Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The misconception of defensive statements as proof of guilt

with 3 comments

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.

(Sheikh Jahbooty)

Easy logic.

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.

(My reply)

Faulty logic:

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.

(Lòt Poto-a)

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.


Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Excellent. Point taken. Ironically enough, I’m going to say this upfront: I am an anti-racist, anti-bigot who can’t STAND narrow-minded, intolerant people.

    Lòt Poto-a

    September 20, 2010 at 12:08 am

  2. Oh, I totally disagree re ‘mansplaining’ and other examples you give. There are classes of people who traditionally have systemic power, and use this power (for example, maleness) to validate themselves and their privileged positions. We use the term ‘mansplaining’ to point out when a man feels his argument bears more weight by virtue of being made by a man (it happens all. the. time.) We use the word ‘racism’ to describe a similar situation with regards to a discrepancy in power along ethnic/race lines. If you are a white male, I can see how it would be hard to understand, because it is exactly this privileged position which you yourself have an interest in protecting.


    September 29, 2010 at 12:34 am

    • Your comment seem to address a different topic than my post did, but for what it is worth:

      Your explanation of “mansplaining” points to exactly the erroneous assumptions I discuss in my article on that topic: It may be that some men have that feeling; however, in the clear majority of the cases I have so far encountered, the truth has been something completely different, namely that a woman jumps to a faulty conclusion because she is over-sensitive or assumes (before the fact) that the man is condescending, feels superior due to his maleness, or similar. Correct application of Hanlon’s Razor would remove the need for most claims about mansplaining. In addition, a very sizeable part is used as ad hominem attacks or is otherwise unjustified. Cf. the mansplaining article for more details. You may also want to have a look at my article on gender-glasses, which, in effect, discusses the principle that if one looks for something (in e.g. a text or a movie), one will usually find it—even when it is not actually there.

      Your definition of “mansplaining” is not the only one, BTW: The actual use does typically amount to “You talk down to me because I am a woman!”; however, the typical definitions I have seen (and what tends to be the answer when I confront someone about a use) is more along the lines of having a condescending attitude, explaining something to someone who (usually incorrectly…) feels that she knows better and does not need the explanation, or similar. Again, see the article on mansplaining.

      Your explanation of “racism” is simply incorrect and any use as a correspondent to “mansplaining” is illegitimate. See also my article on racism.

      Your final sentence, frankly, is factually incorrect, prejudiced, and unjust . Indeed, it could very well be seen as “reverse snobbery”’ or “reverse elitism”.


      September 29, 2010 at 1:18 am

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