The loud world of ad hominem attacks
The content of an argument vs. the person making the argument
by Jon Rappoport
December 8, 2015
(To read about Jon’s mega-collection, Power Outside The Matrix, click here.)
“One of the main purposes of propaganda is making people feel stupid. How do you do that? Send them obvious lies and contradictions from cathedrals of power. Watch them shake their heads and retreat into their shells. The battle is over.” (The Underground, Jon Rappoport)
During my 30 years as a reporter on scientific issues, my most serious journalistic work has focused on large subjects that need to be explored down to their core. A few examples: Does HIV cause AIDS? Are vaccines safe and effective? Is psychiatry a true science? What are the negative effects of pharmaceutical drugs?
I’ve carried out this work independently, and the validity of my investigations hasn’t hinged on the character or personality of the people who oppose my positions.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed parodying and satirizing those people, but not as a substitute for analysis.
These days, we see the escalation of the ad hominem argument: “Oh, he’s just saying that because he’s a Democrat (Republican).” “He’s just saying that because the oil companies are paying him off.” “He’s defending that position because he’s a racist.” “If he doesn’t agree with me, he must be a CIA agent.” “He’s a nut. He’s been discredited.”
Ad hominem=“toward/against the man,” rather than “against the argument the man is making.”
Understand this: In many cases, it is instructive to know why a person is making an argument. It’s instructive to know whether he is part of a group that has a particular political agenda. It’s instructive to know whether he is concealing his true reasons for making an argument. It’s instructive to know whether he is a propagandist.
But none of these factors is a substitute for investigating the substance of the argument itself, as well as the overall subject to which the argument is referring. If you don’t do that work, all the ad hominem attacks in the world won’t help you. You can go after this person and that person…but the truth remains unknown.
Unfortunately, the media landscape and the educational system being what they are now, most people aren’t equipped to analyze a major subject and separate truth from fiction. All they can do is accuse their opponents of base and ulterior motives. That’s the only card they can play. They latch on to Subject X, they favor Position A, and from that moment on anyone who favors Position B is a liar, a charlatan, a hired hand of Evil Forces. That’s the beginning and the end of their “investigation.”
The notion of ad hominem was understood at least as far back as ancient Rome. The Latin phrase, argumentum ad hominem (argument toward the man), indicated a flaw in reasoning, a piece of misdirection, a distraction from a thorough analysis of the argument itself.
But how can modern students really grasp the full impact of ad hominem, unless they carry out logical research of their own, and contrast that experience with simply making flip accusations against people they don’t agree with.
In an atmosphere where ad hominem prevails, things don’t improve. They get worse. Eventually, the dominant groups adopt a few stock attacks against everyone who doesn’t adore them. Rolled out with enough volume and ferocity, they can prevent a person with a different point of view from being heard at all in their controlled “safe space.”
So in support of “universal caring and the redress of injustice,” such dominant groups become totalitarian commissars.
Ad hominem is often deployed with another logical fallacy, the vague generality. In a political debate, for example, you’ll hear something like this: “So-and-so is campaigning on the basis of exclusion. He says he wants to lift up Americans, but he represents corporate interests.” Within that remark, “exclusion” and “corporate interests” are vague generalities. These ad hominem accusations are rarely spelled out and specified.
Many people, to one degree or another, engage in polemic and ad hominem. But when it comes to vital issues, the acid test is, do they also analyze the subject at hand and discover the truth, falsity, validity, and invalidity embedded in it? Can they separate the wheat from the chaff?
Just because other people can’t do it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to—unless the condition of your mind is a matter of indifference to you.
I’m talking about self-sufficiency of intellect here. Obviously, no one is going to able to dive down into every major issue of the day and discover what sits at the bottom of it. But if you can achieve this form of logical depth with several such issues, you know you can do it. And that confidence builds character and courage.
Some years ago I made notes for a piece called, If Socrates Could Speak Now. Here is a quote:
“Friends, in the marketplace, you find a shorthand give and take. Rough and tumble. Half-ideas are thrown back and forth. Opinions are cheaply bought and sold. Accusations are hurled. It would be a sign of poor character not to be able to withstand such chaos. And why not possess the ability to gossip with the best of them? But at the same time, you must know how to take apart the strands of conversation and see them in an impartial light. You must be able to follow a line of reasoning from first ideas to conclusions and identify where the logic breaks down and withers. These are the capabilities of the thoughtful human. You may despair at what goes on in the marketplace, but you must not give in to it. Simply because you do not know when and where reason will triumph, or how, it would be foolish of you to employ this doubt as an excuse to surrender and abdicate your own throne-of-mind. It would amount to creating a wound in yourself…”
Of course, one can take logic too far. What to do when key facts are omitted or buried, names of persons are obscured, men stay behind the curtain and control events through layers of manipulation? In some situations, demanding absolute logic before making any argument at all leaves you out in the cold. At those times, you need to know how to assemble a circumstantial case, and you need to know how to assess probabilities. These subtleties need to be deployed.
Part of “circumstantial/probability” intelligence derives from common-sense judgments. For instance, years ago, when I was wrapping up an investigation into the overall damage medical drugs were causing in the US population, and I had settled on rather conservative estimates (100,000 deaths per year, a million deaths per decade), it occurred to me that if I could discover these numbers, so would the FDA. The FDA is the sole American agency tasked with certifying the drugs as safe and effective before releasing them for public use. And if the FDA knew those numbers and was doing nothing about them, the FDA was complicit in the deaths.
This is common sense. It is also a piece of logical inference. So when I wrote articles from that point on, I included a direct accusation against the FDA. I fully believed it was justified. Then, lo and behold, one day, someone sent me a link to an FDA web page. On the page was an FDA admission that medical drugs were creating 100,000 deaths in the US every year. And, for the capper, the FDA was taking zero responsibility.
When trying to assign culpability and guilt, assemble relevant facts and ask, “What would a reasonable person who is a leader do about these facts? What action would he take? Did he take that action?” In my previous article about an approach to gun violence, I did exactly that. If gangs across America are an important and chronic contributor to gun violence, what would a reasonable President do about it? Would he pay attention? Would he ignore gangs? Would he highlight, in his speeches, the problem of gangs? Would he make them a priority?
And then: what has the President actually done about gangs?
In many ways, the present civilization is at a crossroad. The disappearance of rationality is not a small problem. It gives birth to multiple consequences, all of which are deeply corrosive.
Our so-called leaders are aware that many people still expect them to possess the quality of logical thought. That’s why these leaders, in their speeches and comments, try to present a credible imitation of that quality. For them, it’s a show. For us, it’s more than that. Pointing out the difference between a knock-off and the real thing is necessary. Those of us who can perform that work should do it.
My old logic professor used to say, “Know what you don’t know. Then find answers in that area of mystery.”
Frequently, the mystery is “guarded” by assertions which make no sense or are contradictory. Instead of deciding the assertions must be true and you’re the one who can’t understand them, try the opposite approach. Analyze the statements, show how they make no sense, show how they contradict each other. Take the bull by the horns. Wrestle it to the ground. Confirm your own intelligence. Become confident in it.
Don’t lose your intellect because others are losing theirs.
The author of three explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED, EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, and POWER OUTSIDE THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free NoMoreFakeNews emails here or his free OutsideTheRealityMachine emails here.