The So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy

The So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy

For the closing days of summer, I am posting every chapter of the first edition of Everything You Believe Is Wrong. My enemies ravaged the first edition, inserting typos galore while I was distracted in the service of our people. I here leave their efforts untouched, so that the insidiousness of their behavior is plain. Meanwhile, I am completely revamping and expanding the book, and looking forward to incorporating your comments and criticisms (no need to point out typos and grammar errors). The second edition will be glorious.

This is the Chapter 2: So’s Yer Old Man.

You Do, Too

Temper, Temper

Since I’m going to be casting aspersions hither and yon throughout this book, and because many readers will likely live in one of those hyper-sensitive municipalities whose indigenous populants cannot bear to have their beliefs impugned, questioned, or even examined, and so head to the nearest Safe Space upon any hint of disagreement, it’s well to cover the So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy first. It is not a strong fallacy, but it is among the best loved.

Everybody knows that intellectuals willingly suffer slings and arrows against their morals, their behavior, their honor, chastity, courage, charity, probity, fortitude, physique and much more. But they will not tolerate nor abide nor countenance defamation of their cerebral soundness. This is why when confronted with a positive demonstration of error, lesser examples of the breed lash out reflexively with the So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy. No matter who uses it, or why, it is always a tacit admission of defeat. Point this out to your opponent. Watch him employ the Blowing Up Fallacy (see the end of Chapter 1).

“Melvin Smedgrass, you stand accused of robbing the bank on November the third, last, of $837 in cash. How do you plead?”

“Your honor, just last week in Detroit a man robbed a bank and got away with more than $15,000.”

“Is that so? Then I guess you didn’t rob a bank. You are free to go. Bailiff, release the prisoner.”

If you find this argument convincing, you’re qualified for a position in the editorial division of any major newspaper. For as soon as somebody makes the accusation “Mr Current-President did X”, the paper (if it supports the party of Mr Current-President) thinks itself duty-bound to respond, “Mr Past-President (of another party) did Y”, with the implication that the proposition “Mr Current-President did X” is false, or that X is not itself bad, or that the whole state of affairs is unworthy of discussion, or that the sin-rate of Presidents is so high that their sins are not a sins at all, or are at least too high to be bothered with.

When, in fact and as is obvious and logical, whether the proposition “Mr Past-President did Y” is true, false, or somewhere in between, it has no bearing whatsoever on whether the proposition “Mr Current-President did X” is true. If both X and Y are bad behaviors, it should be clear two wrongs do not make one right.

A Common Example

Man 1: “Perverts in Hollywood are going after kids, larding movies with debased propaganda.”

Man 2: “What? The Catholic Church abused children!”

Man 2, an obvious friend to the propaganda, would have made a logically equivalent point by answering Man 1 with “So’s yer old man!”

The So’s Yer Old Man is an attempt at distraction, and a fruitful one. It nearly always does the job asked of it. Distraction is requested and distraction is received. If a talking head says, “The proposed policy will cost jobs”, his opponent will shout, “Your alternate policies are worse for the economy!” Instead of ignoring this anemic counter-thrust, the weak-willed talking head finds himself answering the accusation about the economy. The battle has been lost. That jobs will be lost is forgotten.

The fallacy, which under its old Latin name tu quoque (“You, too!”), is so useful that it must be part of the curriculum in today’s Machiavellian political science departments. It is so commonplace that it is positively shocking to find it absent in any debate. Every wife uses it against every husband every time he says “You forgot to put the beer in the fridge!” and she says, “You didn’t buy the toenail polish I asked you to!”

More Than One Way To Skin A Fallacy

There are several popular variants of the fallacy. One is the Subject Shift Fallacy. A news reader says, “It has been suggested that Mr Current-President did X because of the Y situation.” A talking head responds with a variant of, “I think we’re missing the big picture, here. What we really need to focus on is Z.” All of a sudden, Z becomes the subject.

