Ad Hominen…add who??

Ad Hominen is a form of argument that occurs a lot on Twitter. This is the long winded definition:

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”),[1] … typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, …, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

I prefer the much shorter one: intimidation.

Too strong? Think about it. Why do people argue in the first place? To win. So if you can make your opponent back down, or back off, you will have won the argument…right?

Wrong. The argument has not been won. The argument has not been addressed at all. It’s still there. All you have achieved is to scare your opponent off by attacking them personally.

Isn’t this precisely what happens when a woman is sexually harassed but remains silent because she fears for her job if she speaks up?

Isn’t this precisely what happens when people in an organisation witness wrong doing but don’t speak up for fear of ruining their careers, or even ending up in jail as ‘whistleblowers’?

Intimidation can take many forms, but at its heart it is the need to win at any cost. Correction, the need to appear to win at any cost because intimidation doesn’t actually change things. It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t persuade. It doesn’t change hearts and minds. It simply sends them underground where they fester.

In my head I see a weedy little guy shouted down by a big, burly guy. Mr Weed slinks away in humiliation, but in the privacy of his own mind he knows he’s right. And so the anger builds. The next time he sees the big, burly guy, he’s got a gun in his pocket. Bang. Take that. And so it goes.

I grew up respecting facts and logic, courtesy and genuine debate. To me, name calling was the last resort of a loser. I guess I really have become an old dinosaur because these days, name calling has become the first resort of many people on Twitter.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Western democracy is in trouble, people are becoming more and more polarised, and we all feel as if we’re not being listened to, or even heard. But intimidation only escalates the problem.

Intimidation also has the capacity to turn potential allies into foes. I discovered that yesterday on Twitter. I thought I was having a polite discussion with someone I follow when The Pack descended and launched a personal attack against me for daring to disagree with something. I became angry at the form of the attack and any sympathy I may have had for their cause went flying out the window.

The people carrying out this attack belong to one of Australia’s smaller political parties. I’ll simply call it party X because the followers of the bigger ones are no better.

I’ve never voted for party X, but I actually agree with some of their principles. But not all, and that was the problem.

“O con noi o contro di noi”—You’re either with us or against us. [Benito Mussolini]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_either_with_us,_or_against_us

Group think demands that there be no dissent, or else. As a result of yesterday’s ‘or else’, any chance party X had of winning my vote in the future is gone. That is the flip side of intimidation.

As an individual, my vote counts for very little. But there are a lot of people like me. We may not subscribe to the ‘group think’ of a particular party, but we do care about significant issues. We are potential allies in the fight for those issues, so using intimidation tactics against us is the equivalent of cutting your nose off to spite your face.

If we are to have any chance of saving the world, and ourselves, we have to start treating everyone with respect.

cheers

Meeks

p.s. this post was written using Guttenberg for the first time.

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

66 responses to “Ad Hominen…add who??

  • marianallen

    I don’t allow intimidation on my FB wall. Not. Allowed. People are free to disagree respectfully, but not disrespectfully. We’ll never get anywhere by snapping at each other when we should be forming a pack and going after those who are exploiting our anger to deflect us from THEMSELVES. Well, that’s my two cents’ worth, anyway. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -grin- I deleted my FB account, but I believe you. Knock on wood I’ve never had any disrespectful commenters on my blog either. I think when you give respect, you get it in return. Well, most of the time anyway. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • Widdershins

    Brain tired … will think thoughts and post them tomorrow. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -giggles- mine’s tired too! Will read yours and think about them tomorrow too! Night night.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Widdershins

        Here we go … Matthew touched upon our ancestors in a comment above and I do believe there’s where things started. Within the tribe people acted cooperatively, they had to in order to survive, and it just made good sense. And when there were enough renewable resources, and neighbours who weren’t competing with them for those resources, then they got on well with their neighbours too.
        But … as soon as the population of the tribe exceeded the ability of the tribal structure to care for everyone, and new tribes were splintered off, that’s when things got all ad hominen-y. Cooperation became competition and it was all downhill from there.
        The argument that competition produces innovation/great discoveries/ etc, is spurious too, 1 – because we have never had the opportunity to observe a (truly) cooperative society over the course of several generation. And 2 – if all the men and women who’ve been slaughtered in just the wars of the 20th century alone actually had’ve lived, who knows where we as a species would be now … add to that the possible contributions of all the slaughtered, maimed and broken since Gilgamesh … well, the mind boggles! 🙂
        So back to my thread – we now have a large population and not enough resources, social and material, to go around. After a few generations of this, no-one remembers any other way of being.
        Deep in our dark little hearts we know that the person in the other tribe is probably hurting just as much as we are, and because we’re in survival mode now, we need a way to differentiate/demonise them that doesn’t involve any kind of enlightened discussion. (which would remind us that ‘they’ are just like ‘us)
        … and so we end up with the mess we’re in now. And it’s all starting to fall down around our ears … and what do we do? Circle the wagons, put our fingers in our ears and go la-la-la-la, rather than having the maturity, as a species, to work cooperatively again.
        Those are broad strokes, I know, and there were, are, and always will be, enclaves of ‘tribes’ who do make that choice to work in cooperation with each other. That’s where my little bit of hope that we’ll make it through the next few decades without completely destroying ourselves, comes from.
        We need to make our ‘tribes’ small enough that everyone is recognised and honoured, and mature enough that we can work with other tribes.
        … how about that for a few thoughts? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Wow…you had a good sleep and you ate your Weetbix! Still trying to get my head around it all, but my first thought was ‘if I had to choose between feeding the Offspring or sharing with a stranger…would I?” I’m very much afraid the answer is probably ‘no’. 😦
          But surely we’re not really talking about survival? At least not yet?
          Given the size of just one of our cities, surely that’s an indication of sharing/co-operation?
          You’ve got me all discombobulated, Widds. I’m going to sleep on this one myself.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Widdershins

