36

I'm looking for either a single word or phrase that would describe either someone or the action of dismissing someone's opinions as something "socially unpopular", without giving any reasoning why, either just to spite them, because they have a poor counter-argument, have been backed into a corner, or something similar.

For example, someone who supports something politically incorrect (like, say, stronger gun control or help for male domestic abuse) might have their views dismissed as racist or sexist or liberal without actually acknowledging and debating against them, thus labeling the former as something they might not be.

I was talking to a friend earlier about politics, and she complained about Germany's immigration problem. She said one issue was that many politicians that try to support stronger immigration laws would immediately be shot down as racist or a nazi and forced to resign, instead of being presented with counter-arguments. Regardless of whether you agree with them or not, what would describe that?

EDIT: Forgot to specify -- the word or phrase I'm looking for would be used in an informal context. And to address further questions, to be used when the person's opinion has legitimate worth and isn't just "being racist" etc, i.e. the dismisser is incorrect, and is only making these accusations because they can't argue further. (Added emphasis to the last sentence of the first paragraph)

  • 5
    I don't know. I'd suggest "world-weary" for someone who has spent a lot of their life arguing against bigots. All to no avail. Eventually they'll give up trying to present a rational case. Which is tough on those prepared for open and honest discussion. But there you go. – Margana Jul 2 '15 at 15:07
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    @Tushar: OP hasn't really supplied enough context for us to know what kind of terms he seeks, but given he was talking to a friend earlier about politics, I assume we're talking about something he could use quite naturally in pub discussion, say. Hardly the sort of place where most of us casually throw in domain-specific terms firmly rooted in the traditional academic spheres of logic and rhetoric (except perhaps to belittle the other party by trying to appear "learned", which imho is a highly risky strategy). – FumbleFingers Jul 2 '15 at 16:58
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    Indeed, there are a lot of varieties of this. Are they right that it's racist, and just not interested in debating and explaining why? That's pretty different from simply shutting someone down with an accusation. – Cascabel Jul 2 '15 at 17:33
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    @Tushar: Thank you. I don't really see how the current top-rated genetic fallacy applies (how can you dismiss someone's superficially racist views on the grounds that they are a racist?). At least Ad Hominem makes sense, in that you're attacking the person using a negative label rather than addressing the substance of their non-standard views. Really though, OP should note our closevote text choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used. In informal discussion, or a formal academic/debating context? – FumbleFingers Jul 2 '15 at 17:51
  • 1
    Since you are referring to logical fallacies, I'd like to point to my favorite workup of all the various kinds: fallacyfiles.org/taxonomy.html. My second favorite is yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem because of it's URL and simple explanations for the common ones. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:09

19 Answers 19

19

It seems you want a word for someone refusing to engage in discussion, because they regard the subject as not open to debate. To dismiss out of hand is one option which has already been suggested, or more neutrally you might have to disengage from discussion.

In a similar vein I would suggest shut down debate.

I also detail how accusations of trolling were used as a justification for shutting down debates about community expectations ... — Bergstrom, Kelly. "'Don’t feed the troll': Shutting down debate about community expectations on Reddit.com". First Monday, Volume 16, Number 8.

In this quote, it is alleged that users refused to engage in discussion about community expectations and instead just "called troll", which is similar to your example where people "call out racism/sexism" rather than engaging.

I helped shut down an abortion debate between two men because my uterus isn't up for their discussion. — Title of an article by Niamh Mcintyre. The Independent, 18 November 2014.

Here the writer states that she prevented, rather than engaged in, a debate, because she felt the participants lacked relevant standing.


If you want give a more specific reason for the disengagement, rather than just acknowledge that the it occurred, you might like play the race card, or equivalently play the sexism card.

Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase that refers to exploitation of either racist or anti-racist attitudes by accusing others of racism. — Wikipedia entry for "Race card", as of 3 July 2015.

An example usage from the British press:

Disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman (pictured) is said to have played the race card to silence opponents - and his deputy today reiterated claims there is deep seated racism in the borough of Tower Hamlets, in east London. — "Vote rigging party is STILL playing the racism card: Day after mayor is forced out, deputy blames 'Islamophobia'". Daily Mail, 25 April 2015.

