The misconception of defensive statements as proof of guilt
I recently encountered a (sub-)discussione that well illustrates a common misconception: That a defensive statement equals admission of guilt. (The main discussion circles around an anti-Islam academic, does not interest me, and seems to be the same old arguments from both sides.)
Consider the following statements:
I think its fair to say that if you have to end a sentence with “…this statement was not racist,” it was probably a racist sentence.
You communicate. They hear a racist idea. Either you are total crap at communicating or you were communicating a racist idea.
Then you attach, “…this statement was not racist.”
It can mean
1) You are incompetent. (Let’s assume that NYU doesn’t give PHDs to people who lack competence in communicating, although I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption.)
2) You are terribly racist.
As case has it, many people abuse the word “racism” to include things that are not racist out of ignorance, while others use it as a (deliberate) personal attack in order to discredit the speaker.
In my native Sweden, e.g., a minority of all uses of “racism” that I have seen the last few years have been justifiable.
In the US, in turn, there are nowadays cases when e.g. criticism directed at Obama or his policies is denounced as racist—despite the fact that Hillary would have been met with the same criticism. (Notwithstanding the possibility that a minority of the criticism does have a racist base.)
See e.g. http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50LanguageAndWriting/50Racism.html for more information.
Well, I always have doubts about the validity or authenticity of someone’s perspective when they are unnecessarily defensive. Think about it. The subject of race comes up in a conversation and the first thing someone says is “I don’t hate white people,” or “I have a black friend” (Just ONE black friend! Ha!).
If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to try to defend yourself. End of story.
What happens is simply something very different: There are great groups of people (including racists, anti-racists, Swedish leftist, and feminists) who often fail to argue their case by arguments, but instead tend to use personal attacks, undue generalizations, and distortions of their opponents opinions.
The result is that the opponent again and again sees himself confronted with the same, usually unfair, accusation of e.g. mansplaining. The case of racism is dealt with by the above link, but also in e.g. my discussion of Sverigedemokraterna—the core being that being a racist is not to be confused with (above) being anti-Islam(ism), anti-immigration, or justly criticizing an individual member of a minority on objective grounds. My article series on Unfair argumentation methods has some discussion of the more general topic of name calling instead of arguments.
Now, when again and again confronted with such accusations, it is only natural that one learns to expect them—and this is the reason behind such statements: Not knowledge that one is X, but knowledge that one regularly will be accused of being X.
The above tendency to name calling is sad enough, but the sickening part is that when someone either tries to preempt the unfair accusations or reacts negatively to them—then this is taken as further proof against him! In combination, these argumentless debate methods bring the opponents into a “damned if you do; damned if you do not” situation—either they remain silent and see themselves vilified through a misrepresentation of opinion; or they speak up and are vilified with the very fact that they spoke up as “proof”.
I note in conclusion that some of the most narrow-minded, intolerant, biased, and over-generalizing people I have encountered in the blogosphere and in Swedish politics have been self-declared anti-racists, anti-bigots, and similar—exactly those people who the most loudly complain about narrow-mindedness, intolerance, whatnot, in others.