Every Man Should Know

Introduction: In 1980, the southern rock band, Blackfoot, released the album Tomcattin’ which included the song “Every Man Should Know (Queenie).” The song features a range of moral lessons, many of which come with implicit threats for those who transgress against them.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: These are the first 2 lines of the song.

“Don’t mess with my queenie.

Or I’ll mess with your nose.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is a pretty simple argument. It poses 2 interesting problems at best; the need to rewrite the second line, and the question of whether or not it an example of the fallacy “appeal to force.”

The word “queenie” might be taken to refer to a transgendered individual. In this case, that is probably not the intended meaning. Whether or not that would substantially change the meaning of the lyric is another question.

Statements: Read at face value, neither of the two lines in this argument are statements. Each may be rewritten so as to express a statement consistent with the gist of the argument. In the first line, this means change a command [1a]to an expression of moral obligation [1b]. In [1b] the slang ‘queenie” has also been changed to a more common term. In [2b], the second line has been changed into a conditional statement using the substance of line 1 as the antecedent and the threat in [2a] as its consequent.

[1a] Don’t mess with my queenie.

[1b] [One should not mess with my girlfriend.]

[2a] or I’ll mess with your nose.

[2b] [If you mess with my queenie,] I will mess with your nose.

Diagram: This one is pretty easy.

2 -> 1.

Discussion: Minor rewrites aside, the only interesting feature of this argument is the question of whether or not this constitutes an example of the fallacy “appeal to force (ad baculum).” The appeal to force also makes this argument an example of interactional eclipse.

Ad baculum: It’s easy to see an appeal to force in this argument. The second line is literally a threat. What isn’t as clear here is the question of whether or not this particular appeal to force is fallacious. It is not clear that there is any underlying factual question or moral principle which is evaded by means of the threat in the argument. In expressing the threat, the author of the song effectively creates the conditions which serve as a reason for accepting the conclusion of the argument. He does not merely describe them.

Does that settle it? No.

One additional question relates to the meaning of the first statement. As originally stated in the song [1a], there is no objective content to line 1. When rewritten, we get a claim about what one ought to do that could be considered true or false and at least some approaches to morality might attribute objective reality to the nature of that obligation. (Others might interpret what one ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do as purely a function of self-interest. Arguably, this could mean we shouldn’t rewrite the line that way in the first place, but the context of the song makes it clear that the author is suggesting there is some underlying moral principle at stake in this and the rest of the lessons urged in the song. (“To own a body you got to own a soul
So every man should know…”) It’s not exactly complex ethical philosophy, but the song does suggest the issue here is more than just a series of threats.

If the author means to suggest, as he appears to, that there really is a moral principle at stake in the notion that one ought not to mess with his queenie, then the threat itself does constitute an ad baculum fallacy.

Interactional Eclipse: As the argument includes a direct threat, it constitutes a good example of interactional eclipse. It’s a song of course, but it’s a song that evokes as much fear as it does moral reflection. The one tends to drown out the other.

Moral Reasoning: As questions about what to make of the initial command in this argument lead to questions about whether the author intends to suggest a moral imperative or simply appeal to the self-interest of those to who he mighty be singing (see above), this argument is an interesting example of moral reasoning.

Evaluation: Insofar as it uses the ad baculum fallacy, the stated reason provides no support for the conclusion of this argument. It is therefore unsound.

Final thoughts: I’m still not taking the song of my favorites playlist.

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