Published On: Fri, Jan 15th, 2016

Whataboutism, an attack on moralism

Jacob Gelt DekkerWhataboutism is a transparent, shabby, rhetorical trick of deflection and changing the topic, but far more severe, it is eroding morality.

For instance, one states, " The support amongst the Caribbean population for the narco industry is morally highly offensive. "

A Whataboutistic reaction that follows could be, " What about the European nations, like England, France, Germany, Holland and Portugal who, during the 19th century, fought Opium Wars in China?"

With that remark, the discussion is deflected by something similar, or worse, true or made-up, but also quite wrong.

Politicians and their supporters who cannot answer for their crimes eagerly use Whataboutism, like, " Assad of Syria created a bloodbath in his country by killing at least 480,000 of his People." "And what about how the Israelis are treating the Palestinians?"

Whataboutism did not just spontaneously appear in public debate but was a technique designed by the KGB of the USSR during the Cold War. Russian diplomats were trained in the art.

Statements like "The Human rights records of the USSR under Khrushchev were abominable," were answered by the standard reaction, " What about the European settlers who killed all the American aboriginals, whom they called Indians? and what about all the killing of negroes by the KKK?" Or more contemporary, "Vladimir Putin is a former KGB officer?" "Well, what about George Bush senior who ran the CIA?" The Kremlin's useful idiots were to match every Soviet crime and immorality with a western one.

It was President Putin, a former KGB agent, who brought back the technique in many of his media interviews. Students use it often, and aggressively, in public debate, and the social media are full of Whataboutism postings. Whataboutistic arguments are deeply flawed arguments – but people believe them nonetheless.

Justifying morally abhorrent attitude and behavior with similar or even worst cases only creates a downspin into the abyss of total immorality. Crime cannot be judged by another crime.

The next trick in the textbook of rhetoric is, “Who are we to judge?” or, even more, aggressive, " Who are you to judge?" And if that also fails, someone, with the pretense of being deeply offended, will blurt out that it is "politically incorrect." All these tricks have but one objective, and that is to justify immorality with deflecting the attention and changing the topic.

Moral codes are most carefully formulated by a People and its culture with the greatest possible integrity, and chiseled in stone like King Hammurabi did, 1800 BC in his Mesopotamian empire. The Ten Commandments, Sharia, or Roman Law, are the measuring stick, we use to justify out attitude and behavior, not Whataboutism!

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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