Over the last few years I've written numerous articles decrying the appalling decline in the standard of political debate and outlining many of the most commonly occurring bits of fallacious political reasoning, but few things are as annoying as the increasingly common smearing for sympathy tactic.
The smearing for sympathy tactic relies on a combination of a number of unseemly attitudes and debating techniques.
The first step in the smearing for sympathy strategy is to straw man the debating opponent by misrepresenting their actual views by falsely attributing insulting comments or attitudes to them. Making up generalisations about people on their own side of the debate and ascribing these views to their opponent is a particularly common approach.
The second step is to fish for sympathy using the so-called abusive/insulting generalisation that they just invented as bait. "Look at how the other side abuse and insult our side" they can cry, safe in the knowledge that few or any of the people they're trying to manipulate will actually go back to the source material to check that the insulting generalisation was actually even made.
This smearing for sympathy tactic isn't just appalling because it's fundamentally reliant upon dishonest straw man misrepresentations of what has actually been said, it's also incredibly distasteful because it feeds into and nourishes people's unhealthy victim complex mentalities.
In some people's minds it's completely justifiable to just make up a deliberately weak straw man debating position for the person they don't like, then attack that instead of addressing any of the things that were actually said.
People have been straw man misrepresenting my views for years in desperate attempts to undermine my work, but ever since the EU referendum debate kicked off, the volume of these straw man attacks has increased dramatically.
The essence of these smearing for sympathy attacks from Brexiters is always the same. The Brexiter accuses me of generalising about all Brexiters without presenting any evidence whatever that I have actually generalised (I always try to avoid relying on generalisations in my work), then they cry for sympathy claiming that it's unfair that they have to put up with such abuse.
Here's a real example from the Another Angry Voice Facebook page.
In response to a question about who the public should believe when there are so many lying politicians about, I suggested that people should "listen to the experts rather than to the most loudmouthed of the lying self-serving political class" and posted a link to an article I wrote about Michael Gove's absurd pre-Brexit suggestion that people should discount expert opinion because in Britain "we've had enough of experts" as a counter-point.
At no point did I state (or even imply) that all of the experts were on one side of the debate, nor did I claim that all of the loudmouthed lying self-serving politicians were on the other side of the debate, but this is how how a furious Brexiter responded:
"You can't resist the cheap shots AAV. Ideology too much so you go ad hominem ... I'm sick of the lazy stereotyping of all people who voted leave."The guy tried to make himself appear intelligent by using the term "ad hominem" but he didn't even vaguely attempt to justify the accusation. There's clearly no personal attack in criticising a politician for the words that they actually said. The accusation of personal abuse was clearly plucked out of nowhere and entirely unsubstantiated.
Then he accused me of lazily stereotyping "all people who voted leave" without presenting a single example of me actually doing that. Here's a link to the article I posted. Feel free to read through it and check that it contains not a single generalisation about "all Brexiters".
When asked for a single quote of me generalising about "all people who voted leave" the guy refused to substantiate his assertion and instead went off on a rant about how I don't respect my readers.
I do respect most of my readers, but I definitely refuse to respect those who falsely misrepresent my views in order to play the victim and cry for sympathy, especially if they refuse to either substantiate their assertions (which they can't) or apologise (which they won't) even when directly challenged to. I don't respect them at all. In fact I'll openly state that they're cowards and I'd rather they stopped following my page.
Before the EU referendum debate the smearing for sympathy tactic was most commonly seen from UKIP supporters. I'm pretty sure most people have had the experience of reading a political thread about immigration or the EU and coming across a comment from a 'Kipper decrying the way that it's unfair that their concerns about immigration are being unfairly dismissed as racism, then thinking "hang on a sec, this guy is the first person on the whole damned thread to even mention racism".
This "they called me racist" card is another example of the smearing for sympathy tactic. It's incredibly effective because it creates an intense sense of injustice. Of course it's wrong to dismiss legitimate concerns about immigration as racism. It's not racist to think that perhaps the all time record highs in net migration (that happened under Theresa May's watch at the Home Office) that coincided with an appalling slump in housebuilding (one of David Cameron's most disgraceful legacies) is likely to make the house price inflation problem even worse, so to dismiss a fact based concern like that as "racism" would be appalling.
The problem is that an awful lot of 'Kippers like to misrepresent any criticism of their party as "they called me a racist" because fishing for sympathy with blatant misrepresentations is a hell of a lot easier than actually addressing and refuting concerns about UKIP, their dodgy donors, their appalling track record of laziness and hypocrisy in the European Parliament, their collection of failed, disgraced and defected Tories, their dangerous anti-refugee fearmongering, their disgraceful political opportunism, their alliances with extremist parties in Europe in order to secure £millions in EU funding for their party, their leaflets full of disgraceful lies, and their hard-right Thatcherism on steroids agenda.
