Tag Archives: George Will

Your analogy is bad and you should feel bad

There is much to distinguish Rush Limbaugh and George Will.  But there is also much they have in common.  They both explain Obama's electoral success by the completely non-racist suggestion that Obama, completely undeserving of the job, has profitted from affirmative action.  What distinguishes Will from Limbaugh, however, is that Will is able to find an inappropriate analogy to make his point, Limbaugh, already famous for baselessly doubting the genuine accomplishments of African Americans everywhere, just says Obama has profited from Affirmative Action.  Another difference is that Will patronizingly suggests such feelings for Obama might speak well of Americans.

Anyway, after running through a summary of Obama's Presidency only Fox News could have written (see here for a rebuttal), Will concludes:

Obama’s administration is in shambles, yet he is prospering politically. This may not, however, entirely be evidence of the irrationality of the electorate. Something more benign may be at work.

A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.

Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.

Perhaps a pleasant paradox defines this political season: That Obama is African American may be important, but in a way quite unlike that darkly suggested by, for example, MSNBC’s excitable boys and girls who, with their (at most) one-track minds and exquisitely sensitive olfactory receptors, sniff racism in any criticism of their pin-up. Instead, the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing himseems especially reluctant to give up on the first African American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation’s heart, if not its head.

I remember Sarah Palin as well, and George Bush, I also remember Mitt Romney's characterization of 47 percent of the electorate as lazy moochers.  Then there is the string of things Obama has done that people kind of like.  These might also be explanatory factors in the President's recent and past political success.  People also seem to be aware that he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression (or so they think anyway).  Wonder why, however, those guys at MSNBC would ever dare to suggest that calling someone an Affirmative Action President was somehow racist.  Why would they do that?  After all, he's just like that other black guy.

Progressivism Isn’t Everything, It’s The Only Thing

Sometimes I think the real reason Hume aimed his skeptical arguments at the notion of causation is because he perceived the manifold ways dubious argumentative strategies can give causal arguments tremendous rhetorical force.   George Will was kind enough to provide us with just such a perverse causal claim this week.  Recent events at Penn State, University of Georgia,and Syracuse have prompted many journalists to consider the peculiarly American phenomenon of the state university football coach.  Will surveys the scene and deduces a culprit for this quasi-demagogue: American Progressivism, of course.  Will argues

With two extravagant entertainments under way, it is instructive to note the connection between the presidential election and the college football season: Barack Obama represents progressivism, a doctrine whose many blemishes on American life include universities as football factories, which progressivism helped to create.

To quote my favorite small business owner, I don't even know where to begin to correct that sentence.  But before we being with the correcting, let's get a taste of the argument:

Higher education embraced athletics in the first half of the 19th century, when most colleges were denominational and most instruction was considered mental and moral preparation for a small minority — clergy and other professionals. Physical education had nothing to do with spectator sports entertaining people from outside the campus community. Rather, it was individual fitness — especially gymnastics — for the moral and pedagogic purposes of muscular Christianity — mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

Pick a lane, George.  Eliding is fun, but if there's a connection between Progressivism's causing universities to become football factories and this host of religious universities "embracing athletics" as some sort of corporeal moral education, it's not apparent from this graph.  If there isn't such a connection, then this paragraph seems to contradict the one which preceded it. But let's see where this goes:

Intercollegiate football began when Rutgers played Princeton in 1869, four years after Appomattox. In 1878, one of Princeton’s two undergraduate student managers was Thomas — he was called Tommy — Woodrow Wilson. For the rest of the 19th century, football appealed as a venue for valor for collegians whose fathers’ venues had been battlefields. Stephen Crane, author of the Civil War novel “The Red Badge of Courage” (1895) — the badge was a wound — said: “Of course, I have never been in a battle, but I believe that I got my sense of the rage of conflict on the football field.”

Who needs arguments?  String barely-related facts together in temporal order, manufacture narrative, close with pithy quote, QED.  I have wasted my life.

Harvard philosopher William James then spoke of society finding new sources of discipline and inspiration in “the moral equivalent of war.” Society found football, which like war required the subordination of the individual, and which would relieve the supposed monotony of workers enmeshed in mass production. 

Setting aside the risible reading of James…wait, no, let's not set it aside.  Here's what James actually argues:

If now — and this is my idea — there were, instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out, and numerous other goods to the commonwealth would remain blind as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man's relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life. To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas. They would have paid their blood-tax, done their own part in the immemorial human warfare against nature; they would tread the earth more proudly, the women would value them more highly, they would be better fathers and teachers of the following generation.

