We’ve had a number of discussions here at the NS about how ad hominem tu quoque can sometimes actually be a relevant form of argument. (See one of mine HERE, Colin on it HERE, John on it HERE, and my publication on it at IL HERE) In short: the argument form, when properly presented, can show in speaker inconsistency: incompetence, insincerity, or evidence that a proposed practice is impractical. I have one that seems a glaring case of insincerity. Thomas Sowell’s syndicated piece (here at the American Spectator) is that because liberals control (most of) education, there’s no actual fact-checking from critics of conservatives. Instead, all liberals do, from his experience, is give counter-assertions, and that’s what’s supported by the educational institutions producing them. Well, at least that’s what happened when Sowell read an email from a liberal critic.
It is good to check out the facts — especially if you check out the facts on both sides of an issue…. By contrast, another man simply denounced me because of what was said in that column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions, as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be wrong.
He identified himself as a physician, and the claims that he made about guns were claims that had been made years ago in a medical journal — and thoroughly discredited since then. He might have learned that, if we had engaged in a back and forth discussion, but it was clear from his letter that his goal was not debate but denunciation. That is often the case these days.
OK. So Sowell got an email from someone with outdated information. From a medical journal, but outdated information. Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Apparently so, because Sowell takes this email to be representative of how liberals think:
If our educational institutions — from the schools to the universities— were as interested in a diversity of ideas as they are obsessed with racial diversity, students would at least gain experience in seeing the assumptions behind different visions and the role of logic and evidence in debating those differences.
Instead, a student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from that of the prevailing political correctness.
Well, first, I smell weak manning here — thanks, Tomas Sowell, for picking a bad arguer for a liberal talking point and generalizing to all liberals. Perhaps we could do the same for you and use Michele Bachman as the representative voice for conservatism?
At this point, Sowell then turns to the institutions that produce what he takes to be shoddy arguments, that is, universities. And he’s got one case in point:
The student at Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor, was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became public and provoked an outcry from outside academia.
Ah, but then there’s the old fact-checking, getting the other side’s version of the story. You know, like what a well-educated person would do. The exercise did take place, but the student who refused wasn’t up for punishment for not stepping on ‘Jesus’, but for threatening the professor with violence. And that’s where we know that Sowell’s not playing fair – when his side gets criticized, he wants his critics to be entirely up to date on all the details of the matter. And when they aren’t, well, that’s evidence of how stupid, horribly educated, and disinterested in actual debate they are. But when it’s his side, well, it’s just a matter of saying what his favored audience wants.
A final question, but now about the FAU case: why would Christians care about stepping on the word ‘Jesus’? The name’s not holy. The letters aren’t either. This strikes me as another case of hypocrisy — they’ve got their own graven images. The name of god in their own language. Christians who threaten Professor Poole with death over this don’t understand their own religion.