            If we’re being truly gut-wrenchingly honest with ourselves, then yeah, when it comes down to the line, it’s going to be the ‘tribe’ before the stranger, every time.
            It’s not a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ thing, those distinctions are a luxury at that point. (although the conflict makes for great stories) It simply, is.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Yeah, but boy is that level of truth disturbing. We all have this image of ourselves as fair minded, tolerant, /caring/ people, but at that level of survival, who we love become more important than what we believe.
            I think that’s one reason why I can at least understand those for whom ‘survival’ is front and centre all the time. Actually, no, let me rephrase that. Those who are made to believe that their survival is on the line. There is a difference, and those who exploit that difference are the ones who are truly ‘bad’ people, imho.

            Liked by 2 people

        • D. Wallace Peach

          I agree with your assessment. I think of it as caveman-mentality, that we’re wired to slip into survival mode at the slightest challenge. Aggression was our means of dealing with scarcity and competition over resources. Millions of years later it’s coded into our DNA. And the sad part is that we have these big beautiful brains capable of rational thought, inventiveness, and choice, which just get subsumed by our baser primitive instincts, even to the point of willingly killing ourselves off. That’s downright scary (and insane.) I’m worried that it might also be inevitable.

          Liked by 2 people

  • D. Wallace Peach

    I think Australia and the US are mirroring each other right now, though I can hardly believe Australia’s leaders are as bad as ours. The dysphoria is astonishing. The only strategy our Republicans have is to attack the messenger since they can no longer deny the truth. It’s upsetting to see rational people acting so fearfully desperate and illogical. They would rather die (and destroy the country, the planet, and mankind) than cede to the truth. It’s a collective insanity that has my head spinning.

    Liked by 1 person

  • flawedman

    You make a great point and remind me of the old religious adage ‘criticise the sin not the sinner ‘ but then there is a very wide view of just what sin is and psychology relieves us of some personal blame.
    I think western democracy is in trouble because it cannot deliver the never ending increase of lifestyle we have all been programmed to expect. I know full well that no other ideology can do better , but many doubt that is the case and dangerous men are glad of a chance to grab the reins by popular lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      lol – forgive me, but as a long time atheist, I don’t believe in sin, but I do believe in sinners. And I do blame them.

      I agree that Western democracy is struggling, but I’m not sure it’s because it’s not delivering a constant increase in lifestyle. That’s actually the fundamental promise of capitalism. The two are not the same. That’s also why China, a communist country, uses capitalist ‘rewards’ to stop its populous from demanding a greater say in the politics of the country.

      I don’t see capitalism as a political system at all, or even an economic one. I see it as the most successful psychological practice in history. It cunningly exploits the greed and envy of individuals. “I want what the Kardashians are having’ type thing.

      We’ve been bombarded with that type of conditioning for so long that we no longer question it. Or if we do we’re labelled as ‘hippies’, or ‘care bears’ or some other derogatory term. But the pendulum always swings back the other way eventually.

      I just hope the backlash doesn’t throw democracy out with the bath water.

      Liked by 2 people

      • flawedman

        You stand on far firmer ground than me , I’m not convinced we chose who we are or what we do. The church was being kind in separating us from our actions and there is some truth in that , even the law makes allowances for our circumstances.
        ‘ Oh thou , who did with Pitfall and with gin
        Beset the road I was to wander in,
        Thou will not with Predestined Evil round enmesh,
        And then impute my Fall to Sin.’

