Whataboutism

As a veteran of Facebook debates myself, I have witnessed (and I’m guilty of) several flawed arguments. One of the many that sticks out like a sore thumb is what is known as ‘whataboutism’.

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Whataboutism is an old Soviet tactic which regained its popularity due to the likes of Trump and his administration. In practice, whataboutism is essentially a big cowardly shield to hide behind, where instead of answering a question or debating the argument at hand, one reflects the topic back to the opposing side asking things like ‘oh what about when your side did this’ or ‘what about this issue’, hence coining the term whataboutism.

Some examples of which may be, from my experience, when asking about the allegations of sexual assault against Trump, instead of getting an honest response, being answered to with “oh, but, what about Bill Clinton being a Predator?”. Clinton’s allegations are also equally important, but it’s not relevant to bring them up solely to avoid a discussion about the original topic. It is another conversation entirely. As the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

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A more local example which left a bad taste in my mouth was the basis of the debate surrounding the Wasteserv fire which unleashed a blanket of cancerous smoke clothing the island and left many at risk. When PN criticised this, the immediate response was “mela insejtuh żmienkom” – referring to the hugely polluting power station which Malta depended on, back under the PN government. Yes, the power station was horrible, and yes, action should have been taken sooner, but past mistakes shouldn’t justify today’s, or come in the way of critical progress.

In the crude words of John Oliver, “You could be wearing crocs with socks, but if you’re using those socked crocs to kick Hitler in the balls, I’m suddenly not so fucking focused on the footwear”.

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We’ve all heard the Bambi quote “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t speak at all” – I feel that this kind of logic is toxic. For things to change and improve, it is our responsibility to partake in critical thinking and present constructive criticism. Yes, this isn’t usually labelled as a nice thing to say as it is not pleasant to hear, no one likes being corrected, but how else are we expected to improve.

No one ever changed the world by settling and accepting.

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As a society we must learn how to do away with taboos and partisan ideologies and instead be educated on how to have a civil argument with fruitful conclusions, how to do away with weak shields like whataboutism and arrive to constructive ideas. Whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative, we should all be able to not only accept our past mistakes but be diligent enough for them to pave the way by teaching us future solutions.

Written by: Eve Borg Bonello

4 thoughts on “Whataboutism

  1. Well said.

    The problem with whataboutism is that it works; by twisting the debate on to my opponent I’m no longer the subject of the conversation. Since it works, people will continue using it. We can try to call for more intelligent debates but, frankly, why would you give up a technique which works so well?

    One way to defuse this situation is to open up and admit to your own failings. In the example you quote above, if the PN had been open about the power station pollution and had admitted to its mistake, would their opponents be able to say “What about when you did this?”

    The only way to defuse one’s winning tactic is to take the higher ground yourself.
    And that’s not as easy as you’d think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it, especially coming from you. I agree, the only way to diffuse the situation is to humbly admit to past mistakes.
      I wanted to let you know that I am a big fan of ‘Brain, not ego’!

      Like

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