Whatabout… Voltaire for instance

Well at least some of the marchers got through to the gates of Leinster House, so I guess that was a moral victory of sorts. The Dublin riots are certainly not the end of history. Riots are scary and unpredictable. And hell to get caught up in. Enraged individuals take leave of their senses and become capable of things they�d never contemplate in ordinary life. But, as one of our commenters pointed out, this was small beer compared the riots around the British Embassy in 1981.The Minister of Justice is expected to confirm this morning that this was a fringe group and as such not representative of wider opinion in the Republic. The truth is that most Dubliners had treated the prospect of northern protestants, Orangemen and otherwise, marching on their streets with something between indifference and bemusement.

Indeed there is some evidence to suggest that after eighty plus years of partition, there is some resentment of the intolerance and illiberality of Northern Irish society in general. What Saturday showed was that with few resources, minimal organisation and some brute determination, a small group can appear to act on behalf of the nation.

In Northern Ireland we�ve seen a tendency to conflate the actions of individuals with the attitudes of the wider community. You can see the pattern more mundanely, for instance, when the DUP�s reluctance to speak directly with Sinn Fein is regularly pitched as a clear instance of them �not wanting a Catholic about the place�.

However, Saturday still poses some important challenges.

In a city which is justly proud of its recent fulsome embrace of liberal values, of gay rights for instance, there are still some (within the wider public) who feel that Unionists have no right to walk the streets of the Irish Capital: that indeed they brought the riots down upon their own heads by daring to walk O’Connell Street. Indymedia (even have entitled labelled a video file of the events Orange Riots (see comments below).

Even on Slugger we’ve seen an avalanche of anti Unionist invective about why these particular Unionists should never have been allowed to walk in the city. Yet one of the most startling details of the day was that of the two men who cornered Charlie Bird and called him an Orange bastard. That was hardly likely to have been uttered by the so called bigots of Love Ulster. Despite the fact that the main action of the day was carried out not by the marchers, but by the counter marchers, claims of the peaceful intent of the marchers have been continually and summarily dismissed.

The real problem here is the degree to which ad hominem arguments (or rather non arguments) have got into the system:

An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps.

First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim).

Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of “argument” has the following form:

1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B makes an attack on person A.
3. Therefore A’s claim is false.

The reason why an Ad Hominem (of any kind) is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

To that extent, Saturday’s events have been both a triumph of Internet based citizen journalism, and a profound demonstration of its limitations.

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