Another is the Squirrel Fallacy. A news reader says, “Before we address allegations the government was behind the death of the man in the fortified jail cell on which all the cameras simultaneously malfunctioned as the guards were on a smoke break—look!. A giant squirrel!” Or a fire, or a war, or a mass shooting, or some other artifice that wags the dog and causes memory blindness.

The Squirrel is thus akin to the Memory Hole Fallacy, which is the tactic of feigned deafness. Friday news dumps come to mind. The media knows they have to comment on these news dumps, which are usually damaging to them in some way. Silence is not an option, because everybody takes silence to imply guilt, an oft-justified belief.

The trick the media use is to cram paragraphs of filler in after the tease about the bad news. They act like they’re going to get to the point, that they’re excited and want nothing more than to talk about it, that they can’t wait to get at it. But then they yammer yammer yammer.

This is also a version of the Happy Face Fallacy. Positive attitude in answer to a devastating charge will almost always be remembered as evidence that the bad news was not in fact bad; indeed, that it was somewhat good. If you smile and nod but forget to answer the question, and are deft at changing the subject, more often than not, your positive attitude will be taken for an answer in your favor.

Informally Wrong

None of these—the So’s Yer Old Man, Subject Shift, Squirrel, or Memory Hole, etc.—are formal fallacies. They aren’t errors because of the way arguments are stated. They aren’t anything, really. They say nothing about the proposition of interest such that they could be a formal fallacy. They are nothing but air. They assert nothing directly. Distractions are never answers or arguments. They have no logical bearing on the matter at hand, but, boy, do they work!

Distraction fallacies are impossible to avoid. Listen to any press conference, hostile or friendly, anywhere in the world. Distractions by the speaker are routinely taken for answers. I would wager you cannot find a reporter questioning a politician where a distraction fallacy was not used.

“So what?,” you say, “This is politics and these kinds of things are expected.” This is sad and true. And no excuse. Beside that, politics is far from the only field in which the So’s Yer Old Man is found. You, dear reader, will very probably use it yourself while reading this book if you hold positions different than mine—which most of you will. You will use it even though you are forewarned. You will use it even though you have just been reminded of your forewarning. Distractions fallacies are almost impossible to resist.

“How dare he say homosexuals go after children! Catholic priests are far worse!” Whether they are or aren’t is irrelevant to proposition about homosexuals recruiting the young. That’s a point of logic. Logic itself is not a sport done by racking up points. But logical points are rarely the most important aspect of an argument. Winning is. Which is why the distractions are used. As I’ll say time and again: be ready for it.

Bluff & Bluster

Merrie Olde England

Here’s an example of the Bluff & Bluster Fallacy, a form of distraction fallacy, from an interesting article at London’s Telegraph by the unfortunately “soul-patched” Dominic Selwood entitled, “How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation.”1 The gist: Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce and a son, coupled with Thomas Cromwell’s greed, and their lusting after the wealth of Catholic monasteries, led the elite in England to pillage and purge and prevaricate until Catholics became as lepers.

These contingent particulars, unflattering as they are to the English version of protesting Christianity, and whether they are true or false, are beside the point. What is relevant is that when I in public (on my blog) explained the gist of Selwood’s article, I received this comment in response (with spelling corrected): “Consider that the scientific revolution was very much built on the ideas that Protestants had laid.”

Now it may be true that “Protesting Christianity laid the foundations of the scientific revolution”, or again it might be false; whatever it is, it is irrelevant in every sense to whether Thomas Cromwell was a pompous no-good son-of-a-bandersnatch glorified thief. The claim was that England turned Protestant because of lust, a certain low Y sperm count, and greed, and the reply was that Catholics were bad at science.

This is a clear instance of the So’s Yer Old Man. It was made worse by the falsity of the counter that Catholics are bad at science, which is ridiculous as Stanley Jaki has shown us2. What this example highlights is that answering with “So’s Yer Old Man!” need not itself be true to work. What counts is that the counter is loud and at least plausible, or surprising.

