Conservapedia:Schlafly Stretch

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The Schlafly Stretch describes a debate tactic in which a party, desperately trying to defend a losing position, puts forth logic and/or evidence that stretches credulity to an impossible extreme rather than simply conceding the point.

The first distinguishing characteristic of the Schlafly Stretch is that while debate often involves stretching a point to reach a desired conclusion, the stretch of logic generally has a basis in reality, while the Schlafly Stretch has no such constraint.

The second distinguishing characteristic of the Schlafly Stretch, compared to a simple case of Moving the goalposts, is that it is built on itself in an almost recursive pattern. As the validity of each logical reach is challenged, an even more untenable stretch of logic and/or evidence is invoked to defend it.

The third distinguishing characteristic of the Schlafly Stretch is that the person using the technique typically has a personal emotional investment in the outcome of the debate. This is critical, because the need for personal validation is the driver that allows even an educated individual to stretch logic to extremes that they would ridicule if done by others.

Examples[edit]

The Best of the Public[edit]

The classic example of this technique is in Andrew Schlafly's defense of his statement that "The best of the public is better than a group of experts." In defense of his "new conservative insight", Schlafly responded to critics who pointed out that the "best of the public" are typically experts in a given discipline by redefining what "expert" means:[1]

Challenge:
This is an interesting discussion, though I'm having a hard time seeing the difference between an expert and the "best of the public." Isn't an expert precisely that, someone among the public who was gifted enough at something to go through specialized training and become even better?
Schlafly Stretch Response:
...an "expert" is a particular type of person who pursued a particular credentialing path. It usually entails years of specialized learning from ages 16 to 25, at the sacrifice of other activities or pursuits. Typically experts are from middle or upper class families that value credentials. Women who have children during those ages -- the most natural ages for childbearing, are disqualified. Also, criticizing the mainstream or saying something politically incorrect is a disqualification. Only a tiny percentage of the public fits this narrow track of an "expert".
Challenge:
That's an interesting distinction, the first time I've heard it put that way. Still one point for me is unclear. Are you saying that the "best of the public," as per your definition, is made up of people who do have expertise in a field, just not the credentials required for them to be called "experts?" Or are you saying, rather, that one does not need to invest time and hard work in a field at all to contribute meaningfully to it?
Schlafly Stretch Response:
...you still seem to cling to the "expert" point of view, as though being "smart" means having superb insights, while not being "smart" means an incapability to do so. In fact, excellence can appear from unexpected places. Bob Beamon set a record for the long jump that lasted perhaps 30 years even though he was not generally a great long-jumper. Or purely mechanically, a broken clock is more precise than a working clock is, twice a day. Some of the very best songs (e.g., American Pie) have been by artists incapable of anything comparable.
Challenge:
Actually, I have a very open mind about this, as it's been clear to me for a long time that creativity and inspiration are very different animals than competence and technique. And all of these are still different from the issue of "credentials" you gave earlier. Your "American Pie" example blurs the lines between these: it was a great song written by a competent professional singer/songwriter. The fact that Don McClean was able to write a song at all shows that he at least knows how to sing, how to play an instrument or two, how to set text to a melody, and how harmony works together with melody. Any one of these are considerable technical achievements, and that's why not everyone can write a song, much less a good one. The fact that he hasn't come up with anything comparably great has little to do with his abilities as a musician, and more to do with a lack of inspiration or creativity.
My biggest question is still with the definition of expert. Ideas are different things than achievements, don't you agree? Would the Wright Brothers have succeeded without expertise in engineering, math, and a deep understanding of scientific trial and error? Those skills did not fall from the sky. So are you saying that your definition of "expert" is only a matter of credentials, regardless of abilities obtained through practice and hard-earned knowledge? Or are you saying that the "best of the public" don't need credentials or an ability to turn ideas into achievements?
Schlafly Stretch Response:
...an "expert" is someone who has traditional credentials, is recognized by his peers, and plays the system often to maximize credit for himself. If you're suggesting I'm somehow against learning and hard work, I'm obviously not. Contributions by non-experts typically, but not necessarily always, are by people who picked up their own knowledge through hard work and non-conventional paths. There can be "flashes of genius" too, like the woman who woke up in the middle of the night with verses to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." If you're determined to deny a role for inspired wisdom, then obviously I'd disagree with you about that.
This continues to degrade, with the critic eventually calling "bullshit!", which is answered by even greater levels of Schlafly Stretching:
Challenge:
Your main point, as I understand it, is that in every field there is a group of credentialed experts who are the gatekeepers of all ideas falling under their domain. Because of their narrow-mindedness and orthodoxy, they are unable to produce any radically new insights. Therefore, people who fall outside of this group, "the best of the pubic" as you call them, will produce the most interesting insights. Have I understood this much correctly?
The problem with this model is, if there's no group of credentialed experts in a certain field, then there's nothing to compare. If "the best of the public" represents anyone outside of this elite group, then without the elite group everybody counts as the best of the public.
According to your definition there is no group of recognized experts in creative fields; you can't go to the university and get a songwriting degree, there are no distinguished professors in songwriting at Princeton (last I checked). In your last post, you said something about "expert" musicians, but then you're falling back on the traditional definition, not your own. The fact that your original definition doesn't work with pop music means that either the definition is flawed, or the examples do not match your definition.
My basic position is, I'm in total agreement with the spirit of your argument: that essentially, the best ideas come from outside of the established modes of thinking. But I believe the main page does not yet express that concept with clear-headed logic, as there are too many examples that do not fit with your definitions. You've embraced a very narrow definition of "expert" and are unable to use it consistently through to the end.
Schlafly Stretch Response:
You keep returning to music and ignoring all the other fields, but the same observation holds true in music. One-hit wonders are an undeniable phenomenon, and they surpass the best of the experts. The "credentialing" in music includes acclaim by peers and the prestige of insider awards and status, just as in other fields. The Beatles were experts, yet no song they produced was as good or as appreciated as the one-hit wonders.

