|Cogito ergo sum
Logic and rhetoric
“”If the best evidence of wackjobism you can find is a few anonymous nutballs commenting on a blog, then the particular brand of wackjobism you're complaining about must not be very widespread after all.
Nutpicking is the fallacious tactic of picking out and showcasing the nuttiest member(s) of a group as the best representative(s) of that group — hence, "picking the nut".
This fallacy is committed when an arguer cherry picks a poor representative of a group to use as an ad hominem against them. For example, anti-feminists frequently paint people who support feminism as "feminazis" by highlighting examples of ridiculous or cringeworthy behavior from select individuals, rather than critiquing points addressed in mainline feminist writings.[note 1]
In other words: every movement has crazies, but not every movement is crazy. The proper questions are: "Does this movement promote crazies?" and "Does this movement have proportionately more crazies?"
The word is, cleverly, both a variation on the word "cherry picking" and a portmanteau of "nut" and "nitpicking" coined by Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum (and is thus sometimes called Kevin's Law or Drum's Law).
In scholarly circles, "nutpicking" is called the weak-man fallacy.
Nutpicking combines elements of several other fallacies; it primarily relies on guilt by association, as it seeks to tarnish a group's reputation by associating it with what the "nut" is saying or doing, knowing that their statements or actions are generally considered to be unacceptable, if not outright reprehensible. Secondly, it is a type of ad hominem, as it attacks an opponent's character (via the negative association), rather than countering the opponent's actual views or arguments.
The advent of the Internet (especially in conjunction with Sturgeon's Law) has made nutpicking far easier due to the massive expansion of recorded, publicly available and searchable material. Similar to Skarka's Law, it's practically always possible to find some random whackjob whose opinions can be associated with your opponent's school of thought, and it's certainly much easier than it would have been in ancient Greece.
The practice of nutpicking is employed most frequently in political debates as a method of invoking a false equivalence or tu quoque, where one side sifts through the blogs of people "on the other side" to hold up a nutty comment to say "You guys do it too!". One of the most egregious cases of nutpicking came when a Republican candidate for Delaware's state legislature ran a television ad which nutpicked comments from a Democratic blog called Raising Kaine.
When the Tea Party found out about nutpicking, they immediately accused those who noted the racist elements of the Tea Party movement of nutpicking. That is, just because you can find (a whole lot of) racist depictions of "Kenya-born" Barack HUSSEIN Obama on Tea Party signs at "protests", it's not representative of the movement in any way, which is not racist. Of course, this also ignores the fact that the Tea Partiers ran openly racist candidates like Carl Paladino, Tom Tancredo, and a guy who liked to dress up as a Nazi on weekends.
TERFs often engage in nutpicking when talking about transgender people, particularly transgender women, so they can claim to have proved that protecting transgender people will lead to cisgender women losing at sports and/or being raped (especially in bathrooms). One of their favourite examples is Karen White, who was placed in a women's prison before sexually assaulting inmates. They tend to ignore that protocols were not followed in this case, and that White would not have been in the prison if they had.
Anti-Zionists and Zionists both frequently engage in nutpicking. For example, anti-Zionists often take the quote "A land without a people for a people without a land" as emblematic of the Zionist movement, when few Jewish Zionists ever said such a thing; it comes instead from Christian supporters of Zionism.[note 2] Zionists, meanwhile, tend to take Hamas and Islamic Jihad (particularly the "Israel and Jews must be obliterated" style of jihad) as though they express the only thing anti-Zionism can possibly represent.
In terms of Internet culture, another form of nutpicking occurs when people selectively pick out the most egregious, harrowing, hypocritical, or downright indefensible statements made by self-identifying members of a particular group, and then paint the group as universally holding these views. These posts and quotations are typically taken from blogs and social media, where anyone can anonymously or pseudonymously post virtually anything, regardless of how outrageous it may be.
It should go without saying that:
- All groups have their extremists, fanatics, fringe believers, and just plain psychopathic/sociopathic subscribers[note 3]
- Poe's law should always be a consideration (especially in subject matters prone to poorly labeled/badly executed "satire", and people reading them as genuine)
- The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory still readily applies to sites like Tumblr and Reddit.
