Paul Theroux 'Defends' Arizona ID'ing Based on Illogical Argument of 'That's How It's Done in Italy'

by David Miller Apr 18, 2011

The Daily Beast published an essay today by Paul Theroux titled Arizona, Show Your Papers? So What!, in which Theroux defends Arizona’s Senate Bill ( SB 1070).*

The essay, beginning with the construction and punctuation of the title itself (note usage of rhetorical question), uses exploitative and fallacious rhetoric.

Theroux opens by saying:

These people who are protesting being asked for identification by Arizona cops—have they been anywhere lately, like out of the country? Like Mexico, or Canada, or India, or Italy, or Tanzania, or Singapore, or Britain—places where people in uniforms have routinely demanded my papers?

This is an example of argumentum ad hominem, arguing, literally “to the man.” Ad hominem is “an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made” (Webster’s). While an opponent’s character is sometimes relevant to an argument, in this case there is no actual “opponent’ that exists in concrete reality, but rather an abstraction Theroux has constructed – a composite, hypothetical “people who are protesting” but who have never been where “people in uniforms have routinely demanded [his] papers”. It makes no sense whatsoever, and has nothing to do with the premise (the rightness / wrongness of the bill), and thus is fallacious, a way to exploit emotional triggers of readers.

He then makes quips about Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen’s opposition (“as a Latino”) to the law (and statement that illegal aliens are “workaholics”), saying “Ozzie, tell the police in Ocumare del Tuy, ‘I’m a Latin American,’ and see if that will end the interrogation.”

At this point Theroux addresses Guillen out of context, missappropriating his (Guillen’s) words, saying, “And spare a thought for the policeman two days ago who was gunned down in the desert by a workaholic drug dealer.”

Literally every sentence of the 5 in the opening paragraph are constructed out of totally fallacious logic and/or emotionally exploitative rhetoric.

He goes on:

The necessity to identify yourself to authority is something that happens every day. You present a credit card at the supermarket and they want to see your license to make sure you’re not a grafter. All over the place, renting a car, at the bank: “I’ll need to see two forms of ID.”

In Toronto last year I had to show my passport to check into my hotel. You can’t check into any hotel in India or China or buy certain railway tickets there without showing your passport and having all your details recorded. So why should an Indian or a Chinese in the U.S. be surprised if he or she is stopped for speeding by a policeman in Flagstaff and asked for a proof of residence?”

The rhetorical construction / logical fallacy here is conflation. A hypothetical “Indian or a Chinese in the U.S” being stopped for speeding and being asked for proof of residence is not the same situation as being asked to produce identity for a financial transaction, and yet it’s all being presented as such.

What makes the least sense to me about any of this is the way Theroux obviously knows the difference between rights in the US and rights in other countries, but (apparently) fails to see how supporting SB 1070 erodes those very rights. He seems to advocate for the US adoption of other countries’ policies on IDing people not because it makes the US more secure, but because these are the kinds of hassles he’s spent a lifetime dealing with and it’s almost like he’s ready for the rest of us to have a taste of it too.


*The original bill, passed in April 2010, obligated law enforcement personnel to determine a detained person’s immigration status. Several court actions were filed against the act, including a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice which resulted in an injunction that blocked the main parts of the bill (obligating officers to determine immigration status). In Feb 2011, The State of Arizona countersued the Department of Justice, but the injunction was upheld on April 11, 2011.

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