reasons why i'm coming to hate the ad hominem fallacy
March 26, 2013
These thoughts have been fermenting in my mind for a little while but seeing a quote from Teju Cole’s ‘The white-savior industrial complex’ has made it extra necessary:
There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic [1. Teju Cole. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/1/]
I already recently wrote about logical fallacies in which i partially deconstruct the problems with the ad hominem fallacy with an example of nazism. It is a notable example since this actually happened recently, where a person advocating for and upholding the nazi ideology was upset that no one was engaging their ideas, but rather just attacking them.
All of which is an extreme, but classic example of the ad hominem fallacy. And it is the sort of thing that we are supposed to do, in a good debate. There is also the classic Jay Smooth video on how to tell someone they sound racist.
I put in my other post that the ad hominem creates a space between the person and the ideas they espouse. This is exactly what creates the situation discussed by Teju Cole: there manages to be racism but no racists.
I very much disagreed with Jay Smooth’s video (which he also admits in his ted talk that it doesn’t have a very high success rate).
Anyway. This space between people and ideas creates a lot of problems and it is how a great deal of people are able to avoid accountability for the very real world impacts that these ideas have. Because the ideas that a person upholds influences their actions. It guides them in their decisions and life. There is no space.
This is also why I’ve said for a while now: if you do and say racist things, you are not only a racist but a bad person. If we can all agree that racism is bad, then the natural consequence is that people responsible for maintaining the system are also bad.
The whole point to morality and ethics is that you try to be good. This means that we must have room to evaluate ourselves and our actions are bad, so that we can attempt to change and rectify the situation, so that we attempt to orient ourselves towards the good.