Well, we already know how George feels about trains, so it's no small wonder he would drag poor Billy James into the fray.  The problem is Will's completely misrepresented the claim.  James isn't concerned here with the plight of "workers enmeshed in mass production," and Will's desperate attempt at a dogwhistle connection between Progressivism (as represented by a Boston Brahma, natch) and Marxism can't make that so.  James' "moral equivalent to war" is proffered as a mitigation of the seeming impasse between the "war party" and the "peace party."  James sees the former as promoting martial virtues to extremes that actually run counter to goals of human society, while the latter engage in a fool's errand to utterly eliminate martial virtues.  James' middle way mollifies both parties: martial virtues are extolled, but instead of being channeled into war, they are channeled into productive human activity (which activity could plausibly include monotonous mass production-type activities!).  James is thinking here of things like the Peace Corps and Teach For America, not the LSU Tigers (although one might reasonably argue that the argument could extend to those things, but not in terms that Will would accept).  Moreover, there's something else going wrong here, with this talk of the individual. As Will continues,
 

College football became a national phenomenon because it supposedly served the values of progressivism, in two ways. It exemplified specialization, expertise and scientific management. And it would reconcile the public to the transformation of universities, especially public universities, into something progressivism desired but the public found alien. Replicating industrialism’s division of labor, universities introduced the fragmentation of the old curriculum of moral instruction into increasingly specialized and arcane disciplines. These included the recently founded social sciences — economics, sociology, political science — that were supposed to supply progressive governments with the expertise to manage the complexities of the modern economy and the simplicities of the uninstructed masses.

Football taught the progressive virtue of subordinating the individual to the collectivity. Inevitably, this led to the cult of one individual, the coach. Today, in almost every state, at least one public university football coach is paid more than the governor.

I've never been convinced by this sort of "kingdom of the blind"-type argument.  They either seem painfully tautologous ("If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns"), or they seem self referentially incoherent, as is the case above.  But more to the point, the contradictions in this claim point to a deeper flaw in Will's argument, namely that Will doesn't even seem to have a firm grasp on what he takes Progressivism to be, let alone show concern for what it actually is, so he enmeshes himself in a web of contradictions and half-hearted historical claims that ultimately come to nothing. Instead of providing himself a worthy foe, "Progressivism" functions as an umbrella term for a loosely related set of social doctrines to which Will objects.  Will might have proved that some particular doctrine lent a hand in the rise of college sports as public spectacle, but he hasn't shown (1) that American Progressivism as such is a cause, nor has he shown, most importantly, (2) that even a majority of American universities are football factories.  He clearly seems to think so, but he's never offered even a hint of an argument for either view.   In place of an argument, we get a shitty reading of William James and a milquetoast narrative more worthy of small-time sports blog than the Op-Ed pages of a major newspaper.  

Another sparkling moment in our national discourse.

Big Boss Man

Michael Bloomberg is the Republican mayor of New York.  He has advocated a ban a gigantic sodas in New York.  This provoked the following reaction from George Will on ABC's "This Week."

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's not easy. I want to get to one more issue before we go. Michael Bloomberg this week banning the sale of 16 — anything over 16 ounces of soda in movie theaters, restaurants (inaudible) got that ad right there in the New York Times. It says he's the nanny. And, George, I got to — I got to confess, the minute I heard about this plan from — from Michael Bloomberg, the first person I thought about was you…

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: Let me read you what Michael Bloomberg said, because in one sentence, he's got the essence of contemporary liberalism, that is something preposterous and something sinister. Listen to this. We're not taking away anyone's right to do things. Could have fooled me. We're simply forcing you to understand. Now, that's modern liberalism, the delight in bossing people around, the kind of irritable gesture that'll have no public…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it is a massive problem, George. Obesity is a problem across the country.

WILL: Of course it is. And regulating the size of these drinks at some outlets will do nothing about it. By the way, the sale of sugary, carbonated sodas has fallen 24 percent since 1990. The American people are getting the word on this. But what this really says is — what Bloomberg is saying, the government helps with your health care, the government's implicated in your health, therefore, we own you, therefore, the government can fine-tune all the decisions you make pertinent to your health.

Bloomberg, again, is a Republican.  How his behavior expresses the "essence of liberalism" is a mystery.  What it does express is the fact that many laws entail "bossing people around."  As a matter of very obvious fact, the law is a kind of big boss person, who tells you how fast to drive, to wear a seatbelt, or a helmet, or to have a child safety seat, or not to drive drunk, or to pull over for emergency vehicles, or any other of the hundreds of very bossy rules about driving, walking, and riding.  Some people, Republicans, also try to use it to tell you which person you can marry, or which words you can use on TV (could go on, but why bother?)

Will then finds that the Republican soda plan is just like climate change:

WILL: But this is one of the reasons liberals are so enamored of the issue of climate change. They say all our behavior in some way affects the climate. Therefore, the government — meaning, we, liberals, the party of government — can fine-tune all your behavior right down to the light bulbs you use.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wow, the leap from soda to climate change. Donna, you get the last word, 10 seconds.

BRAZILE: George, all I could tell you is that this is a very serious concern and I commend the mayor for raising it and also giving you something to drink about.

Ah, the lightbulb thing.  Cheers to Brazile for the joke; but couldn't anyone have pointed out that Bloomberg is a Republican?  It's not that hard folks.

H/T Crooks and Liars.

