Monday, March 9, 2015

Big Fat Fallacies: Argument Against the Person

See the introduction to this series and an index of posts HERE.

Argument Against the Person/Personal Attack (argumentum ad hominem)

This is a distraction fallacy, where instead of addressing the argument itself, a person attacks the arguer and claims that their personal attributes devalue the argument that they are making.

  • "Of course you claim to support FA.  You're fat and just want an excuse to not exercise!" 
  • "You bleeding-heart liberals don't think anyone should take personal responsibility." 
  • "Why should I believe anyone who dresses like you do?"
Dissecting the Fallacy

The entire point of an ad hominem attack is to put you in a position to defend yourself or the person you are citing, rather than the facts or argument.  It is a distraction.  It is also why HAES and FA books written by thin people are much more likely to find a mainstream publisher and audience.

It is important, however to separate an ad hominem from the question of whether a person is making a statement from financial or personal bias.  If someone is paid to testify that XX weight-loss drug works, you can reasonably assess whether or not the money they have received influenced them to testify or not.  If a conservative think-tank releases a report stating that the children of gay parents are more likely to join Satanic cults as adults, it is reasonable to view their conclusions with skepticism. 

Deciding What to Do

It is important to remember that existing in a fat body makes you an expert on what it is like to exist in your fat body, its capabilities, and its limitations.  No person outside your body has access to that information.  Attempting to "inform" you about your own body is arrogant, privileged, and bullying.  At the very least it exhibits extremely poor boundaries. 

Probably the most effective method to attack this fallacy is to simply decide to not let the other person frame the discussion.  They are trying to make it about you, and you can insist on refusing to derail by being dismissive of the ad hominem or ignoring it altogether.  Your message needs to be that whatever they say in the attack is simply not relevant and possibly too ridiculous to even respond to.  Don't get sucked into their frame. 

  • "My weight is irrelevant because I was not a subject in this study.  What they found was....."
  •  "Here is the argument the author is making..."
  • "Let me explain my point a little more clearly/give an example..."
Of course an ad hominem is absolutely a personal attack, and you are never required to try and educate another person.  Walking away from the discussion is absolutely an option once it has devolved to attacks, as is blocking or reporting them on social media.  

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