Ad Hominem Fallacy vs Reasoned Defense

from wikipedia:   Ad hominem abuse

Ad hominem abuse (also called personal abuse) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponent in order to invalidate his or her argument, but can also involve pointing out factual but ostensible character flaws or actions which are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and even true negative facts about the opponent's personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent's arguments or assertions.
  • "You can't believe Jack when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn't even have a job."
  • "Candidate Jane's proposal about zoning is ridiculous. She was caught cheating on her taxes in 2003."

I was accused yesterday of making "ad hominem" attacks in our arguments in support of fair trade of "e-waste".  As a high school debate team champion (my crowning achievement to date, Arkansas state competition, 1980  Soooeeee!) I take very seriously any contention that I'm not logically supporting my argument, but drumming up personal, unrelated accusations against an opponent to sway people.

How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of LogicIn my view, an ad hominem attack is being made on electronics technicians and recyclers overseas, when professional technicians and engineers are accused of working in "a primitive wire-burning operation".  I've done a search of my past and best ewaste blog posts.   Aside from the April Fool's day post (which I would still argue is not ad hominem), I find pretty clean arguments.  I do address e-waste recycling earnestly, and strongly believe that an export ban has serious unintended consequences.  I believe that the e-Stewards model is a case of "the perfect being the enemy of the good" when it attacks ISRI and R2.   I believe that the issue which sets R2 and e-Stewards certifications apart are the possibility R2 holds out that possibly an overseas factory might be a good recycling option, that possibly it may be legal, and that possibly it could become a certified and legal end market.     I have sided with R2 because of my personal first hand experience with these companies, some of whom are the original equipment manufacturer or assemblers, which are themselves overseas, taking back product very similar to the ones they take back for warranty returns.  BAN's arguments in print are illogical:  If R2 allows a perfect, non-polluting manufacturer takeback program in India to be certified, that "therefore" R2 will allow pollution to be shipped overseas, or "therefore" R2 violates international law.  BAN's argument should be taken seriously, but breaking good stuff people need is not the best or only solution to the problem they pose, and R2 by definition certifies that the export must be legal in both countries.

In my most direct appeals to an individual at BAN, such as this open letter to Jim Puckett, I am trying to find the right balance between defending good people doing good things in other countries, and "attacking".   I think the best way to put the dispute behind us and to serve my friends overseas is the "California Compromise", wherein a state which is losing so much money breaking working equipment can lose a little less money by supplying the repairable assets directly to the overseas buyers. 

In this article in Toxics News from January, 2010, Jim Puckett made the following quote:
BAN members alleged that Ingenthron was not aware of the latest clarifications by convention stakeholders with regard to exports of e-waste for repair. "The truth is Robin has been trotting out his own very self-serving interpretation of the Basel Convention," Puckett continued, "unaware that the Basel Parties have carefully examined the issue and created guidelines that refute his notion that export for repair is outside of the Convention." 
Now, I don't consider that an ad hominem attack on me.  I am conscious that the article names my company, that the title is "Toxics News", and that it's critical.   But I think the allegation that my position on reuse is self-serving is fair.   Wrong.  But fair.

You see, my company in Vermont sells to the factory which we propose CA SB20 sell to.  Once that happens, California's 9000 CRTs per DAY, supplied from ports on the Pacific, will completely flood and erase my own company's purchase order.  California will be selling into a market which another logical CEO might have wanted to remain a secret so that they could continue to sell into it.

Now, calling BAN the "Ayatollah of E-Waste" is a little closer to an ad hominem attack, though it isn't one because they are not an Ayatollah.  I sat on that accusation for several years, and only went public with it after 8 years of standstill on the Basel Convention Annex IX dispute.

The "ayatollah" characterization makes a couple of points.  First, they act holy and scare people.  By "acting holy" I mean that they treat argument over what international law actually says as equivalent to ignoring the law (their interpretation being the "correct" one), and declare those who disagree with them (Bob Tonetti, ISRI, John Lingelbach, WR3A) to be "guilty violators of international law".  The "violation of law" is an allegation.  In real law, you can hire a lawyer and make your case.  For example, at times I think BAN conflates the "Ban Amendment", which they wish to be law, with the Basel Convention, which most countries have signed into law.  An ayatollah is one who has read the Koran and who people go to for advice - mostly people who have not read it.   There are good Ayatollahs.  I do confess that in the USA, the term brings to mind those who use their position as go between to make political maneuvers, essentially playing prosecutor, judge and jury. 

