I pit "If x happened, y would say z"

A common rhetorical device here on the dope (probably other places too, but it’s here that I notice it and I bugs me) is to observe some partisan scandal or other, and then make a remark of the form “well, we all know if that if (person on the other side from the person involved in the actual scandal) did the same thing, then (you people I disagree with) would (have a fit/be strangely silent)”.

I DESPISE this argument. I think it should be added to the list of Godwin-esque things which, when used, are tantamount to admitting that you have no actual argument to make. Why? Many reasons:

(1) It’s unprovable. “We all know… what WOULD happen”. No we don’t. How could we? Even in the rare situations where there are two VERY similar situations, and the person making this argument takes the time to cite actual people actually doing the actual thing, that doesn’t prove anything, because the two situations are, by their very nature, not precisely identical.

(2) It’s unrefutable. Again, unless there’s been a nearly identical situation going the other way and there was a thread on it recently that can be found via search in which the person being attacked actually did participate, what can one say other the “uhh, yes I would”. It’s a cheap shot that appears to score points without any meaning at all.

(3) It’s condescending. Any time you say “we all know how you demo-publicans would react if X happened” you are basically saying “all you people are the same. You’re just a hive mind. A set of usual suspects. You are defined by your party affiliation (or whatever) and can not think for yourself”. What an incredibly rude and diminishing thing to say to someone.

(4) It’s irrelevant and distracting. If Joe Senator did something bad, and there’s a discussion of it, and how bad it is, then accusing Joe’s opponents on the board of being hypocrites (even if true) has nothing to do with whether Joe Senator did something bad or not.

(5) Due to all of the above things put together, this type of attack will never, or almost never, actually lead to any useful outcome of a debate or thread. I mean, if you bust this bad boy out, how is that going to lead, 10 or 20 posts later, to people having actually learned something or been convinced or enlightened? I mean, granted, that happens pretty damn rarely as it is. But we might as well keep the dream alive.

(6) It relates to the frequent board fallacy of associating the extremes of various partisan/ideological groups with the mainstreams. I mean, sure, there might be some democrats who are so rabidly fringey that they would, in fact, act in an entirely precisely partisan way at all times, always overlooking every sin of every democrat, and always viciously attacking every republican flaw, no matter how small (and vice versa). But that’s not the majority of either group. So, sure, some people might make the argument (or lack of argument) that you are talking about, but they won’t be most of the people who are reading your post.

(7) It’s an accusation of nothing. People don’t have a responsibility to be even-handed in what they complain about. If I’m a liberal democrat (I am), it is 100% reasonable and rational for me to attempt to publicize the flaws and foibles and scandals of those I oppose. By doing so, I am attempting to advance the interests of a political party whose agenda I agree with, and whose actions I support (note the “agree” and “support” there, not some form of lavish blind obedience). If at some point I start a thread about a corrupt Republican, and someone manages to prove with 100% metaphysical certitude that I wouldn’t have started the same thread about a corrupt Democrat, well, so what?

(8) Everyone is biased. It is absolutely 100% human nature to be more sympathetic to those you agree with and like. Now, I’d like to think that most dopers make an attempt to be intellectually honest, and that’s a value that we support and idealize around here. But, the fact of the matter is, if exactly the same scandal befalls Barack Obama (who I like) and GWBush (who I despise), I am more likely to want to find excuses and mitigating circumstances for Obama than for Bush. Does that make me a hypocrite? Well, to some degree, yes. But that’s called being human. We pretty much all do it. Sure, it’s worth pointing out and fighting against. But bringing it up and then acting all “oh, you guys are so two-faced! La la la I win the argument you suck” is just idiotic.

I would agree with this, but you voted the wrong way.

The “If x happened, y would say z” thing isn’t useful as the argument itself. But it seems like a great way to open a debate/discussion on whatever the subject is. Is that still pitted?

Clinton was impeached for a blow job.

So there.


Max, this is truly a spectacular rant. I agree with it, and only wish I’d previously phrased my objections to that form of argument so fully and eloquently. (Instead, I tend to respond by saying something like, “Oh yeah? Well, if [your favorite politician] had done Y, you would be torturing kittens to death while singing showtunes and smearing bananas into your hair!”)

Great job!


I think it can sometimes be a useful hypothetical – if it’s phrased as a serious question rather than flatly stated. E.g., “Well, if this were a politician whose positions you strongly agreed with rather than opposing, do you think you’d see his actions in a different light?” Legitimate, nonconfrontational question that might be useful in filtering out one’s natural bias.

My husband and I have nicknamed this the “Same People” fallacy, because it often starts out “Well, the same people would say Z if X happened” It’s also often used in a sort of false analogy where you assume that all the people that believe A also believe B, so you get things like “These same people that are so upset about a fetus being killed would be up in arms if anyone suggested a murderer had a right to life”

I agree! People also advance this argument when it comes to perceived double-standards in race discussions. Someone says something like “If the tables were turned, and it was a black/white guying doing so-and-so, you would be upset/happy.” Not only is it stupid for the reasons you nicely laid out, but it completely ignores the historical realities that may make discrepancies in response understandable.

