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7/10/2005

Blogging with a hammer

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Leiter outlined his approach to blogging, which basically amounts to the perfectly sensible refusal to treat irrationality as rationality, an approach I wholeheartedly agree with. This of course produced howls of protest from various denizens of wingnuttia, many of whom (delusionally) fancy themselves intellectuals. J.M. Bergman thinks Leiter's post is tantamount to Leiter declaring himself "the greatest philosopher in history" and proceeds to make a particularly ridiculous 'argument' against Leiter:
Kerr, I think, gives Leiter a fairly respectful hearing, but nevertheless concludes that he is oversimplifying things and underestimating both the intelligence and the political flexibility of most of the blogosphere. The very fact that Leiter himself uses David Horowitz -- a man whom virtually everybody, even on the right, regards as afflicted with tunnel-vision -- as his primary foil would seem to support Kerr's view. Horotwitz is practically a pre-packaged straw man for the left; refuting his arguments, even revealing him as a buffoon, no more proves Leiter correct than similar refutations of Michael Moore decisively prove his opponents correct.
This is an argument I hear a lot from the right; whenever someone points out what a jackass Horowitz (or Robertson, or Limbaugh, or Coulter, etc.) is, we are told that this is unfair, because that person doesn't really represent conservatives, and that "even on the right" he or she is not taken seriously. The problem is that this is the protest no matter who we are criticizing; apparently, every prominent right-winger is just a clown whom even conservatives don't listen to. My question: if Horowitz, Robertson, et al. are all "pre-packaged strawmen," what right-winger should we take seriously? George Will? Tucker Carlson? William F. Buckley? Bill Bennett? Dinesh D'Souza? Peggy Noonan? Bill Safire? Grover Norquist? Because guess what - the shit that comes out of the mouths of these fucktards is every bit as inane as the nonsense spewed by the supposed "strawmen".

Bergman continues:
... the latter portion of his argument descends into almost jaw-dropping arrogance, as he asserts that there is no possibility for debate on such questions as "Was the U.S. justified in invading Iraq?" and "Is there a Social Security crisis?" Not that there are stronger and weaker arguments, but, again, that there is no possibility for "honest and intelligent" disagreement. The answers are determined, and, of course, Prof. Leiter knows them.
I don't want to put words in Leiter's mouth, but what Bergman doesn't seem to get is that the point isn't so much that these 'easy' questions don't deserve debate - it's that they've already been debated, and Bergman's side has lost. It's stupid to keep debating whether or not the Iraq invasion was justified for the same reason it's stupid to keep arguing about whether or not Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals - we already know the answer. Even if we acknowledge that Leiter's 'easy' questions deserve debate, that doesn't mean they deserve endless debate, after the answer has already been determined. The fact that some people refuse to recognize the obvious doesn't change this.
The absurdity of Leiter's view here seems well-captured by his first "easy question," on whether the United States was justified in the invasion of Iraq ... The question is whether the invasion was justified, i.e., performed in accordance with the demands of justice. Leiter says that it unequivocably was not, which I can only assume means that he has resolved the question of the meaning of the just. Since I somewhat doubt that a professor at the University of Texas is wiser and more knowledgeable than Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, and all the other luminaries of Western thought whom Leiter purports to study, I am skeptical of the claim that he has solved the underlying question of political philosophy which eluded all of his predecessors.

But hey, maybe I'm just being obtuse. Prof. Leiter, tell the world, what is the just?
Bergman's argument here is obviously bogus; he thinks that the question of whether or not X is justified cannot be resolved since we haven't yet determined the very nature of 'justice'. This fallacy comes with a pedigree - it's essentially the same claim made by Socrates in the Euthyphro - but it is nonetheless a fallacy, and philosophers have long since rejected the notion that such 'Socratic questions' must be answered before we can address any concrete matters.

Steve Burton at Right Reason posts a generally incoherent attack on Leiter, pulling the clever trick of using a slight variation on Leiter's own words.
Professor Leiter writes on his blog as follows:

"When it comes to politics...reasons and evidence appear to play almost no role in changing anyone's views...it is quite rare to persuade anyone by a careful, reasoned argument--indeed, so rare, that I don't see it as worth the effort to try to do so on a blog."

But where is the argument of the piece?

Here is evidence that would seem, prima facie, to have bearing on these claims:

(1) Statistics on how often people change their political beliefs; (2) documentation of the role of reasons and evidence in such changes when they occur; (3) statistics on the exposure of people with strong political convictions to reasons and evidence contrary to their views; and (4) documentation of the effects of such exposure, or lack thereof.

Incredibly, no real evidence on these points is mentioned by the author.
Burton, apparently, needs evidence that most people are not persuaded by rational argument with regard to their political views. Nice guy that I am, I will proivde him with such evidence:

2004 Presidential Election Results
Candidate Votes %
George W. Bush 60,934,251 50.9%
John F. Kerry 57,765,291 48.2%

And that's a 119 million sample size, too.

Oh, and then Burton baselessly and sleazily accuses Leiter of being a "fag-basher." Classy.

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