Posted on June 15, 2020

The term ‘Whataboutism’ is something that came to my attention the other day. I had sort of heard of it, but I didn’t really know it was a tool used as a way of deflecting guilt.

Nazi Germany and the USSR

Apparently, it was well used in Nazi Germany and Cold war Russia. Germany would defend putting Jews in camps, with other European countries doing the same thing during the ‘Race to Africa’.

Communist Russia would deflect attention away from Gulags by highlighting the treatment of black slaves and lynching in the USA. The idea is to change the subject and move guilt back to the person or nation asking the question.

More recently, and nearer to home, it was used by rival terror groups linked to Republican (IRA) and Loyalist (UDA) causes in Northern Ireland. It is rearing its head again now and is becoming a feature of populist movements both here and in the US; Trump does it all the time. Watch out for it, he can barely help himself

Eye for an Eye

Like ‘an eye for eye’, Whataboutism is not a reasonable form of debate. Two wrongs don’t make a right and it solves nothing. It is also often the case that it is bullshit anyway. Germany didn’t invade Europe as punishment for the colonisation of Africa.

Whataboutism is simply a way of pointing the finger away from yourself. You may have heard this with regards to the Coronavirus outbreak. The other week I saw a newspaper article about the person who grassed up Dominic Cummings for breaking lockdown rules.

The article was suggesting the individual had also broken lockdown rules, so was no better than the PM’s chief adviser. It was classic Whataboutism to take the heat off Cummings. I guess some people bought it, but for many it has lost, or damaged confidence in the government.  

Coronavirus and BLM

I have also seen people say, (regarding disturbing Coronavirus fatality figures) “What about if Jeremy Corbyn had been in charge…it would have been even worse”. This is a kind of retrospective act of whataboutism that carries no traction. Jeremy Corbyn may have made a cock up of Coronavirus as well. However, like him or loathe him, trying that sort of finger pointing is a bit desperate isn’t it?

Whataboutism has also been used readily with regards to outbreaks of trouble during the BLM protests over the last week. It is all mindless stuff, but it seems that it is being utilised even more. Honest debate is a good thing, especially in what appear to be very troubled times. However, once someone tries to defeat you with whataboutism, don’t waste any more energy.

You have already won.

1 Reply to "Whataboutism"

  • Norman House
    June 16, 2020 (1:27 am)

    I’d not heard that term before, but it is an interesting one. I would pigeon-hole this sort of comment as just ‘diversion’. This is used extensively by the current government, with the Cummings debacle a prime example and of course the vilification of Jeremy Corbyn as a riposte for any Boris Johnson faux-pas.

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