Something I’ve encountered recently in discussions pointless arguments with people is what I like to call rhetorical hostage taking. Or, better aptly put, rhetorical human shields.
This is when you make an argument and instead of responding to the argument you made they make it personal. Even worse, they make it personal about someone else. Most likely it’s either someone you both know or someone they are willing to white knight for.
The idea behind this is that by making it about a person rather than a truth or fact it puts you in an impossible position.
Here’s a theoretical example of rhetorical hostage taking.
Me: We should have never gone into Iraq. It was an unconstitutional, undeclared war of aggression.
Them: Are you saying (so-and-so we both know) is a murderer?
Notice how they’re holding someone else up in front of them to protect them from your argument? They’re not responding. They’re essentially saying, “You can’t win this argument without saying besmirching the character of about someone we both know.”
You can, of course, say “no.” But then they’ll insist that this is the logical conclusion; if A is true, then B is true as well. And B is not always a pleasant truth.
If you confirm it, then the entire frame of the argument has shifted over to someone who isn’t even involved in the discussion. Then it’s about how you’ve made judgmental comments about someone without all the facts.
Even then, B may be true. But how dare you say it is!
Me: Taxation is theft.
Them: My dad works for the city. Are you calling him a thief?
Me: I don’t think the state should manage education. They do a terrible job of educating kids.
Them: My friend’s a middle school teacher. Are you saying she’s a bad teacher?
Frankly, it makes me want to slap someone when they do this. NAP violation to be sure, which is why it’s a want, not an act.
It’s a tacit concession of the point but with spite. “Yes, you’re right, but I won’t let you win unless you say something horrible I can use against you.”
If they’re a real gossip queen, you know they’ll tell everyone they can, “Did you know what he said about so-and-so?”
And this is why as a society we get nowhere.
It’s also why you shouldn’t debate on Facebook.