A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, June 19, 2023

What About Whataboutism?

Whataboutism: (noun)-- the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse (Merriam-Webster).

I must confess that I have become quite irritated with the prevalence of "whataboutism" in our public discourse. Whataboutism is an argument employed so as to not to have to make a serious argument. It is a way of trying to say something important without having to employ robust reflection on a matter of concern. In other words, whataboutism is intellectually lazy. Allow me to offer some of the problems with whataboutism:

Whataboutism is a rhetorical tactic commonly used in discussions or debates where instead of addressing a particular issue or criticism directly, the focus is shifted to a different issue. (Oh, look! There's a squirrel!) It involves deflecting attention from the original topic by bringing up a separate, often unrelated or tangentially related issue in order to undermine or discredit the opposing viewpoint.

Whataboutism typically takes the form of responding to an accusation or criticism by saying, "What about [insert different issue]?" For example, if someone criticizes a country's human rights record, a whataboutist response might be, "What about human rights abuses in another country?" The goal is to divert attention away from the original issue and undermine the credibility of the accuser. Human rights abuses in Libya are important, but when the topic concerns China that's where the focus should be.

Whataboutism evades accountability. It sidesteps the original criticism or issue at hand, avoiding a direct response. This tactic prevents meaningful discussion and accountability for the actions or issues being raised.

Whataboutism shifts the burden of proof. It places the burden of proof on the accuser, demanding that they address unrelated issues before the original issue can be discussed. It can create a never-ending cycle of deflection and prevent resolution.

Whataboutism often distorts facts. By introducing unrelated topics, whataboutism can distort the facts and create a false equivalence. It suggests that all issues are equally problematic, regardless of their actual significance or context.

Whataboutism derails meaningful dialogue. Whataboutism hinders constructive conversation by steering it away from the main topic. It can prevent a thorough examination of important issues and hinder the search for solutions.

Whataboutism undermine moral arguments. Whataboutism often seeks to discredit moral or ethical arguments by suggesting hypocrisy or inconsistency on the part of the accuser. This can undermine the credibility of legitimate concerns and valid critiques. Whataboutism attempts to make a morally irrelevant playing field.

Whataboutism falsely implicates everyone. If one person is guilty of something, then others who are also guilty or seemingly guilty are not being held accountable, the implicit suggestion is that no one should be held accountable. If others have supposedly done it, then the specific accusation about the specific person in question is irrelevant. If some people get away with robbing a bank, then no one should be prosecuted for getting caught robbing a bank. Saying things like, "They all do it, she just got caught" is simply not true.

It's important to note that recognizing and calling out whataboutism does not negate the need to address other issues. However, it is crucial to address each issue on its own merits and in an appropriate context, rather than using whataboutism as a means to deflect or avoid responsibility.

So, let's relegate whataboutism to the trash heap of bad arguments. Doing so will assist us in having the kind of robust conversations necessary to bring clarity and guide us toward the truth. Christians, of all people should have no time for whataboutism. After all, we would immediately see the problem if someone said as a way to undermine the importance of Jesus' death, "Yes, Jesus was crucified, but what about all the others crucified by the Romans?"

I end with a real bad limerick I wrote on the subject:
There once was a fellow named Joe,
Who loved to deflect and say, "No!
You talk of your issue,
But what about his view?"
Whataboutism his game, you know!
To quote Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

1 comment:

MonAsksIt said...

This is wonderful, I find it so helpful that you've spelled it out so clearly. It's rampant! People ask me if I like my hybrid car and I say I love it because of how much I save at the pump and how I am doing my part, but they will say, "what about oil workers, don't they deserve a job?" Or "what about the environmental damage when they mine the special components for the batteries" so they can avoid talking about global warming altogether! Thanks!