Tag Archives: arguments

F**k logic, get votes

In a recent interview, George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, highlights (again) his well-known disregard for “logic.”

To liberals, a lot of conservative thinking seems like a failure of logic: why would a conservative be against equal rights for women and yet despise the poor, when to liberate women into the world of work would create more wealth, meaning less poverty? And yet we instinctively understand those as features of the conservative worldview, and rightly so.

The nurturant-family model is the progressive view: in it, the ideals are empathy, interdependence, co-operation, communication, authority that is legitimate and proves its legitimacy with its openness to interrogation. “The world that the nurturant parent seeks to create has exactly the opposite properties,” Lakoff writes in Moral Politics. As progressives identify failures of logic in the conservative position, so it works the other way round (one of Lakoff’s examples: “How can liberals support federal funding for Aids research and treatment, while promoting the spread of Aids by sanctioning sexual behaviour that leads to Aids?”).

Lakoff seems to be arguing that logic is not essential to political disagreement because each side thinks the other to have failed at logic in some way.  What you need to do is highlight the strengths of your position:

 It’s about time progressives got out there and said what’s true about themselves, as well as what’s true of the other side. If you have a strong position, let’s hear it.

Point taken (maybe) about the adopting an exclusively critical position, but, I wonder, what sorts of things make your position “strong”?  Could it be that your position accords with reality, overcomes relevant objections, etc.?  It’s “logical” in other words?

If I’m not mistaken, Why We Argue has a chapter on this very issue (featuring Lakoff!).

Can and should

We really deserve a better national discourse than the one we have.  Right now, for instance, there is a lot of discussion about the Cordoba House, an Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, known by many (unfortunately) as the "Ground Zero Mosque."  No one seriously disputes–or rather no one can seriously challenge–the Islamic Community's constitutional right to build wherever they want.  This doesn't mean people won't try this ridiculous line of argument (see this discussion from Scott the other day) or worse.  The real adult discussion must be elsewhere.

On this score, people spend a lot of time drawing a distinction which, it also turns out, no one seriously disputes.  Just because one can build an Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, they say, does not entail that one should.  However, just because one can make such an obvious distinction does not entail that the distinction has any bearing on this particular issue.  Normally, when one makes a distinction between can and should what ought to follow is a series of reasons why not.  I'm still waiting.  For good ones anyway.  Someone help me.

To be honest, I have a fairly settled opinion on this matter–I don't personally see the problem.  But I'm concerned that I'm missing some argumentative nuance, so I really wonder what the argument against the Cordoba House is.

Let's exclude all of the arguments which assert stuff that's false (Muslims build F-U mosques at the site of their victories, Sharia Sharia Sharia, etc.).  That stuff is ludicrous.  What is left? 

What about the sacred space of Ground Zero?  Well, (1) it's not located at Ground Zero; (2) It was a Burlington Coat Factory; (3) the area also hosts strip joints, bars, and wagering facilities; (4) Ground Zero itself will be a commercial building; (5) non-terrorist Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks (and in the subsequent terrorist conflict).

What about the feelings of the survivors and their families?  Gee, (1) they're mistaken about who is responsible for the 9/11 attacks; (2) they don't have sole title to have hurt feelings–see above, Muslims were killed too; (3) nothing about the proposed center celebrates the terrorist attacks, on the contrary, it pays homage to the memory of those who died.

Nothing, as far as I can tell (if you can, however, you're welcome to say so in the comments).  Now just as an illustration of how debased we have become on this point.  Dana Milbank, newish permanent columnist on the Washington Post's Opinion Page, finds something to gripe about:

He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.

Still, there is another cause that has flourished during the controversy — that of Feisal Abdul Rauf. Here he is on the Larry King show; there he is writing an op-ed in the New York Times; that's him, again, on ABC's This Week. On Monday morning, he addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in New York (I listened in via conference call), offering many thoughts on what appears to be his favorite topic.   

It just gets worse.  Milbank apparently takes issue with Rauf because he has attempted to defend his decision to locate the Cordoba House in lower Manhattan.  He can only defend himself by defending himself.  Seriously.  Marvel at the snide insinuation that Rauf has been self-aggrandizingly provocative.  Let's put Milbank's moronic point in a much less charitable way:

you're only defending yourself and your decisions because you've been attacked.

If someone knows another way to defend oneself then I'm all ears.  But this is the mind of the contrarian.  There are to my mind (again, if there are, tell me) no arguments against Rauf's Cordoba House.  None.  But that's not going to stop Milbank from thinking outside of the box.

See also.