        Liked by 1 person

  • flawedman

    An interesting thought about hard wiring ; Steven Pinker points out we are not blank skates but carry a huge evolutionary baggage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yes, we do, but the old debate between nature and nurture was settled long ago. We’re born with highly ‘plastic’ brains which respond to the environment by increasing or reducing potentials as we grow. Just one small example, the visual cortex of a newborn lacks stereoscopic vision. That capability develops over the course of about 18 months as information from both eyes slowly refines the visual cortex.
      We are all born with potentials, but its the environment that hones them. And then we have a layer of conscious choice on top of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Mick Canning

    I don’t think we’re hard-wired to do that (God, I hope not!), but on the other hand it isn’t unusual for someone who fears losing an argument to feel they are backed into a corner and have to lash out – perhaps just a lazy way to respond.

    But it is becoming more common, more usual. And I suspect some of the reason for this is a general feeling that we are ‘allowed’ to vilify each other in today’s political climate (as I know we have discussed before), and the impersonal at-one-remove nature of social media.

    Lastly, I could never agree with EVERY policy of any political party. I do have some brain cells of my own…

    Liked by 1 person

  • Matthew Wright

    Great post – and ad hominen tactics are always worth highlighting. They are so dismal, and yet seem to occur all over the place in so many human interactions, especially when there’s a ‘system’ involved. Politics is one of them, but such tactics seem rampant in academia too, or anywhere that people seem to entangle their emotional sense of worth with what they are doing or believe.

    My own experiences of it have been via reviews of my professional books – notably the reviews written by academics. The main vehicle for that here is a snobby and pretentious academic book review quarterly based at Victoria University, which I’ve crossed swords with over the way they’ve repeatedly published derogatory fantasies about my alleged character and personal motives. They even used my surname as a verb, apparently meaning ‘daring to challenge the undisputed god of the topic and being out of place and wrong to do so’. This week, though, the good news came out that this dismal excuse for a review rag has just been canned. They lost their public funding for some reason. Nothing I’ve done – the editors wouldn’t resile from their allegations, or withdraw them, and it wasn’t worth dignifying this level of self-entitled arrogance by engaging them via the courts. All I did was ask my publishers not to send them my books for review.

    Back to broad matters, I have to wonder whether ad hominen behaviour is a basic part of human nature – are we hard-wired to launch personal attacks despite every effort we make to set up systems that (in theory at least) should be abstract? And then, where does that conduct come from? Again, I wonder about our million-plus year hunter-gatherer origins and the scale of those societies, where everybody knew each other. Needs investigation…

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Poetic justice? 🙂
      You’re right about the threat element. You’d think that people who were truly confident of their own opinions would not need to protect them in this way.
      I think our hunter gatherer forebears probably did use the us vs them idea as a kind of mental shorthand to avoid danger, but I believe it’s at least partly cultural rather than purely hard wired.
      My Mum was all emotion. Any disagreement, about anything, was an attacked against /her/. Dad was all logic and philosophical method. I grew up learning to think rather than just react, and the lessons I learned at home were reinforced at school via reading comprehenions exercises, clear thinking and even doing hated precis.
      There’s none of that now. And it shows.
      Gods, I sound like an old biddy even to myself!

      Liked by 2 people

  • Audrey Driscoll

    Does Australia still use the “first past the post” system in elections or some sort of proportional representation? In Canada we can’t seem to get away from fptp, even though in British Columbia (province) we’ve had a couple of referendums on it. On the other hand, proportional systems require different parties to cooperate to form governments, something that seems unlikely in these contentious times, when compromise is equated with losing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yes, we have first past the post too, although how we get to that point is pretty complicated with all sorts of preferential voting. Plus we all have to vote so 51% is 51%. I believe Israel has a proportional system?
      Personally, I’d vote for any system that forced politicians to compromise, especially with Independents. A bare majority is not a mandate to rule, imho.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Audrey Driscoll

        Especially since some of those bare majorities are achieved with something like 35%. Then there’s strategic voting where you hold your nose and vote for a person or party other than the one you think is best, just to prevent someone else from getting elected. I believe Israel has some sort of proportional system, but it looks like they’re going to have a third election in less than a year. I don’t know whether that’s a problem with the election system or the mix of personalities and attitudes present right now. Combative, no-compromise-at-any-price attitudes seem to be spreading like a disease.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Yes, yes and yes. 😦 Representational democracy is getting sicker by the day. I believe that democracy is the only enlightened form of government, but we haven’t reached true democracy yet. Instead, we have this clunky, failing hotch potch of representational power seeking…

          Liked by 2 people

  • Sapling

    Yes, if we respect that we are all well-intentioned, we can accept that we disagree on substance without ill-will. If my policy idea affects you adversely, tell me about it, don’t assume my objective was to hurt you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Exactly! Mind you, I don’t believe that politics is about policy any more. I think the advent of professional politicians has turned the whole thing into an elitist ‘game’. We deserve so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sapling

