Ad Hominem Absurdities

My colleague was telling me the other day of an instance when Obama came to the UK to give advice. Obama said, “if you leave the EU, you’ll be at the back of the line when you come to negotiate trade agreements.”

My colleague told me that we didn’t like what we heard. Not because of the information we were told: rather, we thought Obama had no right to get involved with British politics.

We didn’t see the information. We didn’t say, “okay, thanks for the feedback, I’ll see how this information fits into what I already know and see if I need to re-assess my decision making.” We reacted, saying, “who are you to tell us what to do?”

Obama is part of the other tribe. He’s not part of us, therefore he has no authority over us. Him even trying to tell us what to do is an insult to us.

It’s the same logic as football fans:  “you’re evil because you support x whereas I support y. Don’t even try to look at me because, although we both are fiercely passionate about the same thing, you’re not part of my group”.

Football fans are an example of when you take the Ad Hominem argument to attack groups rather than individuals. But it’s the same reaction: they’re not part of our tribe, so we attack them based on their lack of association with us rather than what they do.

And when you start seeing how this plays out in groups: when applying it to sales, we might glean an insight into another reason why Trump won. Trump is very good at targeting a market. You’ll notice Ivanka Trump has also picked up this ability. Ivanka is always talking about how she’s trying to represent womens rights: and although I would like to believe her, this is a a sound business market target as well. By making her ‘tribe’ women, she’s creating a very strong brand for half the population to associate with. And half of the population is a huge market to sell to.

Donald Trump did the same thing. While Hilary was busy alienating all the bigoted/racist people by calling them ‘deplorables’, Trump recognised that these ‘deplorables’ still had exactly power to sway the vote as other, more ‘upstanding citizens’. By giving some rhetoric that advocated a bigoted mindset, he created a tribe that included all those people. Suddenly his popularity rocketed. These people, plus the people who felt disenfranchised with politicians and their ability to positively impact their lives, were a huge influence for Trump’s success. Trump also gets double points for using tribalism as a tool to win popularity, because he gains the racist people’s votes by using their hate for other tribes: in the case, Mexicans, by blaming Mexicans for all their shared shortcomings.

Although, at times, watching this kind of behaviour makes me lose a tiny bit of faith in humanity, to isolate myself from it and to say “humans are idiots” would be the highest form of hypocrisy. I would be making the rest of humanity the ‘other tribe’ and then be carrying out the same behaviour I condemn so much. Sometimes all we can do is to take a big breath, go to sleep, wake up the next day, and try again to work together so that we can move ourselves forwards and create a better future for ourselves.