Archives for category: Dialectic vs. Rhetoric

Irony is easier to identify on the page than it is in the “post.” This marks one difference between writing under a byline and writing in an Internet forum. In the former, irony is usually understood; in the latter, irony is usually misunderstood — not even identified when it is happening.

notty-hottyRecently, in an online argument, I engaged in a bit of performative hyperbole after someone else had done precisely the same — yet my interlocutor did not play along. I was puzzled by this; he was adamantly insistent on taking everything as serioso as possible. So we both decided (consciously?) to play moral high dudgeon and flame war, reënacting the oldest social tradition of the Internet.

Like usual, the whole affair ended up looking ugly and stupid.

This particular case involved the phrase “I can no longer allow” in a recent Daily Caller polemic entitled “Everybody Needs to Stop Celebrating the ‘Plus-Sized Models Are Awesome’ Garbage.”

The meat of this particular think piece is simple enough to understand. Its core argument is expressed in the title, and it belongs to a genre becoming increasingly prominent as the Social Justice Warrior mindset of “fat acceptance” has hit peak cultural acceptance. But the author does go his own way:

For some inexplicable reason, American entertainment outlets think male consumers are entertained by “plus-sized” models. They’re not. Trust me when I say that there’s a reason men read the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazine, and it has nothing to do with the seemingly unending supply of bigger models.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that obese women are bad people. Obviously that’s not the case, and it’d be a lazy critique of my argument to even attempt to boil it down to that.

My point is very simple. Men love football, alcohol and the women in bikinis that they don’t see walking around the town. If I can look out the windows of my office building and see six people similar to a woman featured in Sports Illustrated, then put simply, that woman has no business being in Sports Illustrated.

I do not believe this is a good explanation for why the fat acceptance/“beauty myth” movement is off track. And I explained my position. Which I need not address here. Just insert a typical Gad Saad-ish evolutionary perspective and run with it in your mind. You will guess what I was arguing.

But I did get in a jibe at one of the online debaters: his love of “plus-sized” women is somewhat of an aberration. He is an outlier.

And he got a little perturbed, as was his right, and responded in what I regarded as a deliberately hyperbolic manner: he “would not allow” others to spew “bullshit” about something in his bailiwick.

I responded in a similar outrageous way, in performative hyperbole, accusing him of “threatening” me by using the words “bullshit” and “not allow” commentary, and saying I do not deal with such argumentative gambits. (All of which is true enough, but not the point of what I was doing.)

What I was expecting was the interlocutor to speak to me condescendingly, explaining his word choice in reference to the article we had just discussed. The article, after all, ends on a light note, in ironic grandiosity disparaging the fat acceptance movement:

I understand that this garbage is done to push a social narrative and nobody has the balls to criticize out of fear of being called a bigot or much worse. If I’m the only one willing to carry this banner and fight the good fight then so be it.

I can no longer allow this to happen, and nobody in America should tolerate it either. Stop celebrating obesity and go back to giving me hot women in tiny bikinis. Is that too much to ask?

The writer of this squib proclaims he would “no longer allow” the nonsense. Of course, the author was not talking directly to anyone, but simply posturing for stylistic effect. My Internet interlocutor, on the other hand, was doing something significantly different, echoing the very words — “I will not allow!” indeed — but applying it to an interpersonal — indeed, social — situation. And then, in his self-defense, did not mention that he was playing off the very words of the piece in question.

I am always somewhat nonplussed when debaters do not seem to realize what they are up to, and then object when someone else calls attention to it, or riffs on in a similar manner. My interlocutor instead called me a “cunt” and delivered the usual low-brow excoriations, and the whole thing descended into childishness. It became the opposite of amusing.

To engage in hyperbole and not recognize others engaging in the same seems odd to me. To riff off of someone else’s hyperbole and then take seriously another’s hyperbolic reaction strikes me as bizarre. And, indeed, to neglect to defend oneself by addressing what actually happened, but instead get caught up in argumentative denunciation, is so witless.

This happens every day, on the Net. It is so familiar one wonders why almost no one studies it, why there is so little rumination on how to think about better ways to handle tricky argumentative impasses.

Why get caught in the traps you yourself lay down?

When I, in this case, “over-reacted,” the proper response would have been to play along, and subtely reference the literary maneuver that led to my reaction. “My huffy debater,” my interlocutor could have reacted, “must not have realized that I was not engaging in a threat, or even in a prideful boast, but merely carrying on the rhetorical stance of the article in question.” But he, instead, apparently forgot that he had been doing precisely that, instead approached the evolving debate as combat and a grave breach of honor and who-knows-what. My response would have been, “Touché.” As it was, I left without screaming ALL CAPS or profanity or outrageous denunciation, just a statement of my opposition and an acceptance of his judgment. I gave him the last word. Which he had been insisting upon, in any case.