Moral Atheism

Another example. A theist offers, “There is no moral basis without God”, and an atheist counters with, “Priests abused young men.” Or the atheist will point out some other sin committed by a hypocritical theist (of which there is an unending supply). That the atheist knows abuse to be a sin, or that adultery or embezzlement or any of the other well known traps fallen into by priests are sins, proves that the atheist has a moral sense.

That a theist sins, is caught sinning, and the atheist glories in discovering the sin not only does not prove that there is no moral basis without God, the question of interest, but it positively supports that position, because that moral basis had to arise somewhere, and that somewhere is God (which I am not attempting to prove here). Since at least Christians acknowledge man’s fallen nature, announcing the discovery that a man, theist or atheist, is with sin, is like broadcasting the sun is hot.

In any case, it does not follow that because a person believes in God he will be more moral than an atheist. Satan’s belief in God is unshakeable. The point is, the atheist has used the So’s Yer Old Man and has turned the course of the argument in doing so.


Raw animal instinct is often the reason for the appearance of the So’s Yer Old Man. Your opponent has heard your claim, fears its truth, dreads the consequences of that truth, and lashes out with the first thing that comes to mind, usually something chosen to wound. We’ve all given in to the temptation. Even Bertie Wooster recorded an instance where he employed the Fallacy, retorting “Tinkety Tonk!'” in a fallacious attempt to rebut an argument. He knew his crime: “And I meant it to sting,” he said.

As a debating tactic, the So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy in its Bluster form is hard to beat. The late Christopher Hitchens (for those who still remember him) swore by it and was its master. I can’t recall an instance where he used it and his opponent wasn’t immediately distracted—by wilting, usually. His tactic, a version of the Squirrel Fallacy in which Hitchens himself became the squirrel, was to appear insulted and become overtaken with anger, all simulated, and which caused his opponent to adopt an apologetic tone.

Many use this technique. It is a favorite of social justice warriors. The level of their intense indignation (at anything and everything) is supposed to be proof of the proportion of falsity of the argument they are reacting against. Why else would they be so agitated unless they were right?

Isn’t That Nice

The bluster and anger work because most of us are nice people and don’t like upsetting anybody. But this is war.

Arguments are, after all, a form of intellectual warfare. We are fighting on the side of Truth, or so we hope. Therefore our goal is to win, not to placate or be nice. If you a genuinely uncertain of a position, you are not engaged in war, but in learning. But once you are sure, you must fight.

Since Truth is your sovereign, you are never “switching sides” when you admit to an error and acknowledging your opponent’s true point. This is because the new side you switched to was always your side to begin with. Or should have been if you truly honored Truth. This is what makes political bickering so nauseating. If you put party over Truth, as so many do under the belief, which might even at rare times be true, that party will eventually lead to greater Truth, then you have admitted that ends justify the means. Which is not Truth, but a lie. (I presume the Ends Justify Means Fallacy is so clear that it does not need rebutting.)

There are nice distinctions between deception and lying, of course: the former is allowable and the latter not. But we’ll not discuss the differences here.

Another Hitch

Some Hitchens fans when reading this Chapter are likely saying to themselves, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve heard plenty of debating fallacies used by Hitch’s Christian opponents, too!”, thus proving my point but not recognizing that I’ve proven it. Way to go, Hitch! It takes supreme mental discipline to stay on topic in any heated exchange. It is no surprise most of us fail and succumb to the So’s Yer Old Man. It thrives like a mutant weed on the Internet, on television talk and news shows, and at press conferences.

In any argument when a question has been posed, you are either on the giving or receiving side of the answer “Because X”. In this book you, the reader, will be on receiving end. Some arguments you will disagree with. Just because you don’t have a retort in mind does not mean one does not exist. One may. If somebody says “Because X”, and you think it invalid, your clear intellectual duty is to search out the invalidity without offering distractions. But if you cannot discover a retort directly related to the premises of “Because X”, and indeed you agree the premises of“Because X” are true, and that the argument itself is valid (its sinews unbroken and with clear connections) and its conclusion sound, your sole duty is to flee the Meta Fallacy and accept the argument, even if you fear the consequences or find them distasteful. You must change your mind. Doing anything else turns you into a bureaucrat, modern academic, politician, or idealogue.

