‘Whataboutism’ Is a Mark of Foolishness

Jan 18, 2021 by

by Brett McCracken, The Gospel Coalition:

Whataboutism turns the tables in an argument by responding to one accusation by deflecting to something else egregious, even if unrelated: “Yeah, well what about ______?” In the world of logical fallacies it’s a form of a false dichotomy and closely related to bothsidesism—another tactic of turning attention away from one wrong by suggesting another side is equally guilty of similar wrongs.

We see whataboutism every day (probably every minute) on social media, but it was especially prevalent following the Capitol insurrection. Instead of simply denouncing and disavowing the mob’s deadly behavior, many social-media users (including an alarming number of Christians) offered “what about?” comparisons to 2020’s various unlawfully destructive BLM and Antifa protests. Then, the “what abouts” turned to social-media censorship, as throngs of Trump defenders deflected attention from the Capitol attack by pointing to encroachments on free speech by Big Tech.

The reality is we can critique both the Capitol insurrection and the Antifa protests. We should be alarmed both by Trump spreading dangerous falsehoods on Twitter and by Twitter censorship….

Whatboutism is a temptation for everyone online. In the hours after the Capitol insurrection, I saw loads of tweets by progressive-leaning Christians saying something to the effect of, “See! All this talk of CRT (critical race theory) being such a threat—ha! Clearly the biggest threat is CN (Christian nationalism)!” This sub-genre of whataboutism (“this problem is the real threat!”) is both annoying and intellectually lazy. If a bridge collapsed in a city, of course it would make sense that calls to fix crumbling infrastructure would take on new urgency. But it would not make sense to then say, “See, all you people going on about the urgent needs of our city’s homelessness crisis are off base and distracting us from the real threat!”

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