For instance,

  • When someone speaks about the rights of Israel, he becomes a 'Zionist'.
  • When someone speaks about the rights of Palestine, he becomes an 'anti-Semite'.
  • When someone talks against Pakistan, he is a 'Indian sympathizer'.
  • When someone talks against India, he is a 'Beef eater terrorist'.

How can someone avoid these kinds of finger pointing, while successfully making his statement clear?

  • 3
    Although a good answer would be incredibly useful here, you might get better/more results on the interpersonal skills StackExchange.
    – Giter
    Apr 8, 2018 at 15:07
  • 3
    Philosophy might also work, since this is really a question about how to respond to fallacious rebuttals to arguments. Apr 8, 2018 at 15:28
  • 9
    As long as free speech exists, you can't prevent someone from labeling you an extremist, regardless of what you do or don't say. I'd suggest ignoring it or saying something pithy like "I don't think I'm an extremist, but realize that, in your political worldview, you might consider me to be one"
    – user2565
    Apr 8, 2018 at 18:36
  • Skeptics of Iraqi WMDs were Saddam stooges. I will try to think of an up-to-date example. Apr 8, 2018 at 21:32
  • 1
    I think the best advice is just avoid having a political discussion on cable news or facebook.
    – user1530
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:29

4 Answers 4


There is a very thin line between criticizing the government of a country and criticizing the country as a whole.

If you criticize the Arstotzkan government for antagonizing Kolechia, you are making a political statement. Criticizing governments is reasonable political discourse.

But if you make that statement against Arstotzka as a country, or even "the Arstotzkans" as an amorphous group, you cross the line from critique to agitation. The reason is that you now criticize all Arstotzkans, including the little shopkeeper in Lower Altan who just wants to live his life. You are persecuting people for actions they aren't responsible for and which they might not even agree with.

Political discourse has become very polarized in the Internet age. All sides just look at the most obnoxious extremists of their political opponents and perceive them as representative of the opposition as a whole (CGP Grey made an interesting video about that phenomenon). If you want to convince the person you are talking to that you are not actually one of the extremists but in fact a reasonable person who just respectfully disagrees with them, you might have a difficult challenge ahead of you.

A good way to make clear that you criticize the government and not the citizens can be to namedrop the politicians who are responsible for the actions you want to criticize. That, of course, means that you actually need to know their names. If you don't, then you might want to ask yourself if you actually understand the political circumstances well enough to form an opinion of your own or if you just reiterate the opinion of someone who agitated you against a specific country.

  • 1
    I think there's an important piece this answer misses - if Arstotzka elects a leader whose platform includes suppressing the rights of the minority Kolechians in a fair election (or are polled and found to mostly support that position if it isn't a fair election), I may use that to make the argument that Arstotzkans as a people widely support suppressing Kolechian rights, and it would be a valid argument. Not only that, it is a "something-ist" argument against Arstotzkans, but that doesn't affect the validity of the argument. Apr 8, 2018 at 17:05
  • 6
    @IllusiveBrian Then you are again falling into the mind-trap that all Arstotzkans are evil when they might just be the victims of one-sided news reporting, bad political education and government propaganda. The idea that certain people are inherently evil because they were born in a specific country is what turns people into political extremists and gets them to call for pogroms. Also, by attacking the Arstotzkans who read you, you force them into into a defensive mindset and miss the chance to actually influence their political views.
    – Philipp
    Apr 8, 2018 at 17:21
  • 4
    If I make the argument, based on polls, that "75% of Aristotzkans support suppressing Kolechian rights," I have not precluded any of the causations you've mentioned or made a conclusion about why they feel that way at all. Further, it would be entirely valid to attack my argument by questioning the validity of the poll, or any other valid counterargument. However, it is not a counterargument to say that my argument is invalid simply because it is "anti-Aristotzkan," or because it might make Aristotzkans defensive. I understand your sentiment, but you have to confront beliefs to change them. Apr 8, 2018 at 19:59

If you want an exact answer: You can't. Once you criticize a group, there will be always people who wants to see you as an enemy (of their cause). This is understandable because it is easy and convenient and allows to safely ignore your viewpoint.

So if you criticize someone, use reputable sources (prefer neutral ones if possible), double- and triple-check them, check out their veracity with other sources and present them. Avoid known trigger words which may allow your opponents to paint you as such-and-such.

Also think about what an opponent of your viewpoint will use to undermine your position and prepare counterarguments as invisible second-line defense. If then an counterargument comes, you can react immediately which often throws an opponent off-guard.

Expect many ad hominems and ad personams, ignore them and point out the lack of substance. Allow the possibility that you are wrong, but insist that you need evidence to be corrected and correct yourself when such evidence is presented. This can be quite infuriating for the opponents labeling you, but it may reach the targeted moderates which may think over your case.


