1 May, 2017
Back in the early days of the Cold War, the Soviets (and the Communists who supported them) used to take a regular drubbing in the court of public opinion. Killing tens of millions of people through Gulags, deliberate starvation, and mass purges can really generate bad press, no matter how hard you try to hide or excuse it.
Fortunately, there was a remedy available through the Dialectic.
Moral equivalence is fallacious argument, but a comfort… One can ignore fact and context and merely brandish a supposed argument without going into the details. For example:
Argument: “The Soviet Union has killed millions of people through its Gulags and purges.”
Supposed rebuttal: “What about the mistreatment of American Blacks?” Never mind that the context is different, as are the facts and the death-toll. So far as the rebuttal is concerned, one’s opponent has just established (in their mind) that the US is morally equivalent to the USSR and is therefore in no position to criticize.
Examples are legion: “Nazi Germany ran death camps and murdered millions of people” vs “What about Dresden or Hiroshima?” See? The Allies were just as bad as the Axis… if you know nothing about facts and context. Moreover, trying to explain them to somebody given to using moral equivalence automatically means you are playing catch-up with somebody who isn’t interested in either.
Using moral equivalence is no way to win a formal debate, but it has become so prevalent in our poorly-educated society that almost everyone employs it. It also helps that the Post-Modernist inversion of ethics and habit of deconstructing arguments they don’t like have further confused things. Now, one hardly needs to take intermediate steps but can leap right to the conclusion. For example:
“I’m disturbed by Islam”, to which the immediate rebuttal is “You’re a racist, just like Hitler.” Or….
“I think our traditional values are worth something”; which inevitably leads to “You’re a white supremacist, just like Hitler.”
And of course…. “I am worried about Islamic extremism”. There are several responses: “What about the Crusades?” (Classic Moral Equivalence); or “Right-Wing Christian fundamentalists are just as dangerous” (Classic but with a dollop of progressive virtue-signaling). Failing all else – “You’re a racist, just like Hitler.”
There was a piece of advice that used to circulate a few years ago – “Never wrestle with a pig in the mud; you’ll get all dirty and the pig loves it.” More to the point, Arthur Koestler talked about the ‘magic aura’ that engages with true-believing ideologues; we might think of it now as the ‘reboot-button’. You can mop the floor in a debate with a true-believer, but in the morning, there will be no sign of your victory; his or her earlier programming has reset itself.
It is very rare to successfully argue with somebody who employs Moral Equivalence. By resorting to the fallacy, they have already clearly signaled a disinterest in context or the facts. Moreover, through the magic of inversion and deconstruction, they have already convinced themselves that you are inevitably in the wrong and need not be heeded.
Walk away from a one to one encounter, whether in person or in cyberspace, and avoid wrestling with a pig in the mire. However, if there is an audience – preferably a neutral one – dig in and fight it out. There has to be hope for the future and not all of the Millennials have been hopelessly sabotaged.
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