Woman please let me explain

1 08 2015

Former governor and never-president Mike Huckabee’s recent discourse on Iran, the president, and “march[ing Israelis] to the door of the oven” led Ed Kilgore to consider how much Pastor Mike like’s his  Holocaust analogies.

. . . . Fact is, Mike Huckabee has a remarkably intimate relationship with the Holocaust as he sees it, and has been prone to violating the unwritten rule against Holocaust analogies for years. For one thing, he is one of many anti-choice politicians and activists who cannot resist the temptation of analogizing legalized abortion to the Holocaust. There was the incident from back in 2007, during a speech at a pro-life event, when he referred to the deaths of 45 to 50 million unborn babies from abortion as a holocaust—and then connected those deaths to the country’s worker shortage.

Comparing the number of fetuses killed in the US since 1973 to the Holocaust is not uncommon among pro-lifers although the usual reference is to “a holocaust” than “the Holocaust”. Kilgore notes that Huckabee, however, has no problems equating abortion to Auschwitz, as he did in 2014:

If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?

One of the problems with this analogy (in addition to all of the other problems) is the logical extension of this kind of thinking: women who have abortions are Nazis.

Oh, I know, Huckabee and the rest want us to think of Planned Parenthood and all of the rest of the “abortionists” as Nazis, and maybe to throw some shame on the rest of us as Good Germans, but if you think, as Huckabee apparently did in 2013, that a woman’s uterus “has become one of the most dangerous places for a baby to be”, then how can you avoid the conclusion that it is the women who endanger those babies?

It is the women, after all, who drive to the clinic, who walk into the office, who ask a doctor to perform an abortion, and who climb on to the table so that it may be done.

They are the one’s ordering the destruction of their children; the doctors are the ones simply following those orders.

Of course, that’s far too harsh a rhetoric to float in prime time; at most, perhaps, the women could be compared to sonderkommandos: victims themselves, if not wholly innocent.

That is the bind of the pro-life argument-by-Holocaust analogy: what to do with the women.

Which is not so far from the bind of the pro-life argument in general.

~~~

h/t Sarah Posner

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I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

21 02 2012

Nope, not linking to that piece on the purpose of women.

Not because it’s a troll-in-a-post or ludicrous or page-view bait, but because it is so poorly written I cannot understand what he is saying.

Now, I might be offended if I could get through his When-in-the-course-of-Heidegger-skirts-barbarism-feminism-oh-look-a-pony style of, er, argumentation.

Or, y’know, I might just laugh.

Other bloggers have noted that beneath this pundit’s Potemkin’s pretensions is an appeal to natural law.

Natural law: the god-in-the-gaps explanation for all that eternally is when all that is eternally is turns out to be, not.

Jeremy Bentham offers the best riposte* to this sort of metaphysical mystification: Natural rights is simple nonsense; natural and imprescriptable rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense on stilts.

Now that’s a metaphor.

~~~~

*I know, not an argument, and he’s talking about natural rights, not law, but, goddammit, “nonsense on stilts” is just too good not to use.

h/t Commenter Spurious on this Crooked Timber thread, and SEK at Lawyers, Guns & Money





You should wear with pride the scars on your skin

19 12 2011

Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel died this past weekend.

Both men were writers deeply engaged in the politics of our time; one was more in love with words than ideas, the other, the other way around.

One man engaged in politics, the other, engaged in the engagement; both are worthy pursuits, but they are not equal to each other.

One man knew that, the other didn’t.

One was a hell of a s/wordsman, and I would have loved to have had the chance to have lost (as I would have) an argument to him. Fight above your weight class, I say, and Hitchens was certainly far above mine; losing to him would have been instructive, and if I could never have hoped to have bested him in argument, I could have applied the lessons of those beatings elsewhere.

But if I wanted to learn more than verbal fisticuffs, I would rather have sat down in a smoky pub with Havel. If Hitchens had great verbal reflexes, Havel was the far better reflector. He questioned, he doubted, he admitted the possibility of error in his steadfast search for moral clarity. He lived an absurd life, and was imprisoned by an absurd regime for pointing out its absurdity.

His stint as leader of Czechoslovakia, and later, as president of the Czech Republic, was not an unqualified success, and some of us were disappointed by his support for the Iraq war. He based that support on the grounds of the threat Saddam Hussein held for the Iraqis, not the Americans, and even that support was qualified, arguing that  “the international community has the right to intervene when human rights are liquidated in such a brutal way.”