Final Exam

It's final exam day here in my world–Critical Thinking is the course.  A friend on Face Book posted this article about being a Republican who believed climate change to be a real thing.  Actually, the article is about understanding what the claim about climate change entails, in particular the difference between climate and weather.  This difference being somehow more difficult to grasp than Fermat's Last Theorem. 

Some grafs:

Climate science shows that over a long period of time, the statistics have changed. Things that used to happen a lot, like consistent winter snow cover, are happening less reliably. Things that happened every now and then, like droughts and wildfires, are happening more reliably. And things that almost never happened — such as the 15,000 new U.S. temperature records in March — sometimes now do occur. And they can’t be explained with purely meteorological reasoning.

The changes we’re seeing, far more than I can list here, seem like an accumulation of coincidences. Pieced together, reveal the full puzzle: There’s more heat and moisture in the atmosphere, and our emissions are largely responsible for keeping it there.

The millennium’s first decade was the warmest on record and included nine of the 10 hottest years. Greenhouse gas levels are at their highest in 800,000 years. Less heat is escaping the top of the atmosphere in the wavelengths of greenhouse gases. For the first time, scientists have recorded both hemispheres are warming – and the global temperature spike can’t be linked to an astronomical trigger, such as solar variability. Great Lakes peak ice has seen a 71 percent drop since 1973. Winters are shorter. Lakes melt earlier. Plants are moving north.

Worldwide, 95% of land-based glaciers are losing mass. September Arctic sea ice has lost 10 percent of its area every decade. Sea levels are rising. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic. Flooding and extreme storms are spiking in frequency and intensity. Last winter was the 4th warmest on record, despite the cooling influence of a La Nina phase in the Pacific.

Extremes are becoming more extreme. And none of it has anything to do with Al Gore.

Very sciency stuff here.  Anyway, the fun begins with the commenters.  A couple of samples.

Here's one disconnected from fact:

But because of the politics of the Obama Administration, all funding for Hydrogen research was cut to the bone in 2009. If you want to look for politics interfering with technological solutions to CO2 pollution — don't look at the Republicans…we tried!  

Here's one that thinks a work of fiction is a rebuttal (in the commenter's defense, George Will thought the same thing):

Did you read Michael Crichton's STATE OF FEAR? It really helps you understand that GLOBAL WARMING, renamed "climate change" is a 100% sham.

Here's your classic straw man:

Oh, no!!

Drowning polar bears???

Polar ice caps falling into the sea???

Despair, despair!!!

Hey, kids!! It's Kool-Aid time!!!

And now the tu quoque featuring Al Gore:

Well, at least Gore sets a good eexample by not flying private jets.

What? What do you mean he flies private jets? Isn't that a mega-polluter?

Well, at least he doesn't own a McMansion.

What? He owns one of those too?

I try to do what I can to reduce CO2, but Gore is single-handedly burning the planet up.

And this is just the top few of them. 
 

 

 

Odd inferences

I don't see the relation between "unarmed black teenager is shot under puzzling and racially charged circumstances" and "black people shoot each other all of the time," but apparently it's become quite a thing.  George Will has even jumped on the bandwagon (via Crooks and Liars):

WILL: Well, precisely. I mean, this is why we have what's called due process. We have institutions that are juries and grand juries and prosecutors who are supposed to look at the evidence and come up with the answer.

The root fact is, though, Mr. Jones, that about 150 black men are killed every week in this country. And 94 percent of them by other black men.

And this is — this episode has been forced into a particular narrative to make it a white-on-black when "The New York Times" rather infamously now decided that Mr. Zimmerman was a white Hispanic, a locution (ph) that was not — was rare until then, and I think they abandoned by Friday.

The funny thing is that Will's researchers must have looked up that little factoid.  It certainly does not clarify the puzzling circumstances around this case: namely, the fact that someone stalked a skittle-bearing teenager on his way home , described him as suspicious, shot him, and walked away claiming, among other things, that he stood his ever moving and stalking ground.  I don't know what happened, it seems odd.

But I suppose the implication is that one is inconsistent if one isn't shrieking with rage over the other murders.  Which people are, anyway. 

Here's a question.  If one hasn't remarked on the 150 or so black men who die every week violently, is one enjoined from being outraged by the Trayvon Martin slaying?

Stop contradicting yourself

Check out the image:

Yes, this is exactly what diversity means.  This reminds me of a classic George Will argument (with the same equivocation) against "Liberals."

Although liberals give lip service to "diversity," they often treat federalism as an annoying impediment to their drive for uniformity. Feingold, who is proud that Wisconsin is one of only four states that clearly require special elections of replacement senators in all circumstances, wants to impose Wisconsin's preference on the other 46. Yes, he acknowledges, they could each choose to pass laws like Wisconsin's, but doing this "state by state would be a long and difficult process." Pluralism is so tediously time-consuming.

Got them liberals there George!  Maybe, by way of satire, we could construct the following argument to make the same very immature point: If you favor diversity, you favor it all of the time, if you have diversity all of the time, then you have uniform diversity, so you have uniformity, so if you favor diversity, you favor uniformity.  I should add: stop contradicting yourself.