What about…?

You’ve written a thoughtful post or comment speaking against a particular policy or practice. You’ve done your best to contribute meaningfully to the discussion by avoiding logical fallacies and substantiating claims with evidence. Then someone responds…

I didn’t see you crowing on about this issue/policy when [other politician] did it!

If you frequently wade through the rhetorical sewer that is a thread of internet comments, you know this kind of response is all too common. Instead of engaging with the issue constructively or providing a reasoned rebuttal, they have instead chosen to insinuate that you are a hypocrite. This lazy response is called whataboutism, and it has its history as a state propaganda technique employed by the Soviet Union.

This is a frustrating tactic because it completely absolves the user of any responsibility to address the issue. It places the target on the defensive. If you refuse to acknowledge the distraction, the discussion usually doesn’t tend to move forward productively. In my experience, anyone who levels this claim usually doesn’t respond well to having the tables turned. It puts them back in the hotseat to substantively respond to the topic at hand, which, if they could, they would have done so to begin with.

It is not your responsibility to have a history of advocating for any issue in order to be taken seriously when discussing it in the present. People arrive as activists to a particular issue or cause at different times in their lives, and people sometimes [gasp] change their beliefs or practices based on new information. If anyone is actually serious about improving discourse, they will not resort to whataboutism. They would instead believe in holding each other accountable for bringing substantiated facts to a discussion instead of deflection.

I believe it makes it harder for people to hold “their team” accountable when they treat elected officials like fans treat a celebrity. We need to return to the mindset that public officials are people that should be held accountable for the proper execution of their duties by the electorate. Employing Constitutional and civil methods like impeachment and recall are perfectly viable tools for holding those public officials accountable.

Please hold others accountable. Please contribute meaningfully and accurately to discussions of the things important to you. If an issue isn’t close to you, let those for whom it is close lead and guide the discussion. Familiarize yourself with logical fallacies and work actively at avoiding them.

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