And one from the States:

Democrats won't be able to play the sexism card if Republicans pit former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina against Democrat Hillary Clinton, says John Sununu ... — "John Sununu: Carly vs. Hillary Would End Dems' Phony Cries of Sexism". Newsmax, 31 March 2015

Both of these news sources are notoriously conservative: I don't think either card-playing idiom is very likely to be used by a political liberal or centrist except ironically! So these are less neutral terms than "shutting down debate" is.

  • 7
    I think that "play xyz card" is the best one so far - it conveys the right meaning and meets the "used in informal circumstances" criteria. (all your suggestions are good IMO, but I like this one best). – Lucky Jul 3 '15 at 11:04
  • @Pyritie: I'm curious. Which one of the many good suggestions in this post did you finally go with? – Tushar Raj Jul 6 '15 at 7:00
  • @TusharRaj - There were so many good suggestions it was hard to choose just one! – Pyritie Jul 8 '15 at 9:15
  • I'm not sure "playing the X card" quite fits, though it's a great idiom to know. A Caucasian person can't really "play the race card" nor a male "play the sexism card", in normal circumstances. If you want to follow the metaphor, who holds a "race card" or "sex card", ready to slam it on the table when they wish? This is one way in which Caucasian males find themselves disenfranchised. – mike rodent Jul 22 at 21:13
46

Alice: "We should have stronger immigration laws"

Bob: "You're racist. Why would anyone listen to a racist like her, folks?"

This response doesn't take into account the arguments made by Alice. Bob is attacking her character. This is a case of ad hominem.

An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, means responding to arguments by attacking a person's character, rather than to the content of their arguments. When used inappropriately, it is a fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized.


PS: This is not 'poisoning the well'. You poison the well before someone drinks the water from it. If Charlie came along and told Bob not to listen to Alice (as she was in Hitler Youth or something), before Alice even said something, that would be poisoning the well.

  • 1
    I updated my question with an example if it helps – Pyritie Jul 2 '15 at 15:01
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    @talrnu: If so, the word is politician. – jxh Jul 2 '15 at 17:31
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    @fredsbend The term is used (and misused) widely enough to be considered informal. – Kevin Krumwiede Jul 3 '15 at 3:20
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    @KevinKrumwiede The fact that it's misused widely enough shows just how formal it actually is. People don't usually confuse the meaning of informal, casual phrases. Formal phrases with precise definitions are often confused. – user39425 Jul 3 '15 at 18:08
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    This answer is wrong. The point of the question was that the person was incorrectly labelled as racist. The accuser is attacking an attribute that the person does not have. Therefore, it is not really an ad hominem. It is closer to a straw man fallacy; the attacker is disingenuously attacking an attribute which is not present in the person/argument. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man – Charon Jul 4 '15 at 10:12
18

I would say that the action is committing an Association Fallacy

is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by association. Association fallacies are a special case of red herring, and can be based on an appeal to emotion.

(Wikipedia)

The association in the examples in the question would be that

  • racists are anti-immigration
    therefore
  • being anti-immigration is racist.

As for what to call someone who does that: I think it depends on their reasons - laziness, bigotry, deliberately antagonizing, etc. Perhaps an Association Fallacist but it's not a word.

  • This is the best fit with the OP's scenario. – dennisdeems Jul 2 '15 at 17:10
  • The post reads: "the word or phrase I'm looking for would be used in an informal context." I think this is a good answer, but "association fallacy" is hardly an informal charge. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:41
  • @fredsbend Indeed. I wouldn't bet on this getting the tick since that edit. – Avon Jul 2 '15 at 22:44
15

It's a...

knee-jerk reaction - an immediate unthinking emotional reaction produced by an event or statement to which the reacting person is highly sensitive; - in persons with strong feelings on a topic, it may be very predictable. (from thefreedictionary.com)

I can't think of a single term that specifically also implies the person thus reacting assumes everyone else shares the same negative opinion of whatever is being summarily dismissed, so no "reasoned argument" is required. The best I could come up with would probably be something like That's just a groundless appeal to populism.