Selective video editing
Nutpicking also tends to occur in videos that interview random people in public about current events, in which they are edited to select the most outrageous ones; for instance, a video suggesting that University of Washington students would vote for Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman. Similarly, Mark Dice has created videos asserting that people are willing to sign a petition to repeal the First Amendment. The only point of these videos is to give viewers a false sense of moral and intellectual superiority.[note 4]
The Calvinist apologist James White, founder of Alpha and Omega Ministries, is known to engage in nutpicking in a religious context. He once debated with Robert Sungenis on the relative merits of Calvinism vs. Catholicism. Given that Sungenis is a Holocaust-denying geocentrist, this gave White the opportunity to present his own brand of hardline Calvinism as moderate and reasonable in comparison. It's probably no accident that he selected the fringy Sungenis, rather than a more mainstream Catholic figure, as his debate opponent. The reverse of this situation would be a mainstream Catholic pointing to the Westboro Baptist Church as representative of Calvinism.[note 5]
White also engaged in an online debate with the even kookier Catholic, Theodore Shoebat, which once again enabled him to position himself as the reasonable party, since at least James White (unlike Shoebat) doesn't support burning hundreds of millions of people at the stake!
Inter-religious polemics very frequently involve nutpicking. For example, non-Muslims often point to ISIS or jihadism as representative of Islam. Similarly, one can use thuggees or aghoris as examples of Hinduism.
Debates between religious and atheist commentators often involve nutpicking by both sides. For example, Bill Nye chose as his debate partner the Young Earther Ken Ham (Bill Nye debates Ken Ham), not an advocate of a more moderate view like theistic evolution. Creationists themselves often point to fringe scientists or pseudoscientists, who also happen to be atheists, as representative of mainstream secular science.
Can't find a nut that is willing to say the crazy thing you need? Invent them! "Offline, I encounter radical feminists that hate all men all the time. If you haven't, you clearly don't get out much."
- This is such a frequent talking point within MRA circles, it has its own acronym: WBB (Women Behaving Badly).
- Many Christian "supporters" of Zionism do not actually approve of the existence of Judaism; they see the establishment of a total Israel, with zero traces of Palestine whatsoever, as a necessary condition for the beginning of the Rapture, and anticipate that Israel will get stomped into the dirt during (their warped interpretation of) the Second Coming. To these people, Zionism is only a means to the end of getting what they want, and once they have it, the Jews can rot (in hell) as far as they're concerned. (The fact that Jesus Christ would not approve of treating anyone like shit for petty reasons such as honest and valid differences of opinion is lost on them.)
- It could even be argued that psychopaths and sociopaths like to latch on to causes (even ostensibly noble causes) as a way to hide their true selfish intentions and/or compile a quick list of "enemies" that they can "safely" abuse and oppress without becoming pariahs or getting outright imprisoned or executed — they don't necessarily support the agenda, they just use it as a crutch to justify behaving like assholes. However, this argument is a borderline No True Scotsman, and even if this argument is accepted, it would be foolish to assume that all psychotic members of a group are really just psychopaths or sociopaths trying to use the group as a cudgel and shield to support their own selfish pursuits without actually believing in the cause.
- This has a penchant for happening even when these interview videos are not actively attempting to push an agenda, for the simple reason that watching people share (conventionally-)sane mainstream opinions is far less intriguing and attention-grabbing than witnessing the deranged ramblings of lunatics.
- Though the Westboro Baptist Church (or something like it) is admittedly the logical endpoint of a worldview where only a small handful of humanity has any inherent value to their existence.
- Drum's first and second post on naming nutpicking.
- "Straw Men, Weak Men, and Hollow Men" Aikin, Casey, 2010
- Nutpicking hits the big time, Talking Points Memo. September 22, 2007
- HuffPo: Crossing the Line on the Issue of Race
- Dispatches From the Culture Wars: Tancredo to speak at white supremacist conference
- The Atlantic: Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?
- Alan Dowty, The Jewish State, A Century Later (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 267.
- Diana Muir, "A Land without a People for a People without a Land", Middle Eastern Quarterly, Spring 2008, Vol. 15, No. 2
- Alexander Keith, The Land of Israel According to the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (Edinburgh: William Whyte and Co., 1843), p. 43
- Campus Reform, VIDEO: Students are 'Ready for Hillary' just because she's a woman by Caleb Bonham
- Obama Supporters Petition to Repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT. Seriously! Watch!