WhatAboutery and the Innocents of Bowling Green


It’s become ubiquitous, since January 2017. Every time another horror is unleashed upon the American nation, in the name of the president of little brain and less compassion, his faithful attendants dutifully beat history’s bushes to find something similar that they can throw out as a stumbling block to sanity.

“You dare to say it’s wrong to separate children from their parents at the border? Well, what about when American citizens break the law? They don’t get to see their kids either!”

And then they poke each other in the arm and giggle, thinking that they are terribly clever, and have stopped all further discussion in it’s tracks.

Tu-Quoque WhatAboutProblem is – the explanation they are using – the ‘what about’ – is a variant of something called the tu quoque, a well known logical fallacy. It is the proverbial ‘red herring,’ the ‘pot calling the kettle black, ‘ a strategy of false moral equivalences”. It is the defending of the indefensible. This tactic is meant to discredit an opponent and an argument, by basically saying that their complaint is hypocritical. It is used to derail a point while making it appear that the one defending the atrocity is the more knowledgeable, and the one purer of heart.

illegal whataboutismAnother tactic of ‘whataboutery‘ is to defend doing nothing whatsoever, and maintain the status quo, is by implying that there’s no point in – say, strengthening environmental protections, because some other country has no regulations at all in regards to polluting the environment.

Whataboutism says a wrong can’t be a wrong, because somewhere, at some time, another wrong occurred, and that, therefore, the two wrongs combined, make a right. If nothing can be deemed wrong, as long as we can think of examples of things that are worse, then there is no point in ever correcting any negative actions or impulses

So where did this type of argumentative defence come from? Well, it is actually used primarily for propaganda purposes, and was honed and perfected by Russian operatives during the Cold War, in order to confuse and ‘turn’ American operatives.

russian propaganda 101“When criticisms were leveled at the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Soviet response would be “What about…” followed by an event in the Western World. … The tactic saw a resurgence in post-Soviet Russia, relating to human rights violations committed by, and criticisms of, the Russian government. The technique received new attention during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. Usage of the tactic extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. (wikipedia)

It’s by no means that recent of a development. As long as you’ve had people with power harming people, you’ve had apologists defending those people’s actions.

It’s just rather alarming that the Trump administration has made it such an integral part of rationalizing actions that would be clearly considered human rights violations and treasonous actions under any other president.

This need for the Trump administration to defend the indefensible has lead many a pseudo intellectual to follow the same path, essentially tearing the fabric of reality apart in an attempt to make it fit within the parameters they have now been given.

KellyAnne Conway is probably the best example of someone who has so mastered this concept and defence that she almost … ALMOST … sounds like she has a rational and verifiable point every now and again. The trouble is, a picking apart of her sped up excuses and misdirection generally exposes the myriad of holes in her argument.

bowling green massacreConsider one of the earliest examples of her flim flamming baffle gab, the famous “Bowling Green Massacre” allusion, said with a straight face in February of 2017, with the full power of the government behind her.

When Conway defended the president’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, she told MSNBC that two Iraqis who came to the US and had been radicalized “were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre.”

While she eventually admitted that she ‘misspoke’ in alluding to a non-existent event, on two more occasions she alluded again to a massacre that never actually happened. Her intent was to stir up fear and paranoia, with the end goal being an attempt to scare American citizens into an acceptance of a Muslim travel ban.

 

” On 29 January, speaking to Cosmopolitan.com, she was even more specific about the non-existent event: “[T]wo Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined Isis, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”

And on the same day, Conway was captured on video telling TMZThere were two Iraqis who came here, got radicalized, joined Isis, and then were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green attack on our brave soldiers.”

Conway and Trump stragegist Stephen Miller are most likely the masterminds behind the promulgation of this typically Soviet response to criticism. it is hardly likely that the entire House, Congress, and president suddenly and spontaneously seized upon this very Russian form of talking point without having been carefully coached in how to use it to their best (Republican) advantage.

The ‘what about-ers’ are sneaky; they want to take the spotlight off the problem at hand, and change the obvious villain in the piece to someone other than the one they are championing, and in the process, make themselves look not only terribly clever for connecting some little known or potentially false dots, but also to appear virtuous and pious for directing your attention to some lesser known atrocity.

That the massacre/slavery/explosion may have happened a hundred years ago, and under entirely different circumstances is immaterial, because they’ve resurrected that moment and are demanding you defend it now, today – or give up your criticism of their actions .. now, today..

Acting like dealing with a current problem just adds to the enormous stack of problems needing to be dealt with is, at the core, just a way of saying that one is too busy to get involved in this new problem being addressed. It’s an attempt to find a way to avoid getting involved, due to already being overloaded with too many other philosophical problems.

moral failure of AmericaSadly, the end result of whataboutery as a tactic highlighting the misdeeds of others, is, in the end, an admission of complete moral failure, or as Cardinal Cahal Daly noted, “one of the commonest forms of evasion of personal moral responsibility.” It’s a highlighting of the truth that only people who know themselves to be guilty of something “can find comfort in finding others to be just as bad or worse. ” (Merold Westphal, philosopher)

It also has to be noted that there can be a terrible backlash for those who can always find a way to defend the offences of others, as those excuses may actually be used to discredit one’s own actions.

“No American politician in living memory has advanced the idea that the entire world, including the United States, was rotten to the core.” Masha Gessen, The New York Times.

In one of the most shocking moments of the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016, then candidate Trump responded to a question about his feelings on the treatment of journalists, teachers and dissidents by Turkish President Erdogan by saying that the United States had a lot of problems dealing with it’s own civil liberties, and so, had little right to be a ‘good messenger’ to other countries. And in one of his many defences of Russia’s Putin, Trump said,

For Trump and his minions … America is just another shit hole in a world of shit holes where everyone is potentially a murdering criminal to be feared.

I’m not really sure how that belief or attitude is supposed to make America that ‘great’ of a country, now or ever.

whataboutism poster

 

 

The End of History?


I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.

This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.

quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley?CMP=share_btn_fb

And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”

.***********.

When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.

Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.

I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, whats-aleppowhere democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business,  where opinion (literally) trumped logic,  and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.

“What is Aleppo?”  Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.

We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. huxley-vs-orwellPerhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.

From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.

Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.

north-korea-bomb“The world’s nuclear clock  sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”    

We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.

We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.

politicians-before-and-afterAnd, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more.  There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political  ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.

Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One,  it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…

… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.

And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.

Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.

well-dressed-lobstersDespite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper.  Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.

And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.

Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although  the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population;  1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner;  Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or  Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.

franz-ferdinand-1914From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”

So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit,  the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria,  American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials. homeless-world-cup-2016

What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.