Showing posts with label guilt by association. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guilt by association. Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Applying the Golden Rule After the Mob Attack

 I wanted to write about the attack on the Capitol building from the moment I heard about it but trying to write without either seeming to make excuses or judging rashly was difficult. Now that a couple of days have passed, I have a sense of what has been said and what needs to be said.

Before I begin, I need to make something clear about what this article is not. This is not an article about the mob attack itself. It has been accurately covered already. Nor is it an attempt to fact check the claims and counterclaims about it. There are fact checking sites that have the resources to do that better than I could hope to do. I also want to make clear that nothing I write is intended to be partisan. I might slip up and let some passion slip by my proofreading before I hit “post,” but I hope to avoid that as much as possible.

What I hope to do is to look at some of the troubling attitudes that have come out in the aftermath… attitudes I think are incompatible with our Catholic Faith. While we cannot help what others do, we have an obligation to act rightly in our approach to things. Part of this approach recognizes that the US Bishops universally—and rightly—condemned this attack. Because of that witness, as well as the Catholic teaching on civil authority, we cannot pretend support or attempt to justify what happened is compatible with our moral beliefs. Yes, we might fear what the next administration will do when it takes power. But we cannot choose an evil means to achieve an end we think good.

One serious problem is the fallacy of composition. This fallacy holds that whatever is true of an individual member of the group is true of the whole. So, if member X of a group is racist, the whole group is also considered to be racist. This fallacy is so widely held, that people fail to see it is a fallacy. 

The problem is this is also known as stereotyping. The fact that one member of a group has a certain trait does not automatically mean that every member of that group has that trait. Think of all the racist assumptions out there, like thinking all Muslims are terrorists, all Hispanics are illegal aliens, or all African Americans are felons. Most people today realize these are offensive assumptions. But it is the same error of reasoning.

We need to ask whether the group itself possesses the trait by nature or requires the trait for membership and, if so, whether the individual who holds to it is a stalwart or whether he or she was shortsighted or naïve about the trait or their membership in the group holding it. If the group itself, or the person within it, does not hold that trait, then we commit rash judgment if we assume guilt.

A sister fallacy is guilt by association, where a group or position is condemned because some unsavory people also held it or, more commonly, a facsimile of that position. No matter what political platform you hold to, there will always be extremists that also favor a position that you do. Do we resent being lumped into those groups ourselves? If so, we must avoid assuming the approval by an extremist automatically invalidates the position of others.

In other words, we have an obligation to learn if our assumptions are true before acting on them. If we do not, we are guilty of rash judgment at best and guilty of evil if our false assumptions harm another unjustly. If the reader immediately thinks, “Why should we show any sympathy to those racists?” then that reader is guilty of stereotyping. Why? Because it is assuming guilt without verifying it.

Remember this: Some groups do not require the trait they are stereotyped as holding, so it is unjust to assume they hold it by default. Other times, people might not hold the offensive trait of a group but are ignorant of it, or assume it is not serious and therefore inconsequential. Of course, those assumptions are false and can have dire consequences (for example, those people who did not recognize the danger of the Nazi party pre-1933 and supported Hitler as a lesser evil), and we need to disabuse them of their notions. But we need to remember that, in these polarized times, others are as distrustful of our views as we are of theirs. Instead of realizing we disagree over what is morally right, they think we knowingly support evil instead§.

Bringing them around to the truth in these circumstances is going to be difficult. But we need to avoid adding to the problem. Consider how the views you disagree with bother you… especially when your opponent tries to justify them to you. How do you feel when they start falsely accusing you of something you do not support? If you know they are wrong when they do so, then you know you must not treat them that way.

Finally, we must avoid hypocrisy. We must be consistent in applying our moral beliefs. In the period immediately following the attacks, both the political Left and Right pointed out the double standards of the other side in a way that could be summed up as: Why did you condemn these riots, but not those riots? Unfortunately, they committed the tu quoque fallacy in doing so, trying to deny the other’s outrage by pointing out their indifference to other examples. There was no self-examination of conscience as to whether our reaction to our own side’s wrongdoing was unjust or our condemnation of the other side was unjust. But unless we look at our own reactions and ask if we are playing the hypocrite, we will convince nobody to change. Everybody is skilled at pointing out the other side’s hypocrisy but terrible in spotting their own.

What this boils down to is The Golden Rule. No, we cannot let people in error remain in error. But in trying to correct others, we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us (which should be to act with justice and compassion). Would we get angry if our opponents used a certain tactic or an unjust accusation against us? If so, then we know we must not do this to others. We must make certain that the person we are debating is guilty of something before accusing him or her of holding it. And, if they are guilty, we must respond in a Christian manner regardless of how they treat us.

If we will not do this, we are behaving unjustly… regardless of which side we might think is worse.



(†) I do not say this to exclude or deny the morality of non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. Rather, I am a Catholic writing mainly to fellow Catholics. While I hope this article will be useful to them as well, I do use certain assumptions of Catholic belief by default.

