I recently posted a blog about the rampant corruption of the Liberal National Party because, well, they’re rampantly corrupt.
I do things like this a lot, partly because of my political leanings but mostly because of the creeping fascism of this rabble that only loosely can be described as a “government”.
And whenever I do one of these blogs there will inevitably be at least one reply, usually more, that says “but what about Labor?”. Where’s the list on Labor’s corruption?
Invariably this response will come from someone who has found themselves on the wrong side of the political spectrum, someone who self-identifies with these corrupt dipshits; and rather than attempt to debate the point or to defend the indefensible, or even to try to rationalise this behaviour, they try and move the argument elsewhere.
Almost as if they know they can’t win this particular fight, so they want to move the debate on to something easier - something they think they can win. Or at least participate in without being obliterated.
This person also, almost always, thinks themselves very clever for coming up with such a clever riposte. “Oh what a cunning debater I am” they chuckle as they smash the keyboard with the elan of a drunken boxer “instead of engaging in debate on something I cannot defend I will instead shift the goalposts, thereby catching everyone unawares!”
This response isn’t new. It’s actually quite old. Ancient even. The problem is that people don’t have a strong enough grounding in rhetoric to recognise it, let alone deal with it properly.
What about X? Whataboutism. Whuddaboudism. Also known by the classical Latin name for this particular logical fallacy: “Tu quoque” (pronounced too-kwo-kway) - literally “You too”.
Classically this was an ad hominem attack directed at a personal opponent - “I can’t believe you’re accusing me of setting fire to the Parthnon, what about how Asceppalus is stealing wine?” or something along those lines. But the tu quoque argument evolved into its current, more broadly “what about X” form during the Cold War.
You see during the Cold War the Soviet Union wasn’t one of the more fun places to live, as you probably well know. They fell on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall for things like luxury items, consumer goods, and general quality of living. The Soviet Union’s side of the Wall was more Stalinism, kangaroo courts (troikas), and political or ethnic pogroms. Not a lot of shits and giggles there. Uncle Joe wasn't known for his leniency.
As part of the back and forth sniping between the United States and the USSR that made up the Cold War, the Americans would often point out the atrocities that Stalin was perpetrating on his own people. The Soviet response, knowing full well that they were committing these crimes and not being able to adequately defend that position, was to turn the question back on the Americans. They would say “And you are lynching Negroes!”, in reference to the prominence and actions of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
This isn’t to say that in America persons of colour were not being lynched. It was a particularly horrible era of their history and a wound that is still yet to heal today. But that wasn’t the point. It was a point, but not the one being argued.
The argument was that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime that was doing some heinous shit on an industrial level. And rather than defend those atrocities, which was an argument they knew they could not win, they tried to deflect attention back on the accuser. And so we got whataboutism.
The problem with the tu quoque fallacy is that a lot of the time it actually works. If someone hasn’t had a grounding in debating or rhetoric they can feel trapped by a tu quoque. When someone from across the aisle commits this crime against discourse and says “well what about blah” it’s very easy to be suckered in to defending, or at least debating, the position that was just proposed. The “you too” gambit worked.
The trick to dealing with a tu quoque is the same as dealing with any other logical fallacy. It’s the same trick they teach you in high school debating. The trick is to recognise it when it happens. Because as with any logical fallacy, they’re usually only committed when that person has no legitimate position to put forth. A fallacy isn’t an argument, it’s the lack of an argument. It’s an admission of failure. When someone commits a logical fallacy in an argument, they know that they’ve lost. And as with high school debating all you need to do is point out the fallacy that they’ve committed, reinforce that they cannot or will not engage the argument as it stands and then claim victory.
Do not engage.
If you see the tu quoque (or any logical fallacy really) on Facebook, where it usually dwells, or anywhere else - DO NOT ENGAGE.
These fallacies only work when you engage them. What you do instead is you point out to the person the logical fallacy that they’re committing and then you, metaphorically speaking, red card them. Ostracise them. Exclude them from the debate until they can come up with something of substance. Because they know that they can’t argue the point as it stands so they need to try and shift the discussion to a more level playing field. Don’t let them.
So what about Labor? So what? That’s not what we’re discussing here. We never were. It's a bridge we'll cross if and when we come to it. We’re talking about the LNP and the demonstrable cases of corruption they’ve committed. They’re in government, they’ve committed these crimes, they’re the ones who are unrepentantly draining the taxpayers dry - that’s what we’re talking about. So until and unless you can argue this point, and only this point, we won’t be moving the goalposts to any other. Go and have a think about how dumb you’ve been.