I probably should never engage in this form of tweakery. I do not want people to fly off the handle, after all. I did my part in the 1990s. I watched many a self-righteous arguer go ape over manners, of all things, based on simple and extremely polite nudges from me. Or impish trolls like me. It was fun to watch then, as people supposedly obsessed with honor in debating lost all sense of honor in debating. I have witnessed this dozens of times.

Now, though, I expect others not to lose their “cool.” But my expectation is apparently unwarranted, for losing their “cool” is indeed what most people do. They forget even what they have said, and the manner they have said it, and proceed to moral high dudgeon.

And they think themselves utterly honorable.

My error is thinking that everybody has learned the lessons of the Net. Or that they will learn mid-conversation. But to witness people take offense and then go “ballistic” is an amazing thing. The passive-aggressive stance provokes aggressive reaction because people simply cannot control themselves. If someone says something sneaky and insinuating, call attention to it and move on.

Humans are touchy creatures, and we live in a touchy society.

No wonder there once were duels.

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Isn’t it by a legal fiction that the accused are, in this country, said to be “innocent until proven guilty”? The fiction is important.

Similarly, it is by dialogic fiction that you are instructed to regard 

  • your interlocutor as honest, 
  • open to new information as well as unfamiliar logic, and as 
  • earnest in a desire to resolve cognitive dissonances.

Further, in political argumentation, we assume that everybody wants everyone else to be healthy, wealthy and wise. We assume good will.

All these assumptions about arguers have been shown to be incorrect. 

Our biases have been exhaustively examined by psychologists, and our intellectual limitations demonstrated as surprisingly vast. Similarly, the glee with which people wish to harm some others puts the lie to any universal notion of good will. And, to add a twist to the knife, some of us old arguers have come to expect the most ugliness from the loudest professors of benevolence; we know that ill will is ever-present in politics and government, at least.

And yet the dialogic fiction of benevolence retains its importance. It provides the groundwork for change, and for the reciprocity that is necessary for a free society.

And it is not just “those others” who are nudged to better behavior. Even when only one person in a debate behaves according to the fiction of general good will, that person is improved. 

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A friend of mine on Facebook, definitely not in my camp but a very intelligent person nonetheless (!), asked his friends for assistance:

Question: what are the advantages of characterizing the Trump administration as fascist?

I’m not asking here if this description is true. I’m wondering about its practical uses and benefits.

Many of the answers ignored my friend’s stricture about whether or not the description were true. I tried not to. But I still did not quite follow his guidelines either. For my answer characterized the utility of the word as extremely limited.

My response was as follows:

Using the term, especially when shouting down people who are engaged in peaceable assembly and normal free speech activities, makes you look insane. Against Trump it just seems gratuitous. We have reason to fear tyranny from him (as with his predecessors, if more so), but not all tyrants are fascists.

More importantly, it is worth remembering that, by calling Trump a fascist, you are insinuating that his supporters are fascists (fascism was a popular movement, if not quite populist). And since most of his followers are simply not fascist, their reaction is to dismiss you as an unhinged zealot.

Is that what you want? It certainly exacerbates the gulf between camps. When I argue against Trump with his supporters, I do not go there. But then, I am trying to convince them of something, not make myself feel good.

I’ve used the f-word, too. It makes me feel so righteous!

The full-war verbal arsenal we deploy when we fire the f-word yields quite a thrill. I know. And there are fascists in this world, and they deserve to be called by the name. So, sometimes use the word.

But when we have little evidence of fascism, and use it anyway, it does not really accomplish much but score brownie points with our tribe, while utterly alienating most people not in our tribe.

Those who use the word often, and especially indiscriminately, are not merely engaged in what we now call “virtue signaling.” They are engaged in open cultural warfare with those whom they disagree.

Unless your interlocutor whom you have dubbed “fascist” self-designates as such, you have used a word that he (or she) will likely regard as a fighting word, and you should expect full retaliation, of whatever kind that may take.

And at that point, dialogue enters a quite different realm. People are no longer arguing matters of fact and logic and perspective; no one “follows the argument wherever it leads” in such situations. Political philosophy becomes a distant dream of a forgotten time.

Now, in many situations, were I called a fascist, I would probably laugh in the name-caller’s face. The idea is ridiculous. And my opponent — enemy, really — can only be one of two things: a ridiculous boob, an idiot, a moron; or a liar, a fiend, a very knave.

So, of course, after being called a fascist, one really should be looking for and securing a weapon. For, though when you (dear reader) use the term you are mostly harmless, your opponent may be quite dangerous, and you have a right to defend yourself. Look around for pens, chairs, vases — anything to strike back at the person. Or hold up as shield.

People who throw around mad charges in high moral dudgeon should not be merely brushed off. They present a high probability of grave danger, and should be regarded as potential threats. The fact that the “anti-fascists” of antifa and BAMN are now engaging in open violence on the streets indicates how dangerous such people can be. Prepare yourself for total warfare at the personal level.

And accept the likelihood that a mass, citizen-participating civil war is in the offing, not beyond the horizon, like it used to seem, just a few years ago.

