Another obnoxious argument: refutation of criticism via the option to ignore the object of criticism

That NYT did a poor job of interviewing Trump is making the rounds. One response comes in the particularly obnoxious form of:

  1. Argument A made by critic C criticizes object O.
  2. C has the option to not consume O.
  3. So, dismiss A and criticize C.

Now, this could be made formally valid by adding a hypothetical that gives you 3 from 1 and 2, and it’s pretty obviously absurd.

4. If 1 and 2, then 3.

From 1, 2, and 4, 3 follows. Before tearing into 4, let’s consider the self-defeating nature of the argument. The one C* making the argument A* for 3 is itself taking the object of criticism to be A (and C). But, C* has the option to ignore A and C. So, by C*’s own rules, C* must dismiss A* and criticize C*.

But let’s steer back to 4. In what world is this a good rule? Perhaps for your own well-being if you dislike some media or are distressed by it you should turn it off. There are many websites I don’t like much, so I don’t visit them. That in and of itself isn’t a defense of the website. There are (at least) two axes on which I might further judge it: aesthetic and ethical. If a site, film, show, song, interview, or whatever is just done poorly, one might write a review of it explaining why it is bad. When a reviewer reviews something, one might find some point here or there to disagree on, but to just throw out the entire enterprise of reviewing is just absurd.

There’s also the ethical axis. On a rather clear-cut case, if someone explains why child pornography is bad, a response of “if you don’t like it, don’t look at it” is clearly incredibly deficient. The explanation almost certainly includes why the existence of the stuff is bad independent of the explainer consuming it. The NYT Trump interview may well fall into this category alongside other misleading or otherwise pernicious news media. My turning off Fox News doesn’t do anything to stop it from misinforming others. Likewise, giving Trump a soap box to spew lies from does plenty of harm regardless of whether any individual critic of it reads it.

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