By Lloyd H. Whitling



Two components appear in every post ever made on the Internet: the message, and the messenger. That much is a clear fact that also applies to everything ever written or spoken, anywhere at any time. Most times, when we read something, we want to know who wrote it. That shows how well we understand and accept this point.

What applies to the message also applies to every response. People seem not to understand that and make inappropriate responses as a result. Look anywhere a written discussion has occurred and tally the number of responses directed to the actual material and compare with the number directed to the messenger. To decide that, ask of each response: “Is it about the person, or about what the person said?”

Responses about the person instead of what (s)he said are fallacious and have a name, ad hominem, because it has long been recognized that such responses have no relevance to the material under discussion. Such responses endanger serious discussions by leading them astray, and by inviting a like response from an opponent that destroys a discussion by downgrading it into a personal argument, or a power play by whomever introduced the ad hominem.

A serious correspondent would love to reply to a topical comment, and would hope to learn or teach something, but a reply about the messenger is not on topic. For that reason, such a reply is empty of instructive content. It is impertinent. It adds nothing worthwhile that anyone following the discussion’s progress could value as anything more than someone’s personal opinion about something no one was talking or writing about.

That one person saw fit to direct a comment at the messenger’s mental health or status as an idiot and said nothing about the message implies that he could give no reason for why he disagrees with it and so took aim at the messenger. We all learn best from valid, verifiable information supported by factual evidence that, in any instance, would show everyone what is wrong in the message. To avoid that by applying an ad hominem shows which side has reasons to avoid displaying his opinion on that particular point, that his mind is blank about it, that he has something to hide…  At the very least, it shows him in a questionable position.

One would—or should—expect all participants in any discourse of a serious nature to always demonstrate their honest good intentions. Modern participants seem to have abandoned that expectation, especially in a political arena that portrays a stifling mix of religion with politics. Opposing combatants derail each other with person-oriented comments that confuse the issues—and the voters—so that personalities and empty promises, rather than issues, direct the voters. When both sides promise alike and are equally as ugly, the side with the least threatening religion may win.

Copyright ©2014 by Lloyd H. Whitling. Permission to excerpt is granted if accompanied with credit to the author. Permission to reuse whole and unchanged is granted only if accompanied with this notice and proper credit. All other rights reserved. Look for my books at