I have some sympathy for liberal interventionism—the legacy of inaction in Rwanda—but even more suspicion; still, I can extend that sympathy to someone whose country was ripped apart by Hitler, then stomped on by the Soviets in 1968. Havel’s idealism got him through prison terms and decades of oppression, and if that same idealism led him to underestimate the Hobbesian in politics, well, I can still appreciate his admonition that Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.

Hitchens was a champion hater and, to be honest, I can take altogether too much comfort in my own contempts. I enjoy the fight, enjoy the hardness of verbal combat and in slamming back a volley aimed at my own head. I like to win—ohhhh, do I like to win.

But winning is not enough; what is the win for?

What is needed is something different, something larger. Man’s attitude toward the world must be radically changed. We have to abandon the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be fed into a computer in the hope that sooner or later it will spit out a universal solution.

. . . We must see the pluralism of the world, and not bind it by seeking common denominators or reducing everything to a single common equation. We must try harder to understand rather than to explain. . . . In short, human uniqueness, human action, and the human spirit must be rehabilitated.

From a speech before the World Economic Forum, 1992

I do not share Havel’s moral idealism, Havel’s hope, but I don’t think he’s wrong to tell us to look past ourselves, our interests and our fears, and to live in the full possibility of this human world.

I might have had fun hanging out with Hitchens, and been discomfitted by Havel, but I think the discomfitting is more fitting: unease propels me more than certainty ever will.





I have no opinion about that

4 09 2011

Riddle me this how do we decide how much info/understanding should we have about a topic before we feel justified in having an opinion that is more than a gut hunch? —dmf

I once introduced myself to colleague as someone who “has lunch and opinions”, so I can’t say that it ever occurred to me that I needed to justify the having of an opinion. As far back as I can remember, I have had opinions about something or another, from the superiority of homemade jello pops over store-bought popsicles to the belief that swimming was the summer activity, to the obviousness that racism was stupid and girls were equal to boys, and on and on about cars and music and food and friendship and clothes and alcohol and sex and money and liberty and justice for all.

No, for me, the corker was justifying not having an opinion.

I do, in fact, now qualify my opinions in ways I didn’t when younger, and I do justify not having opinions about a whole range of topics, based on 1) lack of information and 2) lack of interest. “Don’t know/don’t care” is a pretty damned effective gate to conversations which would otherwise drive me off a cliff.

Still, I don’t regret my previous opinion libertinism, and I don’t begrudge anyone else their expressive needs. I learned a lot in spouting off, both in how to put together an argument and in prompting others to take issue with me. I hate hate hate to be wrong, but I hate even more the persistence of error. I could—and can—also be sloppy in my pronunciamentos, so getting smacked (or wanting to avoid getting smacked) for spilling too many words has forced me to steady my tongue.

(There’s the additional question of credentialism and the desire not to want to make a fool of oneself in front of one’s colleagues which may lead to a crippling reticence, i.e., in not challenging a majority view for fear that the mere expression of a minority opinion marks one as untrustworthy—but that’s a separate issue.)

Given my own history, then, I’m more likely to indulge than shut down opinionists, especially if they’re willing to go back and forth on an issue. Shooting the shit can be an highly enjoyable way of passing the time.

What I do narrow my eyes at are those who state their opinions as fact and who substitute their subjective experiences for objective certainty. That you have a right to an opinion doesn’t mean you have the right to trump all other opinions. Oh, and shouting doesn’t make you right. (*Full disclosure: I have shouted. More than once.)

So anyone can have any opinion about anything. If, however, you want that opinion to have any weight with anyone else, you gotta do the work—the (self-)education, the reflection, the reasoning—to convince them. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones got it right when she admonished: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

Educate yourself. Quite so.





The way is dark, the light is dim

15 01 2011

So I was going to write something about civility in politics.

Three times, I was going to write something about civility in politics—even had a header for one of ’em—but then I remembered: Been there, done that.

I think civility is a fine thing, and as mentioned in a very early post, I very much like the idea of going at it hammer and tongs with someone—and then eating pie.

Argument and pie: What could be better?