(‡) In such cases, we would have to consider invincible vs vincible ignorance, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

(§) As an example. In 2016, I voted for the American Solidarity Party, because I thought both major party candidates were unfit for office. Members of both major parties attacked me for “supporting” the evils of the other side.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Guilt, Innocence, and Resentment

One thing that annoys people is being lumped into a group that they have nothing in common with and being lectured to as if they held the characteristic being condemned. It’s understandable because that kind of lecturing is part of the fallacy of composition(stereotyping) that runs along these lines: Person A holds an offensive trait. Person A belongs to group X. Therefore, Group X holds the offensive trait. Through that reasoning, Person B, who also belongs to Group X, is assumed to hold that offensive trait. The result is Person B begins to resent the accusation personally, and often discounts the offensiveness of that trait, thinking it is false or exaggerated universally.

The resentful response is understandable, but it is also dangerous. Even if Person B doesn’t hold that offensive trait, that doesn’t mean that the offensive trait doesn’t exist. So, if enough people think like Person B, then blindness to—or downplaying of—the evil emerges. From this reaction, we see the counterreaction that assumes that the whole group must be guilty and anyone who denies they hold that trait is either lying or in denial about their guilt.

This kind of thing becomes a vicious cycle, with people growing more entrenched in their views. Some people reach the point of denying or downplaying the guilt of those who are guilty. Others become bigoted against people in Group X, assuming the guilt is universal§. The result is the actual evil never gets corrected, and each time it comes up, mutual resentments prevent an effective response.

The obvious example of this is the recent killing of George Floyd. There is understandable anger over the behavior and mindset that led to his death. And there is understandable resentment over being accused of that behavior when one doesn’t hold it. But it’s not the only example. We’ve seen this happen in the clerical abuse scandal, and the debates over whether policies on illegal immigration are unjust. In all of them, the evil exists. But some portray the evil as a universal, and some of those who resent the universal accusation denying the existence or the extent of the evil. Because of these, factions become entrenched.

So, what are we to do? Obviously, the evil exists and has to be corrected. Those who resent being lumped in with the ones doing evil can’t deny that. At the same time, not everybody is guilty of that evil, and we must not use rhetoric that accuses everybody for the guilt of some. 

This is where we need to watch out for a second fallacy, the guilt by association fallacy. In this fallacy, the fact that somebody with somebody repugnant who holds a view makes the view itself evil. So, in modern times, the fact that radical movements oppose an evil is often used as a justification for rejecting the opposition of the evil, often confusing the end with the means. In our most recent crisis, some have used the fact that radical groups are violently demonstrating in the protests against racism as a reason to reject the protests themselves. That rejection does not logically follow. Likewise, the fact that anti-Catholics misuse the abuse scandals for their own purposes does not mean that anger over the actual scandals should be ignored. Just because racists make use of the concerns of illegal immigration does not mean there are no valid concerns.

The repugnance we feel against an evil does not excuse us from our moral obligation to speak truthfully and with charity. The anger we feel against being falsely accused does not excuse us from opposing the evil that the false accusation is based on. As Christians, we are not allowed to use calumny or rash judgment against our foes, and we are not allowed to turn a blind eye against evil either. This requires us to look at what is and respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, determining what is true doesn’t fit in well with the mob mentality of an enraged social media site. It’s easy to reject anything that doesn’t fit in with our preferred narrative. We call whatever goes against that narrative, “fake news.” And some of the news is fake. But not everything we dislike is fake, and not everything we like is true. To avoid calumny and rash judgment, we have to determine whether our accusations are just before we repeat them, and we have to make sure our apologetics are true before we share them.

I won’t say that’s all we have to do to solve our problems, because there’s a lot more to it than that. But I imagine if we were aware of this problem and did our best to avoid doing these things, perhaps we would be able to focus more effectively on the actual injustices that need solving.

But if we won’t individually look at our own responses here, we’re only adding to the problems.


(†) This shouldn’t be confused with the Guilt by Association Fallacy (I’ll get into that one later in the article). 

(§) Sometimes we see both sides turn this into “Instead of focusing on THIS, we need to focus on THAT,” where “this” is an issue they don’t care about and “that” is an issue they care about. However, both issues can be important.

(‡) One example is, Hitler used the German people’s desire for security and order (which are legitimate needs) to gain support for his evil plans. The fact that so many went along with that evil serves as a warning to look at the plans put forward. But his evil actions do not make the natural desire for security and order “Hitlerian” by nature.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tactics of Diversion

It’s long been a tactic of atheists and anti-Catholics to respond to an argument they can’t answer by pointing to some unrelated issue in which members of the Church have either caused harm by ignoring Church teaching through sins of commission or omission, or by actions that do not involve the teaching of the Church. If you’ve seen someone suddenly bring up Galileo, the Spanish Inquisition, or the abuse scandals when they have nothing to do with the topic discussed, you’ve seen the tactic. The unspoken assumption in this tactic is that as long as the Church has a case of some evil or bureaucratic insensitivity in her past, she is morally flawed and has no right to insist on anyone obeying her. Unfortunately, we are now seeing Catholics use this tactic in order to discredit the Church when she speaks out against something they support.

