Category Archives: bad company

Tu quo… um, what?

Here’s the setup for a meta-tu quoqueStage 1: A makes crazy claim.  Stage 2: B criticizes A for crazy claim.  Stage 3: A defends A’s claim by noting B’s criticism is based on a double-standard. Stage 4: B notes that A, in charging a double-standard, employs a double standard. I’ve noted elsewhere here at the NS that some forms of double-standard arguments are relevant and argumentatively appropriate.  (And John, Colin, and I also published a paper on it a year ago.)

OK, so here’s application.  Stage 1:  Brian Kilmeade of Fox News said he wouldn’t support the Syrian opposition groups, because they say “Allahu Akbar” when they score military successes.  Stage 2: John McCain criticizes Kilmeade for Islamophobia.  (Here’s the Huffpo review of the exchange.)  Stage 3: George Neumayr at AmSpec defends Kilmeade noting that McCain’s criticism deploys a double standard:

When Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday that he didn’t want to back Syrian rebels who scream “Allahu Akbar!” after bombing buildings, McCain, revealing the Islamophilia behind America’s Arab-Spring foreign policy, replied that those chants don’t bother him. “They are moderates,” he said, dismissing the chants as no more “offensive” than a Christian who says “thank God.” Too bad Kilmeade didn’t ask McCain to give examples of Christians yelling “thank God” after slitting someone’s throat.

The first trouble is that Kilmeade is taking the speech act performed after a horrible deed to be identify the perpetrator as representative of the group that speech act indicates.  So because a Muslim terrorist says “Allahu Akbar” after a terrorist incident, those who say “Allahu Akbar” are dangerous radicals.  McCain’s reply is by way of counter-examples – Christians say “Thank God” all the time… that’s what the phrase is analogous to.  Neumayr’s case is that McCain’s double standard is not to take extreme behavior as representative.

Here’s stage 4: Religious man murders his friend after his friend tells him he’s an atheist.  We don’t take that as representative, do we?

Consistently confusing criticism for censorship

Jeffrey Lord's post, "Gay Totalitarianism," over at The American Spectator is hampered by confusion.  Lord's main case is that liberals can't stand dissent, and want to shut down any opposing voice.  This has, in his view, been in bright highlight with the Chick-fil-a issue.  Here's his case in point:

Down in Southwest Florida liberal reporter Mark Krzos of the News Press was furious at seeing free speech exercised in his midst, whining on his Facebook page that "The level of hatred, unfounded fear and misinformed people was astoundingly sad. I can't even print some of the things people said."

So this means Mr. Krzos wants to shut down Occupy Wall Street? It gets better. Krzos went on:  "I have never felt so alien in my own country as I did today while covering the restaurant's supporters…. It was like broken records of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and a recitation of half-truths and outright lies…. Such a brave stand… eating a go**amn sandwich. "

So this guy feels "so alien" in his own country because he comes face to face with free speech? What country is Mr. Krzos living in? Cuba? North Korea?

I can't speak for Krzos, but on my interpretation, his alienation was at seeing speech he disagreed with, and that he felt he was powerless to address or argue against because of the way the beliefs of the speakers were formed.  It's not the freedom his lines were objecting to, but to (a) how the views stated were misinformed and hateful, and (b) that those speaking seemed to be only interested in those who speak for them, not the views of anyone else.  Krzos wasn't, by my lights, calling for the supporters of the chicken chain to be jailed or muzzled or anything like that.  He was criticizing them.  That's how you respond to speech when you recognize the freedoms — you use more speech to criticize it.  Ah, but Lord's on a roll, and can't resist the conservative argument-by-comparision-money-shot on speech issues:

As we have mentioned before, leftist intolerance for dissent and opposition is as old as the blood soaked guillotines of the French Revolution. Not to mention the Revolution's 20th century descendants from Communists to the Nazis (aka the National Socialists) to their more modern American cousins like all those progressives who hid for decades behind the hoods of the Ku Klux Klan or a few decades later appeared as Bill Ayers and his bomb-setting brethren in the Weathermen.

