Monday, July 20, 2009

A Bout of Whataboutery

Whataboutery: "the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today."
Cardinal Cathal Daly
I grew up schooled in the practice of 'whataboutery': Northern Ireland's contribution to the art of political debate. You could say it's a variation on the ad hominem attack - only instead of attacking your opponent's character you attack their (or their tribe's) historical behaviour by way of excusing your own. To whit:

"What about Omagh?"
>"But what about Bloody Sunday?"
"What about Enniskillen?"
>"But what about The Famine?"

... all the way back to Cain and Abel (because one was a Catholic Jew and the other was a Protestant Jew apparently ...)

Now it seems the virus of whataboutery has slipped south of the border and infected the debate about the McCarthy report. Ronan Lyons observes that there is an unhealthy dose of NIMBYism in the reaction of different groups to the Bord Snip Nua recommendations: "don't cut us, cut them instead". And unreal perceptions about the true nature of public spending - as the chart above from his post neatly explains.

But I think the reaction is going further than knee jerk NIMBYism. Take the response of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation to the report:
Mr Carr said teachers had neither hand act nor part in the country’s economic collapse and will not accept having to bail out bankers, speculators and developers.

... No primary teacher caused Ireland’s economy to collapse yet they, along with thousands of other ordinary workers, have made a significant contribution to the picking up the tab,” said Mr Carr. “Workers were not responsible for the fall in public revenue and will not be singled out to pay for a budgetary crisis caused by a failure to regulate against the sharp practices in banking, finance and property speculation.”

“Primary teachers on average earn about €50,000 a year,” said Mr Carr. “That’s petty cash to those who advocate slashing moderate earnings.” He said Irish primary teaching continues to attract the best school leavers into its ranks. “This is not the case everywhere. He also said the cost of living in Ireland is higher than other countries in the EU. “Our price levels remain among the highest in Europe.”

As good an example of whataboutery as I've come across in some time. Sure we're paid a lot but ... what about the bankers and the speculators and the developers, and what about the cost of living and what about the pension levy and what about ...

You get the drift. Expect a great deal more whataboutery from those eager to defend the indefensible, including the massively higher level of pay in the public sector versus the private sector (but what about all those bonuses and profits the private sector made during the boom time, and what about the tax breaks, and what about ...)

Like the Cardinal said: it's still moral evasion, and it's still depressingly common.

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