If you are on the giving end and your opponent has opted for the So’s Yer Old Man, you must highlight it, but that is all you should do. “I said `Because X’, and you said squirrel! Let us return to Because X. Again I say, ‘Because X.'” Instead of focusing on your opponent’s mistake, reissue the original “Because X.” Be tenacious. Do not be distracted. Arguments are not feelings, and you must restrain yours. If your opponent cannot focus, or pretends not to be able to, say “You have forgotten to answer why not X. Here is why X in different words.” Ignore everything which is not a direct reply—let it all pass. All of it. Do not be afraid or worried about appearing to be boring. Ignore all outbursts, shun all distractions, stay on target.

There will be plenty of times in this book where I say things like, “Progressives make this fallacious argument”. Do not slip and say, “Well, conservatives make even dumber statements.” This is the So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy, which is dumber than whatever the conservative might have said. When I say, “The debased believe this atrocious and obviously fallacious conclusion” do not find solace in “The based say stupid things too.” The temptation will at times become almost unbearable. Bear it you must.

The So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy belongs on the playground, where it originated. It is only the child who thinks “You’re a big meanie!” is refuted by “So’s yer old man!” Incidentally, the So’s Yer Old Man Fallacy is the equivalent of the Sez You! Fallacy, which (I am told) is the transliteration of the Latin non sequitur.


… Reformation.”1

… us2

E.g. The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays.

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  1. MikeW

    “So’s Yer Old Man” can be a valid argument of the form “He That Is Without Sin Should Throw the First Stone”. The argument maintains that the original accuser is a hypocrite that should clean up their own house first, or admit that their accusation is not serious. For example, the Catholic who accuses Hollywood of immorality should clean up their own organization first, or admit that immorality isn’t a serious problem. The Catholic can counter by asserting that they are cleaning up their organization, or that their problem isn’t as serious as Hollywood, or that both problems should be addressed.

  2. JerryR

    Under the guise of distraction, is the modern world one of immorality? Was the pre-modern world before English Protestantism also one of immorality but much less so? I read Selwood’s article with interest. It adds many details to my knowledge of English history.

    I am a Catholic, and Catholicism’s objective is to get to heaven. But Catholicism, as practiced by European hierarchies, both ecclesiastical and secular before English Protestantism, frustrated an essential aspect of human nature provided by God, namely freedom. So how does this practice of Catholicism square its fundamental objective with a denial of an essential element of God’s creation? It cannot.

    English Protestantism led to the modern world, not because of its nature but because there were two very different versions of it fighting for supremacy, and the accord gradually led to freedom further down the social chain. The epitome was Pennsylvania, where by decree and action, poor men could thrive if they were able.

    Catholicism was not unique, as every society in the history of the world, including Protestantism, also denied freedom.

    Do we have a return of what Selwood described in England, not just to Catholics but to all religious thought as our betters decide what is suitable for us? Not for the wealth of the religious but to eliminate its intellect and, in many cases, the truth advocated by religion.

    Because the real aphrodisiac is not wealth but power. McClelland’s need theory (affiliation, achievement and power drive human behavior) explains more than anything what is happening in the world today. And are fallacies just a necessary tool for squelching threats to power?

    Truth is the natural enemy of power. And fallacies are the means to an end which is the power of a few.

  3. JH

    Just to give an example.

    Every wife uses it against every husband every time he says “You forgot to put the beer in the fridge!” and she says, “You didn’t buy the toenail polish I asked you to!”

    What is the argument that is logically fallacious? Both he and she are stating
    facts, not making any arguments. If they are not making arguments, they commit no logical fallacies. What am I missing here?