Humor Before Christ[edit]

Schlafly once declared it to be a "mystery" as to whether humor existed before Christ. Numerous people questioned that startling assertion. Note how Schlafly continually narrows his definition of "humor".

Challenge:
Perhaps this entry could be clarified: is there a particular form of humor that the author had in mind? There are examples of jokes, riddles, puns, comic figurines/images, anthropoligical notes of humorous conversations, etc. from both pre-Christian times and from post-Christian 'first contacts' with cultures that had had no previous exposure to Christianity.
Schlafly Stretch Response:
You misunderstand what a Greek "comedy" was. It was not a humorous performance as meant by the term today (after the onset of Christianity).
Not bad so far. Schlafly points out that the ancients may have had a different idea of what comedy means than does the modern world.
Challenge:
Aschlafly is right in saying that the term "comedy" did not mean exactly what it does today, but KimSell is right that the works of playwrights such as Aristophanes certainly included humorous elements such as wordplay, farce and grotesque exaggeration (often surprisingly coarse by our standards). I'd also cite the episode where the children mocked Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23-24 as an example, albeit fairly base, of pre-Christian humor.
Schlafly Stretch Response:
The pre-Christian examples don't withstand scrutiny. Mockery or crude comments are not quality humor, and may not be humor at all.
Schlafly is himself not amused by crude humor, so it may not be humor at all.
Challenge:
The Greek comedy tradition was well-established by the sixth century BC and contains aspects of sexual farce, parody of 'serious' literary styles, and mockery of specific political and public figures. Comic performers wore characteristic costumes that included fat suits, huge genitalia, and grotesque masks that are still in use in modern comic performances. Greek vases depict these comic characters engaged in antics; I recall in particular a vase depicting two grotesque dwarves helping a third dwarf up a ladder or ramp - Three Stooges level humor. (The poster adds numerous other examples.)
Schlafly Stretch Response:
To one with an open mind, your vulgar "examples" tend to reinforce the basic observation: (real) humor was lacking before Christianity. Crudeness or vulgarity or mockery is not true humor, and Greek "comedies" were not attempts at humor in today's sense.
Schlafly acknowledges that there may have been humor before Christ, but insists it wasn't good humor.
Challenge:
For the elucidation of all: "The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature" describes Aristophanes as an "Athenian comic poet". Eleven of his plays survive. I know of at least one that has been performed in modern times - "The Wasps". I have a CD of it (2 CD set actually) Originally, it was produced in 422 B.C. and is a satirical comedy, poking fun at the Athenian jury system of the time and the state of contemporary politics. It is a comedy of manners, with elements of parody, occasional crudity and slapstick. Sounds like the Restoration writers to me. Or Voltaire. Even Shakespeare indulged in a bit of crudity at times. Modern productions, of course, update some of the scenes. (The poster goes into a further discussion of ancient comedy.)
Schlafly Stretch Response:
The above discussion is interesting, and I'd like to learn more about "The Wasps." But certainly much of the above, such as vulgarity, is not "humor" as defined primarily by the dictionary: the "ludicrous" or (more importantly) the "absurdly incongruous." There are dim-witted people who are amused by compulsive profanity or, as on this site, by mindless vandalism. Parody and sarcasm is also immensely entertaining to the easily amused. But this is not "humor" as defined by the dictionary, and I still haven't seen any compelling examples of pre-Christian humor. A performance like "Trading Places" would qualify, but it didn't exist. It's interesting how strenuously some people object to the proposition that humor did not predate Christianity. Surely your minds are not so closed as to think the proposition to be automatically impossible
Schlafly whips out his trusty Merriam-Webster's dictionary to define humor "officially". Note how he dismisses parody and sarcasm as not being humor, a rather amazing claim on the face of it, especially since he has himself written (very bad) parodies.
Challenge:
That being said, I do indeed believe that humor as it has been defined here predates Christianity. The plays of Plautus and Terrence especially come to mind. Mr. Schlafly, you cited specifically the film Trading Places, yes? Well one of the Roman Plautus's more well known plays, Menaechmi is similar in wit and predates the birth of Christ by...I believe around two hundred years, though I could be wrong on the exact number. It specifically deals with a pair of estranged twins and ultimately draws it's comedy from their machinations when the come together in Sicily and one twin's wife mistakes the other for her husband while her real husband is getting back at her by giving away some of her belongings to a prostitute. It is a play whose intention is to evoke laughter and gaiety through use of situational irony and circumstance. The "mistaken identity" theme is a widely recognized hallmark of humor and the play was later adapted by William Shakespeare in "A Comedy of Errors". This is only a single example and if it is insufficient to convince you then I can provide more.
Schlafly Stretch Response:
I'm not familiar with that work and welcome specific "humor" that you think is in it. I caution you, however, against automatically assuming that the play must have been intended to be "humor" as "Trading Places" is. Most ancient "comedies" were not really "humor" in the modern sense of the word, but were charming poetry. "To err is human; to forgive divine" could have been in a "comedy" in the ancient sense of the term, but it is not "humor".
That proved to be Schlafly's final comment on the "mystery". He resorted to essentially redefining ancient "comedy" as "charming poetry", which was something of a Schlafly Slip.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]