Pointing Is Not Thinking
For those of us in the political and cultural middle, we are continuously confronted with whataboutism. The right points to the left’s transgressions to justify their own bad actions. The left minimizes the importance of their lies by asking why it’s ok for the right to lie but not them (hint: it’s not).
It’s lowest common denominator thinking. It’s intellectually lazy and shallow. It’s child-level reasoning. It’s everywhere and it’s exhausting.
Unfortunately, both sides of the political and cultural wars now accept this moral relativity as solid reasoning and justification for views and actions. It allows them to not have to fully think through and support their own beliefs. They can just point to why the other side is wrong and that’s sufficient. They’re my enemies and they’re wrong, so that means I’m right. /brainoff
One of the odious results is that the true believers on each side often don’t really know what they believe, just that the other side’s beliefs are wrong. When in discussion with someone questioning the reasons for their views, they often can’t really elaborate clear underpinnings for why they believe what they do. Anyone that has spent more than five minutes discussing politics with a true believer has experienced frustration of whataboutism:
The “Russia hoax” justifies unsupported claims of election fraud. They voted for a terrible human being, so me labeling them all as racists and fascists is ok.
It’s as if they’re in a perpetual voting booth, continuously in a state of voting against those they disagree with. Grow up, please.
Of course, there are people on both sides that are thoughtful and have taken the time and effort to build the intellectual and moral foundations for their beliefs. They’re just hard to find because cable news won’t feature them. They’re usually writing behind paywalls or opining on obscure podcasts. Also, if they are truly thoughtful enough to fully examine their own beliefs, they’re often part of the Exhausted Middle and not on the front lines of the culture wars. Introspection is often the antidote for zealotry.
So what to do about whataboutism? I don’t have a good answer, honestly. My only advice is to call it out when you encounter it and make sure the whatabouter(s) know that you do not accept that as credible substantiation of their point. If you’re especially grumpy that day, tell the whatabouter(s) that they’re being intellectually lazy and/or child-like. The goal is to force them to realize they don’t know why they believe what they believe so maybe they’ll be more open to performing that examination.
Until then, we’ll just sit here and watch them point at each other while they lob bombs at each other us that live in political and cultural flyover country.