Pence, Mulan, and Women in Military: An Argument Graph

Pence, Mulan, and Women in Military: A Rebuttal

[Note: Make sure you have read the article this is responding to. You may find it helpful to have it displayed alongside this one.]

Now that we have a full argument graph of Pence’s essay, we can look at how to identify its flaws. We do this by isolating parts of the argument and making counterpoints.

The first syllogism we found was about sexual attraction:

If an argument is going to have any rigor, then we must think about the concepts of necessity and sufficiency. For a simple syllogism, we argue that if each of the premises are true, then the conclusion is by definition true; that the premises are sufficient for making the conclusion true. We can track the truth values visually:

Tracking truth values helps us think more clearly about the argument in question. In other words, is it really true that the premises are true? And, in turn, if they are true, does it actually follow that the premise must, by definition, also be true?

To avoid tumbling into discussions of sophistry, casuistry, speciousness, etc, we will adopt a “reasonable person” rule — would a reasonable person accept a statement as true?

In this particular case, a reasonable person would accept each of the premises to be true. But in Lemma #3 there’s a clarity problem because we don’t actually know what Pence means by “things will get interesting”. Does he mean simple attraction? Romantic encounters? Sexual assault? Or is he merely choosing a comic turn of phrase, assuming we will all know what he obviously means?

If we were to create a Counterpoint to the syllogism in a way that appropriately adjusts the truth values, it could look like this:

You can see that the resulting conclusion is now False since it is not established as True.

Now, it’s possible Pence is equivocating here, or it’s possible we should just be generous and translate his words to what he explicitly means. The most straightforward meaning would be that the young men and young women in question would experience mutual sexual attraction. So we will note this in a Rebuttal to the Counterpoint:

So if we adopt this more specific interpretation, the argument is still on solid ground.

Next, we come to the part about the Aberdeen Proving Grounds:

For now, we’ll ignore the truth value of the “stupidity” Lemma, as we will tackle that when we join the syllogisms together.

But what of the other Premise? In Pence’s essay, he indicated that Congressman Steve Buyer revealed this in his investigation, and it is easily confirmed in historical records. So a reasonable person can also accept this as true.

A note about the word “nubile”: Pence applies it to both men and women, when the definition is only about women, and usually used in a salacious or objectifying context: “Sexually mature and attractive; suitable for marriage.” Since this is about judging the argument as written, we won’t read too deeply into the usage for now, other than to note it is an odd word choice. It is not enough to judge the premise false, however.

But even if co-ed housing is stupid in Army basic training, is that actually sufficient to have caused the Aberdeen travesty? If that were literally true, we would see Aberdeen-scale problems in every instance and location of Basic Training. The two Premises are clearly not sufficient to justify the Lemma, so we will note the counterpoint — here noting that co-ed housing, even if stupid, is not sufficient to cause messes like Aberdeen.

The next part of the argument has to do with Tailhook and one of Pence’s main points:

The argument gets fairly messy here, because of how loosely Pence is structuring his conclusion. We’ve already contested the conclusion that Aberdeen was sufficiently caused by co-ed housing. But even if Aberdeen was sufficiently explained by co-ed housing, it is impossible to justify such a sweeping conclusion as “complete disaster”. Pence makes no attempt to quantify any kind of data that would point to “complete”, or even list any armed-forces-level effects (recruitment, defeats in battle, statistics) that would point to “disaster”. The only supporting data he has mentioned are events that were bad for actual women.

In addition, we accept the “Tailhook” scandal here as true because it actually happened, but if his intention in listing it were to imply that “women in the military” were actually causal in any sense, there’s a whole list of counterpoints to be made. If Pence means that the presence of women were why they got molested by navy fighter pilots, then this lays no accountability on the navy fighter pilots who did the molesting.

There are more counterpoints that can be made here, but it’s not necessary to be exhaustive when the main argument’s reasoning is already vague.

Let’s bring the argument and counterpoints together, along with a couple of extra elements:

Regarding Lemma #9, let’s hypothetically accept that co-ed housing is the height of stupidity. If someone came up with that idea anyway, then let’s go ahead and accept that that bonehead should be run out of the Army. The language is exaggerated, but officers do get discharged for stupidity. So we won’t contest that part of the argument, other than to note it’s false from following false premises.

