One should always be suspicious of those who resort to the
ploy of dismissing their opponents as incapable of argument.
The most famous Western thinker to use this approach was Karl
Marx, who believed that one's membership in an economic class
determines how one thinks, not reasons and evidence. For more
than a century Marx's followers have deployed this strategy:
dismiss your opponents as stuck in a box, unable to think
logically, scientifically; only Marxists can do that. So then
they escape the responsibility to advance any arguments to
their opponents. They can just smear them as thoughtless brutes.
Where I live in Orange County, as in many other regions of
the world, there are constant battles between people who want
to rule the environment and those who just want to live in
it. Some folks here have been very successful at keeping others
from living where they might wish to live. Never mind that
these latter folks are willing to pay for their abodes and
there are businesses willing to build the homes for them,
on land that was bought fair and square.
But no, the zealots, who consider it their God-given authority
to block others from living where they want do everything
they can to make it very expensive and legally complicated
for anyone to settle down on his or her very own property.
And they do not use arguments but ad hominems to achieve their
For example, there are several canyons near where I live
where developments have been proposed and are being reviewed
by planning commissioners. One dispute centers on whether
some rather meager developments should go ahead. Some believe
it is right to share the canyons with new residents. Others
dispute this and hold that only the current residents have
the right to remain in the canyons - they put bumper stickers
saying "Save the canyons" on their cars.
Now we have here the makings of an argument. Arguments, as
Socrates taught us, are about reaching the right solution
to problems. Different viewpoints and interests and familiarity
with the issues yield different positions, and these need
to be compared and contrasted until the best resolution is
reached. That's the point of arguing things out.
But in the "debate" about whether to have more development
in the canyons - or, indeed, anywhere else - those who oppose
the idea refuse to offer arguments. Instead, they routinely
accuse anyone who disagrees with them as simply pleading a
case on the basis of economic interest.
Those who support developments are, thus, dismissed as robots,
unable to think for themselves, merely serving as mouthpieces
for various corporations. As if corporations were not comprised
of people with minds that can have their reasons for wanting
to do what they want to do! As if developers didn't have the
human capacity to think through the issues and assess the
arguments of those who opposed them but were simply driven
to strive to develop land, no matter what. As if the only
thing people who are developers and their supporters could
ever desire is profit.
Indeed, the charge that developers and their supporters are
driven cannot be leveled at them alone - if they cannot help
being driven, neither can anyone else. After all, the self-elected
guardians of the wilds have their own desires - for the wilds.
They would like to keep them pristine pure, untouched by human
hands, to suit their tastes and preferences. That is exactly
what they claim about developers and their supporters, namely,
that they have no reasons for what they want to do, only an
Let's not let these folks get away with such cheap tactics
but insist they engage in genuine debate.