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In Defense of Whataboutism


Baseball fans have watched the following scene unfold many a time: Pitcher throws a fastball. Umpire says it's Strike Three. The batter is out. An argument ensues, the batter insisting that the pitch was low. Umpire ejects the batter. Manager comes out and argues, then gets thrown out himself.


Most of the time, players and coaches don't argue balls and strikes, but when they do, why do they do it? In post-game comments, it's usually something along these lines: We don't mind if he calls the low pitches as strikes. But he called that same pitch a ball when the other team was batting. 

In other words, there’s an expectation that the umpire will call it the same way for both teams. 

It's not an unreasonable expectation. 


There's a parallel here with the social media comments about current events, particularly over the last year. Perhaps the most common examples are the social media conversations involving frustrated citizens complaining that (a) BLM rioters didn't get treated as harshly as Capitol Hill rioters, or (b) Capitol Hill rioters got off easy compared to BLM rioters.

Sadly, my conservative friends tend to say "but what about the BLM protests" on a frequent basis, while my liberal friends tend to sound like the latter. This carries the unfortunate (and inaccurate) implication that the BLM and Antifa rioters who burned down police stations and participated in other violent--and in many cases, deadly--acts are representatives of Liberals as a whole, while the marchers who broke into the federal buildings in the DC insurrection (also deadly) are indicative of the hearts and minds of Conservatives. 

At the moment this is being written, the Capitol Hill invasion is still fresh in our minds, and when it comes up in discussions, we hear "I don't agree with their actions, but I understand". 

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty close to what was heard last Spring and Summer when the BLM protests became violent, when cities like Portland and Seattle saw the protesters set up mini-governments, when businesses got destroyed, when business owners lost everything. "I don't agree with their actions, but I understand."
 
The result: plenty of left-leaning and right-leaning people dismiss or excuse complaints about the violent actions by the one, while wishing the harshest punishments on the other. 

To be clear: judging rioters/protesters based on motives is but one example of double standards. Many others come to mind and they go back many years. I first noticed this phenomenon a couple of decades ago. At the time, the huge story was the Bill Clinton impeachment, during which fans of Clinton minimized his adultery, while Clinton-haters insisted that a man who cheated on his wife isn't trustworthy enough to be president. But when Newt Gingrich--one of Clinton's loudest critics--was revealed to be having an affair at the same time he was denouncing the President, the latter group performed mental and logical gymnastics to reduce the significance of Newt's infidelity.   

Here's another one: people on the Right often complain (for good reason) about "cancel culture". They don't like that a professor, athlete, entertainer, or regular guy can lose their job, and ability to work anywhere, for taking a particular position about a political topic. But didn't we see the Dixie Chicks get that very treatment when they slammed President Bush on stage in 2004? 


Additional examples are easy to come up with, but I think we all get the point. In online discussions, when these inconsistencies in criticisms are brought up, someone invariably protests the use of "whataboutism", claiming it's a weak way to make a point. 

Actually, it's not. 

Calling for the eradication of double standards is a good thing. There should be no stigma, no special made-up word which kind of sounds like a new sandwich at Whataburger, attached to the act of drawing attention to uneven standards. 



When it comes to whataboutism, few will admit that all sides do it. But they do. And there shouldn't be a problem with calling it out when it happens. We shouldn't tolerate terrible behavior just because it comes from someone who (even marginally) agrees with us politically.  Violence is violence, and bad behavior is bad behavior, period.

One variation I heard recently was the phrase "false equivalency". In this case, it was pointing back to my opening example: the violence we saw (and still see) ostensibly in support of liberal causes such as BLM, is different (in the eyes of many online) from the violence perpetuated by those on the extreme Right in DC or, in 2018, in Charlottesville. The difference, they said, is that BLM is protesting against something real and evil (police treatment of minorities) whereas the Dc or Charlettesville protests were based on something not real (stolen election) or not evil (confederate statues).

But that's a terrible point. This is about the violence, not the reason behind it. The root cause being championed by violators need not to be the same for the violence to be wrong. If violence and looting and harming other humans is wrong, then it's wrong, and should be called out. 

Although I defend whataboutism somewhat, I'd like to see this instead
I'll suggest an idea I've brought up many times before. Often, I receive very little agreement when I say the following on social media, but I'm still right about this. Here it is: 

Currently, right-leaning people tend to blast left-leaning bad behavior, while lefties denounce extreme righties. It should be the opposite. Ideally, extreme leftists who do bad things should be called out by ordinary, rational people on the Left, and bad behavior by the extreme right should be called out by reasonable people on the Right. 

Reasonable people of both persuasions should call out people of their own tribe, especially the extremists.  

The biblical verbiage for this concept is "keeping one's own house in order"

It works like this: I'm a parent. Let's suppose it became necessary for me to chastise my kid for wrongdoing; if he were to bring up that another boy down the street did something just as bad, then you can guess my reply: "I'm not in charge of that other kid. He's someone else's son. I'm charged with keeping my own family in order."

Likewise, as a conservative, I'm a lot more concerned when my own tribe has acted like they shouldn't. This applies to even the worst, most extreme ones, who I wouldn't normally associate myself with. I don't, for example, have any Confederate flags, and I don't fly them publicly. But because a sizable number of people associate all conservatives with Confederate flag-wavers, I best not ignore this. The best thing I can do is to address those very people, and not offer any excuse for them. Because in the eyes of those who are not conservatives, the flag-wavers' actions will be associated with us rank-and-file conservatives, whether we like it or not. 

Likewise, if you're a reasonable, rational liberal, you're going to get lumped in with the worst behavior by the worst people who claim to be on the Left, such as those who yell at families while they dine at restaurants. You, not us on the Right, should say something. Who better to reel them in than you?

But all is not lost. There is hope. When some protesters gathered outside Tucker Carlson's house and threatened his wife and kids, a liberal group stepped up and called them out. We need more of this. 


It's all about ......Jesus, right?
Up until now, the focus of this essay has been on politics, not faith. But the topic at hand has everything to do with Christianity. Over the last 30 or so years, evangelicals have aligned themselves with one particular party. That's the reality. But we Christians should keep in mind that we are believers in, and followers of, Jesus before we are citizens of any nation or supporters of any party. And part of being a believer is to be a witness. "You are the light of the world." 

If unbelievers have the perception that being a follower of Jesus is about hypocrisy and various associated actions and attitudes, and also about being part a particular political tribe, then I am very bothered by the witness we're putting out there.

Pushing people away from Jesus 
We have the best news a person could hear: we have a Savior who offers eternal life! But in many cases, people only see us as violent hateful people who throw a tantrum when we lose political power. That's just going to push people away from Jesus. They won't want to hear us when we try to tell them the Good News.

Our goal in this life shouldn't be to gain the most power in Washington. It should be to live out the assignment the Lord has given us. The goal is to see people become Christians, not Republicans. And it sure isn't to find a way to poke holes in the arguments people are making on social media.  

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