Pompous Accusations of Pomposity, or, How to Debate over the Internet
A certain kind reader with my best interests are heart (whose name I withhold out of courtesy) accuses me of being pompous and proud when I condemn political correctness. I agree I am proud -- and I agree that pride is a damned sin -- but this does not mean political correctness is not a damned lie. I had best write him a serious, polite, and earnest reply:
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Dear Kind Reader With My Best Interests at Heart, obviously you are a maroon. How long have you been stranded on the Isle of Goof, population, You?
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Hmm. That seems a little harsh, even for the Internet. Maybe I can reword my salutation so as to hide my boiling, poisonous, stinging nettle-patch of ire beneath a Guy Fawkes-like mask of seeming courtesy. Remember to smile!
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Dear Kind Reader With My Best Interests at Heart, obviously it is not being corrected that offends me, as when I make an error of grammar, or fact, or manners; it is being "corrected" as in "political correction" that offends me, as it should offend all honest men.
When a liar tells a truthful man that it is bad manners, as well as a lie, to tell the truth, that is not only a lie, and bad manners, it is offensive. It is offensive in and of itself, even when spoken to a placid and phlegmatic disposition who does not get offended. It is an offense against the Truth, an objective offense, even if no person suffers the subjective emotional sensation of feeling offended.
Now, you take offense at the fact I said I took offense, and so now you wish to correct my character flaws. (This is a Herculean labor on your part, akin to cleaning the Augean Stables. Good luck.)
While there is nothing wrong with helping me with my character flaws in and of itself, you put me at a disadvantage in two ways.
First, By changing the subject to talk about me, rather than talk about the topic at hand, you put me in the uncomfortable position of having to talk about myself, a topic I find dreadfully boring.
Second, I am also at a disadvantage because I only dimly guess the content of my own thoughts via first-hand immediate perception, whereas you (since you are evidently a mind-reader with 20-20 telepathy) can uncover all my hidden thoughts with the clarity of he Who Searcheth Hearts on Judgment Day. Obviously, your source of information about my character is better than mine.
I can only reply by disparaging your character. Because of all this, you and I have added a layer of low comedy to the proceedings. Here is a sum up of the dialog in which we are currently engaged:
Me (dressed like John the Baptist in a hairy shirt): "Generation of vipers! I condemn thy self-righteousness!"
You: "That comment is itself self-righteous! You are being self-righteous!"
Me (thumping my chest self-righteously): "I am not being self-righteous! YOU are being self-righteous by calling me self-righteous! It is self-righteous to call someone self-righteous!"
You: "Aha! You did it again! You just called me self-righteous! It is self-righteous to say that it is self-righteous to call someone self-righteous!"
Me (waving a bloody shirt): "Aha! But now you did it a second time! It is self-righteous to say that it is self-righteous to say that it is self-righteous to call someone self-righteous! Besides, I hate hypocrites..."
You: "But you are guilty of the very hypocrisy you condemn! That makes you a hypocrite! It is hypocrisy to accuse someone of hypocrisy when you practice hypocrisy yourself!"
Me (puffing myself up like a frog): "But you just accused me of hypocrisy! Outrageous! Only a hypocrite accuses a hypocrite of hypocrisy! It's hypocritical! Only a Sith talks in absolutes!"
You: "I cannot believe you just accused me of hypocrisy for accusing you of hypocrisy for condemning hypocrisy! That is so self-righteous of you! And what was that about the Sith? Wasn't that an absolute statement?"
Me (shouting you down): "Absolutely not! Gahh! It's no use talking to you! You are not even listening to what I said!"
You: "Obviously I am listening to what you said! Anyone who heard me could tell I was listening carefully! Only if you were not listening could you say I was not listening!"
Me (sticking my fingers in my ears): "Ridiculous! Only someone who was not listening to me would say I was not listening because I said you were not listening!! If you are going to talk like that, I am simply not going to listen!!! LALALA I AM NOT LISTENING!!! As another example, Phillip Pullman is the Antichrist. Hear me, ye generation of vipers! For it is written in the Book of the Apocalypse of St. Jack: 'Lo! And the Beast with Ten Horns Shall taketh upeth his inkhorn of ininquity to write a Children's Book trilogy; and a trilogy shalt be the Children's Book; verily, the number of the trilogy shall be three. And by this sign shall ye know it: behold, the Film version shall sucketh like a Hoover vacuum cleaner on hyperdrive.' "
You: "Wait! Who is talking about Pullman?? You are changing the subject!"
Me (changing the subject): "No, when you bring up the subject of whether or not I am changing the subject, YOU are changing the subject!"
Et cetera et ad Nauseam.
Argumentum ad hominem is an informal logical error because it does not address the merits of the argument being made. It attacks the honesty of the speaker rather than the honesty of his argument. To discover that Pythagoras is proud does not allow us to conclude that a square erected on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is unequal to the sum of the areas of squares constructed on the two remaining sides. It shifts the ground of argument to a determination of character, which is hearsay difficult to judge, rather than a consideration of evidence and reasoning, which is public and which anyone can judge.
The credibility of the speaker is only at issue when he is holding himself forth as an expert witness or an authority, when he is asking you to take him on faith, whereupon his claim to be an authority is validly open to question and cross examination. When a person is presenting an argument which asks you to subject his claims to your own candid judgment, no claim to be an authority is being made.
Therefore to say someone is pompous, proud, self-righteous, or a hypocrite neither adds credibility to his argument nor subtracts from it.