Which is to say, there is another reason why the argument tends to be ineffective. Context matters. Whenever a homosexual sex scandal pops up in the social conservative community, there’s always someone who will chime in with, “Well, if a liberal got caught doing the same thing, you wouldn’t be outraged!” Well, no shit Sherlock! The liberal isn’t the one being a hypocrite! Another example is when people complain that black comics can get away with saying “nigger” on stage, but white comics can’t. “If a white comic did Chris Rock’s act, he’d be out of a job!” they say. There’s a specific reason why Chris can do his black-people-versus-niggers routine, and it has nothing to do with anti-white racism. I dunno, it may have something to do with the long violent history of that word when spoken out of the mouths of whites. Simply swapping a white guy for Chris Rock is not going to change that important bit of context.

I don’t think it’s a purely inane argument, however. Sometimes people need to be reminded of their biases and blinders. And while unprovable, I don’t think it’s irrefutable. A good debater can point out instances that come close to the hypothetical scenario. On the board recently, someone was complaining about the “Christian values” laden rhetoric of Romney (I think it was), and another poster pointed out that a past president sharing the OP’s ideology had a quote that sounded strikingly similar. It didn’t stop the conversation, but it did make the OP reconsider that the problem was a partisan one.

Amen. It’s bizzare how much time is killed in GD arguing over how some group of people would react in pretend situations. One would think that there are enough examples of real hypocracy and such in the world that it wouldn’t be necessary to make up imaginary scenarios where someone may or may not act hypocritically.

Makes me think of an old gf who would posit imaginary situations, inform me of how I would react wrongly in such a situation, and then get mad at me for how she pictured the hypothetical version of me acting. There isn’t really any good way to defend yourself from that.

If you disallow those statements, how do you expect people to demonstrate real double-standards, then? If you advanced a historical example - reaction to a reverse incident - then your opponents would simply nitpick the minor differences, ignoring the thrust of your argument. Would you prefer that people simply ignored double-standards?

Well, if you want to point out REAL double standards, you could do that by pointing out REAL double standards using REAL actual examples of REAL double standards.
OTOH, if you PRESUME a double standard exists in the mind of poster L and post what they MIGHT say about situation M, without them actually saying it, then you are the object of this pitting.

I don’t really see how pointing to imaginary situations demonstrates anything.

Well people may do those things, but if the minor differences are truly inconcequential, then they won’t do them convincingly. And in any case, arguing whether two actual cases are equivalent is an actual debate, arguing if someone would react the same way to a non-existant but equivalent situation basically just boils down to a three year-olds “would to…would not…would too” argument.

Good question. I guess the key differences are:
(1) Are you using real examples of the way people actually reacted?
(2) Are the situations being reacted to really identical, or at least very similar? (Back during the Mark Foley scandal, people kept bringing up a scandal from the 1970’s involving a democrat who had consensual gay sex and how people reacted. It’s just. Not. The. Same.)
(3) Are the people who reacted really the same people? If other democrats (but not me) reacted one way to one incident, and I (but not them) react another way to another incident, no one is being a hypocrite no matter how identical the situations are.
(4) Are you simply bringing up this perceived double standard to distract from a bad thing that someone did by attacking his attackers?

I totally agree. The fact is that a lot of people harbor double standards and are totally unaware of it. These people tend to be very practiced at making statements that start with the phrase “That’s different because”

There are a group of people I think of as “partisans” The group includes a lot of liberals and a lot of conservatives. They have a set of standards for their team, and a set of standards for the other team. They tend to say things like “Ollie North shouldn’t be a senator because he’s a convicted criminal.” (oh yeah, well what about Teddy Kennedy?) Or “Bill Clinton shouldn’t be president because he lacks military service” (what about Ronald Reagan?). Or “Of course I believe Anita Hill. Women don’t make this stuff up.”

I have a lot of contempt for partisans. (When we’re talking politics. At other times, they can be perfectly lovable people.)

Hypotheticals are often a decent way of exposing the bias of these sorts of people.

How? A good way to expose those people as hypocrits is to point to situations in which they were hypocritical. Saying “if this happened, then you’d say something different” doesn’t expose anything other then the fact that you think they’re a hypocrite, which can just as easily be confered using the phrase “I think you’re a hypocrite”.

I disagree. The hypothetical illustrates the point.

Saying “I think you’re a hypocrite” doesn’t mean much unless you explain why. An example is often a good way of explaining something.

A hypothetical is not an example. It’s made up. It might be correct, and it might not be.

Good rant. Can we now say a thread has been Vooled?

Well, you can call it an “example,” or something else. But whatever you call it, it’s often useful to use “what ifs” to illustrate your point.

Just for kicks, I looked at your last 75 posts and found the following:

Only in April.