You’re Another: Ad Hominem Arguments as a Substitute for Real Debate

Someone I correspond with on line, recently introduced me to the term ‘Ad Hominem‘ (literally ‘to the man‘): in its definition:

‘Dealing with an opponent by attacking their character instead of answering their arguments.’

And no sooner I had I heard the phrase, and looked it up in the dictionary, than I began to see it every where. Especially, in the on-line comment columns of newspapers, the only place where it seems there is the possibility of argument across the political spectrum. I particularly enjoy the British Daily Telegraph, as its core British conservative die hards are joined by their critics, and also by Americans of the Tea Party variety. It could all make for a really good across-the-political spectrum debate, but mostly it becomes ad hominem name calling: you liberals, you conservatives, you bigots…whatever and not a lot of answering the arguments being raised.

It reminds me of my wife and her sister who when they were kids used to say, when one attacked the other verbally: ‘you’re another...’

And of course, nowhere is more true on the current healthcare debate in the US. It would be eminently sensible if the parties concerned would focus on the details of what is proposed, and has just been accepted as largely constitutional by the US Supreme Court, and how this differs from what Mitt Romney introduced into Massachusetts (which despite being called ‘Taxachusetts‘ is the second richest state in the US in per capita income after Connecticut).  So much for the theory that high state taxes make states poor) and how it would differ from what the Republicans would now do, and why they now want to do something different?

As it is, the argument goes something like: Obama is a socialist, socialists want health care programs that are high cost (though Obamacare according to the non partisan Office for Budget Responsibility saves government and peoples’ dollars) and rob people like us to give healthcare to people of different races, therefore we are opposed to the current healthcare program, even though we don’t really know what it includes. And we are against it, but not against what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, because of states rights…states should do things the Federal government should not, though we have no good reason for this other than Obama is a socialist. This is such a good example of an Ad Hominem argument that it should be in the dictionary…though I guess I made it up. Or did I?

And of course, liberals are just as guilty of Ad Hominem arguments…you conservatives….


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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1 Response to You’re Another: Ad Hominem Arguments as a Substitute for Real Debate

  1. Kyrie Eleison says:

    Explains the frustration displayed from a certain someone who made a big deal out of the fact that I’m “hiding behind my laptop screen” or some such nonsense. It deserved to be called out.

    I suppose when your only leg left to stand on, once all relevant and civil argument has been exhausted, is to attempt to discredit your opponent with some form of personal attack thereby somehow invalidating their credibility … well, there’s a reason why it is called a “logical fallacy”.

    None of us are totally immune, however maybe some of us recognize it and try a little bit harder to keep it from creeping into the discourse.

    Not to sound too cynical, but there are times where I can just tell that my opponent is being overly diplomatic and laying on the pleasantries pretty thick just to see if they can glean any (perceived) “dirt” to toss when things don’t seem to be going their way. It’s much easier to pick up in person than it is in text format.

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