“What About The What-About?” — The Worst Debate-Baiting Ever


Every time I’ve expressed a pretty clear opinion, someone always asks, “What about ___?  What about ___?  And what about ___?” 

Of course, it’s absolutely necessary to ask questions in discourse.  We need open dialogue and hearty discussion, and it’s okay to disagree.

But missing a “what-about” doesn’t mean I suddenly endorse the opposite of what I missed.  Because I’m human, and I miss certain angles, and I’m not always balancing my opinion with a billion different nuances — I am bound to leave cracks in opinions. 

We are way too quick to demonize each other on these openings, and you see it happen in the blogosphere like we’re just waiting for a lame duck to attack.  I wish I could address every single exception, and maybe we should try it, but to strive for an economy of words while balancing them is always an uphill task.  We could offer a bit of grace here.

If I say, “Love everyone” and you say “What about the Nazis?” — I’m not endorsing Hitler and eugenics and White Power.

If I say, “Have grace and be patient” and you say “What about my drug-addicted wife-beating money-stealing friend?” — I’m not endorsing heroin or spousal abuse or bank robbers.

If I say, “Don’t be a religious overbearing guilt-tripper” and you say “What about some grace for those guilt-trippers?” — then please know that I include myself in what I’m saying, and I’m not above my own criticism.

All this is the worst sort of logical fallacy that wouldn’t hold up with a college freshman in Intro to Law.  It’s a bizarre straw-man that makes us look tough by beating up a cartoon.

Can we maybe stop forcing words into other peoples’ mouths?  I regret doing this too.  It’s a misquoting massacre.  There are so many times someone misunderstands me and I want to get snarky and yell, “Yeah that’s what I was trying to say.  You totally figured me out, champ!  You showed me.”  But I just get sad about the whole thing.

Even if it sounds like you or I are making an implication: a slippery slope is not a cliff, and making arguments out of implications is the behavior of young children in a playground.  Dialogue is for grown-ups.  I’m terrible at this sometimes, but that’s exactly why we need grace.

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