On the attack. . .

It’s perpetually entertaining to me when writers for argumentative partisan publications fail to understand or appreciate the basic idea of an argument. An argument, as any freshman in philosophy 101 knows, is a series of statement meant to establish some other statement. Rational people make them in order either to convince themselves or others of some proposition. Arguments constitute the very basis of rational discourse between people of differing viewpoints. When those fail, the chanting can begin.

Take these two examples from two National Review Online writers. Cliff May complains:

>I enjoy a good debate as much as the next guy but, increasingly, the next guy doesn’t want to argue — he wants to demonize me. He doesn’t want to win the debate; he wants to shut it down.

>Whether the topic is global warming or Saddam Hussein’s links to terrorists, daring to contradict the “consensus” brings hoots and hollers and worse. My most recent experience with such intolerance of diversity of opinion may be instructive.

He then goes on to point out an instance in which Glenn Greenwald argued with him–I mean, “went on the attack”:

>Glenn Greenwald, at the online magazine Salon, went on the attack — but what he had to say was oddly non-responsive to my question. To establish that the voters’ message in November had been “Get out of Iraq!” would require showing that candidates, particularly in competitive races, had pledged to support what Greenwald calls a “Congressionally compelled withdrawal of troops from Iraq by a date certain.”

And it continues. But it’s obvious that the evidence May gathers for people not wanting to argue makes exactly the opposite point. May didn’t argue anything. He asserted some claim that was challenged by someone else. That’s what an argument is. He’s not attacking you, he’s questioning whether what you say is true. The difference ought to be clear.

The second item comes from Jonah Goldberg, writing for National Review Online as well. He writes:

>I try not to let the lefty piling-on of late bug me. But that doesn’t mean it’s not nice to have someone stick up for me every now and then. So many thanks to Steve Burton over at Right Reason for recognizing that, whatever my faults, there is something like a Goldberg Derangement Syndrome out there (as one reader puts it).

As May points out in his piece, some people (an emailer in his case–nutpicking again) won’t engage. But many do. And it’s wrong to lump all of your critics in the same group. Learn to tell the difference.