Pence, Mulan, and Women in Military: An Argument Graph
I’ve had an interest in “argument graphs” for quite a while now: the practice of representing arguments into a graphical form which follows the rational reasoning behind the argument.
Arguments are not usually constructed in this fashion — rather, people like to make arguments in a free-wheeling verbal or written form. There used to be more of a practice of writing argumentative essays in the public sphere, but these days it feels like we get political spin and rhetorical “debate” that seeks to occlude rather than clarify.
But there are still plenty of examples of people choosing to engage in the form, no matter how solid the reasoning is. I’ve been looking for an example of a short piece of writing that could potentially be represented as a one-page argument graph, and this previous Father’s Day I saw the following argument, dated a few years ago, from Vice President Mike Pence, before he became a Representative or Governor:
Just spent a memorable Fathers Day, like so many other all American Hoosier dads, with my kids at the new Disney film entitled, “Mulan”. For those who have not yet been victimized by the McDonald’s induced hysteria over this film, Mulan is a fictional account of a delicate girl of the same name who surreptitiously takes her fathers place in the Chinese army in one of their ancient wars against the Huns. Despite her delicate features and voice, Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts. Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military. I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)
The only problem with this liberal hope is the reality which intrudes on the Disney ideal from the mornings headlines. From the original “Tailhook” scandal involving scores of high ranking navy fighter pilots who molested subordinate women to the latest travesty at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the hard truth of our experiment with gender integration is that is has been an almost complete disaster for the military and for many of the individual women involved. When Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer was appointed to investigate the Aberdeen mess, he shocked the public with the revelation that young, nubile, 18 year old men and women were actually being HOUSED together during basic training. Whatever bone head came up with this idea should be run out of this man’s Army before sundown. Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to non-military personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity. It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer! Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story. They likely added it because it added realism with which the viewer could identify with the characters. You see, now stay with me on this, many young men find many young women to be attractive sexually. Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Just like they eventually did for young Mulan. Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.
It seemed to be a good candidate: two paragraphs, and a real attempt at an argument form. So let’s try it out!
To start, there is one part of the argument where Pence hews most closely to a syllogistic pattern. Premises will start on the bottom, which will then flow into Lemmas and Conclusions.
It’s easy to seize on logical flaws at this point — for instance, “get interesting” is pretty vague to the point of being meaningless — but the point of this exercise is to represent Pence’s argument in graphical form, to highlight its rational structure.
I think at this point it’s best to try to find the part of the argument that flows most directly out of Lemma #3. The best I could find was this statement:
Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to non-military personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity.
In fact, it becomes pretty clear that when combined with the results of the Aberdeen investigation, Pence is attempting to make an argument that this statement plus the Aberdeen findings is what led to the Aberdeen travesty:
Here, it’s time to make a couple of judgment calls about the graph. Due to the free-wheeling nature of essays, it’s unclear whether Pence intends Aberdeen to be evidence of cohabitation being stupid, or whether the housing practice was causal in the Aberdeen travesty happening. This confusion between cause and effect is common in logical reasoning, and it leads to a lot of problems in argumentation.
Here, we can imagine that someone could simultaneously argue that both are true, but part of the point of this exercise is to see whether it is possible to represent Pence’s argument in graphical form without using muddled constructs like circular reasoning.
Since Pence seems to still be building to a larger point, we’ll leave Aberdeen as the Lemma.
Pence also brought up one other piece of military history, the Tailhook scandal:
Again, we might be tempted to argue that these two premises are hardly sufficient for that conclusion, but we are attempting to represent the argument presented in the essay.
So let’s bring these syllogisms together so far, and add a couple more statements having to do with the military, including Pence’s final statement and conclusion:
This is a pretty good representation of the argument so far. You may notice a bit of a hole between Lemmas #3 and #4. Normally in a syllogism, you need two statements to feed into a conclusion, and we were only able to find one here. There are a few other options in how to represent this, but it seemed to work best to imagine an implied Premise of it being stupid to allow things to get “interesting” in a military context.
This takes care of almost the entirety of the second half of Pence’s argument. We’ve omitted a couple of joining phrases, as well as his remark about Congressman Steve Buyer investigating the Aberdeen mess, which can be taken as a “source” for Premise #5.
So what’s left? Mulan. Let’s figure out how to weave that into the rest of the graph.
Sticking with the second half of the argument for now, let’s pull out the few statements that have to do with Mulan. Pence is underscoring how things got “interesting” even for Mulan, and how this is ironic.
One interesting part of the essay is that Pence appears to be concluding that the Disney types wanted to add realism “with which the viewer could identify with the characters”, based upon his viewing of the movie. However, that is only a conclusion in terms of his experience watching the movie, and his process of developing the argument. In the actual argument, it’s more appropriately a Premise that led to the storytelling choices of Disney.
Woven in to the rest of Pence’s argument (and skimming over the bulk of it):
Mulan fans may have a lot of objection with how the plot of Mulan is described here, but this seems to be a fair summation of Pence’s argument so far — he appears to be making the point that the Mulan story’s plot choice (of Mulan falling in love) is ironic, given that military gender integration is a disaster.
The rest of the Mulan argument is Pence’s first paragraph, and how it joins in to the second half of the argument. I found this the most difficult part of the exercise, in that we’re again faced with Pence sharing his thought process on how he “concluded” that adding “childhood expectation” to the military debate was one of Disney’s Premises. And yet, his other conclusion about the “mischevious liberal” actually seemed to fit best as a conclusion. The best I could do was to come up with this structure:
The advantage of this structure is that Pence’s point about Bambi seems to flow naturally from it:
And finally, this appears to flow into the first statement in the second half of Pence’s argument:
And so with that, we’ve concluded graphing out the entirety of Mike Pence’s Father’s Day argument against Mulan and women in the military. Let’s take a look at the entire argument graph:
And there you have it! A complete argument graph representing Vice President Mike Pence’s argument that Mulan has something to do with whether women should be in the military.
Now that it is in argument graph form, it’s much easier to figure out how to rebut parts of the argument — whether it’s Pence’s definition of “interesting”, or whether consensual romance is the same thing as assault, or whether Mike Pence actually even saw the movie. But all this can be saved for another essay.
You might notice that there is one additional box in the graph that is completely detached from the rest of the argument: Pence’s statement about McDonald’s inducing hysteria over Mulan. He offers no evidence supporting it, and also doesn’t seek to use it to justify any other part of the argument. It’s just there — more a rhetorical spice than something that offers any level of rational support. Apparently, some things just defy reason!
[Note: Be sure to read Part Two, where we rebut Pence’s Argument.]