Whew!  When Lord makes historical comparisons, he doesn't hold back.  (Oh, love the "aka the National Socialists"… what's that even doing? Making a point about socialism?)   I said at the end of my previous post that there's a weird thing about many Burkean conservatives, that they see Robespierre behind every progressive.  This seems overkill, but maybe with the Robespierre line so abundant, you've really got to pile on to be sure that folks know you're using hot rhetoric.

Again, the point is that responding to dissent with criticism and responding to dissent with violence are different things, and Lord's case conflates them.  Responding to speech with more speech is a form of tolerance, actually — you face something you think is wrong, but you don't destroy it,  only criticize it.  But for the analogy to go through, you have to be responding with violence. 

Why is X right? Well, because I’m an X-ist.

When addressed with the question whether X or Y is better, any reasonable person answering the question should be capable of  two speech acts: (1) a  determination of X or Y, and (2) producing a reason why that choice is a good one.   Often we just allow folks to just to perform (1), and we let them keep their reasons for themselves.  But its in the reasons that we find all sorts of interesting things, and we may, ourselves, learn something about X or Y.  Importantly, those reasons should be about X or Y, what properties they have, maybe their history, what about X or Y appeals to you.

Here's a kind of reason  that fails that requirement: I'm the kind of person who always chooses X.  Or, I was brought up choosing X.  Or, if X was good enough for my parents, X is good enough for me.   Now, those reasons are pretty weak — they amount to the concession that X and Y aren't objectively any better than one another, but because of the contingencies of history, I've ended up an X-ist.  Since it's just trouble to end up changing, I'll stay one.  Again, that's a reason, but a very weak one.  And one that, again, concedes that there's not much relevant difference between the two.  Ad populum arguments and those from tradition need not be fallacious, but even in their non-fallacious forms, they still aren't very good.  They, really, aren't answers to the question.  The question was which was better, not which you choose.

Here's another type of answer that fails, too.  Say that those who like Y are repulsive in some way.  Perhaps they all talk funny, or are from the wrong side of the tracks.  Maybe they don't dress right, drink too much, and so on.  Again, these speech acts effectively concede that there's very little to distinguish X and Y objectively, but the determination comes down to the kind of person who chooses one over the other.  But that's no determination of what's better, just an expression of distaste for other people being transferred to the things they believe. Um, ad hominem abusive, anyone?

All of this is a setup for a review of the Smart Girl Summit (note, don't click that link unless you're ready to see a pink-ified Capitol Building), a  gathering of conservative women, to discuss women's issues.  John Hawkins, of Human Events, covered the Summit (he also was a speaker), and he approvingly quotes a number of the attendees responding the the question: Who better represents the feminist ideal: conservative women or liberal women—and why.

Here are some of the responses:

"All I want to know is why do feminists hate women?"

"I would say conservative women because we can take care of ourselves."

"I've always thought conservative women, maybe because I am one."

The first two fall into the ad hominem variety.  The first one seems like it's from Upsidedownsville.  Moreover, it doesn't answer the question: who's better at capturing the core of feminism?  The answer: feminists hate women.  Well, at least it makes finding the answer easier.

The second, being a comparative judgment of the people, again, is an ad hominem reason.  But it's ambiguous.  "Take care of ourselves" can mean one of two things: (i) get a job, balance a checkbook, and make decisions without being told what to do by a man, or (ii) look nice.  I have suspicions (especially given the comments below the article) that it's (ii) — liberal feminists are ugly, and their hideousness is a reductio of their views.   It's an old slander, and one that doesn't go away, unfortunately.

The last one is just, well, sad. Confusing reasons and causes happens, but this is a particularly eggregious case.  Again, if the only determining factor as to why the third respondent chooses conservative feminism over liberal is the simple fact that she antecedently identifies as a conservative, then her answer is no indicator as to the compared value of what she chooses.  She's not responding to what liberal or conservative feminisms are, but acting out her identity.  It's all a big show, amounting to nothing.

