4 'Discussion' Tactics That Need To Go Away
If you spend any time paying attention to the current state of political discourse in this country, you’ve no doubt witnessed more than your fair share of mental gymnastics. Some people are incredibly skilled at twisting words around to either try to make a disingenuous point or trick someone they disagree with into losing their freaking minds.
Originally, this article was meant to dive much deeper into the cesspool of the most commonly used logical fallacies. However, after carefully researching these types of rhetorical hand grenades, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1) It is impossible to write jokes about so many of these bad-faith tactics without committing at least ten others from the list, 2) I now understand how I lost every argument in every toxic relationship I’ve ever had, and 3.) My body is now immune to the effects of Excedrin Migraine ...
Turning Everything into a National Debate
Looking around at the state of the world right now, there’s definitely no shortage of things to actually be angry about. But that doesn’t stop political commentators, pundits, and politicians from creating new boogeymen out of whole cloth and throwing red meat to their base over something they most likely had no idea existed until just a few weeks ago.
Go ahead, spin the wheel of outrage: Confederate monuments, transgender bathroom bills, cancel culture, critical race theory, election fraud, mask mandates, etc. Every one of these topics has sparked a fierce national debate where the loudest voices are typically people of varying degrees of not knowing what the hell they’re talking about, being egged on by people who know exactly how to use this crap to their advantage.
The whole point of any debate is to figure out the best answer to an unanswerable question. The problem is that there are actual solutions to many of these faux outrage issues. There are compromises that can be made. It’s just that there are a lot of people who stand to benefit more from everyone breaking off into a million heated arguments rather than sitting down to have one uncomfortable conversation. Politicians get elected on this crap. It drives TV ratings and generates clicks.
If you’re joining the Oxford Union or otherwise going on stage to participate in a formal debate where they actually declare who won, fine, whatever. But applying this behavior to every single everyday interaction is really only useful if your goal is to become a bigger and much more efficient jackass.
Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. According to the law of conservation of energy, no matter can be created or destroyed, only converted from one form of energy to another. In physics, these two rules can be used to explain the behavior of nearly every form of matter in the known universe. And in this respect, perhaps no object behaves more predictably than someone who cannot defend themselves in an argument.
Whataboutism is exactly what it implies. It’s when someone attempts to dodge a question they don’t want to answer with “Oh yeah… Well, what about ?” and then brings up some other bad thing that may not even be tangentially related to the original question. It’s an attempt to minimize their side’s sins by pointing out where other sinners weren’t held up to the same moral standard and saying you’re a total hypocrite for thinking otherwise.
The Donald Trump years were a golden era for whataboutism. For every scandal, he had while in office, he had a reverse Uno card he could play to shift the media attention away from it. National security problem? Hillary Clinton’s emails. Sex scandal? Bill Clinton’s affairs. His first impeachment trial over that phone call with the President of Ukraine? Hunter Biden’s laptop. His second impeachment over the January 6th riot? Well, what about Antifa and BLM?
And before any Trump supporters start unleashing all caps armageddon in the comment section, allow me to point out: This tactic may not have gotten him everything he wanted, but it worked in his favor. Every damn time. When someone deploys the whataboutism tactic, there are only so many times you can shoot back with, “I asked you first!” It goes back to Newton’s third law and the equal and opposite reactions. Come at them with sense, they stop it with nonsense. Come at them with reason, they’ll stop it with crazy – unstoppable force meets immovable object.
However, there is a new tactic against this style of deflection that’s worth exploring further, and it was demonstrated perfectly by Clark County, Nevada Registrar Joe Gloria right after election day 2020. During a press conference on the state’s ongoing ballot counts, a heckler came up behind Gloria and started shouting about “the Biden crime family.” After 20 seconds of shouting, the heckler peters out and walks off, at which point Gloria lets out a deep sigh, turns back to the reporters, and with three words, he gives us what might be the greatest weapon against whataboutism. We proudly present the wherewereweism:
Calling for Boycotts Without Knowing How They’re Supposed to Work
Over the past few years in America, a lot of people have been angry. Really angry. But there has been one subset of the population who’ve been particularly aggrieved lately, and due to a variety of factors such as their particular economic status, religious and/or political affiliation, and (let’s face it) lack of melanin, they’ve never really been in the position of having someone tell them they aren’t that special. And they’re not happy about that. So, they’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to process that anger, and it’s been a bit of a trial-and-error process.
Boycotts have been a time-honored tradition of nonviolent economic protest. When a company or corporation does something that the public doesn’t like, the members of said public will band together to refuse to buy those companies’ goods and services until they decide to change their tune. And boycotts can be very effective when pressure is applied correctly. However, there has been a trend of boycotts in recent years that have kind of missed the mark, and let’s see if you can spot the pattern here.