If the Koran says it is a sin be cruel to a dog or a goat, it raises ire when someone never tells that side of the Koran and, because they want a political war on the battlefield, ignore the peaceful passages and emphasize only an obscure passage from when the Prophet was entering a battle.  That is the analogy I am making to the Basel Convention, which is not a bad document, and which specifically defends nations rights to support repair and reuse of electronics.

BAN knows the difference between the Ban Amendment and the Basel Convention, and knows the difference between Guiyu and Foxconn.   But they speak publicly to reporters and activists who do not know what the Basel Convention says (e.g. that two nations can consider an export of a CRT for repair to be "a commodity and not a waste") and I find it sometimes unclear whether they are representing the bureaucracy (Basel Secretariat), the Ban Amendment, or the Convention.  People assume they are representing the Convention, when they have taken an obscure, unratified draft proposal on mobile phones made public by the Basle Secretariat and state that my ignorance of the phone document's "decision tree" (which follows more the Ban Amendment) to refute my citation of ratified Annex IX language.   It's as if a small group meeting in Switzerland can agree to a document which trumps the rights to repair explicitly stated in the Convention itself.  If a memo on cell phones - which never applies cell phone procedures to Cathode Ray Tube factories or even mentions them - is used to get governments to stop those SKD factories from taking back out of warranty monitors in addition to monitors they take back under warranty...  ironically, that makes the case of the opponents of the USA ratifying treaties. 

Opponents say that if the USA signs a reasonable treaty, that the treaty can later be amended or interpreted by an international bureaucracy without represesentation from the USA or balance of powers we are accustomed to.  I'm not an opponent of congress ratifying the Basel Convention, but these arguments of caution are not without merit.

A lot of time passes with no response to articles which genuinely question BAN's position on export of used products for repair, refurbishment, and even recycling if no toxics are released or disposed of.   The USA exports raw ore - copper, lead, etc. - to smelters in China, and the raw ore and blister copper contains more mercury and lead than any e-scrap... but evidently, because it is mined from a mountainside, it is a "commodity", and the copper wire and lead battery which are cleaner and 50x more pure are a "waste".

China is starting a campaign to define things like the copper wire and dry lead as "green wastes", because China needs the raw materials.  China just doesn't like the secondary market.  The Communist Party owns manufacturing, and plays "planned obsolescence" games the same as Japanese and USA companies.

My point is that I am most stern when defending other people, usually the technicians overseas and the recyclers like Ms. Vicki in Mexico.  But also academics like Eric Williams, Ramzy Kahhat, and Josh Lepawsky, and people like John Lingelbach (mediator of the R2 discussions) and Bob Tonetti of EPA (and now Unicor).  I believe that my harshest blogs have been in response to attacks.   I hope that I have not made an ad hominem fallacy.   I hope even more that BAN will see the opportunity to donate CA SB20 goods to my company's end markets, and put me out of business, the good way.  In the process, we can get away from the Fads and Fallacies.

I believe that California's supply would be better for our friends overseas, and would put Basel Action Network and my organization, WR3A, on the same side for a change.  The United Nations GAID program could get 20,000 computers per year in the bargain (offered as a donation by the recycler who would receive and refurbish the monitors).

If the tone of this blog has become more critical in the past year, it is because factories we have visited, very promising shops which would probably have turned into long term infrastructure for the developing nations they are in, have been shut down.  I have a letter sent to the factories in Indonesia which buy CRTs and refurbish them, some in ISO14001 certified operations with incidental breakage properly recycled, which tells them they cannot do it any more.  This occured AFTER I wrote what I felt to be a very balanced entreaty, "We Shouldn't Have to Make That Choice", which E-Scrap News republished as an Op-Ed last December.

Robin Ingenthron

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