However, if you are a fascist, why should you mind being called one? Well, most people who lob the term around are in warfare mode, so even if the charge sticks, caveats, still.

But why would you be a fascist? Fascism is collectivist corporatism, and corporatism is what we have now. Fascism is just more of what we have now. Why would you want more?

Less, please. Less corporatism; less statism; fewer regulations; an end to group-based law and culture; more competition in politics; and calm down on the war lust, please.

And one way to do the latter might be to stop throwing the f-word about so easily.

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The amusing thing about having a fabulist as President is that it gives us all something to talk about while he pushes through as much of his promised agenda as he can.

Fake out!

imageYeah, I’ve been tricked by Trump’s Twitter feed, too. But, to repeat something I said last month, there is a method to his madness. He is spinning the media. I do believe this is according to a plan. He is a magician. Or, maybe, Iago + troll.

I was just watching the Egregious Hack, George Stephanopoulis, go into high moral dudgeon about the utter implausibility that the White House was spouting in defense of the Trump Tower Wiretap Tweet. The Hack seemed to think he was on to something. It was as if he thought that by exposing this one lie, the whole Trump movement would crumble.

Fool!

Yes, he should know better. It was he, after all, who was present at the creation of the Post-Truth society. His beloved Clintons mastered stonewalling and sheer cussed persistence long after after a lie had been found out.

The Clintons had learned that being caught in a lie is very much like Death — for everybody else. The lied-to go through stages: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. As long as the caught liar refuses to deal with the truth and the meaning of is and whatnot, those he has lied to deal with the awful fact as best they can. If the liar is resolute, in the end the lied-to merely accepts that something happened not to their liking, and carry on as if truth were not a thing.

And, in politics, it needn’t be. And has not been for a long time.

Trump is merely playing the game by his standards, now, not the media’s.

We could be witnessing the End Times ushered in the side door, or the greatest political rescue mission negotiated out the back. I don’t know.

But it is hysterically funny.

It is great fun, anyway, watching the Egregious Hack and his cohorts twist in the wind, as Trump plays them.

Just remember to laugh. (Sometimes one forgets to breathe.) We are witnessing the complete erosion of the establishment’s patina, a wiping away of all surface luster. We shall soon be witnessing nothing other than naked power.

Yes. You can then call it the Apocalypse. For much will then be revealed.

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The news comedy shows are, for the most part, denunciation shows. This description fits Jon Stewart’s old topical comedy show and Trevor Noah’s lamer version; Bill Maher’s HBO warhorse, and John Oliver’s hipper variant on the same network; and, especially, the best one in the business, RT’s Redacted Tonight

The worst of the lot is surely Samantha Bee’s, but perhaps I err. I have not really been able to watch her after she left The Daily Show. Larry Wilmore’s is a little better, but, last I checked it was relentlessly race-obsessed. I feel icky after watching it — like other people feel after they’ve experienced Milo, who has a touring show, not a TV show.

Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox is a little less denunciatory (perhaps by being more defensive?), and Greg Gutfeld’s new weekend show is . . . well, you explain it to me. These latter two are the only non-left-leaning of such shows that I am aware of. That is, the hosts are not leftists.

Many people miss Stephen Colbert’s parody show of Bill O’Reilly. Not me. I tired of it after about the second episode. It is worth noting that YouTube’s The Young Turks works as a self-parody show — an unintentional self-parody show.

Topical comedy is hard, I am sure. Being fresh and always witty? Maddeningly difficult. That is one reason these topical comedy shows resort to relentless denunciation. When you are not being truly funny, you can rely on your audience’s out-group hatred and loathing — and self-righteous sense of in-group superiority — to maintain passion and high-pitch enthusiasm. Thus delighted laughter is replaced with derisive howls

The problem with all this is that they become uncomfortably close to the show depicted in A Face in the Crowd, the great Elia Kazan film starring Andy Griffith as “Lonesome” Rhodes: grand examples of demagoguery. This is especially the case for the shows with live audiences. They want red meat (or the leftist soy-and-quinoa equivalent), and there is usually one guest who serves as the lion pride’s delectable Christian treat.

Most of these shows sport panel “debate” segments. These, of course, are played for comedy, but also for argumentative purposes, too. The better to serve the denunciation game. And yet sometimes one actually witnesses productive, honest debate. Not often. Sometimes.

Last week, mere days before the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulis was publicly hit with a disgrace campaign based on some pedophilia-related comments he had made, the gay conservative free-speech provocateur appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Last week I wrote about his one-on-one interview with Maher at the top of the show. I could not bear to watch the panel segment with Milo . . . until yesterday, at which point I hastily put together a video about what went wrong. The problem was more than mere denunciation, though denunciations there were, all around:

I briefly comment on Vee’s explanatory video, too, so I should put up his link:

The key concepts that I tried to add to the debate are the two main problems we see in modern discourse all the time, especially on television topical comedy shows:

1. Data impasses, and

2. Contractual impasses.

Either kind of stalemate-inducing situation scuttles profitable dialogue. And, frankly, neither serves as humor, either. Sure, the second kind usually takes the form of mutual denunciation, but such cases do not seem funny to me. Not at all. They are usually excruciating.

