A Picture is Worth Zero Words

We are told that a picture is worth a thousand words. A picture, we are supposed to believe, can convey truth far more effectively than an essay. A picture, the argument goes, captures true reality while words can be twisted and their meaning obscured.

In truth, a picture is worth zero words. Or, as philosopher Leonard Peikoff puts it, “A picture is not an argument.”

As an example, consider a recent photo of Ashley Smith with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott. Unbeknownst to Abbott, Smith arranged the photo as a part of a political stunt. Smith, who is a transgender, shared the photo on social media, asking, “How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”

Smith and her ilk believe that if Abbott can’t recognize a transgender when he sees one, his position on the “bathroom bill” is thereby refuted. TexasLeftist.com claimed that “Ashley Smith Makes the Point About Bathroom Bill.” But the photo proves nothing, other than the fact that Smith posed for a photo with Abbott.

According to the Dallas Morning News:

Smith said she hoped the photo helps educate others about the transgender community. “We’re just regular folks,” she said Monday. “We’re teachers, doctors and police officers in the community.”

Her photo with the governor shows “how ridiculous this legislation is and how it can’t be enforced,” Smith said.

Smith failed to explain how the photo shows that the legislation is ridiculous. Apparently, words aren’t necessary because the photo supposedly tells the entire story.

And the story that Smith wants told is: transgenders are just “regular folks.” It is an attempt to play on our emotions rather than appeal to our reason. It is an attempt to generate compassion and sympathy, and thus, support for legislation that outlaws discrimination against transgenders.

The “bathroom bill” is certainly controversial and important principles–property rights–are involved. Debate over the bill should focus on those principles, and that requires much more than a photo. It also requires more than the non-essential issues raised by the conservative defenders of the bill.

The entire controversy arose when many local governments passed ordinances forcing businesses to allow individuals to use the restroom of their choice. The state government responded by properly trying to override these local violations of property rights, and then improperly trying to dictate who may use which restrooms.

All the state government has to do is pass a bill that prohibits local governments from passing ordinances that tell property owners what terms and conditions they require of those using their property. The debate and controversy ceases to be a political issue at that point, and each individual would be free to determine what terms and conditions are acceptable and act accordingly.

For example, if a business owner wants his customers and employees to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, as most of the bathroom bills have stated, then it will be up to him to determine how to enforce that policy. And his customers and employees can decide whether that policy is acceptable or not.

A picture cannot address this principle, either pro or con. And the reason is, a picture is worth zero words.

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