Raking Away the Muck of Modern Argumentation

The ad hominem is one of the oldest fallacies in use, perhaps because of its deft effectiveness. Records of ad hominem attacks stretch as far back as the writings of Plato, when argumentation and philosophy was in its infancy. An excellent example is the Apology of Socrates. However, these attacks, although quite entertaining and sometimes quite creative, fail to address the very real and pertinent problems of the day, causing uninformed citizens who are ineffectual when defending their positions from a logical or factual perspective. The detrimental conclusion of this scenario is the overreach of government and the loss of freedom.

A country simply cannot adapt efficiently when a misinformed citizenry cannot challenge accepted cultural norms and prevailing modes of thought. Many of America’s most iconic heroes were those who challenged the status quo to rectify societal injustice, and the gratitude for their contributions and leadership are still voiced today. Without Martin Luther King valiantly leading the peaceful charge for civil rights, racial segregation could have lasted much longer, and without Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and others, northern slavery abolition would not have occurred as early as it did. It is these people, and the many others like them, who have led radically important change through speaking candidly about the issues.

Martin Luther King rarely ever insulted anyone in his speeches. Instead, he held the dignity of a true rhetorician and consistently attacked the arguments of slavery while fostering a vision of hope, equality, and the American Dream. If anything, Martin Luther King represented an ideal in rhetoric that, when properly implemented, can cause a whole society to think, and this thinking, used in a positive scope, can truly bring about lasting change.

This brings us to the modern media and politicians. During one of the last Republican Primary debates, the moderator asked the candidates, in all seriousness and candidness, whether Donald Trump personified a comic book villain. All the candidates unified together that night and with close to one unified voice proclaimed that things had gotten out of hand. The nature of the questions, they argued, were of no substance; they were not issue centered and played a game of “gotcha” with the candidates.

However, this one blazing moment of sanity in the presidential campaign was ephemeral, as the candidates, and the media, continued to belittle each other and say the next controversial statement that made their opponents into funhouse mirror reflections of themselves. But what did this accomplish? Did Ted Cruz look smarter? Did the intellectual prowess of Rand Paul win many supporters? Do we remember Jeb Bush for his arguments or because he is “that establishment guy who ran for President?” Most people, when asked, could not even cite evidence for their beliefs regarding their strong negative feelings about Donald Trump. However, millions of people voted against this pragmatic president in favor of a communist, North American Union supporter, who is assuredly a racist.

This goes to show that ad hominems are not only dangerous, but can lead people to do things against their best interest. It is interesting how the Bible expressly commands Christians to tear down arguments and honor people. The Apostle Paul wrote that he destroyed arguments that came against the knowledge of God, and the Apostle Peter wrote that Christians must always be ready to defend Christianity. At the same time, Peter wrote that Christians must honor all people. This form of argumentation was similar to that of the Founding Fathers in the Federalist Papers and of Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement, both of which led to national, positive change.

Perhaps if argumentation took the Biblical model as opposed to the bashful, braggadocious ad hominem model, people would be better informed and vote in a manner that will improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors. This would create a better society, a more productive society, and a more adaptive society where issues are at the forefront of conversation and salient solutions can buoy their way to the surface.

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