“Both Sides”

Both Sides of the Rainbow by Anne Worner

Imagine a child, having been caught red-handed smacking their playmate up the side of the head, pointing to the playmate with a they-did-it-too … an expression of exasperation, and a lack of remorse or repentance. Only bad parents buy it, and the Both Sides argument is the equivalent for grown-ups.

In the United States, every adult not living under a rock has either been on the receiving end of that parochial dodge, or they’ve employed it themselves, not always but often paired with the smugness of The Grinch after yanking the last present from Whoville.

When it has been foisted upon me, “both sides” has always been a vague, evidence-free counterclaim to a very specific, indisputable claim. The exchange might go something like this:

“Fox News knowingly, willfully lied to its audience for profit.”

“Both sides do it.”

With a slight twist, the logical fallacy is What-aboutism:

“Rioters on January 6 used violence in an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power in a free and fair election.”

“What about BLM riots?”

Like the guilty child finger-pointing, these non-rebuttals show zero accountability, zero taking of responsibility, and zero evidence that ever approaches a reasonable semblance of similarity of the magnitude of the original offense. When this slight of theirs is brought to their attention, they return to their original argument. It’s a confession wrapped in an accusation.

When their counterclaim echoes what they’ve heard on their preferred news outlet, it excuses the utterer for their continued viewership and endorsement of a news outlet that they can’t and won’t deny is lying to them. It’s an intellectual shrug, as if there is no such thing as a news organization that is less corrupt, less hyper-partisan than the one they consume with the eagerness of a ravenous cat tearing into a cardinal. It’s like your drunk uncle acting indignant that he’s the only one being called out; he was handing out M-80s to the kids at your Fourth of July party.

But I digress. Forget about AP News & Reuters. Truth without partisanship is either too boring or worse, an undeniable indictment of one’s own point of view.

There is one more logical fallacy I have witnessed, and it is even more pernicious than either both-sides or whataboutism, and it is the psychological underpinning that allows the both-siders to sleep at night. It goes something like this: there is no objective reality at all, there are only perspectives, none more right than any other. Their argument isn’t that you haven’t gutted their position; their argument is that there is no such thing as a wrong position … which is convenient for them. And with that, we are gaslit into oblivion. Think whatever you want, say whatever you want, because all there is is perspective. Objective facts are dead.

I went to art school. Of all of the things in the world that one might deem the ultimate in subjectivity, it would be art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art imitates life imitates art. And yet, if I had used that argument in any of my critiques, I would have been kicked out of art school. Even in art, what matters is the ability to articulate your aesthetic decisions persuasively, or throw the work out.

Albeit for reasons worlds apart, the “There is no truth, only perspective” is used by two kinds of people: mystics and assholes.