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Whataboutism - What is it?

Whataboutism - What is it anyway?

Have you ever heard of the so-called Whataboutism heard of him? Even if you haven't, you've definitely encountered it in your daily life, in the news, or on social media. Maybe you've even used it unconsciously yourself. It is, in short, a manipulation technique for unwelcome criticism that turns the focus elsewhere. As perfidious as it may be, you can quickly be caught off guard by it.

To counter such counter-arguments safely, I would like to give you everything you need to know about whataboutism in this article. You will learn the definition, examples and the best way to counter it.

Here is a short table of contents for you. Let's go!

  1. Meaning
  2. Examples
  3. Countering
  4. Closing words

What does whataboutism mean?

If you find the term Whataboutism ("what about...?" = "And what about...?") in a dictionary, it is usually translated as "Argumentation techniqueThe term "failure" is used to describe the reaction to a critical accusation about a failure with a reference to a grievance on the other side.

The aim of this argumentation technique it is quite easy to belittle the questioner or his argument, to take the wind out of his sails and at the same time to avoid the unpleasant answer.

Simplified: Your opponent tries to distract from your argument by using an unobjective and often personal counterargument that is taken out of context. It usually has nothing to do with the actual issue at hand, but presents your own argument as inconsistent, ridiculous, or hypocritical in the short term.

Digression: The rhetorical device of well poisoning (English equivalent: "Poisoning the well") is a similar technique in which someone presents hostile, distorted information about the opponent or the opponent's position on the debate in order to discredit, denigrate or ridicule the opponent in advance.

Examples of Whataboutism

Whataboutism - What is it?

In a discussion, people like to resort to whataboutism as soon as one no more logical arguments for his own position has ready. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. But if it is clear even before a discussion begins that there are no logical and morally defensible arguments for one's own position, then whataboutism is even used quite deliberately.

Here I would now like to present you some examples of whataboutism in everyday life and in politics.

In everyday life

We often encounter whataboutism when someone feels they need to be lectured or change something about themselves. Here are some examples of whataboutism that we may encounter regularly in our personal or professional lives:

"To reduce our CO2 emissions, we'd better shut down coal-fired power plants." (when it comes to the fact that the introduction of a speed limit could reduce the CO2 emissions of traffic).

"But vegans also fly on vacation." (when it comes to veganism being a very environmentally friendly lifestyle).

"And what about the left?" (when it comes to right-wing extremists being particularly prone to violence).

In politics

Whataboutism is also used quite obviously in political discussions, where people are observed by cameras and thus also millions of people. A master of deflection and "But what about..." counter-questioning is definitely Donald Trump. Here are two examples of whataboutism from politics:

"So many people are wondering why the attorney general's office or the special counsel isn't looking into the many crimes of Hillary Clinton or Comey. 33,000 emails deleted?" (Donald Trump (via Twitter) in response to the FBI's investigation into his Russia scandal)

"As long as these Greens are cutting down the rainforest for tofu sausages and avocado toast, they have no say at all in this country for our farmers." (Tilman Kuban (Junge Union) in his speech at the CDU party conference about the climate- and environment-friendly vegan diet)

"All we talk about all the time is meat, we should talk about heating and housing just as much!" (Christian Lindner (FDP) in a climate protection debate on the climate impact of animal foods)

Whataboutism countered, debunked and countered

Whataboutism - The best examples

Often, such an off-topic counterargument cannot be denied. Especially not if it corresponds to the truth. However, it is merely a bogus argument that is largely worthless in the context of the specific discussion and definitely not purposeful. Those who use whataboutism are usually not in a position to argue professionally. 

Therefore, I would like to give you some tips to unmask whataboutism and to be able to counter it.

  • It's not about perfection: Yes, there are other problems, but let's stay on topic for now. Also, make your counterpart aware that you can't do everything 100 percent perfectly, but you can still constantly improve.
  • "Why not?" counter question: Be aware that you are working for good in the world and that your conversation is about that one good thing. Don't allow the distraction by asking, for example, "Why shouldn't we implement the speed limit?" or "Shouldn't we implement the speed limit then more than ever?"
  • Logic & Facts: Try to counter whataboutism logically and fact-based. Because just because some vegans also fly by plane, that is not a logical reason for not living vegan and continuing to eat milk, meat and eggs. Food for which 74 billion animals are exploited and killed every year.₁
  • Ask questions to think about: If your counterpart is at a loss, it is not helpful to attack him. Rather, use the opportunity to ask a specific question to start a process of reflection in him: "Would you say that it is wrong to torture animals?" - If yes - "Then why are you paying for someone else to do it for you?"
  • Be an inspiration to others: Invite your counterpart to be a role model for other people and especially for your own children and grandchildren. And live out the desired values yourself. Don't point the finger at others, but rather show them how positive change works in practice. Because working together is always better than working against each other.

Those who resort to whataboutism agree with you

If someone once again obviously uses whataboutism, this is only a confirmation that your counterpart can no longer think of any logical arguments for his request. You yourself are thereby strengthened in your position and can use the respective moment to convince other people of your position.

I hope that I was able to give you an understanding of whataboutism, its peculiarities and how to deal with it in this article. Do you have any questions or suggestions? Then just write me a comment.

Stay curious,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: I myself always come across whataboutism when it comes to veganism. In the article Convince meat eatersI will give you some logical means to win others over to the side of justice, mercy and compassion towards other living beings.

₁ Things Explained - In Brief: Meat - The World's Tastiest Evil, YouTube, Jan. 24, 2019, web, May 07, 2020 at 10:50 a.m., in:

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Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

4 thoughts on “Whataboutism – Was ist das eigentlich?”

  1. Hello, a quite good and interesting contribution, but I make at present again and again the experience that justified counter-arguments are disqualified as Whataboutismus, in order not to have to react argumentatively to it. I.e. not the one who is accused of whataboutism has no good arguments, but the one who makes the accusation.
    This can also be observed in many of the evening talk shows on television, where this accusation comes very often.
    In the meantime, you have to be very careful and distinguish well: what is really "whataboutism" and where is the accusation merely brought to dicredit a discussant, because you yourself have no good arguments....

    1. Hello Robert! In any case, agree with you completely. But I think that you can notice real Whataboutism relatively quickly and accordingly expose the people who use it as an "argument".

      Many greetings

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