The use of personal conduct litmus tests in debates on the Dope

Lately, I’ve been running into the more than occasional instance of posters here on the Dope demanding that I do X, Y, or Z in real life to demonstrate my sincerity about positions I’ve taken in debates on the boards. Here’s the latest.

Personally, I think this is a crock. But I’d be interested in the opinions of my fellow Dopers.

In general I think these “personal conduct litmus tests” are a cheap debate tactic. But I think sometimes similar questions are useful. I mean, I don’t think you have to go out and pay for some random person’s health care just because you support universal health care. But I think it is worth mentioning that anyone who pays taxes under a universal health care system is paying someone else’s way who doesn’t.

I’m glad to see you have come around.


Maybe you can explain what there was to come around about.

I think you can understand the distinction between demanding something of an individual on the Dope that one is addressing in the immediate conversation, and having expectations of the overall behavior of a large group of people ‘out there’.

I mean, yeah, I see the winky, but what’s the joke, even?

Do you really think debates here are insulated from ones in the greater society, or much elevated from them? I think you are mistaken in that. Ours are just better moderated, and our mods don’t crack the whip on this debate tactic.

Nor should they.

Now, when it comes to personal conduct litmus tests in debate, the 800-lb gorilla in recent debates is the old chickenhawk argument. That is certainly a personal conduct litmus test. It gets trucked out here all of the time. And while to your credit, you haven’t used it against posters here, you aren’t above using it on others when it suits you.

So yeah, while you aren’t nearly as guilty as some, it is obvious that you have gone to this well yourself. To be fair, so have I. I think in certain cases asking pointed questions can be fair. And in some threads where people have been particularly outraged (for instance, about treatment of veterans) I posted links to charitable organizations that deal directly with the question involved, with the expectation that people whose outrage was more lasting than the recreational variety might use them.

All in all, I think you ought to just rebut these things as they come. If you can.

My opinions is that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Note that the above was addressed to a veteran of the US military.

I agree; it’s a crock. But I would add that it’s a crock even when you do it.


Dunno, Shodan. I read that as a rhetorical “you”.

Doesn’t change the fact that lots of folks in that same thread were a bit more pointed in their suggestions. One poster invited me to join the Army rather directly.

And if this behavior was so disturbing, in a thread RtFirefly was posting in, he sure didn’t speak up against it. He does now, of course, because his ox is being gored.

But that post isn’t a great example of RtFirefly doing what he now decries, only of liberals doing it and him not minding a bit.

Bear with me on this- but I don’t think this sort of a demand is a crock, per se, although I do think that it is trotted out too often in debates around here. In my opinion demanding that someone back up their rhetoric with their actions is entirely reasonable. Ex: If someone goes around decrying U.S. dependence on fossil fuels while driving a 3 ton SUV, then this person is a hypocrite, and I don’t think anyone would fault me for asking them to pick a stance and abide by it.

That being said, these sort of demands are made far too quickly, IMO. They are often unleased at the first inkling of someone not practicing what they preach, even if this inference on the part of the accuser is flawed. I think it is a knee-jerk reaction that should be bridled in deference to more civilized forms of debate, especially if the points of an opponents stance aren’t well understood. Also, the demands made are often unreasonable considering that most people’s views aren’t strictly black and white. When someone comes out in favor of universal healthcare (or whatever) they aren’t necessarily echoing Patrick Henry (‘Give me universal healthcare or give me death’), they are merely saying that they believe this is a good idea and possibly implying that they would be willing to sacrifice something (NOT everything) in order to bring it to fruition.

Ultimately, however, the demand for someone to put their ideas into practice is a valid one, but if/when someone issues this challenge, they need to be sure it is commensurate with the stated ideas, and not some extreme, unattainable demand meant only to undermine their opponents credibility.

Well said, Incensed. This parallels my views on this sort of thing.

So could the example in the OP, if you tried hard enough.

