Monday, January 16, 2012

"You wrote about X, so you don't care about Y"

I've a column in the Canberra Times today, 'Impossible vanity of caring for everything at once'.
I'm criticising what I've called the Fallacy of Inferred Insensitivity, which often looks like this: "You wrote about X, so you don't care about Y."  A sample:
In some cases, those who charge authors or speakers with indifference are correct. They accurately identify some moral blind spot, which is relevant to the case at hand but has been ignored or forgotten. In other words, they rightly recognise some bias. But in most cases, the critics are in no position to make this charge reasonably: even if they are right, they lack the evidence to establish this reasonably. They do not know the mercurial substance of another's mind. At best, they are guessing well. At worst, they are simply rehashing their own biases. 
Why is this important? Because in a shattered, painful world, genuine care and thoughtful criticism are in short supply. And life is short. To respond with the Fallacy of Inferred Insensitivity is to squander yet another opportunity to think, feel and perceive with sincerity and care. Better to properly address one thing at a time, than to lambast another for not vainly trying to address everything at once. 
This does not mean we cannot be systematic; cannot try to develop a ''big picture'' approach to the world. This is crucial to understanding and overcoming global problems. Rather, it means we must recognise human limits: others' and our own. And that this recognition is itself a way to promote something sadly lacking in political and moral debate: goodwill.
(Photo: Marshall McLuhan by Louis Forsdale, courtesy of the Library and Archives Canada)


Robert Anderson said...

I like the name of the fallacy. Seems to be to be another species of ad hominem/straw person to divert attention away from the claims made to the character of the person.

And the charge of character of the person is hypocrisy. ie., the fallacy unpacks fuller into
"You _say_ you care about X but you don't care about Y; and X and Y are really the same thing, (or at least are closely related in some respect), so you don't really care about X after all...ergo you are morally inconsistent, ergo you are hypocritical"

What do you think? (I have been thinking about this fallacy/tactic for a long time... one sees it everywhere)

Damon Young said...

Yes, I think it's often an ad hominem, and sometimes a charge of inauthenticity: "You preach X, but if you were authentic you'd preach Y too. But you don't, hence: you're an insincere bastard."

This is quite different to pointing out that someone's inconsistent, i.e. that if they believe X they ought to believe Y too.

Instead, it's an excuse to dismiss their ideas by casting doubt on their character.