  • 3
    "That's just a groundless appeal to populism." I like this. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:46
8

You may have provided part of possible solution in your question: to dismiss [something] out of hand means to give an issue no consideration whatsoever, for any number of reasons, among which may be the bias or spite of the one rejecting the issue.

8

This sounds like a variation of the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy is a logically flawed argument which claims something is invalid because of its origin, i.e., from where it was descended, hence genetic.

"The current Chancellor of Germany was in the Hitler Youth at age 13. With that sort of background, his so called 'reform' plan must be a fascist program."

Definition from wikipedia.

Example quote sourced from rationalwiki.org


However, whilst I think that the genetic fallacy description is accurate, I think that such a practice is also partly a straw man fallacy; the accuser has incorrectly (disingenuously) attacked the argument for containing a negative quality which it actually does not have.

See the OP's phrasing: "Might have their views dismissed as racist or sexist .... thus labeling [said views] as something they might not be." That is an exact description of the straw man fallacy: misrepresentation of an argument and then a denouncement of said misrepresentation.

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not advanced by that opponent.

wikipedia.org


EDIT2: Upon reflection, and thanks to some discussion in the comments, I have decided that the person who engages in such practices would best be described as being disingenuous. This presumes that they knowingly behaved in such a manner, rather than unintentionally doing so.

  1. Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating: "Increasingly, the question of immigration has become a disingenuous stalking-horse for race and racial hostility".
  2. Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naïf.

thefreedictionary.com

  • 2
    I agree, but the asker is looking to describe either the act of committing such a fallacy or the person committing it, they're not asking for the name of the fallacy. This answer should be updated to accommodate these requirements of the question. – talrnu Jul 2 '15 at 17:24
  • Hmmm yes, you're right. Sorry. – Charon Jul 2 '15 at 20:11
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    The OP did not describe the genetic fallacy. Also, ignoramus is neither helpful nor descriptive. You'd be taken even less seriously if, after they call you a racist, you come back and call them ignorant. It's tantamount to name calling. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:45
  • @fredsbend You've missed the point. The question did not ask the name for someone who calls you racist. The question asked the name for someone who called you racist incorrectly after misunderstanding your point of view. Hence, if that person judges an argument merely on its appearance, rather than its validity, they are being ignorant; they are ignoring the true point of the argument. That is precisely what was requested. – Charon Jul 3 '15 at 7:35
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    That quote is wrong. The current Cancelor of Germany was in the Thälmann Pioneers when she was 13. With that sort of background, her so called 'reform' plan must be a communist program. :) – Philipp Jul 3 '15 at 12:23
7

For example, someone who supports something politically incorrect (like, say, stronger immigration laws or male domestic abuse) might have their views dismissed as racist or sexist without actually acknowledging and debating against them, thus labeling the former as something they might not be.

This might be a good place for the word "summarily", an adverb which describes actions quickly done without delay or formal proceeding.

"At the cocktail party, Josephine's unconventional and unpopular views were summarily dismissed by her more moderate colleagues."

  • 1
    "summarily" implies that there is a formal process for dismissing a debate opponent. I don't think there actually is. A commanding officer summarily dismisses subordinates. A judge summarily dismisses the defendant. A bill can be summarily dismissed in Congress. It doesn't make sense to me that one person in a debate can be summarily dismissed by the other. There is no formal process in the first place. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:55
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    @fredsbend More precisely, it implies that there is a formal process, but it's not being used. And there is certainly a formal process for reasoning and debate. – Kevin Krumwiede Jul 3 '15 at 3:22
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    @KevinKrumwiede There is no formal process for one debater to tell another that they are wrong and then ignore their opponent's point. That just happens to be the actions of a poor debater. If the moderator, outside of form, were to tell one debater that some point is off-topic, then "summarily" might apply. – user39425 Jul 3 '15 at 18:04
  • @fredsbend: It is common for words in English to adapt from formal usage. There is certainly no doubt that the words "summary" and "summarily" have a very precise formal meaning in the context of litigation. I am unable to confirm that these words require the same precise subtext in more common usage. In particular, the Merriam-Webster offers this sense: "2a : done without delay or formality : quickly executed." I conclude that in informal discourse summarily is an acceptable approximate synonym for hastily. – scottb Jul 3 '15 at 18:34
  • @scottb Okay, I'll take that. But then I might rather say hasty. – user39425 Jul 3 '15 at 22:37
5

