Misuse

E.J.Dionne writes an interview piece on Gore in today’s Post. Gore says:

>”A lot of people were afraid of being accused of being unpatriotic,” he says. “One of the symptoms of this problem — the diminishing role for reason, fact and logic — is that what rushes in to fill the vacuum are extreme partisanship, ideology, fundamentalism and extreme nationalism.”

One can’t help but have some sympathy for this sentiment. What worries me, however, is not the absence of reason (facts and logic), but rather its misuse. In a sense, that’s unreason, but that might be stating the matter in a way that’s only going to alienate your opponent. What they have–and they have them indeed–are bad arguments. But even bad arguments take the form of arguments. That’s more that can usually be said for Dionne. I think the rest of Gore’s interview, in fact, does a remarkable job of impugning Dionne’s annoying failure to engage his opponent on sure and equal footing.

8 thoughts on “Misuse”

  1. while he notes our Beloved Leader’s “disdain for facts, and his lack of curiosity,” i don’t know that Gore is really arguing that there’s an absence of reason, but that there is a “diminishing role for reason, fact and logic,” which doesn’t seem that different from what you’re arguing. it seems to me that the reason poor argumentation is allowed into the discourse is that there is simply a lowered appreciation for reason, facts, proper argumentative structure, etc, not a total absence of reason, though that might be a logical consequence should the appreciation for reason continue to slide.

  2. A right-wing boss of mine (who was actually pretty intelligent) said to me once that whether you would vote for Bush or Gore or Kerry had nothing to do with reason; it had to do with party affiliations and tradition. It was a cynical approach to politics as aggregate choices. When I pick candidates in the voting booth, I really look at it from a policymaker’s point of view (which by the way, is not helped by the fact that politicians go out of their way not to take public stands on issues except for rhetorical ones). My former boss, did not do that at all. He was implicitly admitting that reason had little to do with democracy.

  3. “reason had little to do with democracy.”

    that might be the case for your boss, but i think a quick trip through the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine will demonstrate that the sentiment expressed by your boss is not in line with either the philosophical underpinnings of democracy, nor with intent of the Founders. Gore is decrying the meek acceptance fo that milquetoast democracy your boss espouses.

  4. While, I’ll acknowledge the passivity of the American people, despite their overwhelming disdain for the President and his plans for Iraq, its important to remember the role that government rightfully plays in directing the public dialog. Remember, it was Congress, who in 2003, failed to subject the nuclear claims of the White House to due scrutiny. Despite the notable authors you’ve listed pm, who wrote fiery discourse on the duties of the citizens, the average citizen was not significantly more engaged in political discourse than he is today. The citizen in the 18th century, was concerned with issues that faced him: family, economy, health. It is the duty of our elected representatives to, “hold their feet to the fire”, not always the people. Gore’s claims about a largely apathetic and trivial electorate, are as true today as they were then. That is why we have a representative democracy and not a direct one. As long as the political scene is not dominated by a single agenda or party, opposing factions will generally keep the country in a stable place. Its not that reason plays a lesser role in the media or the people, but rather in the opposition party. While Republicans began to pollute our national discourse, the Democrats had the responsibilty to demand better. Just now, the Senate has finally conceded to the White House, and will not be demanding withdrawl dates in Iraq. Just watch CSPAN every now and then. The national discourse is in disarray, because the one in Congress isn’t living up to expectations.

  5. “Despite the notable authors youíve listed pm, who wrote fiery discourse on the duties of the citizens,”

    actually, paine and franklin aside, they wrote far more about the duties and action of governments, not just their citizens.

    “Goreís claims about a largely apathetic and trivial electorate, are as true today as they were then. That is why we have a representative democracy and not a direct one.”

    i think i’m going to require some textual evidence for this claim. this sounds a bit hamiltonian for my tastes.

    “As long as the political scene is not dominated by a single agenda or party, opposing factions will generally keep the country in a stable place.”

    this is exactly what madison argues in Federalist No. 10,

    “Its not that reason plays a lesser role in the media or the people, but rather in the opposition party.”

    can you expand on this a bit. it’s puzzling as structured. i’m not sure i followed your example.

    “The national discourse is in disarray, because the one in Congress isnít living up to expectations.”

    then isn’t it the task of the people to “hold their feet to the fire,” say, in the fall ’06 elections? we americans are far too willing to abdicate our role in democracy and the national discourse in the face of the big bad government, who just won’t listen. there are many more of us than there are of them and we hold the key their power–votes–and we need to use that.

