Controversial Tuesday: Pathologizing Conflict

9 Oct

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:  who can know it?”

I have become fascinated with logic, as used in formal debates.  Blame the election year and the presidential debates!  Actually, I am always a bit this way, so it is not Romney’s and Obama’s fault (smile!).

I am especially interested in learning to see, from a mile away, when a logical fallacy is inserted into a debate.  Yesterday, I spoke of the strawman argument.  I will come back to that one again, I am sure.

Today I want to address the “ad hominem attack.”  This is the most common feature of our debates today, especially when they are presidential debates.  This is when we attack the man (or woman) instead of the argument.  It is, in effect, saying, “You are too dumb or uneducated or uncouth or unimportant for me to even pay attention to you.  I don’t care what you have to say because it all must be incorrect, just based on who you are.”

I want to hit one particular facet of ad hominem attacks, though, and that is our tendency nowadays to do what I call “pathologizing conflict.”  That is when we actually form our ad hominem attack into an accusation that the other person is somehow mentally unstable for saying what he or she is saying.  I hear this sort of ad hominem attack a lot nowadays.  I even heard it used against me yesterday.

Since we have, as a society, largely moved from a concept of sin to a concept of mental illness to explain every aberration of the human heart, we no longer accuse people of being wicked in their arguments.  We just accuse them of being mentally ill.  Nice!

Problem is, as the above verse says, we all have deceitful hearts.  Some of us are just more aware of that fact than others.

So, you can go either one way or the other.  Either you can assume that you are both equal opponents in a debate because you are equally handicapped by living in a sinful, fallen world or you can assume that you are both equal opponents in a debate because you are both able to choose Christ as the remedy for living in a sinful, fallen world.

All other things being equal, debates should not concern themselves with character after that has been settled.  Just look at the issues.  See which side you agree with, based on the issues alone.

My example from yesterday was at the intersection of the animal rights movement with the right of humans to be treated with dignity and respect.

I spoke up in my “naval officer voice” (it was on-line, but you know what I mean).  I don’t often use that voice (forceful).  I am so much more a person who tries to gently build consensus.  But some things are just wrong.

A friend had been questioned for taking her children to the circus.  Knowing that this particular friend, a military wife, had just moved cross-country with three children and is one of the hardest working mamas I know, raising and teaching her little ones, I knew that the trip to the circus was a much-needed respite for her and the kids.

She didn’t ask to be second-guessed about the circus.  She let people know she was going in a Facebook post.  She immediately got pushback from two people who turned out to be her aunt and cousin (mother and daughter).

I pointed out the inconsistency of honoring animals by dishonoring humans.  I didn’t go into the theology of the issue there, but God clearly gave the human race a mandate in Genesis to steward His creation, including the animals.  This means that He holds us responsible to do that correctly.

I understand that some circuses have mistreated some animals historically.  I also understand that some people disagree with animals being in captivity for any reason.  However, the fact remains that God created man as the crown of His creation and there is never a reason to treat man with disrespect (publicly questioning the choice of going to the circus) in order to respect the animals.  Man comes first.  Respect animals all you want, but never at the cost of human dignity.

That position was lost on the cousin, who privately (at least that part was good) suggested that my passionate stance on all of this meant that I “had issues.”

I just kept insisting that she didn’t need to disrespect her cousin by calling her out publicly.  When she asked me why I then answered her publicly, I told her that she had already made it a public issue that needed to be answered publicly.  She didn’t get that part either.

Ah, well, it is probably good to be rolled into an ad hominem attack every now and again.  Keeps us from getting cocky, doesn’t it?

Because our hearts are deceitful, too.

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