Worlds & Time

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ad Hominem Behind Someone's Back

Scalzi gave a platform to Vox Day, and Chad Orzel got upset with him for doing so.

In one of the comments (#88), MikeT says that

Chad should be ashamed of himself for writing a seven paragraph long post that is almost entirely ad hominem, and that doesn't even take a stab at proving why Vox is a "poopyhead" for making his arguments...

Now, I obviously used to spend a lot of time at a website where ad hominem was not allowed, and edited whenever seen. For most of my time there, it was my job to edit it. However, I don't always think that all ad hominem is necessarily immoral, bad, or even incorrect.

The problem is that I've seen examples of people consistently unable to address arguments against them. Peace girl, or whatever her name was at IIDB, was sure that she'd found the true secret to universal happiness which basically boiled down to: Everyone should ignore the bad things that they see, because if they pretend not to see them and do good things, everything will become perfect.

Yeah, if that was possible for everyone to overlook bad things to happen, it might make it easier to live on this planet (probably not perfect, bad things will still happen), but unfortunately the implementation of that is utterly impossible.

And over the course of months and thousands of posts, Peace girl just couldn't understand the arguments against her. At all. She was so utterly sure that she was right that her sense of logic and her common sense were swept away. Folie à deux, in her case.

She was wrong though. Her perfect solution depended on convincing everyone on earth that her ideas were just as perfect as she thought they were, despite the flaws and the misconceptions and the just pure wrong facts (she thought that since c was a universal constant, it meant that what we see has no time delay to it, that visible light traveled instantaneously). She didn't understand that people can't just accept that people wouldn't and couldn't accept her mentor's theories. She didn't understand that some people would look for ways to take advantage of believers and only pretend to convert if they felt it was in their best interest.

If I could have gotten Peace girl to reconsider her opinion through ad hominem attacks on her, I probably would have done it myself.

After a few days it was pointless to argue with her but people kept trying, remaining remarkably civil in their attempts to convince a mule to dance for months at a stretch.

Specific to the case of Peace girl is the fact that she was engaged in behavior that was couched in the most polite possible terms, but with the rudest possible intent: she wanted to convert people.

So people argued with her for months, trying to convince her that most people were rational enough to realize that there were so many flaws in her plan that it was impossible to make real. Eventually people did issue attacks against her, and I empathize with them.

Ad hominem attacks are what happens when someone reaches the end of their ability to argue coherently. Sometimes people go to it quickly because they are poor advocates for their position or their arguments suck. After a long, long time of valid arguments that are constantly ignored and dismissed out of hand because of deeply held irrational beliefs, sometimes even the best of us do it.

Orzel calls Day a lunatic. That's his opinion, and from what I see Orzel isn't the type of person to call someone that lightly.

I think that TheOtherMichael from IIDB is a moron. That's my opinion, arrived at through a long process of examination. I think the same thing about George W. Bush, for the same reason.

My father thinks that Thom Hartmann is a tool. That's his opinion, arrived at . . . uh, based on his assessment of Hartmann's opinion gleaned from a few minutes of radio exposure.

I can't say that I agree with Orzel yet, but if the faithful pack of Day supporters that shows up whenever his name is mentioned is any clue, then I suspect that Orzel's not completely out of line for having dropped the logical arguments in favor of the ad hominem attacks.

He's just tired of saying things that are ignored.

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