The denunciation shows might consider growing up.

Or die. That would be good, too.

To be replaced by real interviews and real debates.

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Gad Saad, the evolutionary scholar who has devoted his career to explaining consumer behavior, celebrated Charles Darwin’s birthday with a new “Saad Truth” video:

Professor Saad is one of my favorite arguers, interviewers, and monologists on YouTube. I like almost all of his online contributions, and am head-over-heels for not a few of them.

Alas, this is not up to his usual stellar standards.

He defends evolutionary theory against its many unlearned critics. Many of whom have the temerity to attack his evolutionism on Twitter and similar venues. But there are problems as to how — not that — he has done so.

Full disclosure: I am on his side. I do not see how evolution cannot be the basic view of life. But I admit: I did not really believe it until after I had abandoned theistic belief. (I exited the fold of believers, long ago, for scientific and rational reasons that were tangential to evolutionary theory proper. Psychology was a major concern, however. I abandoned a supernaturalistic explanation for all the human behavior I witnessed, and after that it proved too difficult to maintain any sort of theism. I moved to incredulity, coupled with curiosity.) But in this video he spends most of his time engaging in ad hominem arguments and the argument from authority.

img_2320Which is not wholly disreputable. It is sometimes legitimate to attack the motivations and character and methods of those one disagrees with. Sometimes it is this practice, more than rational argument, that proves the only thing carable of nudging some folks out of dogmatic slumbers.

Similarly, appeals to authority (which the professor also marshaled) are not wholly out of line. When we suggest that experts generally support some conclusion or another, those who doubt the conclusion should take pause.

But there is no logical reason to side with authorities. Authorities can be, and often are, wrong.

I can cite many cases.

But all this is moot. The reason the vast majority of biologists and allied scientists support evolutionary explanations is that these explanations are the best we have available, and the alternatives just do not seem very persuasive. If you bracket out religion, especially religious motivation, from the picture.

And Saad is quite right, the standard charge that “evolution is only a theory” is silly in the extreme. First, it is not true: evolution is not “only a theory.” And second, there are a lot of now universally accepted truths that we ordinarily view primarily as theories, since our everyday perceptions would indicate that Occam’s Razor better slices in a completely different direction.

Example? Flat Earth. It is not the spherical planet theory that seems to make sense in terms of normal, everyday experience. One must broaden one’s experience (say, fly in a jet, or travel on the open seas) and engage in some tricky mental operations (noting the round and apparently spherical character of heavenly bodies, the disappearance first of ship and then of shipmasts at the horizon, etc.) to see that a spheroid Earth better describes terrestrial shape.

Most creationists, today, seem uninterested in the vast evidence gathered by geology and paleontology. Most of which backs up the evolutionary approach. But once you begin to engage in hands-on work with rock and fossils, and then look at the huge collections of fossilized life and their origin in geological strata, then the creationist and “intelligent design” quibbles are eclipsed by the huge mass of accumulated evidence, and evolution becomes pretty darn obvious.

One of the best early arguments for the facticity of evolution was written nearly a decade before Darwin’s Origin of Species, and was acknowledged by him (along with many other precursors) in a later volume of the work. That argument is “The Development Hypothesis,” by Herbert Spencer.

“Aha!” exclaim the creationists. “You admit, it is less than ‘just a theory’ — it is a mere hypothesis!”

No. I encourage a reading of the actual text. For, as one quickly learns, even seven years prior to Darwin’s explanation of speciation, Spencer made a quite convincing case. “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by the facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” As Darwin wrote in the Historical Sketch preceding later editions of his first ground-breaking work, Spencer makes the case with “remarkable skill and force.” If one looks at facts further away from one’s normal pathway between work and home, one sees that the case for evolution is quite clear. Even sans the Darwinian advance.

The only real reason (from what I can tell) that anyone puts any stock at all in the theory of special creation is the result of being “born to a given belief” — that is, because they accept certain ancient beliefs in the supernatural, beliefs that they find comforting or exalting or in some other way psychologically attractive.

For my part, those ancient beliefs seem not in the tiniest bit persuasive. The people who first advanced them, and the books that they produced, were not at all conducive to rational thought. Doubt and incredulity and curiosity were not attitudes they sought to inculcate. Instead, they promoted dogma and something called “faith.” They were engaging in a mythological mode, intent on fulfilling purposes other than careful inquiry. None of their writings gives off the odor of reliable reportage.

Let us move on. To the next step. The fact of evolution is one thing. The explanatory principles are another. And, yet further, the extrapolations from those principles, and their applications to other questions not directly and obviouosly related to the long course of evolution, are different yet.