    How easy it is to show that the blanket statement of “Every wife used it against every husband…” is not true! lol

    A chapter is too long for a blog post for me.

  4. Plantagenet

    JH- The example of a fallacy occurs when instead of answering the rather terse accusation of the husband directly and with simple logic of her own ie;
    A- Yes I forgot (or)
    B-No I didn’t forget I just can’t be bothered
    The wife attempts a sidestep by suggesting the husband has done essentially the same thing. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant she has mounted a rhetorical defence which does not adequately answer the accusation. This is crystal clear.
    The blanket statement you imply exists does not. You omit the importance of the phrase “and she says”. The categories of ‘every husband’ and ‘every wife’ are qualified by the inclusion of this phrase. So not only is the author not suggesting this is true of all marriages but only those when one spouse responds by dodging the question, he is quite correct that when the fallacy is used in this manner he can legitimately say ‘every husband’ or ‘every wife’. I point this out for others since I believe you are perfectly well aware of it and are merely being deliberately disingenuous. Cheers!

  5. The True Nolan

    The “So’s Yer Old Man” does provide at least one good point.
    Dem says: Trump eats babies!
    Rep says: Well, Biden eats babies as well!

    Very possibly they are both right. If, however, it is true that Biden eats babies and the Dems never cared about or censored him for it, then if nothing else that shows that the Dems do not have any real, strongly held, disapproval of baby eating. That being the case, their pretend outrage with Trump is merely acting. Granted that Biden eating babies does not make Trump (if he actually did it) blameless, but it does show evidence that the Dems are not fair witnesses who are likely to be lying in accusing Trump.

  6. Cary D Cotterman

    JH–the issue isn’t that what the wife says in response to her husband is not a fact. The problem–the fallacy–is that her statement, even if it is true, is irrelevant as an argument against his statement. It does not address the topic in question, but is an attempt to distract from it.

  7. Cary D Cotterman

    “So’s yer old man” is now more commonly referred to as “whataboutism”.

  8. Michael 2

    Proposing that preceding presidents have committed some insult or illegality is not intended to propose that the current president did not do whatever he is accused of doing; rather, it is to establish a principle of fairness with regard to proposed consequences.
    Same with domestic disputes. If my wife accuses me of something, some sort of restitution is expected or demanded. A principle of fairness then suggests that if I accuse my wife of something, she is obligated to restitution. But of course, there’s usually a big difference in how these things are weighted and the nature of restitution demanded.

  9. JH

    Cary D Cotterman and Michael2,

    Got it. “You forgot to put the beer in the fridge (or to do whatever)” is intended to be some sort of accusation, and the wife tries to defend herself or distract with a “you too” response.

    (I’d have to re-evaluate my usual response of “Sorry (or thanks), Hon.” But… life could be miserable if I am to be defensive. )

    That there are no arguments made in the conversation between the husband and wife is my point. Neither of them constructs an argument with premises and conclusions; see the link in my previous comment (what opinion, fact, and argument are) and (examples).

  10. JH


    I see… so

    A: Every time (When) a husband says “You forgot to put the beer in the fridge!” and his wife says, “You didn’t buy the toenail polish I asked you to, (then) the wife uses it against her husband.

    Now change to

    B: Every time (When) a husband says “You forgot to put the beer in the fridge!” and his wife says, “You didn’t buy the toenail polish I asked you to, (then) every wife uses it against every husband.

    Do A and B have the same meaning? No, Not to me.

    Anyhow, please don’t waste you time trying to explain to me online any further if I don’t get your point. I will ask either an English professor or a philosophy professor once school starts. (If I remember, that is.)

  11. Milton Hathaway

    JH: To understand the spouse reference, don’t bother asking an English or philosophy professor, they will be clueless. Better to ask a comedian. Or even better, check out the occasional spouse references on the Babylon Bee satire site. They really nail the spouse stuff – things like getting in huge trouble with your spouse for something you did in their dream. (Go the and search for “husband wife”, without the quotes.)

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