  6. You’ve raised some good points. As to what fraction of the writings of Paine, Jefferson, and Madison, articulated a citizen’s role in government, I do not know, but in my example, I think the point is moot. Central to my previous post, was the notion that the current American electorate is not significantly more apathetic then it was during the our nation’s early strides. These prolific writers, did consider their role in government, and actively engaged in commentary and critique of the exisiting government. Those writings represent a fundemental interest or passion for the political discourse of their time. They were, however, largely exceptions to a larger American citizenry that was involved in either mercantilism or agriculture and was more concerned with their immediate domestic needs then the direction of the state. While their were existed an empathetic intellectual elite in America, the majority was largely disconnected from political life.

    To properly address your second objection would require a length debate of its own, and so I will try and see if I can elucidate briefly.
    In a Direct Democracy, it is the individual citizens who collectively address the needs of the nation. They vote on every matter, and no decision is to be made without their approval. Madison, in Federalist 10, as do many of our politically inclined authors of the 18th century, that a direct democracy could never be feasible given the sheer size of the American electorate. That style of government is really only possible in a small, town setting. There is however, another problem with direct democracy. To be careful, I would never deny the fundemental right of the citizen to be engaged in his country. Instead, I would reiterate my first claim, that most Americans are simply preoccupied with their immediate needs to be as constantly engaged in the matters of the state. Thus, when matters (such as intelligence) are not subjected to critical scutiny, it is inherent in a representative democracy that the blame be directed at those who share the bulk of the responsiblilty. The electorate is not entirely blameless of course, but the people elect able bodied representatives for that reason.

    Yes, that quote represents an argument taken from Federalist 10.

    The third objection concerned a matter of clarity, and I will address that, here briefly. The construction of that sentence was poor, I admit, but I hope I can stil communicate its intended meaning to you. In a representative democracy, elected representatives of the people collectively guide the country, and not the people themselves. Thus, when we find the political discourse in dissarray, and the electorate misinformed, we must first look to those representatives, for the answer. I, as a citizen, do not find it difficult to understand how the American people could have suspended their critical faculties in 2003. This is a people for whom belief in God is widespread, yet millions of people reject the scientific theory of evolution, the projected age of the universe, and even the seperation of church and state. When the discourse in Washington is insufficient, people are easily misleaded. This is why we have elected representatives.

    In the elections, the people must weigh candidate profiles and elect a new direction for the country. Still, our system relies on the fact that blunders by one party will be brought to the public’s attention by their opponents. In 2004, Democrats were not as uniform on the war as they were in 2006. Democrats made it their entire platform, to demand accountability on Iraq. The majority-minority interaction, is what generally informs the voter. Without that, we are lost.

  7. Dear Steve,

    you write:

    >Remember, it was Congress, who in 2003, failed to subject the nuclear claims of the White House to due scrutiny.

    I think the evidence suggests that the evidence Congress say was manipulated (and not the evidence that everyone else saw). Not to alleviate them of their responsibility, but your argument here hinges on the “you made me hit you” argument of the wife abuser. The responsibility for this disastrous war falls primarily on the administration that made it happen (and continues to assert against all evidence that it was a good idea). Pointing out the responsibility of Congress–while in some respect true–fails to take seriously the role of the commander guy in our constitutional structure.

  8. It’s really hard to speculate on the evidence that Congress did, or did not see. Going back to the committee hearings and floor debates on the Hill, I never really saw the President’s claims objected to any serious criticism. While the President is to be blamed for initiating this conflict, Congress (especially those in the opposite party) share a portion of the burden. Arguments for a more methodical, multilateral approach was thrust to the side, as Congress joined together to rubber-stamp the ultimatum. Experts from independent instutitions were not called to testify, and leading up to the invasion itself, many of the reports, be they alumminum tubes in North Africa, or the facilities themselves, were in serious doubt by many people. So many of these ‘evidenciary’ claims were so groundless, as later inquiry showed ,that it is hard to believe, that had Congress had truly made an effort to investigate their strength, that they would not have debunked them. The evidence wasn’t good enough for the UN, and I doubt that it would have been good enough for a responsibly partisan minority in Congress, had they cared to subject it to reasoned discourse.

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