Not An Argument: Using Labels to Attack Individuals and Their Character

“I’m not racist, but…”

How many times during an argument have you heard or said the above statement, with a subsequent comment that may come across as edgy or possibly prejudice, if, the aforementioned quote was not used as a prefix?

Now, why do people feel the need say it? They say it for fear of being branded and being shunned by others. They have a view that they feel strongly enough to voice, but worry that some people may find it unacceptable. So they try and soften the hammer blow with:


“I’m not *insert word that highlights you are not something that someone will immediately assume you are without this comment*, but…”

 

Now as a teenager, whenever I heard of someone being called racist, it was a very serious accusation. The individual must be a very hateful and evil person, for someone to brand them with such a negative label. As I grew, the same went for other negative labels: Sexist, Nazi, Homophobic. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

In more recent years, especially in the past 2 or 3, the use of these labels by governments, the media, social media platforms and the general public, has reached a hysterical level. It has reached such a point, that the labels are thrown about and used almost as commonly as swear words or exclamations to a heavenly figure.

Branding someone as intolerant, towards a certain group of people, has been used to great effect in the world of politics. A politician who is shown to be racist or sexist, will be far less attractive to the public to cast their votes for. Once the media and mainstream newspapers jumped on the band wagon, it became a very powerful tool to topple political enemies.

The longer this approach has gone on, the more it has been used as a tactic in general debates or arguments to shut down the opposition. There is just one problem with this tactic. To quote one of my favourite speakers Stefan Molyneux: “It’s not an argument”.

If you find yourself in a debate or a discussion and you then resort to claiming or stating that someone is intolerant of someone or a group of people, you have lost the argument. If that is your best strategy to try and make your point heard, your opponent has won.

When have you ever been in a situation where you have been silenced (whether it be a parent, friend, teacher etc.) for expressing a point of view? And after being silenced in this situation, when have you suddenly adopt the opposite opinion to which you held prior to being silenced? It doesn’t happen. Shutting someone down does not change their opinion. Calling someone a racist does not change the view they have. You may not agree with their point of view, but by labelling them as intolerant, not only will it fail to alter that persons stance. It will likely entrench their point of view.

This was highlighted clearer than ever, during two political events: “Brexit” and the US election.

 

Brexit

“Brexit” was a very strange campaign. There never seemed to be a clear argument about why Britain should, or should not be in the European Union. What became obvious was, two specific tactics had been adopted by Remain side. The first tactic, was a tactic of fear: If Britain votes to leave the EU, there will be a financial meltdown. In a sentence, the country would be far less economically stable, than if it remained.

The second tactic used, which could be argued, was an extension of the first. Many leave voters were being targeted as  racist. If you wanted to leave EU, you wanted to do it because you were racist. Europe was and still is receiving an enormous influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. For many people, this was a big concern and a deciding factor to vote to leave the EU. If Britain leaves the EU, it can “protect its borders”. Whether you agree or disagree with this statement, it prompted an enormous backlash among remain voters.

What was fascinating about Brexit, was that the decision had seemed to have already been made before the voters went to the voting booths. There was no last minute sell off on the stock market. The result in of itself was a shock to many people. None more so, that David Cameron, the then Prime Minister. Who resigned a short time later as a result. In my opinion, he called the referendum in the belief that the result was a foregone conclusion. The people of Britain would vote to remain in Europe and he could then say to the country that he had given them the chance to vote on this matter once and for all and the decision had been made and set in stone. They could then go back to debating about more important things. Unfortunately, we still don’t actually know what Brexit will actually mean for the UK.

 

US 2016 Election

As is always the case in US election campaigns, the process starts months if not years, prior to the date of voting. You have the event of choosing the Democrat and Republican nominees who will then go on to bid to become president. It became clear very quickly that the Democratic nominee would be Clinton or Sanders.

The Republican candidate was less obvious. However, as is becoming increasingly common in politics, the unexpected candidate came through. Donald Trump won the nomination. When he won, it was both a shock (from the mainstream media and the Republican Party) and quiet celebration from the Democratic Party. Surely this meant Clinton would win. This was her year.

What ensued, was one one the craziest election campaigns in history. It could be argued that there were very few topics that were actually debated about during the campaign. This was evident on both sides of the political spectrum. What seemed to be the preferred tactic was insults and slander. Oh and Russia.

I then noticed a repeat of what when on during Brexit. The labelling started again. If you were voting for Trump, you were; a racist, a Nazi, a sexist. Or in the words of Clinton: “A basket of deplorables”.

Now I’m not here to give a summary of the election campaign, but the result shocked everyone who expected Clinton to win. At one point, she was given a 98.1% chance of winning. Again, like in Brexit, the result had been decided before it took place. The result that followed, left people dumbfounded and in some cases, literally screaming in the streets. Trump winning was branded by many media outlets as a win for racism, Nazis and for sexism.

This was exactly why Trump won. Labelling. It wasn’t because he was a better candidate, or because he had better policies. People were and are sick of being labelled for having an opinion. For being shut down for having a point of view that doesn’t fit with the established media outlets and political elites. It became utterly exhausting.

People grew so sick of this, that they waited until they reached the voting booth to declare their champion. No one could know who they voted for and no one could stand over their shoulder and label them for voting for the wrong person.

What has come out of Brexit and the 2016 Election is this: The losing side hasn’t learned anything. They continue to attempt to silence their opposition through labelling and slander. The art of debate has been lost in society and it is so sad and frustrating to see. We see this time and time again 2 years after these event took place.

If you voted for Trump, you were “literally Hitler”. What kind of a message does that send to people? “If you disagree with me, you are as bad as the man who was responsible for the genocide of a religious group of people”. How will that statement, possibly make someone agree with you? It doesn’t. It does the opposite.

When you favour shutting someone down and labelling them, instead of engaging in a debate. You have lost. You don’t have an argument. You will never change someone’s opinion on an issue and you will never gain their respect if you continue to attack them on a personal basis, instead of reaching out and trying to show them your opinion through an intellectual avenue. Until people realise this and until people start learning to argue properly again, these “shock” results will continue to take place.