progressed enough to catch up to modern times; to allow slavery in current times is correctly seen as something wrong. However, how effective is it to frame the argument around slavery around the context of the modern world? I would say, not much.
The reason why is to realize why it is that we have been (most of us, anyway) able to outlaw slavery over two centuries ago. It was not simply through the push for more modern views or the emphasis on the need to be forward-thinking; but through the realization that at the heart of slavery, lies something which is completely inadequate and downright evil, even more so for societies who pride themselves in the value of human life. It was values of basic humanity (and, granted, progress in economic systems through the development of capitalism which rendered slavery economically useless) that eventually won the argument. So, why can we not follow suit and attempt to make this the main argument when trying to change places that allow slavery?
Obviously, the question of slavery is not as simple as that. Every region has its own set of characteristics, and thus, the fight against slavery should take different forms as it attempts to tackle the particularities of the different places where it exists. I think it is fair to say, however, that while not being a fix-all, to approach the issue of slavery through the lens of valuing human life would be a hell of a lot more efficient than to simply say it is not acceptable because we live in modern times.
The second example is pretty much any progressive cause in western countries as of right now. And in this context, the current year argument and its use will become a lot more familiar to most of our readers as I point this out: Any topic regarding civil rights that the more conservative sectors of society seem to reject (and I will refrain from giving my own opinion regarding these in this article) is immediately tied to the use of the current year argument as a source of personal attack. “Against abortion? What is this, the dark ages? Against gay marriage? Wake up bigot, it is 2020. Have you been living under a rock?”.
Any time a debate is to be had about any of these topics or topics related to the progressive cause, the current year argument is used as a tool to attempt to turn the opposition into the villain; to make it seem as if they are out of touch, disconnected from the reality that most “reasonable” people seem to live in. It reduces the discussion to the most simplistic form of insult, and to the least intellectual exchange possible. The only way the current year argument could be used in a way which is actually helpful for someone, is if they are actively trying to avoid the topic at hand due to being aware of their own lack of valid arguments, and thus will try to shift the focus to some sort of contest where the person who is most up to date with modern concepts wins.
This is not the only tool some progressives use in attempting to turn debates into rituals of shame. In the future, I will be writing a few more articles on the topic of Argumentative Bankruptcy, and providing a few more examples on attempting to discredit the opposition using race, gender, economic status, and so on.
To conclude on the topic of the current year argument, I want to make clear that I do not believe that everyone who uses it does so with the intent to vilify the opposition. It has become such a mainstream thing to say that it is honestly hard to judge the true intent of whoever says it. But to actually believe the current year argument had some sort of validity, is to be ignorant to the power of reason and to believe that context alone, rather than knowledge, is what drives social change; if you truly believe you are fighting for the right cause, get informed, debate, and be willing to listen to others; even if their views are not the most popular in “current times”. That way, if you are in fact correct, you will finally have a chance to win the argument; rather than letting a suppressed opposition’s argument go unchallenged. Don’t forget: it’s the current year. But it’s not like that means anything.