Examining ad hominem
Article: Michael Chmielewski – Editor-in-Chief
[dropcaps round=”no”]A[/dropcaps]rguments, as in intellectual debates, are something to be cherished. They should be engaged in actively, especially in a university setting. Of course, they are certain rules of etiquette concerning argumentation. This etiquette is mostly just avoiding “fallacies,” or things that weaken an argument.
One of the most abused fallacies is ad hominem, where rather than dealing with what someone is saying, or the merits of their argument, their personality, or character, is attacked.
In my last three years at the U of R, I’ve noticed that this sort of fallacy is increasing (perhaps I’m just seeing it more). Ad hominem attacks have been around since people could speak, so it’s nothing new, but it’s no matter if it’s increasing or it’s always been around, it’s important to qualify something.
The debates where this takes place usually occur on comment sections or Facebook, because most people aren’t brave enough to insult someone to their face. The ad hominem I’ve noticed increasing is a kind that’s surprisingly mostly on the left of the spectrum amongst students.
So hardened in their wide-eyed beliefs, they usually don’t actually tackle the merit of the argument, usually trying to dismiss it by attacking someone’s character, saying that they know nothing, or that because of their background, their argument is invalid. Even if the other argument has no merit, it would make more sense to dismantle the argument, not the person saying it. Otherwise, an attempt at ad hominem is just a distraction method: smoke and mirrors.
Of course, this is a specific group amongst the left, and not everybody, that’d be a generalization, which is also fallacious. I’d also like to point out that the right of the spectrum does it too. Ad hominem is found amongst all kinds of debaters.
One example I recently saw: “You can’t understand because you’re a man, and you can’t talk about it,” or “they’re just a bunch of white guys.” These are two that come to mind quickly that I’ve heard recently. They could be anything, really, and it’s usually formulaic. You’re x, so you can’t talk about y. Once after asking persistent gadfly like questions to someone starting a petition that couldn’t answer them, I was told, “this is why you don’t have a girlfriend.” It’s baseless, and it’s meant to distract and sidetrack the debate from the real issues.
These sorts of characterizations do no service to their cause. Firstly, they alienate people. Secondly, they’re a sign of weak argumentation: if someone is so right, then they shouldn’t have to resort to ad hominem. If the opponent is so wrong, then one can attack the merits of their arguments. It doesn’t matter who’s saying it, the strength of an argument shouldn’t hinge on who a person is, but rather, what it is that they’re saying. Also, if someone is so sure that someone’s opponent is wrong because of their character, then it should actually be easy to tear their argument apart without resulting to insults. Right?
Don’t ever let someone try to attack your character in an argument. If you’re so wrong because of who you are, then your opponent should be smart enough to see it in your argument. Otherwise, chances are they can’t defend their point adequately, and are trying to discredit you to save themselves the embarrassment.
Also, if you do resort to ad hominem, please stop. You’re doing no service to anybody, and should take more pride in your convictions. Nothing will be gained from attacking someone’s personality, and listening to other people’s points of view may help you to strengthen your own, or even change them. If your arguments are so correct, then you have nothing to worry about.
Plus, beating someone on point of fact is much more satisfying and elating than dragging the debate and everyone in it through the mud.
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