I would call that pigeonholing. Definitions for "pigeonhole" include

  1. a neat category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities (merriam-webster.com)

and

  1. To classify mentally; categorize.
  2. To put aside and ignore; shelve. (thefreedictionary.com)
  • Dude, you're on the wrong track. Calling it pigeonholing implies that you're restricting them to a very real category. I don't value my cricketer friend's views on literature, because I pigeonhole him as a sportsman (which he indisputably is) who knows nothing about books (the pigeonholing). You can't pigeonhole someone as a racist/Nazi. – Tushar Raj Jul 2 '15 at 20:53
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    @TusharRaj I think actually you can pigeonhole someone as Nazi, presumably if they actually do belong to a Nazi group. "Racist", though, I agree. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:38
  • @TusharRaj Are you suggesting that there are no racists or Nazis? – Kevin Krumwiede Jul 3 '15 at 3:15
  • @KevinKrumwiede: No. I'm saying that in this case, the word sounds like a personal attack instead of being a fact. Ergo, pigeonholing doesn't make sense. – Tushar Raj Jul 3 '15 at 3:37
  • @TusharRaj Ah... you're saying that you can only pigeonhole someone into a category to which they actually belong. Maybe you're right. We could go off on a philosophical tangent about whether categories exist at all outside the mind of the person doing the categorization, and ponder who decides who is or isn't genuinely a Nazi. But that's a question for another SE. :) – Kevin Krumwiede Jul 3 '15 at 4:00
4

There's ad hominem and association fallacy for formal debate, which were already mentioned. These don't work for casual use because they are references to explanations on why they serve to derail logical discourse, rather than facilitate it.

In casual use, I would say that such comments and reactions are

dismissive

  • feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration.

The problem with such actions is that it demonstrates

contempt

  • the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
  • disregard for something that should be taken into account.

To them, the argument is not worth considering. Hence, you can say they or their comments are contemptuous, which is perhaps a more descriptive word than dismissive.

  • I know you don't have to explain downvotes, but it is nice if you do. Kind of like saying please. You don't have to, but it's nice when you do. – user39425 Jul 4 '15 at 15:34
4

In the light of your comment:

...whereas my question is about "you have a wrong opinion so I'm going to scream misogyny instead of telling you why you're wrong

it seems (to me) that your very own:

labelling

fits the bill:

A classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive:

But the label stuck and politically I was ‘right wing’.

Both parties try to tag their opponents' policies with phrases and labels intended to place them in the most negative light.

(from ODO, emphasis mine).

4

The most specific word for this is kafkatrapping. It is not only the process by which someone is accused of racism, sexism, etc., but also the inability to argue against the accusations because denial of the accusation only leaves that person with a presumption of guilt.

  • 1
    Nice find! The article describes the exact thing my question does. – Pyritie Jun 9 '16 at 15:29
  • Of course, now I'm trying to find out where/who I first heard the term from and I'm falling short. Such is language I suppose, the words that become part of our lexicon unbeknownst to us. – NobleUplift Jun 9 '16 at 17:26
  • I legitimately do not remember writing this answer and it seems this word quickly escaped my lexicon after learning it. – NobleUplift May 8 at 20:42
3

The phrase is "Thought Policing".

It comes from the tactics of the IngSoc in George Orwell's 1984, which as mentioned previous, operate exactly the same as the modern Social Justice Warriors (often referred to as SocJus due to the parallel).

The reason it's used is because the Partyist is being pushed into addressing their own Cognitive Dissonance regarding the issue (or "Doublethink"). So anything which contradicts that position has to be labelled as "ungood", and actually pausing to give consideration to anything that opposes the Party's narrative is a "Thought Crime".

