Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.
Fry: This is so unfair! I liked you back when you were a cyclops! That guy’s only interested now that you have two eyes.
Leela: You’re just jealous!
Fry: No, I’m not! Oh, wait, I am. But my point remains valid!
It’s a classic mix of fallacies: appeal to emotion and appeal to motive. An arguer’s emotional state doesn’t make his point invalid. Neither do motives. They may give you a good reason to double-check the quality of evidence, but they do not change the way you should approach the argument.
The way this argument is commonly used is a bit worse than that. Quite often, someone will accuse a skeptic of being jealous of a psychic’s alleged powers, an alleged healer’s skills, or whatever. The problem is that, contrary to what many believers have been led to say, skeptics are skeptics. We simply don’t believe in extraordinary things without good evidence. Lots of people have been harmed by frauds, and it’s a common motive among skeptics to protect people from those frauds by spreading information and teaching people to think critically. We can’t exactly be jealous of someone’s ability if we don’t believe they have it.
Worse, some believers will accuse us of being jealous of their wealth or their fame. This cynicism is quite a toxic attitude. We know quite a lot of the tricks from various frauds we’ve seen, but refuse to sink to that level because of our ethics. It’s also a very shallow way to view humanity, as if no one has desires beyond money and fame.
In the information age, censorship is generally much more difficult. With the Streisand Effect, legal challenges can end up emboldening critics because they signal a lack of rational arguments. The favored alternative method for handling critics is propaganda and indoctrination. Intentionally or unintentionally, frauds and self-deceived believers create a culture that encourages the use of logical fallacies and other ways of evading critical scrutiny. Encouraging cynicism by depicting their critics as having petty, ulterior motives is an effective means to prevent followers from listening to their core criticisms.
Advice to my opponents: Focus on the facts, not the emotions. To a skeptic, employing this argument is a sign of weakness if you don’t include rational arguments alongside it. Assuming we’re jealous of great wealth or fame typically makes us wonder if you’re projecting your own psychology onto us and it shows great cynicism toward humanity in general if you jump to such conclusions so quickly.