Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"


Wed Aug 23




What’s Wrong With Ad Hominem?

ad_hominemLook, the world's already a nuclear dirty bomb away from chaos, destruction, and the loss of basic freedoms like 2-Day free shipping through Amazon Prime and ubiquitous pornography and no-fault divorce. We are apparently on the brink of environmental disaster from one corner of the globe to the other, with peak oil drying up, carbon credits being fraudulently dealt out to genocidal regimes like funny money at a Russian poker table, earthquakes leveling entire nation-states, and George Bush sitting pretty and secure in his Texas compound like an semi-elected David Koresh. Is it any wonder our discourse has devolved to babbling like monkeys and flinging verbal feces?

One of the most commonly leveled criticisms of dialogue today is the accusation--warranted or not--of ad hominem attacks. Health care debates in town halls across America resulted in angry townspeople yelling accusations of socialism at elected representatives, earning themselves media spotlighting as perpetrating "ad hominem attacks." McCain was accused of stooping to ad hominem attacks on Obama during the 2008 election campaign, and vice versa. Defenders of Israel frequently accuse their opponents of ad hominem reductionism.

Argumentum ad hominem is one of a long list of boring and pedantic Latin phrases referring to logical fallacies--breaks in reasoned rhetoric, that are weak, if not untenable positions. According to rhetoricians, it is always bad form to use the ad hominem fallacy.

But really, what is so bad about ad hominem, anyway? When did non-hominemics become de rigeur in polite debate? Ad hominem is one of the primary reasons the general public is even interested, much less pays attention to the boring stuffiness that comprises most political life. Ad hominem is what paved the way for Jerry Springer, reality tv, and celebrity squabbles. If I, as a white person, argue against affirmative action, you should have the right to call me a racist. If you, as a wealthy CEO, make a case against taxes for the rich, shouldn't I have the right to call you a fat cat, a capitalist pig, and accuse you of trying to Jew me out of my hard earned money? As a Jew, shouldn't you then be able to accuse me of poisoning the well?

Given the shabby state of the world, don't we owe it to ourselves to reduce arguments to their simplest, most entertaining form, hashing out our differences by calling each other names and harboring little regard for substantive issues? After all, substantive arguments were made against the A-bomb, the invention of the automobile, blood diamonds, and Pink Floyd, but they've all made their evil, smelly mark just the same. At least with ad hominem attacks we have the satisfaction of a well-timed snark and jab, leaving our opponent to wallow in the mental sludge of frustration.

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