logical fallacies fallacy

Whataboutism?

Whataboutism or whataboutery (as in "what about…?") denotes in a pejorative sense a procedure in which a critical question or argument is not answered or discussed, but retorted with a critical counter-question which expresses a counter-accusation.

Whataboutism or whataboutery (as in “what about…?”) denotes in a pejorative sense a procedure in which a critical question or argument is not answered or discussed, but retorted with a critical counter-question which expresses a counter-accusation. From a logical and argumentative point of view it is considered a variant of the Tu quoque pattern (Latin ‘you too’, term for a counter-accusation), which is a subtype of the Ad-hominem argument. (1,2,3,4)

The communication intent here is often to distract from the content of a topic (red herring). The goal may also be to question the justification for criticism, the legitimacy, integrity, and fairness of the critic, which can take on the character of discrediting the criticism, which may or may not be justified. Common accusations include double standards, and hypocrisy.

Whataboutism can also be used to relativize criticism of one’s own viewpoints or behaviours. (A: “Long-term unemployment often means poverty in Germany.” B: “And what about the starving in Africa and Asia?”). (5)

Accusing an interlocutor of whataboutism can also in itself be manipulative and serve the motive of discrediting, as critical talking points can be used selectively and purposefully even as the starting point of the conversation. The deviation from them can then be branded as whataboutism.

Related manipulation and propaganda techniques in the sense of rhetorical evasion of the topic are the change of topic and false balance (bothsidesism). (6)

Common phrases of whataboutism, besides the typical “And what about…?” are the proverbs “He who sits in glass houses should not throw stones”, “When you point a finger at others, three fingers point back at yourself”, “You see the mote in another’s eye, you do not see the beam in your own”, and “Sweep in front of your own door.” (7)

References

  1.  In Defense of (Some) Whataboutism, retrieved 24 June 2022
  2.  “whataboutism”Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, 2017, archived from the original on 9 March 2017, retrieved 21 July 2017Origin – 1990s: from the way in which counter-accusations may take the form of questions introduced by ‘What about —?’. … Also called whataboutery
  3.  Zimmer, Ben (9 June 2017). “The Roots of the ‘What About?’ Ploy”The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 22 July 2017“Whataboutism” is another name for the logical fallacy of “tu quoque” (Latin for “you also”), in which an accusation is met with a counter-accusation, pivoting away from the original criticism. The strategy has been a hallmark of Soviet and post-Soviet propaganda, and some commentators have accused President Donald Trump of mimicking Mr. Putin’s use of the technique.
  4. “whataboutism”Cambridge Dictionary
  5. Sophie Elmenthaler et al: A-Z: Whataboutism – Criticize me, I’ll just criticize you back. In: der Freitag. March 11, 2018, retrieved October 7, 2021 (list of examples, section Africa).
  6. “Looking at ‘Bothsidesing'”. Retrieved 11 March 2022.
  7. Kreitzer, Beth (7 January 2015). Luke. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-6480-5.