Links of Omission

So on a recent podcast I went on a bit of a rant about how I think the “link of omission” concept is both

A. Assinine

B. Destructive to strategic success.

Many people pushed back on this, and while I stand by both parts in the spirit of switching sides I figured I would offer some advice to people who insist on making this kind of argument.


First, as with most issues, some evidence would help. I found this card in about 45 seconds, its not the greatest card of all time, but its pretty good for making this point

Or could it be that — as a single individual with finite time and energy — he’s capable of focusing only on a relatively small handful of injustices at once, and chooses the ones where he thinks he can have the greatest impact, thus necessarily paying little to no attention to other grave injustices where he thinks he can have little or no effect? Or might it be that he perceives that some injustices receive a great deal of attention in the West (e.g., the Evils of Russia, China and Iran) but that other injustices receive far less attention (those perpetrated by the West and its allies) and thus chooses — as a corrective of sorts — to devote himself to trying to shine much-needed light on the ones that are typically overlooked or ignored entirely?

No, it cannot be that, because — like so many others — he has declared that paying attention to some injustices but not all injustices constitutes “a gruesomely perfect example of … hypocrisy.” So, as he and like-minded advocates have taught us, there must be something pernicious and deeply morally culpable in his silence and the silence of so many like him on this panoply of world horrors.

It’s possible that Hamad has actually condemned all of these terrible abuses and we just didn’t find his denunciations. Why do I say that? Because people like Hamad constantly accuse people like me (who choose to focus on the bad acts of our own government and its allies) of refusing to condemn abuses committed by Russia (“nowhere in any of Greenwald’s output will you find actual recognition of the victims of the Russian strikes and the circumstances that led to their deaths”) even though I’vedonesomanytimes. Or worse, they insinuate that people like Noam Chomsky “actively support” such crimes while ignoring his unequivocal denunciations (“Let’s take [Russian] policy in Syria … Russia is supporting a brutal, vicious government”).

So given how often people like Hamad falsely accuse others of ignoring abuses by Russia through sheer fabrication of their actual record, I’m open to the prospect that he has actually condemned the above abuses and we just didn’t find them. But our research in this regard was quite thorough, and I’ll be happy immediately to note any links he provides where he has written about the abuses in the above list.

Needless to say, the highly selective moral outrage expressed by Sam Charles Hamad is not the point here. The point is the incredibly deceitful, miserably common, intellectually bankrupt tactic that The Daily Beast just aired: smearing people not for what they write, but for what they don’t write. It’s something I encounter literally every day, almost always as an expression of the classic “whataboutism” fallacy — ironically depicted in the West as having been pioneered by Soviet Communists — designed to distract attention from one’s own crimes (OK, fine, we just bombed a hospital in Afghanistan, are constantly droning innocent people to death, and are arming the Saudi slaughter of Yemeni citizens, but look way over there: Why don’t you talk more about Russia????).

And that’s to say nothing of the ignoble history of this tactic in the U.S. — dating back to the height of McCarthyism — of declaring people suspect or morally unhealthy due to a failure to condemn Russia with sufficient vigor and frequency. For decades in the U.S., one could be accused of being a “Kremlin sympathizer” without ever having uttered a syllable of support for Russia, and that’s still just as true today, if not more so. That’s accomplished by a constant measuring of how much one devotes oneself to the supreme loyalty test of publicly denouncing the Ruskies.

This tawdry, self-serving, self-exonerating tactic rests on multiple levels of deceit. “Hypocrisy” always meant “contradicting with words or actions one’s claimed principles and beliefs” (e.g., lecturing the world on freedom and human rights while arming and funding the world’s worst tyrannies). It is now being re-defined to mean: “one who denounces some terrible acts but not all.” If that’s the new standard, it should be applied to everyone, beginning with those who most vocally propound it. As a result, from now on, I’ll be asking the endless number of people who invoke this standard to show me their record of denunciation and activism with regard to the above list of abuses.


Second, most teams deal with the link of omission (LOO) arg by explaining it in a defensive fashion like


“sorry bro, we only get 8 minutes, can’t talk about everything”


Instead, think about why the way you DID focus on XYZ issue is important and or valueable. For example, maybe your 1AC was all about climate change and didn’t mention race or gender- why might it be desirable to continue to frame climate in purely scientific/technical terms, and not in the language of social justice/identity politics? Did your 1AC depiction of terrorism limit itself to only discussion of non state actors, thus ignoring violence done by governments?  You probably won’t have much luck claiming this was an accident, so instead think about what are the potential harms that could arise from an overly broad definition of terrorism or security.


Third, much like any argument, you need to anticipate and be ready to respond to the arguments the negative will come back with to counter link of omission. These include

Silence is violence 


First priority/starting point claims


So you need to think through a strategy of how to deal with them. Obviously if you are relying on LOO then you are probably debating a K arg you weren’t ready for ( I hope) so that means you will have to come up with analytics. Like anything else, this can be practiced. Try writing out a 2AC of arguments to answer one of these K’s like “give the land back”. Your first time through it will probably be total garbage. And the second time… but after some practice you will get better. Now, will your analytics be as good/well articulated as evidence from a professor who has spent 40+ years engaging this issue? Probably not. But it doesn’t have to be, it only has to be good enough to defeat the argument/spin of the other team. A team who, in all likelihood, is not used to people pressing them on key parts of their argument with well thought out analytics.


To work our way back to the root cause post, you can also combine arguments like these together. To respond to both “no root cause” and LOO the neg will often be forced to present the most radical form of their argument, something that leaves them open to criticism/a chance for you to generate offense.

At base, each person who has-or claims to have-a single account for violence is proceeding in an extremely violent manner. Those who claim to know the origin of violence, to know the root of all evil, give themselves at the same stroke the moral right to reach back and root it out-thus providing, via a chain of reasoning with which we are all familiar, the justification for using violence in order to drive violence from the world. If we know where its origin lies, what could be wrong with using violence for the (sole) purpose of obtaining eternal peace and prosperity?

This is a violent chain of reasoning. Implicitly or explicitly, it entails the call for a relentless struggle against the discovered origin of evil, whether that be said to lie in a particular class, nation, or ethnic group; a particular social structure such as capitalism or socialism; or a particular condition such as poverty. Whenever or wherever such an origin is posed, violence is alread resent for it inevitably sets up the argument that violence is permitted in order to achieve peace. It is a means-ends logic: the noble ends sanctify the violent means. From Valkenberg I learned that we cannot think about violence as a means-ends logic, but only in the form of a dialogue between human beings. If readers sense a strong reaction on my part against monocausal theories, I readily admit that the reaction is first of all directed against myself. For it is a lesson I learned only through trial and error. Once upon a time I too thought that I had located the origin of violence and could thus revolutionize the world. But this, in my opinion, is the greatest temptation for the political thinker. Many political philosophers have proposed totalitarian therapies based on philosophical analyses that attribute the origin of social evil to a single root. But single philosophical answers to the question of violence can never be more than partial. Such answers are but pieces of a dialogue.


One response to “Links of Omission

  1. Pingback: LD Podcast 3 | HS Impact·

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