Glossary: what is Whataboutery?

Familiar to anyone who’s followed public debate on Northern Ireland. Some define it as the often multiple blaming and finger pointing that goes on between communities in conflict. Political differences are marked by powerful emotional (often tribal) reactions as opposed to creative conflict over policy and issues. It’s beginning to be known well beyond the bounds of Northern Ireland.

Some years back the BBC quoted Cardinal Cahal Daly as having described Whataboutery as “the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today”, referring to how both communities use the terrible burden of past events to lay obstacles in the way of peace.

Evasion may not be the intention but it is the obvious effect. It occurs when individuals are confronted with a difficult or uncomfortable question. The respondent retrenches his/her position and rejigs the question, being careful to pick open a sore point on the part of questioner’s ‘tribe’. He/she then fires the original query back at the inquirer.

Historical subjects can be the worst. Rational perspective disappears and opponents are forced to assume moral responsibility for their community’s past sins. The substance of the issue is foregone for an emotional power play that comprises the solipsistic concerns of the participants, with little regard for fact or quality of argument.

  • armaghman

    suggest people should visit this site

  • ricardo

    What is ‘whataboutery’?

    Just see any of the more lengthy threads on this site, for a case study.

    I was always told it was a sign of ignorance to answer a question with a question. Doesn’t seem to bother too many folk on here though.

  • slug9987

    Thing is, nothing happens in a vacuum, so whataboutery is usually justified, if boring.

  • James

    Whataboutry, as practiced in these environs, is making a historical metaphor bear the weight of an argument which is absurd when stated in it’s own terms.

    Slugger threads get long enough to give your Pentium a hernia when these tortured metaphors are broken on the racks of tenuous argument.

    It is also boring as hell.

  • Davros

    Is whataboutery not necessary to expose hypocrisy ?

  • johnhidd

    I see no harm, and possibly much good, in each side of an argument reminding the other of past transgressions. A good discussion should, however, contain much more, or it becomes tedious.

  • James

    “Is whataboutery not necessary to expose hypocrisy ?”

    I’ll buy the hypocrite a drink, wash his car, send his kid to college and praise his wife’s petrified pork roast to the high heavens if only you guys would GET TO THE POINT of the argument.

    Whataboutrty is why the North “bores people rigid”. There should be a Betty Ford center for it.

    Note the North American spelling of whataboutry.

  • Davros

    I would give you a suitable example but you would accuse me of whataboutery 😉

  • ShayPaul

    Is whataboutery not necessary to expose hypocrisy ?

    Yes hypocrites use it often.

  • Davros

    You sound ever so bitter there shay – been caught a few times, huh ? 🙂

  • ShayPaul


  • Nathan

    Lately I think a lot of commentators have been suffering from a severe bout of whataboutery, and its great that Mick has raised the issue because its becoming to be daily occurance if not an hourly one.

    Its all very predictable. All it takes is for a unionist sluggerite to point to some atrocity from the provisional IRA and invite the nationalist sluggerite to condemn it. Rather than condemn the nationalist throws about some atrocity committed by unionist death squads or the British Army. This then leads the unionist to locate some other unfortunate killing to throw into the escalating written poker game of whatabout this and whatabout that.

    If theres one thing I’ve learned from these whataboutery Sluggerites, its that for every atrocity there always has to be an equal and opposite co-atrocity.