In a civilised environment, political arguments can be made without losing personal respect among the adversarial parties. Likewise, in a civilised environment, one is able to debate the facts rather than simply attack the real or perceived characteristics of those making the arguments. To do otherwise is to descend into barbarism. In Latin, the term argumentum ad hominem literally means “to the person”. An expanded definition is that of an argument which tries to debase the reputation or character of one’s adversary during the course of a debate.
This can express itself in a verity of ways. At its most childish, an ad hominem attack could involve two kids trying to decide who gets to ride a single bicycle. Rather than engage in a logical deductive process in order to determine who most deserves to ride the bicycle first, a particularly churlish child might say: “I should ride the bicycle first because you’re ugly and you smell”.
Hence, one sees that the ad hominem argument has nothing to do with the reality of the situation, but instead involves one of the adversarial parties resorting to a random attack against the other child’s perceived characteristics. Crucially, ad hominem attacks can involve both truthful but irrelevant as well as totally false and materially harmful allegations aimed at character assassination.
While ad hominem attacks are often associated with the school yard, unfortunately, crude politicians and those engaging in political debates often resort to ad hominem attacks without any sense of irony involved. Here, it is crucial to remember that one of the biggest differences between an irony laced or sardonic attack on one’s opponents and a classic ad hominem attack is that the ad hominem attacker typically displays zero sense of humour. This should not be surprising as having a sense of humour is often associated with above average intelligence, while ad hominem attacks are usually the last resort of the idiot.
Sadly, many self-proclaimed sophisticated individuals and media outlets have resorted to little more than ad hominem attacks when attempting to argue against supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as well as the constitutional reforms advocated by many of his long time supporters. Like most great leaders, Rodrigo Duterte is an ideas man. Whilst for many of Duterte’s predecessors, leading The Philippines was a matter of simply managing a supposedly inevitable decline, for Duterte there are clearly defined aims to his leadership that can be laid out in the following way:
–Economic modernisation and reform
–Infrastructure modernisation that will create both short and long term employment opportunities (aka Build, Build, Build)
–Tax reform and anti-bureaucratic simplification designed to increasing tax collecting efficiency among the super rich (aka the oligarchs) while easing the burden on a middle class that can expand though tax reductions and entrepreneurial incentives
–Public health in areas ranging from a universal health initiative to anti-drug programmes
–Expanding educational opportunities and securing a better income for qualified teachers
–Safe streets initiatives including a clamp down on the sale, trafficking and use of narcotics
–An anti-corruption drive among elected officials, judges, police and un-elected bureaucrats
–A non-aligned foreign policy which seeks to build new partnerships while transforming old zero-sum partnerships into win-win relationships
–A commitment to disassociated The Philippines from any and all regional warfare that does not directly involve a threat to Philippine security
–De-esclation of tensions in disputed maritime regions aimed at securing peace through prosperity
–Fighting terror in Mindanao through the combination of political autonomy (Bangsamoro Organic Law) and a robust military response to both “religious” (Abu Sayyaf) and communist extremists
–Constitutional reforms including a shift to federalism, economic openness and ideally, also parliamentary reform
In terms of the CoRRECT Movement more specifically, a group of non-partisan advocates for constitutional change in The Philippines, there is a three point agenda that the group aims to secure:
1. Economic liberalisation through the abolition of constitutional restrictions on FDI (the notorious 60/40 rule for example)
2. Evolving federalism that will empower regions to develop their own political autonomy, economic autonomy and cultural autonomy within the framework of a united country
3. Parliamentary governance at a national and regional level in order to effect more efficient, straight forward government that is immune from the deadlock built into the current system
Both President Duterte’s policies and the reforms advocated by the CoRRECT Movement ought to be debated as widely as possible in both The Philippines, among OFWs and among international friends of Philippine reformism. Indeed, these very things are discussed widely, but far too often, opponents of Duterte and of constitutional reform decide not to engage in the issues at hand but instead choose to childishly level ad hominem attacks against their opponents.
The ad hominem techniques that anti-Duterte individuals and groups are using, much like the discredited economic theory which underpinned the pre-Duterte Philippine economy, are not original but largely built on the strategies that have dominated the increasingly vulgar atmosphere of American politics. It used to be that the US would give The Philippines old, worn out military equipment but now, American political strategists are self-evidently handing down political attack strategies which failed in America itself and are now encouraging their friends on the yellow spectrum of Philippine politics to deploy the same vulgarity against supporters of Rodrigo Duterte and of constitutional reform in The Philippines.
This is yet another reason why The Philippines so desperately needs parliamentary reform. In a parliamentary system, debates against political opponents are conducted in real time, thus forcing individuals to provide answers to policy based questions and if not, be rightly ridiculed for being under-informed. By contrast, in the current presidential system, one needn’t respond to a policy argument for days, but can instead think of ways to undermine an opponent based on conniving and unethical ad hominem attacks that are generally the product of devious group-think rather than that of open and transparent consensus or individual genius.
One should make no mistake about it – Duterte might use profane language to make profound points, but his opponents engage in the most profane strategies in order to shield themselves from ever having to make objective points.
There is nothing that can be done to stop opponents of Duterte and of reform more widely from engaging in ad hominem attacks. Thus, the only solution is to confront them with the truth. The following methods therefore ought to be used against ad hominem attackers:
–When ad hominem attackers tell lies about their opponents – tell the truth publicly and frequently
–When ad hominem attackers go below the belt, expose their hypocrisy for endlessly attacking President Duterte’s use of language whilst they are in fact doing something far more obscene and actually harmful
–Remember that at all times in a political debate, one is not engaged in attempts to win over a self-declared opponent, but to win over the audience – aka the silent majority
–Do not let one’s adversaries control the language of the debate. One must use one’s own terminology and not that of the adversary. Just be sure to always clarify the terminology one is using for the benefit of the audience
–Never go on the defensive. Always argue from a positive perspective and force the burden of proof upon those opposed to reformism. Logic dictates that the burden of proof in such debates is on those arguing against reform and not those arguing for reform. Opponents of reform are defending a system that has self-evidently failed – the burden of proof is exclusively on them
–Learn to recognise a lunatic and simply ignore such individuals
These are the rational action steps that one can take when faced by childish adults (including very wealthy ones) who refuse to grow up and adopt a civilised debating mentality.