The 'Kipper victim complex is a disgusting thing to behold. The mentality that wealthy, white men are the most discriminated against in the UK is utterly appalling, as is the incredibly common tactic of dismissing any criticism of their party (no matter how fact-based) as "they called me a racist"*.
The Anyone But Corbyn coup
It's not just Brexiters and 'Kippers who resort to smearing for sympathy. A significant number of people who support the Anyone But Corbyn coup have taken to misrepresenting my articles on the subject as doing nothing more than calling anyone who is opposed to Jeremy Corbyn "Blairites".
It's absolutely undeniable that the pre-planned anti-Corbyn coup plot was drawn up by the right-wing of the Labour Party, and it's also undeniable that every single Blairite in the Labour Party is lining up in support of the Anyone But Corbyn candidate Owen Smith, but this doesn't mean that everyone who participated in the coup or has voted for Owen Smith is a Blairite.
Some of the MPs who tried to oust Corbyn clearly caved in to peer pressure, or got leaned on by more experienced parliamentary colleagues. The Blairites decided to use the biggest Tory cock-up in decades as an excuse to launch a coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn, but many of the Labour MPs who went along with it clearly just got caught up in the moment and went along with the tide rather than stopping to think about whether spurning the best opportunity in decades to kick the Tories in order to launch an internal attack on their own party leader was such a great idea.
The same goes for Owen Smith supporters within the party membership. It's undeniable that all of the self-serving Blairites and their cheerleaders have lined up behind him, but others are entitled to their view that he's more "electable" than Jeremy Corbyn. I'd beg to differ on the grounds that he's incredibly gaffe-prone, blatantly insincere and backed by appalling bunch of the worst New Labour types like John McTernan, Tristram Hunt and Ed Balls. If Smith wins and fills his inner circle with people like that, Labour are absolutely doomed.
You don't have to be a Blairite to be delusional, but you do have to be delusional to be a Blairite.
It suits the Anyone But Corbyn narrative to misrepresent any criticism of the coup-plotters, Owen Smith or the shockingly anti-democratic behaviour of the Labour Party elitists as "They called us Blairites" because it deflects from the actual criticisms and fosters a sense of victimhood.
It's no surprise that many Anyone But Corbyn supporters are prone to these smearing for sympathy tactics given the atrocious behaviour of numerous Labour MPs like Angela Eagle and her fabricated evidence of abuse and Tom Blenkinsop's disgraceful cry-bully Twitter tantrum. If the elitist managerial class they want to see re-establish control over the party are using these tactics, it's no wonder that ordinary members imitate them.
Now that I've detailed the smearing for sympathy tactic you can keep an eye out for it. If you see anyone fishing for sympathy it's important to consider the source material and whether these people were actually insulted, generalised about, called a racist or a Blairite, or if they just made it up to fish for sympathy.
When you spot someone using the smearing for sympathy strategy, the next step is to consider their motivations. Either they were well aware that they've misrepresented the material they were responding to in order to fish for sympathy or they were unaware that they've misrepresented what was actually said.
If they are unaware that their counter argument bears no relation to the material they're responding to, that indicates that they're so immersed in their own sense of victimhood and so tragically lacking in comprehension skills that they were incapable of following what was actually said, and simply fell back on regurgitating the same defensive points they've seen other people use, irregardless of the fact they're not applicable.
It's fruitless to get angry that some people are simply not intelligent enough to understand that their counter arguments rely on misrepresentations and fallacious reasoning, but when people use smearing for sympathy tactics deliberately it's a completely different matter.
When people know that using misrepresentations and unsubstantiated assertions are bad faith debating tactics but choose to use them anyway, they're demonstrating that they are a fundamentally dishonest and manipulative person.
The next time you come across someone using the smearing for sympathy tactic, it's worth considering whether they're an appallingly dishonest person who is doing it deliberately, or if they're simply not smart enough to know any better.
Feel free to link to this article when you catch people out for using the smearing for sympathy tactic.
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* = Given that the "they called me racist" card is invariably presented with no evidence that they were actually called a racist, and definitely no evidence of what their supposedly "legitimate concern" about immigration or the EU was, it could be fair to consider the possibility that if they're not just making the whole thing up to fish for sympathy, and loads of people have actually been calling them racist, that they could actually be a racist who got called a racist because they were saying racist things.