I still believe that. But I also believe that, in the face of incivility, tut-tutting about the rudeness of the other fellow is of no use; no, the correct response is tit-tatting: if he broke a metaphorical bottle over your head, and if you don’t like having metaphorical bottles broken over your head, then you smash one over his. If he comes back with a verbal fist to the face, then a lexical plank upside the head is appropriate.

Do not let the adversary get away with anything. Make him pay. And when he gets tired of being bloodied—and acts accordingly—then so should you.

The rules of politics are set and enforced by the participants, so if you want civility, you not only have to practice that civility, you have to enforce it—which means you have to punish incivility.

There is no other way.

~~~

It should be obvious that what works in politics does not necessarily work in, say, intimate or even collegial relationships, nor, for that matter, in the practice of science or in the arts or religion. (The truly interesting question is whether these gladiatorial tactics are appropriate to war—but I leave that to the military strategists among you.) My understanding of politics is predicated on conflict; my understanding of friendship is not.

~~~

I don’t think the Tea Partiers are fascists anymore than I thought GW Bush was Hitler, and any such comparisons are as sloppy and mendacious as those linking Obama to Stalin or Osama bin Laden.

“Sloppy and mendacious”: But what if people really are afraid that Obama is a Secret Musselman in thrall to an anti-colonialist anti-American communist conspiracy?

Grow up.

The evidence is lacking, just as evidence that Bush planned the hijackings on Sept 11 is lacking. The sincerity of beliefs matters not one whit if those beliefs are, to quote a couple of automotive philosophers, “unencumbered by the thought process”.

The proper response to such charges is either mockery or a swift linguistic kick in the shins.

~~~

Well, okay, the fists-up response is not always appropriate. One can engage in a kind of political discourse which seeks understanding, and to which nonsense might best be met with questions as to why the interlocutor believes that, or even a polite I disagree.

And, ff course, if one is outnumbered and such verbal disagreement could lead to a physical beatdown, keeping one’s trap shut is also a fine tactic.

~~~

I hate eliminationist talk, and find it stupid and counterproductive, if not potentially dangerous. I don’t  engage in such talk, don’t laugh at jokes about assassination, don’t as a general matter invite the spectre of real violence into the arena of politics.

It’s not because I’m good, but because I’m an Arendtian, and I think politics has a purpose which can be shattered by violence.

(Yes, I have invited public figures to engage in anatomically impossible acts on themselves, and will likely do so again the future. These aren’t my best moments, but I think a not-unreasonable response to the denigration and dehumanization of an entire category of human beings.)

Aristotle and Arendt both thought politics ennobling; a part of me agrees that yes, it offers the possibility of us inhabiting one of the highest kinds of human being.

But, as Machiavelli pointed out, one rarely reaches that pinnacle unscathed.

h/t, and for a completely different set of views, see James Fallows here, here, here, and here





Don’t you ever get sick of being sick about it

20 12 2010

How may I be irritated? Let me count the ways:

*Irritation due to disagreement: This may be further divided into partisan (of any sort), preference-based, and personal disagreement, but it is just as likely that all three motivations may be at play (albeit at different levels of intensity). In any case, such irritation is usually merely irritating, i.e., uninteresting and unproductive—you say potayto, I say potahto—but can be dispelled if turned into a game.

*Irritation due to stupid arguments: The  person making the argument either isn’t trying or doesn’t understand or is so riven with emotion that she is un-able/-willing to put together a coherent argument.  Non-sequiturs, ad hominem attacks, and utter illogic abound in stupid arguments, which is what makes them simultaneously irritating and difficult to counter. Irritation may be expiated either by pounding the argument into oblivion or dissipated by walking away; while the former is more immediately satisfying, sometimes the latter is the only recourse.

*Irritation due to bad arguments: Similar to that caused by stupid arguments, this is a case in which there is at least a semblance of logic structuring the argument, but said structure is riddled with inconsistencies and bad evidence. The best antidote is continued conversation, which is possible if interlocutor is a reasonable person who is willing to repair his argument; at other times, one may have to find satisfaction in mending the argument yourself.

*Irritation due to bad-faith arguments: Again, similar to both stupid and bad arguments, but with the important proviso that the person knows her argument is shit and/or that she is fucking with the data, and doesn’t care. This is bad form in purely intellectual debates and deserves to be called out, but to be expected in political debates, where the point is to win. In the latter case especially it is important to keep one’s irritation in check (so as not to lose one’s head and thus the argument), but in the former case, one can channel the irritation into a kind of bemusement, and counter with one’s own ‘whimsical’ bad-faith argument (possible only if one hasn’t drunk too much).