Association by guilt

Perhaps some of you might have heard that Barack Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists," such as William Ayers of the Weather Underground, or that he listened while his minister criticized America, or that some guy from the same city as him is going to go to jail.  Such are the McCain campaign's charges.  You might also notice that these are attempts "guilt by association" (here we call it "bad company"). To many, such a tactic is wrong on its face.  Rather than discuss the substantive policy questions that ought to be driving the current Presidential race, we have to sit through endless stories about who met with whom when where and how.  It certainly is dumb, and it makes all of us dumber.  Here's a well known leftish blogger:

So Palin’s "palling around" accusation is no more true than her boast that she "told congress ‘Thanks, but no thanks’" on the Bridge to Nowhere, or that she had the Alaska Permanent Fund divest from Sudan. But it seems to me that pointing out factual errors gives this line of argument too much credit: guilt by association, even when the association happens to be real, is a silly charge.

It's not a silly charge, however.  Whether the charge is true is certainly important.  As important as that, however, is whether the charge is relevant.  Relevance, in fact, is what makes the difference between a fallacious guilt by association charge and a legitimate one.  It's not, in other words, simply a matter of the form of argument.  The content–who is the associate, how long? how important? etc.,–makes all of the difference.

It turns out, I think, that Palin's charges are false or at best misleading.  Ayers is, in fact, a rather prominent person in Chicago politics–he even pals around with such mainstream figures as Richard M. Daley, our longtime mayor.  Besides, Ayers isn't in jail, and he doesn't seem to be currently a terrorist.  Besides that, he, in his civic role in Chicago politics, "palled" around with Republicans as well.

All of this, of course, makes a huge difference as to the relevance of the charge.  If Sarah Palin, for instance, "palled around" with members of a treasonous secessionist political party, I think that would indeed be relevant.  The same would be true for John McCain.  If he palled around with people who advocated assassination as a policy, or who defrauded thousands of people of their life savings, we might have reason to question his judgment.

So, while whether such charges as these are true matters a good deal.  But it matters just as much whether they have any relevance to stuff that matters.  Sometimes they don't.  

Stay classy, Bill Kristol

William Kristol has a strategy for raising the level our national discourse as the election draws near:

That debate is important. McCain took a risk in choosing Palin. If she does poorly, it will reflect badly on his judgment. If she does well, it will be a shot in the arm for his campaign.

In the debate, Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president. She should spend her time making the case for McCain and, more important, the case against Obama. As one shrewd McCain supporter told me, “Every minute she spends not telling the American people something that makes them less well disposed to Obama is a minute wasted.”

The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal. A few months ago I asked one of McCain’s aides what aspect of Obama’s liberalism they thought they could most effectively exploit. He looked at me as if I were a simpleton, and patiently explained that talking about “conservatism” and “liberalism” was so old-fashioned.

Maybe. But the fact is the only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — distanced themselves from liberal orthodoxy. Obama is, by contrast, a garden-variety liberal. He also has radical associates in his past.

The most famous of these is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and I wonder if Obama may have inadvertently set the stage for the McCain team to reintroduce him to the American public. On Saturday, Obama criticized McCain for never using in the debate Friday night the words “middle class.” The Obama campaign even released an advertisement trumpeting McCain’s omission.

The McCain campaign might consider responding by calling attention to Chapter 14 of Obama’s eloquent memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” There Obama quotes from the brochure of Reverend Wright’s church — a passage entitled “A Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.”

So when Biden goes on about the middle class on Thursday, Palin might ask Biden when Obama flip-flopped on Middleclassness.

The answer, so it seems, is for McCain and Palin to turn the campaign away from issues that matter towards petty, false and irrelevant matters of "character."  It's one thing third-tier minds such as Kristol says these kinds of things themselves, it's quite another when they advocate others think and act as they do.  The one is just embarrassing, the other is criminal.