Darwin helped many believe the first aspect of the problem — the actual occurrence of the development of life over many, many thousands and millions of generations of living beings — by providing a startling set of principles that helps explain how organisms adapt to environments, and, over time, change structures and behaviors so that the natures of the descendants are remarkably distinct from that of their ancestors.

There are a lot of “theories” involved at every level, here. But it is not as if the initial speculations have not been backed up by later accumulations of evidence. And while it is also true that some evidence has falsified some aspects of Darwin’s (and, more obviously, Spencer’s) notions, this is not cause for alarm — evolutionary science has itself evolved, adapting to newly discovered facts, modifying to reflect reality. Increment by increment.

Creationism, on the other hand, has mostly been restricted to apologetics, to bolstering up received notions. The expansion of its “research program” has not given us many (any?) useful new insights, much less promising avenues for further exploration. And, unlike evolutionary science, it has not produced useful technological advances in medicine or anything else.

But evolutionists have.

The distant past is difficult to explain, since it is indeed long past — and we naturally enough lack direct access to the facts of the past, especially before living memory, and most especially before the human record, reliable or not. And yet, we do possess the geological record; we also understand (in part) the astronomical context, the rapidly expanding information about genetics and epigenetics, and the massive evidence of a diversity of beings distributed throughout the world (in patterns that suggested to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin a difficult-but-powerful idea, natural selection).

And the people Gad Saad calls morons and Dunning-Kruger-affected nincompoops? They think they understand creationism. But they do so mainly on faith, or by metaphor — they still are infat Yates with Priestley’s found artifact. The Argument from Design. But they have no real grasp of even their own theory, for, as Spencer explained,

This is one of the many cases in which men do not really believe, but rather believe they believe. It is not that they can truly conceive ten millions of special creations to have taken place, but that they think they can do so. Careful introspection will show them that they have never yet realized to themselves the creation of even one species.

Of course, “careful introspection” is not something everyone has a knack for. And it is certainly not something that our schoolmasters and institutions have spent much effort in inculcating.

I quote this passage not only because it is relevant to the folks Gad Saad laments and pillories. It helps to explain their error. And, on a personal note, it was with careful introspection that I started the intellectual journey that has not yet ended, but has led me to positions not too far from Professor Saad’s.

Yes, I came up from the ranks of [what Saad sadly thinks of as] the Yahoos. It was an ascent, if not an evolution. But, like an evolutionist, I never really stop trying to understand my ancestors. Which includes my very own past self.

And, we must remember, that the greater nescience of others is tragic not because of what they do not know, but because they do not know that they lack important knowledge. For the rest of us, our growing knowledge is comic: as science expands, the surface where knowledge meets nescience also expands, and we know more and more of how much we do not yet know. Knowledge increases, but so does the realm of the known unknowns.

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I am a propagandist by profession. But my unpaid presence on the Web — which sometimes veers on rantwork, other times wanders into personal reflection — differs from my less public, behind-the-scenes editorial consulting in matters of persuasion. I allow myself, here as well as on Facebook, Twitter, etc., the latitude to use bigger words and more involved arguments . . . and to be more annoying in other ways as well. 

My middle name’s Wirkman. But, with some justice, I could elide the first phoneme: ’irkman.

Huh?

A propagandist must have one foot in philosophy. And, off the clock, the other foot is free to step in and out of the philosophy ring at will, as if dancing the hokey-pokey. And philosophy, you may remember, may have started with a kind of metaphysical speculation about the substance of reality (Thales, Anaxagoras, Anaximander), but it was early on upgraded to gadfly status (Socrates). And there is no surer way to annoy a normal denizen among the living than to question his reality or challenge her ideals. But that is the job of the philosopher. So: irksome is the name of the game.

The propagandist has that job of inducing paradigm shift, too. But there the notion is to make the bitter pill of Error Correction as sweet as Confirmation Bias Candy. 

Marketing medicine as a luxury or decency, rather than as a necessity or strict economizing effort (no one hates “austerity” more than a modern profligate cosmopolitan*) is not an ignoble thing. 

But it is not the only thing. So I can be at once more honest and more annoying when I sign my name to these posts. Or just my initials —

twv

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* See the propagandist work of Paul Krugman in the New York Times. He is paid well to shill pleasant, candy covered pills for the Establishment. And boy, does he hate the very idea of “austerity”!

Earlier I excoriated NBC for a witless fact check. But I did not read the whole list, since I was so disgusted by the third example. Now that I have recovered a bit, why not do something that today’s journalists seem unable to do? That is, apply logic.

I am not going to fact-check the NBC/Politifact fact checkers. I am going to logic check them. That is, I am going to analyze their presentation of alleged facts to see just how ably the fact checkers can stick to facts and not engage in spin.

