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If By WhiskeyThis my position. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

If-by-whiskey in political discourse is a relativist fallacy in which the speaker’s position is contingent on the listener’s opinion. An if-by-whiskey argument implemented through doublespeak appears to affirm both sides of an issue, and agrees with whichever side the listener supports, in effect taking a position without taking a position. The statement typically uses words with strongly positive or negative connotations (e.g., terrorist as negative and freedom fighter as positive).

A similar idiom is “you can’t be all things to all people,” which is often used as a negative term in politics. It doesn’t stop me from trying. The “If-By-Whiskey” fallacy, which could equally be named the Carter Liotta fallacy,” is a fallacy of logic and rhetoric named for Mississippi senator Noah Sweat’s speech in 1952 about his opinion of whiskey. I encourage you to read the entire text, sometime, because it’s hysterical oratory.

Noah S. SweatThe label if-by-whiskey refers to a 1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

(You can listen to the speech here: “Whiskey Speech”

The 1952 speech by Mississippi state Rep. (and Judge) Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., reprised by Mississippi state Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi state Capitol, as broadcast on public radio. (Duration: 3 minutes 27 seconds)

This is an amazing insight to the human mind and the area of rhetoric. We can see how when both sides of the issue are presented through the same use of emotionally charged words and phrases, the argument is really vacuous and presents very little factual information, nor does it even take a stance on the issue.

Certainly there are two very good sides – and many more – to the whiskey argument. Both have valid points. So, “If-By-Whiskey” does not mean that there’s only one right answer – only that you can’t argue both points at the same time and still be considered arguing.

He who argues everything, argues nothing.

if by godHaving evaluated literally thousands of positions on God by people all over the belief spectrum, I thought I would create my own, “If-by-God” version of the argument, showing how carefully placed rhetoric can blur the line between the most perfect being imaginable and the most horrible being imaginable.

If By God

The question is, if God does exist, should we love him and worship him?  My position is clear, and I am not embarrassed to let the world know exactly how I feel.  So here it goes.

If by God you mean the great dictator in the sky, the almighty smiter, the God who created us with imperfections then holds us responsible for the imperfections, the God who took away paradise and eternal life from us because the first man and woman committed a “wrong” against God before they were capable of knowing right from wrong, the God who commanded his chosen people to utterly destroy every man, woman, and child in dozens of cities, the God who hardened hearts, killed first-borns, demanded blood sacrifices, commanded man to brutally kill other humans for “crimes” such as “not honoring your parents”, the God who destroyed virtually all living creatures on the planet, the God who would demand that his own son be brutally murdered to pay a debt to him, the God who allows children to be born with birth defects, die young, and get cancer, the God who continues to destroy using floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, the God who ignores the prayers of billions of his faithful followers, the God who allows a majority of his creation to suffer through unimaginable torture for all eternity in the fiery pits of Hell, then he is certainly not deserving of our love and worship.

But, if when you say God you mean the defender, the protector, creator of heaven and earth, the father of us all, the being of pure love, kindness, and everything good in the world, the God who led the Israelites from slavery to freedom, the one who looks after us all, the God who heals the sick in his son’s name, the God who gave us his perfect laws for our benefit, the God who loved us so much, that he sacrificed his only son so that we can be saved, the God who allows us to spend a blissful eternity with him and our loved ones, then certainly he is deserving of our love and worship.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Exception: If you are serving as a moderator and need to remain neutral, plus want to add a little “spice” in the debate, this might be a good technique.

Cannabis Pros and Cons, “If By Whiskey” Style

pros and consIf when you say cannabis you mean the Devil’s weed, the gateway to the nightmare of hard-drug addiction, the tempter of teenagers that terrifies parents, the cause of the feeling that flesh is falling off bones, the impairer of judgment and driving (causing fatal crashes), the shrinker of brains, the origin of pointless mental excursions to the artificial nowhere of a fool’s paradise, the psychologically addictive near-narcotic that stupefies the user and saps motivation, perseverance, and determination; the converter of our precious and capable young people into idle, self-indulgent, unhelpful stoners; if you mean the powerful not-your-father’s marijuana, the slow train to nowhere, the greed-driven motivation for a New Joe Camel and the big business of addiction, the carrier of molds and carcinogens into the lungs, the risky complement to alcohol, the manifestation of a “damaging level of permissiveness” in America, the threat to American economic competitiveness, the product whose illegality would push Mexican cartels to produce deadly heroin, the psychoactive trickster that creates irresistible cravings for the unhealthiest food, the undesirable attraction for rowdy tourists and penniless drifters, the aptly named “Skunk” whose smoke irritates neighbors and passersby, the precursor to legalized cocaine, the finicky and fragile hybrid whose secret indoor cultivation guzzles energy and pollutes our imperiled planet, the wrong choice between Drugs or Jesus; if by cannabis you mean the cause of cannabinoid hyperemesis, the poison scourge that brings on panic attacks and psychotic symptoms and sends thousands to emergency rooms each year, if you mean the placebo or mere pain-reliever that diverts the suffering sick from real cure, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say cannabis you mean the symbol of hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind, the miracle drug that treats dozens of diseases, the balm to humanity for millennia, the natural healer that tames the nausea of the cancer-stricken chemotherapy patient and restores appetite to the withering invalid, the safer-than-physically-addictive-opiates reliever of intractable pain, the botanical genus containing cancer-killing compounds and hundreds of chemical components we have barely begun to study and exploit; if you mean the good habit, the mild mood-lifter, the organic expander of consciousness, the instigator of new ideas, the promoter of “serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship“;  if you mean the spur to laughter, the soft, safer substitute for dangerous beverage alcohol; the aromatic plant whose legal commerce can create jobs and undermine murderous mobsters; if you mean the product whose legalization will uncrowd our prisons and enfeeble The New Jim Crow, if you mean the tested-for-safety commodity whose sale could pour into our treasuries untold billions of dollars, which could be used to ease our crushing debt, to cut counterproductive taxes, or as Mississippi Legislator Noah Sweat said in a speech about whiskey in 1952, “to provide tender care for our little handicapped children, our disabled, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools,” then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand.  I will not retreat from it.  I will not compromise.

If-by-whiskey – Toolkit For Thinking

Resources:

Noah S. Sweat

Noah S. Sweat – Whiskey Speech

Safire’s Political Dictionary – William Safire – Oxford

Safire’s Political Dictionary: William Safire

Taken from the Political Archives of Texas. [Archive]

If-By-Whiskey – Logically Fallacious

examples of the “if-by-whiskey …

If By Whiskey – On Campaign Speeches

Errors in Logic: The Slippery Slope | Carter Liotta

Fallacy | Carter Liotta

“Errors in Logic: If by “Whiskey” you mean…”

Fallacies of Relevance by Valarie Smith on Prezi

Informal Fallacies | Does It Follow?

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