More of the same sort of thing as always - “it’s different if I do it”.


The rule, I think, is to make sure that the person is willing to abide by whatever social structure they’re suggesting–not that they’re willing to take some exaggerated-to-absurdity version of the responsibility. If someone is calling for a $1.00/gallon increase in gas tax, it’s appropriate to point out the financial burden they’re willing to suffer, but not appropriate to suggest they forego automotive transportation. If someone is calling for universal healthcare, it’s appropriate to ask if they’re willing to face an increase in taxes, but it’s plain silly to suggest they’re a hypocrite for not supporting a half-dozen people personally.


I assume you would agree that it is ridiculous to suggest that any one (or any group) is hypocritical for supporting the war in Iraq, unless they were willing to fight personally.

I believe that was the example I cited.


I think that sounds fair. But when the suggestion is made that someone who supports the war actually join the military - do you see that as imposing an exaggerated version of the responsibility?

I lean in that direction. I was in for five years, and the military isn’t for everyone. Not by a long shot.

And yet this argument gets thrown around here a lot - and in the more fevered swamps of the netroots, it’s even worse. So if this tactic is illegitimate if taken to this extreme, lots of folks are debating in really bad faith.

The worst of these, to me, is whenever someone takes a stance that the legal system should be tough on a particular crime or criminal, and someone says, “Well, I hope you never drive over the speed limit, otherwise you’re a hypocrite.”

:dubious: :rolleyes:

I think the difference is that this is just a message board. It is not uncommon to make some one “put up or shut up” in real life. Here it’s just words. Truth or lies, there is no way to know for sure.

I agree.

If a person says “I support the war”, and another person says, “Then why don’t you join the army?”, then I call shenanigans. If a person says, “People should quit their jobs and join the military to help protect our homeland”, and another person says, “Then why don’t you quit your job and join the army?”, then it’s a valid question. (Note: I’ve seen the former situation occur pretty often on the SDMB, but not the latter.)

You’re absolutely right. I think that’s the point of this thread, though. To 1)identify this tactic, 2) drag it into the light of day, and 3) beat it down. (Or rather, debate whether or not it should be beaten down.)

Context is important in the proper use of the tactic.

Someone making the claim that we should be reducing are driving by “x” percent to combat global warming, while they themselves drive a brand new Lincoln Navigator, could be asked (legitimately, IMO) “why aren’t you walking the walk?” (and driving a hybrid).

However, if I, of limited economic means, make the same claim, while I am stuck driving some POS '75 station wagon, I get to reply “Because I can’t afford a new car.”…


“Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue.”

  • La Rochefoucauld

I don’t see how hypocrisy much enters into a political discussion, a rotten human being may well be smart enough to see the truth, and may reveal truth simply to be a prick about it. Similarly, a virtuous person, such as myself, often softens the harsh outlines of fact simply so as to not damage the delicate sensibilities of others.

I see a slight discrepancy even with this, though. The claim wasn’t, “People should drive cars that consume less gas”, but, “People should reduce their driving by ‘x’ percent.” IMO, the driver of a Lincoln Navigator could legitimately make the second statement above, while reducing the amount of driving they actually do (e.g., walking to the grocery store).

However, they could be legitimately asked, “Why exactly do you think driving a Lincoln Navigator is alright, but driving excessively isn’t?”

I do think that’s a lame argument. On the other hand, there is something interesting about the underlying critique, which is that some of the social groups that argue most for the war are those who face the least personal risk from it. They’re not willing to suffer their share of the burden, in other words. It would be as though someone were arguing in favor of paying for universal health care via a tax that would not affect them, even though they were perfectly capable of paying the tax.

What would be plainly ridiculous would be to say, “If you support the war so much, why don’t you go step on an IED?” That’s asking the person to take an exagerrated-to-absurdity level of responsibility for the war, in much the same way as demanding that someone pay 6 people’s health-care costs is doing.