  1. Trump said he didn’t urge people to “check out a sex tape” about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. He did.
  2. Trump said health care costs are going up by 68 percent, 59 percent, 71 percent. The national estimate ranges are far lower.
  3. Trump said Clinton “acid washed” her private email server. She didn’t. She used an app called Bleachbit, not a corrosive chemical.
    Previously criticized.
  4. Trump said Clinton doesn’t know Russia hacked the DNC. U.S. intelligence has said they very likely did.
    Must one remind fact checkers that “knowing” and “guessing” are two different things?
  5. Trump said Clinton got a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl “off” his charges. She didn’t.
  6. Trump said Clinton laughed at a child rape victim. She didn’t.
  7. Trump said Clinton “viciously attacked” four women. This is largely unsubstantiated.
    It is worth noting that if one takes the perspective of a feminist, and believes women who charge men with rape, then ‘largely unsubstantiated’ could be interpreted as ‘likely nevertheless.’ From what I can tell about criticisms of the Clintons, an enduring theme is how the couple weasel out of charges by lying, stonewalling, and backroom negotiations. So one gets the sneaking suspicion that the judgment, above, is of dubious merit.
  8. Trump said his 2005 recording didn’t describe sexual assault. It did.
    This is very much a matter of interpretation, which is why on the page devoted to the issue, NBC admits that “It’s unclear what Trump means.” And it is also the case that a sexual grope can be welcomed and that does in fact make the grope not a sexual assault. I have been groped without my permission. I moved the “assaulter’s” hand away from my crotch. I guess this is an example of one standard for men and another for women, since I would never have accused the man who groped me of sexual misconduct worth legal reflection, though by the letter of modern law he could have been prosecuted. Further, it is worth noting that Trump was bantering with a friend. He may very well have been engaging in something like hyperbole.
  9. Trump said Clinton’s campaign started the “birther” movement. She didn’t.
    This is a prime example of sneaky re-phrasing. “Clinton’s campaign” is not the same as “She.” And the article linked, incidentally, does not deal with the key proponent of the idea in the accusations I have heard. I rate this “Fact Check” DECEPTIVE.
  10. Trump said Clinton wants a single payer healthcare. She doesn’t.
    No one knows what a liar wants, not for sure. The link at the time that I inspected this page did not go anywhere to back this up.
  11. Trump said the San Bernardino shooters’ neighbors saw bombs in their apartment. They didn’t.
  12. Clinton wants 550 percent more Syrian refugees, Trump said. He’s right.
  13. Trump said the nation can’t screen those refugees. That’s false.
    To back up this expression of apparent certainty, NBC/Politifact notes “the extensive screening” current refugees “undergo.” This assumes that the screening that now takes place is effective, and that Trump would be forced by the facts to agree with that evaluation. I doubt if many people would concur with NBC here. The assumption that some current level of screening could scale up to Trump-acceptable screening is not logical.
  14. Trump said he was against the Iraq invasion. He wasn’t.
  15. Trump said he doesn’t know Putin. That’s not what he said before 2015.
  16. Clinton said she wasn’t Secretary of State when Obama proclaimed the use of chemical weapons by Syria was a red line. She was.

Though this list is not utterly without value, a simple look at the words chosen shows that quite a few rhetorical and logical tricks have been used to declare Trump less factual than Hillary.

I wish to add, however, that I am not defending Trump as a reliable deliverer of facts. He is not. He is, generally, sloppy regarding facts, seeming more like a bull-shitter than anything else.

But when it comes to chickenshit, NBC and Politifact remain champions.

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imageIf we want politicians to communicate better, and perhaps even lie less, we should no longer accept vacuous nonsense packed into specific words and phrases. All groups use vague terms that don’t really mean anything or mean different things to different people in telling ways. Perhaps we should discourage such ambiguous jargon:

imageRepublicans & Democrats: “middle class” — it doesn’t mean what you think it means; it barely means anything. “Middle income” people do not constitute a “class.” The one percent earners do not constitute a class. Learn basic concepts! Read a book. Or two. Or a hundred. Don’t be led by deceptive statistic mongers, as if a steer by the nose.

Republicans & Democrats: “hard-working Americans.” Please, don’t make me upchuck. This is a shallow appeal to people who think they work hard, but most of whom probably do not. Today, with increasing numbers of white folks on disability (simply because they cannot find work easily any more — there are of course legit cases, of people seriously wounded and ill), and many of them conservative, Republicans are simply pandering when they say this, and shoring up illusions, too. And Democrats are more embarrassing, since their frank goal is to put more people on “welfare.” Hard-working indeed!

Repub: “family values” — if you were serious about supporting families, you’d talk less about “values” and more about “virtues” — and also seriously consider the damage to family life by secular trends of wealth and sex equality, the welfare state in most of its incarnations, and even the war on drugs. Also, the sacrificial focus on gays and not on heterosexual adultery amounts to a major hypocrisy. There are many reasons for Christianity losing its position in the West — persistent double standards in sex mores is surely one of the biggest.

