Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Whataboutism, Revisited

Whataboutism is a way of derailing discussion and analysis.

A friend of mine loves to argue politics, and by "argue" I mean what they call Gish Gallop, where he spews a bunch of "factoids" which are just assumed to be true, in machine-gun rapid fire, so you can't keep up.  He spews something about "election fraud" and by the time you've gotten around to marshaling the detailed arguments about why that never happened, he's moved on to "Hunter Biden's Laptop" - which apparently takes about three or four years to download the contents of.  From what I understand, the "smoking gun" are comments made by a drug-addled son of the President, apparently implying he had influence he didn't have.  But they took that ball and ran with it - and now the Biden's are billionaires on Chinese money, although, like the "election fraud" claims, there is no real evidence to support this.

And no, innuendo and hearsay are not "kinds of evidence" as Mr. Lionel Hutz would say.

Whataboutism is one of the main arguing tactics of my friend.  And no, I don't like to hang out with him much, as he is always just itching to drop the latest Fox News Talking Point.  What is Whataboutism?  It started - or at least was named - during the cold war.  During the "Kitchen Debates" between Nixon and Khrushchev, when Nixon would mention the atrocities committed by the Soviets in killing millions of their own citizens, Khrushchev would respond with, "Well, what about the lynching of Negros in your America South?"

And the term "Whataboutism" was born.   As you can see, it is an idiotic argument.  Yes, lynchings were an abhorrent crime and miscarriage of justice.  They were not official government policy and certainly not one that slaughtered millions.  In fact, Americans were, at the time, fighting to put an end to Klan violence, segregation, and discrimination.  The Kremlin, on the other hand, wasn't doing much to shut down the Gulags.  It was a feature, not a bug!

Speaking of Communists, it is a tactic of the far-right (or indeed, even the not-so-far-right) to tag Democrats as "Socialists" and "Communists" and even "Nazis".   While some Democrats may pine for the day when national health care is a reality (like most of our Western allies have), few, if any, pine for a totalitarian dictatorship.  And the "Communism" in the former Soviet Union was anything but communal - it was a brutal, violent dictatorship run by one man.  It was fascism, which is why the Soviets found alliance with Nazi Germany so convenient.  And of course, the guy running "Russia" today, was a former KGB agent for that dictatorship.

Republicans like to play stupid word games as well, with "Nazi" - "It stands for National Socialism!" they cry, "See, Nazis are leftists!"  And yea, that's why they gassed leftists to death or put them in front of a firing squad.  Because they loved leftist politics so much.   And yet, people are dumb enough to believe this nonsense - or more precisely, the GOP throws out this sort of agitprop just to get people riled up and "own the libtards" or whatever.  Oh, trolls are so clever!

Sadly, the media goes along with Whataboutism nonsense far too often.  By trying to appear "neutral" a new program will present "both sides" of an issue, as if genocide had a logical argument to support it.  It becomes a slippery slope - bending over so far backwards to appear "neutral" that you are, in fact, giving fringe ideas legitimacy.

It is akin to the paradox of tolerance.  Two sides come to the negotiating table, and one sides's inflexible negotiating position is, "you all die and go away forever!"    Kind of hard to negotiate with that.  It is the problem with negotiating with terrorists - other than having a hostage returned (often for millions of dollars, which is then spent on arms to fight us, and provides motivation for more hostage-taking) there is no real long-term "treaty" you can negotiate with an organization whose charter is based on utterly destroying you.   There are no "two sides" to such a debate.

There has been a lot of talk about "fascism" lately and people have tossed around the word, not even knowing what it means.  Putin calls Ukrainians "Nazis" and yet their government was freely elected in free and fair elections, whereas Putin has basically made himself dictator-for-life and what elections they do have are sham elections - with opponents put in jail or poisoned or thrown off buildings.

Yet, the GOP has this weird fascination and admiration for Russia these days - admiration for a fascist dictator.  And part and parcel of this are financial ties to the Russians as well as their documented interference with our culture and our elections.  Of course, you can't say that - the Gish-Galloping set merely retorts with "Oh yea, and so's your mother!" which is what they are really saying when they release "reports" which admit there is no evidence of malfeasance by President Biden, but then go on Fox News and spin the whole thing to say Biden is a puppet of China.

News Flash:  Putin is a puppet of China - who do you think is buying all his oil and will be supplying him with weapons?

But of course, people who watch Fox News aren't going to get to that point.  They won't read anything contrary to what they see on TeeVee.  Indeed, it is not a reading crowd in general.  They tune in, every evening and say, "Tell me what to think!  Tell me what to be angry about!  Tell me what to be afraid of!"  "Tell me who I should be shooting!"

A reader takes me to task for criticizing (daring to criticize) the amazing patriots who tried to usurp nearly 250 years of Democracy so they could install a failed housing developer as dictator-for-life (I guess that beats failed landscape painter!).  "What about Antifa?" he crows.  When you start a sentence with "What about" you are engaging in Whataboutism.

The ruse is to get you to forget about the horrible things the other side did and then try to "defend" something you had no intention of defending - lynching of blacks, or rioting by idiots.  I noted before that this new generation of "Nazis" and "Antifa" are both a bunch of blithering idiots - just thugs looking for a good time - and a "good time" to them is rioting.  Sadly, it seems the media is glorifying this nonsense just for ratings.

Rioting protesters of any stripe should go to jail - and many are.  And let's be real here, many of these "BLM" protests that devolved into riots did so because a few people (or a lot of people) decided that breaking into stores and stealing stuff was a swell idea.   These protests attract a lot of hangers-on, who are just there to cause trouble.  If you are a white guy at a BLM protest, throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, go home, you ain't helping.

None of the riots accompanying BLM protests were specifically instigated by the President of the United States ("Fight like hell!") with the goal of bringing down the government.   Whatabout that?   There is a big difference.  Both forms of rioting are wrong, but for the most part, a smashed store can be rebuilt and restocked.  A smashed Democracy cannot.

Anyone who claims otherwise is just being deceitful.

But of course, it raises the issue, why would anyone want to argue like this?  Time was, you could disagree with someone and leave it at that.  Today, people have to "win" at everything, from a political argument to a parking space at Walmart.  And often these battles are fought by shitty passive-aggression.

The guy brainwashed by Fox News isn't going to convince me that the January 6th insurrectionists were merely tourists (flat-out denial) or were actually Antifa in disguise (except for Ashley Babbit - she's was the one real Trumper there, right?).  So why bother?  I think in part it is because of the weird mocking tone the Right uses these days.  It isn't about the issues, it is about being belligerent and "winning" at all costs.  And maybe this is because their core ideas have been shown, time and time again, to be unpopular with the electorate.

So they have to lie. George Santos wasn't a bug, but a feature.  If you run for office on a platform of cutting Social Security and Medicare, as well as Veteran's benefits (on Memorial Day, no less!) you aren't going to win any elections - and in fact, they have been losing a lot.  But if you can straw-man your opponent by claiming he is in favor of transgender litter boxes for kindergartners, and lie about your own background, you just might win.

What is sad is that a media so obsessed with trivialities cannot discover a bald-faced liar until after the elections.  Seems they do a good job of asking all the hard questions after it's too late.