Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ad hominem: how not to use this term


Okay, rightwing person, I get it. You just learned a new word. You want to use it all the time so that you feel like you can hold your own mentally against those damned elitist liberals who actually went and got educated. And so you use ad hominem every chance you get when you think it’s being used against you.

Surprise. You’re probably wrong.

Argumentative fallacies have funny names, and so they are often being used incorrectly. They can be rather tricky. I get it. And so I don’t exactly blame you for getting them wrong when you only used your feeble ability of ascertaining context to understand them. Based on that alone, you’re actually being somewhat clever. But wrong.

Take the concept of equivocation, for example. Sarah Palin thinks anytime you use an analogy, you’re making one thing equal to another, and that this is an equivocation. I think. To be honest, I can’t even come close to deciphering what she thinks equivocation is.

But analogies are not fallacious if they draw a valid parallel, and that’s not what an equivocation is. She uses equivocation constantly, as do the Right, whenever they talk about liberals being the real haters. Well, equivocation is using a word that seems identical to itself, but isn’t, in the place of its other self. In other words, you may hate spinach, but that’s not the same as the legal definition of hate. Legally, hate is the intention of causing of terror and/or injustice to someone based on their type, such as gender, race, sexual orientation, or nationality. It is irrational. If you do this to someone, and they hate you for it, that’s not the same type of hate. That’s actually rational hate, for you’ve given them a reason, and that hate is personal distaste with you, but not the kind that’s attempting to cause you injustice. So when you try to say that hate is the same as your legal hate, you’ve committed equivocation: the false equivalence of two seemingly same words that are actually quite different.

Or when you present evidence about something that causes you to wonder something else, you may say that evidence begs the question, and then ask that question it caused you to wonder. But that’s not what it means to beg to question. This is another argumentative fallacy that means that you support your premise by merely repeating the premise. The Bible is the word of God because it’s the Word of God, I mean come on!!! That’s begging the question.

So you heard someone tell you that you’ve resorted to ad hominem attacks, and now you think anytime you are insulted, that’s an ad hominem attack. That is not the case.

First, you need to understand that an argument can be valid, and still be wrong. Valid doesn’t mean right. It means you have logical reason to make the argument. It can still be proved wrong.

Second, a syllogism, or argument, is invalid for a myriad of reasons, known as fallacies. And I’ve just mentioned some of those fallacies above… equivocation, begging the question, and ad hominem. Others are known as non sequitur, ad populi, the often abused straw man, and so many others listed here at the Nizkor Logical Fallacy Database. Learn them. They shall help you. And seek out other lists, because even Nizkor didn’t have them all (lacking a couple linked here, in fact).

But merely looking them up isn’t a guarantee you’ll use the terms right. Because you may know that a personal attack is involved in ad hominem, you’re using the term everytime someone insults you. That’s not accurate. And for that reason, you’re probably earning the insult you’ve drawn.

You see, ad hominem means appeal to the man. You’ll find a lot of fallacies are called something like this. After all, ad populum has a similar name, and means appeal to the popular opinion. You get the hominem part right, for they are insulting you, the man, but you probably are failing to realize, it’s not an appeal.

The appeal part is meant to use the thing in order to support the statement. My statement is true because I appeal to x in order to support it. And if x is a personal attack, as if to say, “I disagree with you because you’re a shit-eating moron,” then that was an ad hominem attack. I’ve not supported my disagreement with you validly but merely appealed to an insult about you.

Now, if I’ve supported my argument with evidence, and then call you an idiot for believing it anyway, that’s not ad hominem. If anything, I can support that you are an idiot by the evidence that you’re believing something wrong and stupid without doing any serious investigation.

dumbass In other words, you probably are an idiot. After all, I addressed this to rightwing people, and they believe in all kinds of disproven bullshit, like austerity, FoxNews, rightwing talking points galore, etc., no matter how many times they have been thoroughly debunked, because they want to continue believing them and refuse to allow any evidence to break through to their thick skulls.

So in the future, if you learn a new word, please make sure you use it correctly, or else you are only supporting the insults you’ve earned.