Democrats: “pro choice” — the relentless focus on abortion everywhere and at all times and for any reason is one of the most despicable moves in modern politics, and conflating it with “freedom of choice” is more witless than those supporters of capitalism who always talk as if there were never externalities. “Freedom of choice” for whom? Certainly not prenates. And the fact that this slogan is applied to nothing but sexual relations indicates something far worse than a mere double standard.

Libertarians: “rights” and “big government” — it is futile to bring up rights into a discussion where people do not agree on the nature of obligation. Why? Rights entail obligations. And being against BIG government can be awfully vague, for bigness is not really the issue, is it? What matters is the scope of government. Also, if one addresses issues of size and scope, one should also incorporate ideas of hormesis and diminishing returns and “scale.”

In this, Libertarians are no different than any other group. They set themselves up for pillorying by the simple-minded slogans they are addicted to.

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H. L. Mencken, America’s greatest writer of popular non-fiction c. 1910-1940 (George Santayana being the nation’s greatest producer of elitist non-fiction prose during that period), was never impressed with the broad run of journalism or politics. He scorned the usual manner of reform as “Uplift,” and denied that it did much actual lifting up.

Sketch of H. L. MenckenThis you can witness in this criticism of gun control, from the 1920’s. In “The Uplifters Try It Again” (Baltimore’s The Evening Sun, November 30, 1925), Mencken demonstrates his understanding of what law and its enforcement is, actually, rather than the fairy dust version promoted by his competition in the word biz. 

This essay is worth studying. Mencken takes something familiar to us even unto this day, and shines some light:

“Crime statistics,” it appears, “show that 90% of the murders that take place are committed by the use of the pistol, and every year there are hundreds of cases of accidental homicide because someone did not know that his revolver was loaded.” The new law — or is it to be a constitutional amendment? — will do away with all that. “It will not be easy,” of course, “to draw a law that will permit exceptions for public officers and bank guards”—to say nothing of Prohibition agents and other such legalized murderers. “But soon even these officials may get on without revolvers.”

As elsewhere, his contempt for the journalist-as-savior is obvious. Mencken considered most journalists messianic mountebanks — just as were most politicians. Actually, the passage under attack hailed from The Nation, a magazine he praises in the general. But in this essay he takes as an exception, for, as he sees it, it is a grand example of a lapse at The Nation:

Ever and anon, in the midst of its most eloquent and effective pleas for Liberty, its eye wanders weakly toward Law. At such moments the old lust to lift ’em up overcomes it, and it makes a brilliant and melodramatic ass of itself. Such a moment was upon it when it printed the paragraph that I have quoted. Into that paragraph — of not over 200 words — it packed as much maudlin and nonsensical blather, as much idiotic reasoning and banal moralizing, as Dr. Coolidge gets into a speech of two hours’ length.

It is obvious that Mencken had mastered the invective. (I quote only a few snippets, even from this one essay.) But what of his argument? He has one. “The new law,” he writes, would have but one “single and sole effect”:

to exaggerate enormously all of the evils it proposes to put down. It would not take pistols out of the hands of rogues and fools; it would simply take them out of the hands of honest men. The gunman today has great advantages everywhere. He has artillery in his pocket, and he may assume that, in the large cities, at least two-thirds of his prospective victims are unarmed. But if the Nation’s proposed law (or amendment) were passed and enforced, he could assume safely that all of them were unarmed.

Mencken was the chief critic of mere “good intentions” of his day. And he saw the problem everywhere, for there are what we now call “unintended consequences.”

The real victim of moral legislation is always the honest, law-abiding, well-meaning citizen — what the late William Graham Sumner called the Forgotten Man. Prohibition makes it impossible for him to take a harmless drink, cheaply and in a decent manner. In the same way the Harrison Act puts heavy burdens upon the physician who has need of prescribing narcotic drugs for a patient, honestly and for good ends. But the drunkard still gets all the alcohol that he can hold, and the drug addict is still full of morphine and cocaine. By precisely the same route the Nation’s new law would deprive the reputable citizen of the arms he needs for protection, and hand them over to the rogues that he needs protection against.

This is a logical position. It is still controversial, however.

Recently, on Facebook, I linked to a graph on unbiasedAmerica.com:

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I framed the graphed information in this manner:

Perspective helps. Which is one reason I don’t think anyone, right or left, should be talking about chucking constitutional rights right after a still comparatively rare shooting.

A friend of mine, a journalist, responded:

Who’s talking about chucking the second amendment? That’s an invention of the NRA. All the serious suggestions I’ve seen are for things like waiting periods, background checks, linking databases, studies, gun safety equipment, and so on. It’s akin to someone in the 1970s saying, “What do you mean all cars must come with seat belts? Everyone! They’re trying to outlaw cars!”

Why is it OK to have traffic laws, food safety laws, zoning laws, rules for air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers, while gun ownership must be the one area where there can be no rules at all? There seems to be some kind of collective hypnosis on several areas in the U.S., but this one is the most baffling to me.

