Ad Hominem Is Dumb, Coming and Going

Monday, May 13, 2024

A couple of headlines this morning reminded me of the logical fallacy named above, which Wikipedia reminds us:

... refers to several types of arguments that are fallacious. Typically this term refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself. This avoids genuine debate by creating a personal attack as a diversion often using a totally irrelevant, but often highly charged attribute of the opponent's character or background. The most common form of this fallacy is "A" makes a claim of "fact," to which "B" asserts that "A" has a personal trait, quality or physical attribute that is repugnant thereby going entirely off-topic, and hence "B" concludes that "A" has their "fact" wrong - without ever addressing the point of the debate. Many contemporary politicians routinely use ad hominem attacks, which can be encapsulated to a derogatory nickname for a political opponent.
The first headline this reminded me of was "Trump: 'Hannibal Lecter Is a Wonderful Man'" at The Hill. Other outlets jumping on the story -- in an attempt to make news out of a word salad/feeble attempt at humor -- added such things as in apparent praise of the cannibal.

I am no fan of Donald Trump, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't advocating cannibalism. Just a hunch.

My quick read of one was that the above impression on my part is correct, and that this is just another of many hysterical reactions by some of the leftish people who let Trump live rent-free in their brains.

I wouldn't put it past Trump to have deliberately done this to provoke such stories so he can go back and smear all such stories as hysterical nonsense, not that Trump hasn't said and done things that merit condemnation.

So -- although with Trump, He did it randomly on a whim is an equally likely explanation -- Trump now has a new example of what he can call Trump derangement syndrome in the news media in order to discount more substantial attacks from opponents, if they ever get serious enough to raise them.

Trump is an awful officeholder, but a grade-A politician: Whether or not he meant to stir up a hornet's nest, he will not waste a good opportunity to recycle this new ad hominem into one for his own use.

People may make outlandish charges in order to discredit what Trump has to say. The fact that they do so does not mean that we should jump to condemn Trump nor does it mean there aren't good reasons to do so.

I don't care what he says: I'm taking a walk today. (Image captured from video by United States Senate, via Wikipedia, public domain.)
The second time I thought of ad hominem was when I spotted a link to the following headline at the tail end of another news item: "Dr. Oz discusses the many benefits of walking."

Having resumed my walking regimen a couple of months ago after our time-consuming interstate move, benefits of walking caught my eye.

And then it landed on Dr. Oz.

Considering my well-founded low opinion of Mehmet Oz as a medical expert, its should be obvious I have no interest in what he might say on the matter. All the same, just because this quack recommends walking doesn't mean it's snake oil.

Realizing that a mindless rejection of walking would be to succumb to that fallacy caused me to make a connection regarding many of Trump's followers, whose approach seems to be trust Trump, regardless of what he says or any past evidence.

While ad hominem is usually used to discount an argument because of who is saying it, it can be useful to consider the perils of making a similar error: Taking the source of an argument (alone) as reason to accept it.

Just because Dr. Oz says walking is beneficial doesn't mean it isn't. And just because someone you might trust claims to have an answer doesn't mean he does. Leftists do this all the time when they treat the advice of government-sanctioned experts like marching orders (See the last pandemic.) and Trumpists are doing the same thing with regard to their orange savior.

To use someone's else's judgement categorically as a guide to action is foolish, and yet accounts for quite a bit of what's going wrong nowadays.

-- CAV

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