Pedro was telling his friend in a sad tone, ‘My father is critically ill and looks like he will not recover.’ His friend immediately shot back, ‘what about other fathers who are critically ill? Did you feel sad for them? If not why are you insisting on grief?’
A baffled Pedro said, ‘He is my father! As his son am I not entitled to sorrow?’ His friend continued his whataboutery… ‘What about other fathers? What about their sons? What about their anguish? What about…’
The above account is an imagined joke. But around us, we find the serious malaise of repetitive whataboutery. It is the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. It is a diversion tactic used to put the other in a bad light.
The term, originally used in political discourse, is now used extensively in debates between conflicting sides. The user protests hypocrisy by responding to criticism by accusing the opponent of similar or worse faults. He refuses to act in one instance as similar action was not taken in other similar instances from the past.
One wrong does not validate another. Hypocrisy should be exposed but crime cannot be defended. Whataboutery cannot be used to justify the unjustifiable. It is pretence for fairness but it seeks to defend the defenceless. The opposite of whataboutery is to maintain consistency in response instead of asking ‘what about?’
When we prop up a wrong to expose hypocrisy
We indulge in the absurd drill of whataboutery!
~ Pravin Sabnis