On November 18, 2016, then-Vice President-Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. Seeing as the show’s plot centered around the founding of the United States and the fundamental ideals of our nation (as well as a Vice President who went a little overboard over a petty feud), the cast decided to address Pence directly during the curtain call, pleading with Pence to take the play’s message to heart in his new position and work on behalf of all Americans.
Pence and his new boss didn’t like being called out in such a way, so many Trump supporters called for a boycott of the most sold-out Broadway show in decades.
A year later, coffee machine company Keurig made a decision to pull its advertising from Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News after Hannity defended Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore against numerous allegations against him of sexual misconduct with underage girls. In response to Keurig pulling their ads from the show, a social media campaign went viral that urged people to film themselves smashing their Keurig machines.
In September 2018, Nike unveiled a new ad campaign featuring former San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had famously started a firestorm in professional football (and sports in general) for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a protest against systemic racism and police brutality. Kaepernick wasn’t technically fired for his views, but after he decided to become a free agent, he quickly found that no team wanted to hire him. He hasn’t been able to sign with a team since, but that hasn’t stopped anyone else from kneeling in protest at sporting events.
After Nike released a new ad campaign with Kaepernick featuring the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
#BoycottNike started trending, featuring tons of photos and videos of people burning their Nike gear.
In January of this year, apparel company Carhartt announced that they would start requiring all of their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and that immediately sparked calls for a boycott. Predictably, this started a trend of people posting footage of themselves trying to destroy their Carhartt products. The problem was that the key selling point of most Carhartt gear is its durability. They’re famously built to withstand all of the elements, especially fire. People did manage to burn them, it just took a little more effort.
As shocking as it may sound, none of these boycotts really worked, and did you spot the fatal flaw in their logic? See, a boycott doesn’t affect a company’s bottom line after everyone has already paid for the product, nor are they under any obligation to offer refunds on deliberately destroyed products. Keurig and Nike would’ve been fully justified in issuing a response that just said, “Yeah, we’re good here… you dumbasses.”
The Hamilton boycott organizers quickly realized (after getting roasted on social media) how pointless it was to boycott a hip-hop Broadway musical that A) very few people in their camp were going to attend anyway, and B) was sold out for the next nine months and had a year-long waitlist after that. So, they then tried to offer to pay ticket holders face value for their tickets to ensure empty seats at the shows, which is somehow even dumber. They were willing to waste the money that they vowed never to spend to buy tickets to a Broadway show they weren’t planning on attending, just so a bunch of theater actors they don’t like might get disheartened by a few empty seats they can barely even see from the stage. Good job?!?
But perhaps the funniest part of the Carhartt debacle was that some people were really wanting to boycott the company but just didn’t have it in their hearts to destroy or get rid of such a well-made product. These aren’t exactly the kind of people who are just gonna donate a $150 jacket to a homeless shelter. So, they figured the next best thing was to just tear off the labels and keep wearing the jackets…
… even though everyone can still tell it’s a Carhartt jacket.
The Slippery Slope Argument
One of the most common fear tactics people use in regard to any proposed legislation or change in public policy is the idea that it’s “a slippery slope.” If we were to allow A to happen, then we’d have to allow B to happen, and before we all know it, we’ve rocketed right past X, Y, and Z into total anarchy and the collapse of Western Civilization. This argument isn’t always that hamfisted, but it is often pretty damn close to it. It’s a mountain they’ve made out of a molehill, and now they’ve chosen it as the hill they’re willing to die on. BUZZ WORDS!
If you need an example of how quickly a slippery slope argument can go off the rails, here’s a doozy that made the rounds:
That is Craig Shubert, the now former mayor of Hudson, Ohio stating his objection to a proposal that would allow ice fishing in a local park. His line of reasoning here goes like this: if ice fishing were to be allowed, then it might lead to people wanting to keep ice shanties on the lake, and before too long, there will be … sex workers everywhere? Wait, what?!? How?!? We may never know how that chain of events was supposed to unfold because he resigned from his post after Twitter had an absolute field day with that clip.
The whole point of making a slippery slope argument is to use it as a flimsy pretext to ask, “Where do we draw the line?” Well, the fact that you were willing to go to such absurd lengths to ask that question tells us exactly where you want the line to be drawn: right here in front of you, preferably between a rock and a hard place.
The most logical alternative to invoking the slippery slope is just don’t do it in the first place. There are much easier ways to explain your objections than to demonstrate just how bad you are at story structure. Or, if you’re really gonna go there, commit to the bit. Map out the entire plot step by step, and spare us no details. For one, it’d be entertaining as hell. For another, the rest of us would be able to tell you exactly where we think we should draw the line, and I guarantee you it’d be a lot closer to ice fishing than prostitution.