On Whataboutism and hypocrisy

ISTM that the tactic of whataboutism, and accusations thereof, are very common, not just in forums like this, but in political discourse and much of the media.

And, to be honest, I have found myself doing it. Saying, for example, “You’re talking about Person_X doing a terrible thing, but you’re a supporter of Person_Y who did something far worse” – this is pointing out someone else’s hypocrisy, but could also be called “whataboutism”.

I think the critical thing is: whether you are willing to acknowledge the topic on the table. That is, as long as I am willing to first say that what Person_X did was wrong, then it is not a deflection to then talk about Person_Y, and therefore not whataboutism.

< I’m not sure if this is a debate or just a rant, but it feels like an important enough topic right now that I thought I’d try this in GD >

It is a legitimate pointing out of hypocrisy if the OP did indeed support Person_Y in the past, on the same issue that is being discussed, and Person_Y did indeed do something worse than Person_X in the same arena that is being discussed. It is whataboutism if you bring up something worse the other person did in another topic. It is also whataboutism if you bring up some obscure piece of nuttery from the other side that the OP didn’t even have a chance to condemn and in fact most reasonable people would condemn without having to specifically mention.

I think a key point is whether in bringing up a worse action if you are trying to minimize the lesser sin.

So if you say “Yeah, that was bad of person X and person Y did something even worse.” is okay. But to say something like “I don’t see why anybody gets upset about what person X did since person Y did something worse.” is what bugs a lot of people.

In government policy and law. What about, is pertinent. It can show that the policy or law cannot be depended on to full extent. It may be brought to bare unequally or ignored if inconvenient.
This is a serious thing. It illustrates how much you can depend on the policies/laws.
It applies to individuals as well.

Whataboutism is perfectly legit and reasonable if you are trying to refute someone who claims that X is better than Y because X doesn’t do the things Y does.

If a Japanese person claimed Japan is better than Germany because “Germany committed atrocities in World War II,” then it’s perfectly reasonable to say “Well, what about…”

I think the key point is whether the things in question are actually worse. To me “whataboutism” is when you say “You’re talking about Person_X doing a thing A, but you’re a supporter of Person_Y who did thing B that is far worse” that but actually thing B is not remotely as bad as thing A. Particularly when allegedly unbiased media repeats the claim in an effort to be seen as unbiased.

The Clinton emails being a classic example of this, nothing in the act of allowing them to be hacked, or in the emails themselves was remotely comparable to the sh*t Trump was doing. But the media repeated them as if they were: “Your talking about Trump admitting on camera to habitually carrying out sexual assault, but you’re a supporter of Hillary Clinton who let her emails get hacked and admitted to being mean to her rivals”

You can also add the current partygate vs beergate situation in the UK.

Well I recall that many in the trump administration also used personal phones and Trump even held meetings with world leaders in public parts of mar-a-lago. But it was just totally drowned out by all the other scandals. After going on about Clinton’s emails for years.

The classic Internet Whataboutism I see is when a Canadian or European talk about how “Unlike America we don’t have problems with racism here” or “We have never enslaved people ever” but then when you point out in fact it does occur in their countries their number 1 counter-point is WELL YOUR COPS KILL BLACK PEOPLE???1

The classic SDMB counter-argument I always see is “Well yes, we did enslave people at some point, but we treated our slaves better than your free blacks!!!”

Wait, what?
The “classic” SDMB response is something ridiculous and counter-historic to the point of being offensive?

Also “at some point”? It was 300 years.

But yes I agree with the original whatabout.

If you acknowledge that there is always going to be someone who was just as bad or worse, so there is really no point going there. Talking about person Y is not an argument in your favor. Stick to the topic or we just get nowhere. But maybe that’s what the other side want to do, just get nowhere.

Well as I say, I would only ever bring up another thing after I have given an opinion (supported by data) about the thing on the table.

The point is: while “whataboutism” is a scourge, in some situations there can be a fine line between pointing out hypocrisy and engaging in whatabout.

Agreed. If the issue involves personal hypocrisy then it’s fair to call it out, after apologizing for your own wrongdoing.

I subscribe to the Washington Post paper version, which comes with a digital subscription. Every once in a while, I’ll read an interesting article and pop online to see reader comments. Almost without fail, no matter the subject, over half of the responses would be “Oh yeah?? But what about Trump…” The article would have nothing to do with Trump, but you couldn’t make a comment or opine about the actual subject of the article without a chorus of "How can you complain about xxxx when Trump did yyyy???

I’ve pretty much stopped reading Washington Post comments sections.

Oh yeah, that reminds me too of whenever there is some tragedy that involves fatalities.

Always a big chunk of comments will be “Why are we talking about X, when more people died in (say) car crashes today?”

As if the headline to every news show every day should be “Heart disease and cancer killed the most people again today”.