An ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected based on some irrelevant fact about the person making the claim or argument. The demonic version of this fallacy involves two steps, the first of which distinguishes the demonic from the normal ad hominem.
First, the target of the ad hominem is demonized. As noted in the previous essay on the subject, demonizing is portraying the target as evil, corrupt, dangerous or threatening. This can be done in the usual three ways: selective demonizing, hyperbolic demonizing or fictional demonizing. Selective demonizing is when some true negative fact about the target is focused on to the exclusion of other facts about the target. Hyperbolic demonizing involves greatly exaggerating a negative fact about the target. Fictional demonizing is simply lying about the target. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument in question.
The demonic ad hominem has the following form:
Premise 1. Person A makes claim X.
Premise 2. Person B demonizes person A.
Conclusion: Therefore, A’s claim is false (or A’s argument fails).
The reason why the demonic ad hominem is a fallacy is that demonizing a person has no bearing on the truth of a claim or the quality of an argument. In addition to the logical error, a demonic ad hominem also suffers from the fact that demonizing, by definition, involves deception. At the very least, demonizing involves taking facts out of context and often involves outright falsehoods.
A demonic ad hominem can have considerable psychological force since demonizing typically goes beyond the usual attacks in a non-demonic ad hominem and thus can trigger strong emotions. A common tactic is to demonize the target using stereotypes the audience already accepts and by appealing to their biases, fears and prejudices. Such an audience will be inclined to accept the demonization as true and their emotional response can lead them to accept the fallacious reasoning.
There are two main defenses against demonizing. One is to be aware of the ad hominem aspect of the fallacy. Even if the demonizing claims were true, the reasoning would still be flawed: true but irrelevant negative claims about a person, no matter how terrible, do not disprove a claim or argument. The other is to be critical about negative claims and only accept them if they are adequately supported by evidence.
Some of Trump’s defenders have used this fallacy to attack the Democrats in congress and those testifying before them. For example, when Lt. Colonel Vindman testified, he was demonized with assertions of dual loyalty and some even seemed to go so far as to cast him as a spy. The intent was to discredit his claims by lying about him. As another example, some of my Trump supporting friends on Facebook posted images featuring the false claim Schiff used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment case involving a 19-year old man. The intent was that Schiff’s claims and arguments should be dismissed because of this (false) claim. While some people do believe these sorts of claims, even those who do not can be influenced by them when they are repeated often enough. Laying aside the matter of logic, there is also the moral concern about such attacks and the damage they can do. Those who get demonized all too often become targets of harassment and even death threats. There is also the interesting point that if Trump is truly in the right and should no be impeached, then the truth should suffice. It must be noted that the use of these tactics does not prove that Trump is guilty of impeachable offenses, but it does suggest that he does not have the truth on his side.
For your general proposition. I question your condition of “selective”. All statements about people are selective. “My client is a well respected community leader, an honored veteran and patriot, a lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker, a benign employer, a lover of dogs, a vegetarian, who has contributed much to our country’s recovery and to national spirit. Speaking ill of him for his removal of 6 million subhumans who were dragging the country down is selective demonisation.”
Exactly what criteria can be defined to provide a reliable version of “selective”? Without that, your subdivision fails.
Apart from that weakness in method, the obvious response to this essay is to note that the current major victim of demonisation in the USA is Donald Trump. and then the people associated with his administration.
Michael LaBossiere says
True, one generally cannot present the entirety of a person in one statement. While an exact line cannot be drawn between the selective and the non-selective, we can generally sort out when the focus unfairly excludes relevant facts. For example, imagine if someone focused entirely on one lie you told once and ignored your generally honesty so they could cast you as a liar. That would be a clear example of being far too selective. As another example, imagine if someone focused on a time I lost my temper and cast me as a hot head, despite the fact that I am generally extremely calm. That would be too selective.
It belatedly occurs to me that the current Democratic party’s best and most representative possible presidential candidate is another victim of selective demonisation.
Who better to represent the current Democratic party than a gay black man (pity he’s not a woman, but nobody’s perfect) with a spotless record, well known for his talent and charisma, who has been selectively demonised for a single incident of alleged – not proven! – lack of candour in his raising awareness of the evil of white supremacy. He embodies the true spirit of the modern intersectional Left. I nominate for the Democratic candidate – Jussie Smollett!!
Sorry, Mike, but you truly have reached this level of disconnectedness from reality. Of course, witnesses perceived as partisan to one side or another in a dispute will each have a side highlighting their credibility strengths and weaknesses. Of the apparatchiks, it can always be said that on one hand, they have the most immediate and long-term experience with the matters of their area; on the other, it can be said that they have an overly self-important view of their aganda. And each will have personal strengths and weaknesses as well. I see the Freepers on one hand, and the Kossacks on the other, emphasising both. If you want to call lies, you really need to read ALL the comments on BOTH sides. Truth is no doubt to be found there, but validating it is not trivial.
I see Maureen Dowd’s brother has his annual guest column in the NYT today. I find the comments interesting.