There has been revolutionary progress in the development of the arsenal for Dissidence Management, but that does not mean putting aside tried and tested weapons. The new does not always replace the old. It adds to the old in this context. Some things remain ever-green. And one of them is the good old ad-hominem.
Now, everyone who is sufficiently educated knows that the ad-hominem is not recommended in certain aspects of life. For example, in a public political speech, resorting to the ad-hominem almost always backfires. In research publications it cannot even be thought of. That is, inside the (published) publications. However, in most other places, the ad-hominem is often the weapon of choice. Even in public politics. Even in scientific research. It can be used easily in informal communication, if used with some caution: just a little bit. It can even be used in formal communications, as long as anonymity can be maintained and accountability cannot be established.
It is a weapon to which there is no defense, provided, once again, that it is not used in places like actual scientific conference presentations (or questions to them or answers to the questions) or in formal meetings. But as soon as they are over, the battlefield is ready for deployment.
A typical scenario of usage is this:
The dissident criticizes the system or establishment or the society/country/nation or the community or the institution. Not the individual(s), or not just the individual(s). The criticism is met with the ad-hominem attack. No preparations is needed, but if there is some, so much the better.
The reason it works so well in this scenario has a psychological basis. That basis is that the criticism by the dissident (an individual) is seen, wrongly-but-fortunately for Dissidence Management, as an ad-hominem attack against all the individuals of the collective entity the criticism is directed against. And hence the ad-hominem against the dissident is considered to be justified. Charming!
As said before, it cannot be defended against. It can only be ignored. So, it should be used in such a way that it is hard to ignore.
The ad-hominem is impervious to any arguments, evidence or reasoning. It can be effective against anyone. However, it is especially effective against those who know that it is 100% unethical and actually act on this knowledge in all aspects of life. (Well, actually no one can do it always as everyone uses it at one time or another, but some people try: in all aspects of life). If they happen to be sensitive and/or self-conscious, its effect is even more devastating. In many cases this one weapon will win the battle, or even the war, against the targeted dissident. Some dissidents, though, may be immune to this or may ignore it, partly or fully. In those cases, other weapons are needed, but there are enough of them.
Some might argue that it is not a good weapon, because it sometimes backfires. They are right only to an extent. Before using it, one has to know when not to use it. Once you know that, the ground is open. To be more specific, as hinted at earlier, it may backfire if its use gets out in the public space, especially that covered by the mainstream media so that its unethicality may be invoked against it. But not otherwise. Otherwise it is quite alright. Those who have little support (or none) are sitting ducks. That, by the way, gives a clue about another weapon in the arsenal: Isolate the Dissident. More about that later, but one thing can be mentioned here. Once the dissident has been isolated, just the mention of this fact is a very good ad-hominem attack. And the ad-hominem can be immensely helpful in the isolation process too. Wonderful, isn’t it? The more you use it, the more you can use it.
Never under-estimate the ad-hominem.
Use it. Use it. You can never lose it.