The problem is, if any group must be morally impeccable to be able to say “X is wrong,” than nobody can oppose anything because nobody [§] is morally impeccable. That means the critics of the Church can’t insist on a moral course of action either. For example, if this tactic was valid, Americans could not oppose ethnic violence in the world on grounds that we also have a history of it. Can you imagine a neo-Nazi smugly saying that Americans have no right to speak against the concentration camps because of our history of putting Native Americans into reservations? Under this tactic, we’d have to.

The tactic is not a valid argument. It merely tries to hide the truth the person or group makes in a moral objection by bringing up things—usually out of context—that makes the one objecting seem hypocritical. But the fact that a person or group may be acting hypocritically if they have no intention to correct a moral fault [#] while demanding others correct theirs, does not change the truth of the moral objection raised against wrongdoing.

This most recently arose when the US bishops responded to the spate of mass shootings that flared up over a 24 hour period. The bishops called on the nation to pass sensible laws and asked Trump to consider his past rhetoric. The social media responses (some of which are pictured in the top left of this post) are examples of this tactic. Because they did not like what the bishops had to say, they responded with tu quoque, ad hominem, guilt by association, straw men, and red herring fallacies to try to undermine the entirely valid response by the bishops. But those responses (largely falsehoods) do not disprove the truth of the bishops’ concerns.

Of course, it’s not just the political right and Trump. The political left on abortion, same sex “marriage,” and transgenderism use the same tactics, bringing up the sexual abuse cases and other shameful acts/omissions in the Church to discredit the current statements.

But whoever uses it, know that they don’t have a point. They are merely using a tactic of diversion. The people who use it are trying to get the attention off of an issue they might stand indicted under and shift it to an issue they feel safe about. While those who shepherd the Church should work to ensure the dioceses are free of evil, bringing up charges like this don’t actually disprove the truth of the bishops’ warnings.


[§] This statement does not deny the sinlessness of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course.

[#] A rash judgment. Yes, some in the Church have failed to guide the Church properly, or even fallen into corruption. But we can’t conclude from “some have not” that “all have deliberately refused to act.”

Monday, July 23, 2018

When Factionalism Drives Evaluation

The latest news cycle brought out reports of scandalous things inside and outside of the Church. And of course, when wrongdoing happens, we must strive to correct it in a way that not only reflects our belief in justice, but the Christian obligation of mercy as well. That’s always hard. When we sympathize with someone, we want the mercy done but not the justice. But when we dislike someone, we want the justice done, but not the mercy. This is, of course, a corrupt attitude to take.

Making it worse, there is a tendency among some to use a scandal to target people one dislikes. Take the recent Cardinal McCarrick scandal. There are credible charges against him which—barring any exonerating evidence unexpectedly appearing—must be addressed. But some Catholics are using the scandal to target other clergy which they dislike. It’s the “guilt by association” fallacy. The question asked is, “is it really possible that [disliked clergy member] could have been ignorant about this?”

It attempts to imply that because a disliked cardinal (for example, Wuerl, Farrell) knew or were friends with McCarrick, they must have known and were complicit in covering up the abuse. The problem is, most people who commit shameful crimes don’t boast about it. They keep it hidden. The victims also keep it hidden out of shame, humiliation, or feelings of guilt (I understand it is common for the innocent victims of rape or other sexual crimes feel guilt over what they suffered). So, yes, it is possible that his friends didn’t know. Association does not prove knowledge and coverup. That has to be proven. Repeating the insinuation without proof is at the very least rash judgment.

But it is interesting that the cardinals targeted in this way were already hated by certain factions. So the fact that members of these factions are also insinuating that complicity exists should be noted. There may be a bias that seeks to misuse a scandal for the purpose of discrediting someone unrelated. On the other hand, we can’t simply argue from the fact that the person is hostile that the accusation is automatically a lie either. What this means is, we can’t draw an accusation against someone simply because of their affiliation with someone who does wrong. 

If we want to do what is right and avoid either false accusations or letting the evildoers get away with their evil, we must evaluate accusations. Is there any basis to them? Would I be willing to tolerate an accusation of evil if it came from someone I opposed? Would I be willing to accept that accusation if directed against someone I supported? How one answers these questions may indicate a factional spirit instead of a desire for justice.

Acting rightly when it comes to accusations can be real struggle sometimes. For example, when the Fr. Maciel story broke, I remember thinking that the accusations sounded so extreme that they had to be a lie being made to attack the Church. I was dead wrong about that. I remember being angry at the news stories about certain bishops taking a stand against Church teaching—only to discover the stories were false and my anger was misplaced. We can be wrong about what another is capable or incapable of and we have to be careful not to let our assumptions get in the way of our seeking out what is true, whether that truth is guilt or exoneration.

Rash judgment and calumny are sins. If we repeat as true what we do not know to be true, it is rash judgment. If we repeat what we know is false as if it were true, we commit calumny. We must not commit either. Instead, we must seek out truth and apply justice with the mercy Our Lord requires of us. If we presume the person we oppose must be guilty or the person we support must be innocent and refuse to seek out the truth, we do wrong in the name of our ideology.