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Monday, October 22, 2012

If you can't refute his argument, criticize his hair 

Now let’s revisit ad hominem attacks, which we found were prevalent in Costa Mesa politics. This kind of propaganda diminished, but is returning. The current political ad hominem attacks contain unsupported accusations and irrelevant assertions about a person’s behavior, character, or even body habitus.

Our sources are Blogs and opinion columns and letters to the editor in news media. We'll also draw examples from remarks following these sources and from both postings and remarks on Facebook.

(As an aside, just a couple of years ago some of these sources would be difficult to assess, if they even existed. Now, it seems that anyone with an opinion can publish it, which makes verifying the accuracy and independence of the source so critical.)

Attacking the man instead of the idea 

An ad hominem attack is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it, or even by simply applying labels to show the person’s (bad) character or other beliefs.

This example is from blogger Geoff about a blogger named Millard: “. . . ( the) blog of Costa Mesa's racist laureate, the Neanderthal misogynist . . .yet another reason to steer clear of anyone with a surname beginning with "M" this election season.” And also, “. . . (which) Mr. Neanderthal proudly uses to market his books . . .”

Maybe he's jealous

It should be mentioned that Mr. West has no published books of his own advertised on his site, and that he has been severely castigated by commenters, journalists, and even an attorney or two for his irresponsible journalism (Republic of Costa Mesa, 7/28/11).

Casual readers may not be aware of his reputation for inaccuracy and be too inclined to take his posts as opinion or fact, when they are instead just propaganda. And, West and Millard attack one another frequently in their blogs (see my 20 Sep blog). So, their remarks about each other should be viewed as entertaining but not informational unless they are independently confirmed.

Simple vs. ad hominem abuse

Mere verbal abuse, like that in the example above, in the absence of an argument, is not ad hominem or any other kind of logical fallacy, it’s just abuse. But reading more of Geoff’s blog reveals that the reason for this venomous outburst was – a political viewpoint, bringing it into the ad hominem realm:

Millard (the one Geoff is labeling) wrote an entry that ended “. . . Foley simply had no good arguments and every one that she made was countered with facts and truth by Jim Righeimer.” A political statement he couldn't refute led to Geoff’s (extensive) ad hominem attack.
We can see ad hominem appear in several subforms:

Ad hominem Abusive (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponents in order to attack their claims or invalidate their arguments.

These are logically fallacious because they relate to the opponent's personal character, or behavior, or even body habitus, none of which have anything to do with the logical merit of the opponent's argument.  

More examples:

 Millard wrote in one of his blogs, “We think we've figured out why Sadly Genis has that way of talking—she may be trying to yodel!” Note the sarcasm (the correct name is Sandy) and the ad hominem attack on her way of speaking.

And another: comments after Geoff’s blogs echo his earlier attempts to use McCarthy’s back shape and posture and his uneven smile to demonstrate his disinterest and slyness. Muscle-nerve plates don’t determine devotion or integrity, while his background, speaking and writing do suggest devotion to Costa Mesa and an interest in her future.

Catch 22 1/2; if he denies it he's guilty

Ad hominem circumstantial is an attack on the bias of a source. It points out that someone is in circumstances such that they are disposed to take a particular position. This is fallacious because a disposition to make a certain argument does not make the argument false.  

It’s similar to the genetic fallacy (an argument that a claim is incorrect due to its source). The traditional example of this is a woman’s comment when an official denied patronizing a call girl; “Of course he'd say that.” He may have said it truthfully or not, but her comment suggests he lied because of his involvement in the issue – that is, he must have patronized the call girl because he denied it when confronted.

Appeals to emotion and prejudice, not facts and logic

All of the ad hominem attacks are appeals to emotion, rather than to facts or logic; that is, they are propaganda. It’s easy to get caught in this one; if you find the person labeled with a term you find disgusting, it’s easy to disparage his or her ideas or position.

Try to remember that if you don't like his appearance, or her voice, or his point of view on an unrelated subject, you have no reason to reject his or her ideas on the current issue. Similarly, if he is handsome, or she is pretty, they could be right, or wrong, or some combination of both.

Labels will fool you

And if your suspicion is based upon labels, it’s time to look for facts; you've been hoodwinked by propaganda.

Facts and logic are necessary to vote reasonably on Costa Mesa’s future.

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