        I don’t think that’s entirely fair. While politicians will engage in “word pugilism”, ultimately, parties do what they say they will. Politicians are what we make them: They are simply responding to public demand. People elect representatives that have a sharp mind and a sharp tongue because they see them as the best advocates for their positions. It is best to see through the fighting words and look at the laws they are advocating.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Hmm…I’d hardly call the laws being passed in Australia at the moment as altruistic. Then again, I’ve developed a very jaundiced view of most politicians. I don’t see them as basically good people doing the best they can within the system. Some few may start out like that, but I think that many of them shed their integrity as they progress up the party hierarchy. As for the professional polies, the ones who go straight from uni. to work as staffers, they live and work in a bubble that has little contact with the real world.
          -sigh- just call me old and disillusioned.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Sapling

            I know who won your last election, they weren’t running on an altruistic platform. Now in power, they’ll implement what they ran on – that’s democracy.

            Revolving door politics of private/public work are an issue. I agree.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            I’m tired and probably a bit stroppy so apologies in advance, but is that really what democracy is all about? Even as representational democracy, shouldn’t it be about the wants and needs of the electorate that voted for you?
            Instead, the instant they’re elected, it’s party solidarity, pushing the party line, even against their better judgement. The party becomes the important thing, not the electorate, not the voters…
            -sigh- brain dead, time for sleep.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Sapling

            Yes. I think democracy is about people’s wants and needs. But the people must make their desires known by choosing a candidate or party. If the majority of people decide to end food assistance, then the poor will go hungry. It’s not noble or right, but you can’t blame the party if the majority agrees with.

            I don’t know much about Australian politics, is the party in charge breaking its word or just implementing the policies they promised?

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Representational democracy is all we have at the moment, but eventually we’ll be able to vote directly on issues rather than relying on representatives to vote for us. whether we should or would even want to vote for everything is another matter. In the example you gave, I think the bar for food assistance would have to be a lot higher than a simple 51%. Here in Australia, our referendums [which are the closest thing to direct voting we currently have] are a) compulsory, b) require a ‘double majority’ – i.e.

            ‘To pass a referendum, the bill must ordinarily achieve a double majority: a majority of those voting nationwide, as well as separate majorities in a majority of states (i.e., 4 out of 6 states). In circumstances where a state is affected by a referendum, a majority of voters in that state must also agree to the change. This is often referred to as a “triple majority”. ‘
            So, for example, the Brexit referendum would never have passed in Australia because there would not have been majority of /states/ voting yes.
            Anyway, for those who did not vote for the current govt of Australia, the problem is not that they’re breaking their word, it’s that they have no vision and appeal to the worst of our humanity. That said, enough Australians voted for them to indicate that the majority are the same. -sigh-

            Liked by 2 people

          • Sapling

            Direct democracy is certainly worth a try. We pretty much have the technology now to have rapid, frequent elections. The high frequency is also a bulwark against fraud, as election officials get more practice.

            Never heard of double and triple majority, I like it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Security is still an issue, but I have high hopes for blockchain technology in the future. One thing though, I think we have to change the concept of a simple majority. 51% means that 49% voted against. That’s just not good enough. Oh and maybe something things will required compulsory voting. We’ve always had it and it works pretty well.
            Would be fun to thrash out some rules for direct democracy one day. 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

  • Bette A. Stevens

    RESPECT! That’s surely what we need more of today…

    Liked by 1 person

  • anne54

    The adversarial model is built into some of our institutions ~ our judicial system and Parliament, and probably others. Has social media and a wildly unstable political situation in so many countries taken that model to the ends we see today? In these times we desperately need the rational debate, based on facts, to allow us to pull together to solve so many problems. However the intimidation just gets stronger.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Sapling

    Thanks for sharing this Meeka. I agree with you deeply on this. I’ve been contemplating a blog post about “abandoning motive” when it comes to discussing policy. That is, while motive matters in crime and interpersonal relationships, it doesn’t really matter in policy. All we need to ask ourselves is “will this policy benefit my objectives for my people” not who suggested it or why. As you said, you agree with Party X on some things, you should be able to ally with them in advancing those policies. On other policies, you may well be opponents, and that’s fine. Let’s not sacrifice common progress because we disagree on some issues.

    This is not a fully vetted opinion so I’d like to hear counterpoints.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Actually, I wonder if re-examining motive is exactly what we should be doing. It seems to me that parties in Western democracies have abandoned the principle of ‘elected to serve’ in favour of ‘get back in at any cost’.
      This clinging to power is the root cause of much that is wrong with representational democracy, imho. I honestly thing it’s time to change how our democracies work.

      Liked by 2 people

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