Ad Hominem Attacks on Greta Thunberg

Over the last week or so, I’ve been watching people’s reactions to 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.

A year ago, she led a protest of one person (herself) against the lack of action world leaders have made versus climate change.

She recently led a protest involving upwards of 4 million people around the world for the same cause.

After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a zero carbon footprint yacht, she spoke passionately at the United Nations, advocating for more action.

What’s been equally fascinating (and disappointing) is reading and watching the criticism that has been directed at her.

Specifically, I’ve noticed how much of the criticism consists of ad hominem attacks.

An ad hominem attack involves criticizing the person rather than challenging their facts, logic, or argument.

These criticisms include saying that Greta:

  • Is “a little girl" (implying that the words of someone like that can’t possibly be correct)
  • Has “emotional problems” and is “mentally ill" (in reference to her having Asperger's)
  • Has "exploitive parents”

What I did not notice was anyone criticizing the merits of her argument.

Did she reference incorrect data?

Does her thinking include logical flaws?

Did she misunderstand the science behind her argument?

Did her speeches fail to address transition issues between fuel sources?

Did she fail to address the economic harm to some countries for what she advocates?

Ad hominem pseudo-arguments make for great television ratings, make social media posts go viral, and generate clicks in article headlines.

(And notice how all three of these increase advertising revenues for media and social media companies.)

However, ad hominem criticisms aren’t respectful nor productive. They definitely damage relationships.

I mention these observations to point out the distinction between criticizing the person versus criticizing their thinking.

I do so in hopes that you won’t engage in ad hominem attacks of others and that you will recognize when someone is doing it to you.

By all means, if someone’s thinking is incorrect, disagree. Disagree respectfully on the facts, the merits, or the rationale.

And when you’re wrong, invite others to do the same. Ad hominem attacks have no place in civil discourse.

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