Beware the Personal Attack

August 5, 2009

If you find yourself discussing people on one side of the issue or the other you’re trapped in a fallacy of personal attack.  A fallacy is an error in reasoning.  The fallacy of personal attack, or name calling as we were taught in grade school, is a common diversion tactic people use to turn the attention away from the logic of the issue at hand.  

A recent examples of this fallacy was global warming believers labeled global warming skeptics as “deniers” and likened them to haulocaust deniers.  The intent is to keep people who don’t wish to dig into the details firmly planted on one side of the issue for fear of being pinned with the negative label.

Stealing from the global warming playbook , government health care supporters appear to be on this path as well by painting skeptics as loons.

Everyone is guilty of using personal attacks.  It’s a natural tendency and it’s so common that we often don’t recognize it when it’s happening.  

An effective way to deal with a personal attack and steer the conversation back to the topic is to:

1.  Recognize it as its happening.

2.  Identify it to others in the group.  “Well that’s a fine personal attack, but that’s not related to the topic at hand.”

3.  Steer the conversation back to the topic.  “Let’s table the discussion about the personal attack for now, right now we’re talking about [topic].  Whether I am or am not a [accusation of the personal attack] doesn’t effect whether this [topic] is right or wrong.”

On a subject like government run health care the conversation might look like this.  “Well that’s a fine personal attack, calling me a heartless soul.  Whether that’s true or not doesn’t change whether government run health care will achieve your results.   We can come back to the discussion on my soul later.  Now, I’d like to continue discussing why I don’t think government run health care will achieve your desired results and may even hurt the very people you wish to help.  Don’t you want to understand that reasoning?  What if I’m right?  Do you really want to do harm to the people you’re trying to help?”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: