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As someone who has spent the past decade advocating for people to think critically, which includes being able to identify and avoid logical fallacies, I’ve often seen people misuse logical fallacy labels. Probably the most misused that I see is the ad hominem fallacy, which is supposed to refer to an argument that is based on attacking a person rather than the argument they’re making. But I often see people mistakenly identify an ad hominem fallacy when it’s just an ad hominem attack: basically, it’s the difference between saying, “You’re wrong and you’re an asshole” and “You’re wrong because you’re an asshole.”
That’s why it’s so nice that Sea World has stepped forward to give us a really good example of an ad hominem fallacy in their response to former orca trainer John Hargrove, who is featured in the documentary Blackfish and who just published a book of his recollections of seeing orcas abused in various ways at the theme park.
The abuse culminated in one orca violently murdering a Sea World trainer, which eventually led to Hargrove leaving and working with activists trying to educate people about the plight of the large whales.
Sea World could respond by showing a track record of, say, keeping mothers and their calves together as they would be in the wild, or not breeding them at very young ages, or giving them sufficient room to move around in, similar to what they experience in the wild. Which, of course, would be difficult because that would require an entire, actual sea and it’s kind of hard to sell tickets to the Pacific Ocean.
They can’t and won’t do those things, so they’re hitting back with a big fat ad hominem attack: they’ve released video of Hargrove drunkenly using the racial epithet known as “the n-word.”
That’s not all, though! SeaWorld also funded a new website called RealJohnHargrove where someone posts articles with shocking facts, like showing that even though Hargrove finally retired from SeaWorld on disability due to pain from injuries incurred while working with whales, he went snowboarding once in 2013.
They also point out that on a panel, Hargrove once said he was in “the industry” for 19 years, when in fact according to Sea World he had only been in the industry for 14 years.
These responses don’t even come close to addressing his actual arguments against SeaWorld. They’re ad hominem attacks, and when presented as and taken as reason to disbelieve him, they represent an ad hominem fallacy. Gawker fell for it hook, line, and sinker (sorry for the pun), writing that “being caught screaming and repeating racial slurs does plenty to discredit yourself.” But that’s not true. It would discredit him, if his argument had anything to do with black people as opposed to black fish. But guess what? Even racist pieces of shit can work at Sea World for 14 years and correctly identify problems in the industry.
Being wrong about whether you were in the industry for 14 or 19 years doesn’t mean you’ll be wrong about the psychological state of the animals you cared for every day. And going snowboarding despite an injury doesn’t mean….anything. It means absolutely nothing. Jesus Christ, Sea World, you could at least try.
Drop the ad hominems, and then drop the orca business, too.