“You” versus “I”

The Coulter flap about the Jersey Girls is an excellent case study in detecting ad hominem.

The key outrage of Coulter’s appears to be her saying ” I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.” This was met with allegations that she was “mean spirited” or “Heartless” or worse.

One key here is what the old touchy feely relationship books talk about in regards to an ‘I message’ versus a ‘you message.’ An ‘I message’ clarifies what one sees and perceives. A ‘you message’ is an accusation and gets outside of one’s own boundaries of knowledge.

Coulter’s outrage was an ‘I message’ – she says “I’ve never seen…” The responses were ‘you messages’ that attempt to describe Coulter and who she is. Stimulus: this is what I see. Response: you are a despicable person.

Bob Weir thinks Coulter gave liberals a dose of their own medicine but this is not so. Their own medicine would be ‘you messages’ as ad hominem attacks. Instead, Coulter provided a medicine with better intellectual integrity. She describes what she sees and expresses it as an ‘I message’ leaving the interpretation to her listeners. This is why it is a strong message.

You can easily say to Coulter that you don’t see what she does and explain what is wrong with her perceptions. This is not something you can do with those who refer to the President as a murder or a facist or to Coulter as mean spirited or heartless.

This kind of etiology often gets scrubbed under the label of ‘name-calling’ as if putting labels like names on things is bad. The fact is that having names for things is necessary but only if those names are accurate or true. If you describe what you see with a name or analogy or description and it is an accurate and meaningful name, then it serves a useful purpose. If, however, a name is just tossed at someone without a solid basis, it is not descriptive but rather accusatory, and it is not accurate without extensive rationalization, then it is destructive.

It may be that you think Coulter’s descriptions or labels are harsh or over-the-top or hyperbolic but the fact is that they reveal what she sees as an essential truth about the behavior of the Jersey Girls. It is something others can see and this is why it has impact. That makes it an entirely different quality than is illustrated by the response she received from those who do not like what she unveiled but cannot show it was false.

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