I reacted, briefly, in a number of ways, and friends and followers on Facebook leaped to respond, as well. First, about the Second Amendment:

Lots of people talk about getting rid of it. Most are a tad quiet right now, and cover their beliefs, because after Heller, it is “not serious” to go all the way.

We have plenty of gun rules right now, and most of them are not very effective. For obvious reasons.

And yet I do not think those obvious reasons are very obvious to my critic. He wanted to make the context regulation in general, of which he is an enthusiast, while I tried to steer the discussion back to the topic of crime stats and secular trends, especially now that gun crimes are going down, over the long run:

Much of quality regulation is security theater, and much of it was enacted not to improve quality but to reduce competition. There is an extensive economic literature on this subject.

I don’t believe everything the government tells me. Much of what it does, even in good intent, goes horribly wrong — see the War on Drugs, for example.

I went on, saying that “We have actual gun warfare in cities where they [guns] are illegal,” to which my friend responded with a correction:

There are no U.S. cities I know of where guns are illegal. Some do have strict restrictions, which is what I think you’re referring to. But those cities take those measures for a reason, precisely because they’re so violent. Study after study says Chicago, for example, would be even more violent without the restrictions, and that the guns used there come from other parts of the country with more laissez faire gun laws. Chicago can’t control its borders the way a country can.

My friend will not mention, apparently, that the violence in those cities is almost wholly a factor of African-American poverty and the War on Drugs. The idea that these unnamed “studies after studies” can accurately predict the counterfactual strikes me as absurd. There is a lot of evidence to the contrary, for example (again) the secular trends in America outside our hellhole inner city bastions of chaos and “welfare.” What is the trend? As guns increase in private hands, violence goes down. At the very least, all violence has gone down.

But more importantly, there is what gun controls actually do: prevent some people, who are law-abiding, from acquiring, owning, or carrying guns, while letting some others do so, because of special privilege or because they have special connections. Or because they go outside the law to obtain the weapons they want.

Recently in Britain, an MP was shot. Though there was a lot of hysterical political manipulating of the story, I saw not one example of a big deal being made of gun control. Why not? Oh, right: Britain already has gun control — a sweeping crackdown that did, in fact, take guns out of private hands — and yet the malefactor somehow had a gun.

Consider the tale of John Stossel, who tried to exercise his right of self-defense by personal armament — that is, get “permission” (which is something a person with rights does not need — in New York. He was insulted, sent through a Kafkaesque paperwork nightmare, given the runaround, made to cough up fees, and provide an essay why he needed to carry a sidearm.

The fact that he regularly got death threats from leftists was not enough. He was denied.

It is only the extremely well-connected who get such permits. In New York. Or Chicago. Which leaves only criminals and high mucky-mucks able to defend themselves. (People like Trump and Hillary.)

Why my friend does not see this — why he does not get that regulation such as he wants does not have the univocal effect that he supposes; why he does not recognize that regulations like this have been around for a long, long time, and have been ineffective; why he does not see them as inadvertently (?) racist and elitist at core, I do not know.

He is a journalist. A successful one. Respected. I expect such people to be skeptical at heart. But they are only selectively, as I challenged him:

If the government licensed journalists, regulated who could and could not blog, or require waiting time for background checks before writing about politics, I would hope you would have the sense to see how these regulations infringed on the First Amendment.

He did not respond to this challenge, other than say he was glad not to live in America any longer. Or recognize that the failures of one set of gun “controls,” when they lead to worse conditions (as they always do), only snooker the credulous into believing that more regulation is necessary. And thus laws multiply. And, as Tacitus and other ancients made clear, the more the laws, the more corrupt the state.

As John Stossel noted in his program devoted to idiotic regulation, after he failed to get a concealed carry permit, the system that “regulates” such activities was shown to be corrupt — cops even went to jail. A week after our Facebook exchange, this news story hit the wires:

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Yes, an outspoken and politically powerful California politician, well known for his anti-gun (I mean, “reasonable gun control”) advocacy, was caught in the underground gun-running business. Transporting the very kind of guns he said “shouldn’t exist.”

Talk about Bootleggers and Baptists! In Leland Yee, they were one and the same!

Just like in the War on Drugs, the War on Guns leads to more violence, more death of innocents, and a culture of corruption, in politics and policing.

I understand why not very bright common folk — Mencken’s “booboisie” — might think gun control would work. But why would a smart, skeptical journalist be so snookered? It stretches the credulity.

Oh, until you recall Mencken and his criticisms of his own industry, of the messiah complexes of too many journalists. Then it all makes sense, I guess.

If you have not read Mencken before, the essay discussed here is a good start. But there is a great wealth of writing by him available, and most of it is great. Try A Mencken Chrestomathy, or the Prejudices.

I wrote a foreword to an early book of his, available, I think, on iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, as ebooks. It may not be the best place to start in the Menckenian oeuvre, but it surely provides a key to his life mission, and his character:

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