Extremists tend to make stupid two-valued sweeping generalizations which misconstrue that any praise or support constitutes total support, or misconstrue that any complaint or critique is equivalent to hatred and war. Most two-valued compartmentalizers are of course themselves de facto extremists, and should never be taken too seriously.

Moderates prefer to weigh the pros and cons of nations and policies, and aspire to impartial comparisons. After such weighing, it may well be that a given object proves to have far more pros than cons, or vice versa -- but it's only the process of weighing itself, (and re-weighing, should things seem to change), that allows people to hold any informed opinions.

So point out that you might be like a pilgrim working towards an informed opinion, and wouldn't like to unfairly deny any good in one side, nor blindly ignore any faults in another. In which case an angry extremist or two can prove useful:

  • If there are two opposite extremists attacking the moderate for
    possibly taking the wrong side, the moderate may avoid exhaustion by relaying the worst critiques of the other, back and forth, i.e.:

    • "Please tell me my dear Mr. B., how should I answer when my friend Mr. A. claims that Lilliputians are narrow minded?"
    • "Mr. A. old pal, what do I say to my man Mr. B. who thinks that Lilliputians are all geniuses?"

      This is similar to a magic trick, whereby a chess novice plays
      10 experts at once, and seem to "win" half the time, by relaying
      player #1's moves against player #5, etc.

  • If there's only one extremist who claims that you're one too, point out that you're not trying to be, but could use advice the next time you meet Mr. B. who is one, and what Mr. B. says is... and here you might give the extreme Mr. B.'s opinion, or perhaps your own opinion disguised as Mr. B.'s, as per the advice of Benjamin Franklin...


TL;DR: Don't criticize the entity (and only that entity) for things that you let all other entities slide on.

Among other good advice, there's this important one: try to prove that you genuinely care about a general cause, NOT using that cause as an excuse to criticize the entity.

How do you do that? Simple. If you criticize everyone for issue X, it's fair game to criticize entity Y for the same. If you criticize only entity Y, but let everyone else's problems on issue X slide - often, far worse problems - then it can legitimately look like you are merely against entity Y in a biased way, even if issue X is a legitimate one in general.

Now, you may have lots of reasons why you only criticize entity Y. But given the prior of "entity Y is frequently discriminated against" stated in your question, the probability that the criticism is aimed at Y is due to such discrimination rises significantly.

As an example, let's say Dilbert criticizes Elbonia for hunting rare saber-toothed squirrels.

In theory, it's a valid concern - everyone wants to ensure that saber-toothed squirrels don't go extinct.

The rub is - Elbonia is responsible for 100 STS hunting incidents a year, the neighboring Shoulderistan is responsible for 100 more incidents, and the large Dudes' Republic of Brainia is responsible for 1000 incidents. Yet, Dilbert only criticizes Elbonia.

In that case, there's a legitimate reason to suspect that Dilbert just dislikes Elbonia. For if Dilbert really cared about saber-toothed squirrels, he'd have started his campaign with Brainia, or maybe every country where such hunting happens.

P.S. Yes, yes, whataboutism shmataboutism. Problem is, it's not a logical fallacy if it's not a fallacy in the first place. Quoting from my linked answer:

... sometimes a sober self-examination would reveal that the argument being made may, indeed, at its core, be hypocritical; and as such, "Appeal to Hypocrisy" in that situation isn't really a fallacy at all, but indeed a fully logical rebuttal.

  • 2
    The problem with the PS is that that usually ends up being entirely subjective and completely in the eye of the beholder. ie, anyone arguing 'whataboutism' sincerely believes that the argument is coming from hypocrisy (regardless of whether or not it actually is).
    – user1530
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:34
  • Two selective enforcement exceptions. Practicality: one of several guilty parties may be closer at hand or more capable of improvement. Such critique can be an indirect indicator of the complainer's esteem for the selected one. And in cases of seeming hypocrisy, in which I criticize another for faults I clearly share; it is usually better to mend one's own fence alone, but in some cases two heads are better than one -- one monkey needs another monkey to pick the bugs off the back of its head, and vice-versa.
    – agc
    Apr 9, 2018 at 16:59
  • 1
    You may be falling into the "and you are lynching negroes" trap here (a phrase often used by the Sovjet Union to counter American criticism). The point is that the world is full of hunters of saber-toothed squirrels. And not only squirrels, how can you forget about the pink-eyed flufficorns that are hunted in Rainbowland? Yes, in Rainbowland it is forbidden to hunt squirrels, but how dare they criticize the squirrel hunters? The problem with the technique is that you either end up criticizing the whole world (making your statement irrelevantly broad), or shutting up. And the hunting goes on.
    – Thern
    Apr 10, 2018 at 4:25