*Irritation due to inconsistency/hypocrisy: Easy to spot in others, less easy to admit to in oneself, and damned well impossible to avoid if you spend any time at all thinking or doing. A fun charge with which to whack an opponent over the head, but rarely should too much be hung upon this, especially if it occurs on its own or as part of a stupid argument; point it out (or not), laugh if off, and let it go. On the other hand, if coupled with a bad or bad-faith argument, inconsistency and hypocrisy can heighten your overall irritation, and will likely have to be dealt with as one would deal with that caused by those bad[-faith] arguments.

*Irritation due to tone: The tone is usually either snide or condescending, or some variation thereof, and indicative of a sense of either inferiority or superiority. The best counter to this is absolute (even if feigned) sincerity in response, although the more likely response is either to adopt a similar tone or to escalate the snottiness. Such encounters rarely end well.

*Irritation due to crabbiness: This is self-generated, such that one is either looking for or finds trouble just because; can amplify other forms of irritation.

*Irritation due to material reality: Actually, just irritation due to physical discomfort, but this sounds so much more elevated, doesn’t it? Anyway, this may (but does not always) account for crabbiness, and  can be countered by band-aids, medicinal cremes, relevant medications, a lie-down, sleep, ice, a heating pad, and/or food.

*Update: Oh, and I forgot: Irritation due to peeve. Similar to crabbiness, but more durable, this re-/occurs when confronted with whatever niggle happens to set you off, e.g., “irregardless”, stuck zippers, indestructible plastic packaging, bad parking, etc. Little can be done about this, beyond chanting “breathe” to oneself and trying to let it go.

~~~

All of this was prompted by my irritation with both Andrew Sullivan and Dave Weigel. Both of these men are conservatives (each in his own way), so I wondered if my irritation was due simply to disagreement, i.e., because they’re conservative and I’m not, or due to something more substantive.

I think it’s mainly down to disagreement. I may not like how the argument is shaped or think that the conclusion is foregone due to Sullivan’s or Weigel’s predispositions, but the arguments themselves may be legit. Yeah, sometimes I think the tone (Sullivan!) is off or the evidence (Weigel!) thin, but these guys (well, Sully more than Weigel) offer thoughts worth considering.

On the other hand, I’ve pretty much stopped reading Will Saletan because, while I may agree with at least some of what he writes, I think he’s often condescending, and too often musters incomplete or shitty evidence and deploys rhetorical tricks in place of reason. I couldn’t read him without getting irritated—so I stopped reading him.

I try not to stop reading people/arguments/magazines/web sites solely because I disagree—that seems weasely. I hold the views I do because they comport with my principles, but, epistemological nihilist that I am, I can claim neither that the principles themselves are grounded in absolute truth nor that they lead necessarily and ineluctably to my views. As such, if I truly do want to understand a phenomenon, then I have to approach it from all sides.

However irritating that may be.





Anything you can do, I can do better

12 09 2009

Who would you like to see together?

Don’t be perverted—not like that! No, more along the lines of Here are two people who I’d love to see do whatever it is they do, together.

I was watching  clip of k.d. lang singing a Leonard Cohen song, and thought, Man, I wonder what she’d sound like with Cassandra Wilson?

Two amazing vocalists and interpreters, together.

So, my first duet: k.d. lang and Cassandra Wilson

Then again, I’d long thought that it would be great to listen in as Hannah Arendt and Edward Said argued.

Thus, the first duel (albeit a friendly one): Arendt and Said.

Who else?

  • Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X
  • Arendt and Malcolm X
  • Malcolm X and Bernard Lazare
  • Janis Joplin and Cass Elliot
  • PJ Harvey and Patti Smith (definitely a duel)
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Dawn Upshaw (Really. Have you heard her on Golijov’s Ayre? The woman can sing anything.)
  • Eddie Cochran and The Clash
  • Brett Favre (back in the day. . .) and Randy Moss
  • Martina Navratilova (back in the day. . .) and Serena Williams
  • k.d. lang and Lizz Wright
  • Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen (just for the hell of it)
  • Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell (hot and cool, together)

Who else?

I can’t be the only one who wastes her time thinking about this kind of thing. . . .