The primary tactic for enforcing DoubleThink is employing Thought Police to root out and publicly execute dissenters and other independent thinkers, especially in situations when the criminals might assume they were not under surveillance: such as terminating two programmers for making a dongle joke under their breath, or recording an NBA team owner's private phone conversation, to reinforce the reality that "Big Brother is Always Watching".

  • 2
    I'm aware of SJWs, and they do do the thing I mentioned in the question, but I think "thought policing" is slightly different. Their sort of thought policing is more like "you have a wrong opinion so I'm going to exclude you from my clique", whereas my question is about "you have a wrong opinion so I'm going to scream misogyny instead of telling you why you're wrong", if that makes any sense. – Pyritie Jul 2 '15 at 23:08
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    @Pyritie The latter is precisely what SJWs are known for. Plus gossip, bullying, blowing things out of proportion to try to ruin people professionally, etc. – Kevin Krumwiede Jul 3 '15 at 3:27
  • @KevinKrumwiede: Yes, I know, but I don't think thought policing describes what my question is about – Pyritie Jul 3 '15 at 9:29
2

I would say that the kind of tactical name-calling you describe, where a bad, scary word, like "racist" is thrown around to avoid actually having an argument is slander, under the definition:

A false and malicious spoken statement. (Oxford dictionaries)

Especially if, as you later qualified, it's really baseless.

To emphasise that this is a craven attempt to get out of having an argument, I might qualify it, e.g. "a lazy slander", "a facile slander".

You could also refer to it as a cheap shot:

A criticism or attack on someone that is unfair. (Cambridge dictionary)

A potshot:

A criticism, especially a random or unfounded one (Oxford dictionaries)

Or, my personal favourite, mudslinging:

The use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent. (Oxford dictionaries)

It would also be appropriate to describe:

someone or the action of dismissing someone's opinions as something "socially unpopular", without giving any reasoning why, either just to spite them, because they have a poor counter-argument, have been backed into a corner, or something similar.

As a fallacy even in informal language. You wouldn't need to come out with the name of the specific fallacy, especially not the Latinate name.

2

This sounds like rhetorical dissonance. This term has been floating around the 'net for quite a while, but there's still no more authoritative or coherent definition than the one provided by Urban Dictionary. Summarized:

Abandoning rhetoric and examining an issue logically, causing a rhetorically biased audience to falsely perceive cognitive dissonance.

It's not entirely clear whether rhetorical dissonance refers to the speaker's abandonment of rhetoric or to the audience's false perception. Either way, this is a common phenomenon that needs a popular name.

  • Never heard of it before - but it does fit quite nicely! – Lucky Jul 3 '15 at 11:07
1

This is common, but there doesn't seem to be a name for it yet. It reminds me of Bulverism, the term C.S. Lewis coined for brushing things off because of the beliefs of the person saying it ("you only support the king because you're a monarchist"), but it's not quite the same thing.

In a context like this, I tend to make ironic reference to the Newspeak term "ungoodthink" from 1984 -- since our society is supposed to be the one that doesn't believe in ungoodthink -- but such a reference doesn't boil down to a word or a short phrase.

  • 1
    This should be a comment - it doesn't provide any direct answers to the question. – talrnu Jul 2 '15 at 17:20
0

"Misconstrued" would be close, but does not include the concept of dismissing the argument.

  • Andrew, you need to give more information about your answer, at least including a reference to a source for your use of "misconstrued". Have a look at the site help section for more information on providing good quality answers. – Margana Jul 4 '15 at 8:42
0

I realize this may not be what you are looking for, but the people whose arguments are dismissed could be considered to be victims of "political correctness."

-1

"refusal to engage" seems a fairly useful generic way of describing this.

Not too formal.

  • Whoever downvoted this: please explain yourself. Perhaps you might learn something. – mike rodent Jul 23 at 0:20
-2

The person may be labelled as mean-spirited irrationally judgemental being!

  • 3
    No less visceral a reaction than the first offender. I find this answer wholly unhelpful. – user39425 Jul 2 '15 at 22:35

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