Similarly, if gender integration actually has been a complete disaster, then maybe we can accept that women in the military is a bad idea. We could rebut that by noting that we could kick out all the men instead, or just disband the military entirely, but in the interest of expediency we will leave that alone.

The big addition to this graph involves the joining of Lemmas #3 and #4. And that’s where the biggest problem turns out to be. If “things get interesting” when men and women are put together, does it necessarily follow that it is the height of stupidity?

This is the crux of Pence’s argument, and it’s where he goes most off the rails. It also exposes some of the fuzziness of Pence’s argument — if Pence only meant “mutual sexual attraction” when he said “things will get interesting”, then it’s not stupid to expect men and women to maintain professionalism. Professional interactions and boundaries happen all the time, even between people that are attracted to each other.

And yet, the later parts of Pence’s argument show that he’s more focused on sexual assault, given the mentions of Aberdeen and Tailhook. It’s in this context that “things will get interesting” takes a darker meaning. If a man is in close proximity with an attractive woman, sexual assault is not inevitable— no matter how “nubile” she is. It is not stupid to expect military men to refrain from assaulting women they are attracted to.

It is clear at this point that Pence’s argument is weak, with multiple counterpoints that undermine his conclusion of “Women in military, bad idea.”

But let’s not forget about Mulan!


Let’s examine the original argument graph first, with an eye towards Mulan.

Starting from the bottom up, we can see that Lemma #13 is considered as an alternate justification for how things “get interesting” when men and women are together in close quarters.

It might be a stretch, but I think a reasonable person could accept this justification as true — if things actually did get “interesting” for Mulan, knowing that it was not a central plot point, then it’s an indication that the writers made the choice because it represents common human experience; that it’s prevalent in real life.

But the supporting Lemma #13 says, “Things eventually did get “interesting” for young Mulan.” And I might be remembering Mulan badly, but as far as I can remember, I don’t think that even happened! There was no mutual sexual attraction between her and her officer while she was there — he thought she was a man. It’s true there are all kinds of fan theories out there that theorize the officer was gay, but that doesn’t appear to be Pence’s argument. The officer only expressed feelings for her at the end of the movie (after he knew she was a woman), and it doesn’t appear any of her initial attraction towards him played a part in any of the military complications. And as far as the other possible meaning of “get interesting”, there was definitely no sexual assault.

Lemmas #15 through #18 are a mess, but that’s because Pence wasn’t really trying to make a cohesive argument there, other than theorize on Disney’s motivations. But Lemma #21 is actually valid — if we accept Lemmas #8 and #20 as true, then #21 is a reasonable conclusion.

Lemma #14 is harder — this does track the point Pence was trying to make in the essay, but it’s not really ironic to point out that things got “interesting” with Mulan. It might have been ironic had the “interestingness” caused an actual military conflict in the story, but that didn’t happen.

Let’s take another look at the entire argument now, with all the counterpoints included:

So there you have it. A complete argument graph — with rebuttals — of Pence’s essay regarding women in military and Mulan. All of the top conclusions and lemmas are now False (with the exception of the statement about McDonald’s hysteria — I left that with an “Unknown” truth value).

After reviewing this example, it’s possible to come away with the impression that the graph is weak. But this is because it is the argument itself that is weak. An argument graph truly meets an argument on its own terms, for better or for worse.

Pence’s essay could have been improved had he relied more on clear definitions and measurable data rather than fuzzy concepts and Disney movies. He could have focused the argument more tightly, for instance towards the relative effectiveness of women in combat, a subject that was still being earnestly argued fifteen years later. But as the argument was constructed, it was very easy to use the graph to point out hazy arguments and obvious counterpoints.

One thing I like about argument graphs is that it makes it easier to be exhaustive about the flaws in an argument, even while accepting the hypotheticals that your opponent may want you to accept. We’ve seen that in multiple cases here, where even if a supporting premise is false, we temporarily accept it is true to see if there is a separate flaw in the relevant syllogism.

But in turn, an argument graph is also helpful in developing an argument and making it robust. It helps develop critical thinking skills by encouraging the author to pretend premises are false and anticipate counterpoints. It’s especially helpful when collaborating. A well-supported graph is convincing and educational, and can go a long way towards advancing the understanding of difficult subjects.

In the future I hope to find examples of a very well-supported arguments that can be represented as graphs, and construct new arguments that might not be widely accepted. Stay tuned.