Category Archives: Plain Bad Arguments

Because it has a dormitive power

Throughout the internets there has been headsratching and headshaking over this op-ed by NYT's David Brooks-in-training, Ross Douthat

He begins by admitting that the arguments of gay marriage opponents have so far failed:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

Good for him, those arguments are bad.  Not to be outdone by them, however, he's going to offer one of his own, which, as you'll see, is worse than the ones he's just rejected, because, well, it's the same!  Continuing directly:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

Get that–marrigage is uniquely admirable because it's distinctive, particular, difficult, and uniquely admirable.  But this is really just the tradition argument again–straight non-divorcing marriage is admirable because that's what we admire it, it's our ideal of something admirable.  Nothing else is unique like it (although one would have to admit that gay marriages are pretty darn unique). 

The question begged here, of course, what makes it admirable in the first place.  This is especially interesting because he's just knocked down all of the reasons for thinking it's admirable.  Being unique, or difficult, of course, are not reasons for admiring something.  Nor is something being admirable a reason for admiring it.

Skipping a few bewildering paragraphs, he warns us about what is to come if we fail to beg the question with him:

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Allowing homosexuals to get married will only bolster the case that they're more awesome at marriage than straights are.  Once people begin to realize that, then gay marriage will be a moral necessity–even for straight people.  At least that's what I think he's saying, because I fail to see the context of "morally necessary." 

More absurd, however, is the idea that marriage's being (as Douthat conceives it) a great idea of Western Civilization justifies discrmination against gay marriage.  Well, in the first place, it's not really an idea of Western Civilization (traditional Western-Civ marriage isn't anything like this alleged ideal).  Second, he's just told us that argument sucks (and it does). 

Third, and most importantly, legally recognizing homosexual marriage doesn't mean straight marriage is not a great idea, even if it were.

Bear with me

My colleagues have challenged me to look deeper into the abyss.  I did.  This is what I found (courtesy of Sadly, No!):

In February of 2010, ABC News published an article regarding the 2009 enacted right to carry law in National Parks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article struck a tone straight out of a Brady campaign spot. A mosaic of Chicken Little ’sky is falling’ was painted in broad strokes and platitudes. All in response to a common sense measured signed into law by president Obama allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm in the nation’s National Parks.

It’s a song and dance that we on the right have grown to be accustomed with concerning second amendment rights and the press. Virulent anti-gun groups and mainstream press outlets essentially spout the same talking points. We expect this, we accept this.

But with the recent grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park that killed one and left two injured, one may wonder if the typical progressive, anti-gun canard still holds water?

I for one appreciate his patience.  But in any case, one has to wonder how the extremely rare (but nontheless terrifying) prospect of bear attacks on national forest property undermines the "typical" progressive case against gun rights.  One wonders this, in the first place, because the attack in question occured in a place (Gallatin National Forest) where you can carry unconcealed firearms.  From the National Forest FAQ:

Can I carry a firearm on the national forest? back to top

Possession of firearms. The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations with the exception of “prohibited possessors,” such as convicted felons (see 18 USC 922g ( and ARS 13-3101 ( State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.

Discharge of firearms. National Forest regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or any other occupied area; across a road or any body of water adjacent to a road; into or within a cave; or in any negligent manner that could endanger life or property (see 36 CFR 261.10d) ( The Tonto National Forest also has areas that are closed to recreational shooting year-round due to proximity to local communities (see Forest Closure Orders). During periods of high fire danger, additional restrictions on the use of firearms may be imposed. None of the temporary or year-round restrictions prohibit the use of a firearm in the lawful taking of game.

So a very rare bear attack on an unnarmed person (who could legally have been armed) somehow undermines the "typical" progressive anti-gun canard (not sure what that is).  Anyway.  It gets more entertaining:

Moments like this are teachable. Liberals love to go down the subjunctive mood route and justify positions within theoretical conditions. But those theoretical positions always fit the progressive mold and worldview. And as any student of history and logic knows there are always two sides to the hypothetical reasoning coin.

Therefore, I can add that if even one of the victims of Yellowstone/Soda Creek Campground grizzly attack had a concealed permit, and had been armed, the outcome early Wednesday morning may have been quite different.

And the anti-second amendment crowd will never admit that.

A teachable moment indeed, but I don't know what I am supposed to have learned.  Few could dispute that the second amendment (like the first, second, third, etc.) admits of some obvious restrictions as to nature and place (among other things).  Everyone knows what those are.  So it's not opposition to the 2nd amendment that's at issue.  It's opposition to the carrying of concealed firearms in certain situations.  But we've already established that this isn't one of them, so the hypothetical doesn't work in the first place.

Besides, how does having a concealed weapon help you in the bear attack scenario? 

Tool Quoque

The Non Sequitur is supposed to be a blog about political media, I know.  But I can't let this pass.  I was converting some old CD's to MP3 format this evening, and I set about to listening to an old Tool album, Aenima.  I'd forgotten how brooding they were and that the lyrics were intermittently profound and stupid.  And then I came to "Hooker with a Penis."  Here are the lyrics, if you need to read along, but here is the core of the song: it's an argument that you can't blame Tool for being sellouts.  The background story is that Maynard, the lead singer, is approached by some kid who accuses him of being a sellout with the latest album, and that the earlier stuff is more authentic:

And in between sips of Coke
He told me that he thought
We were sellin' out
Layin' down
Suckin' up
To the man.

Maynard responds with two separate arguments.  The first is simple garbage talk: that he, Maynard, is actually THE MAN.  So he can't sell out to the man, because he's already the man.  And furthermore, since that's the case, our accuser is ALSO the man.  
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I'm the man
If I'm the man,
Then you're the man
And He's the man as well
So you can
Point that fuckin' finger up your ass.
I suppose that this is a fine argument for people who are heavy-duty Tool-heads, since a good deal of Tool stuff is mystical mumbo-jumbo.  But, for sure, by this sort of reasoning, then Maynard is the accuser, too.  And then, consequently, he ends up telling HIMSELF to point that finger up his OWN ass.  (Logic hint: identity is a transitive relation.)  Not much of a defense, in the end.  The lesson of the first argument: mystical nonsense may be really impressive to badly dressed kids in soda shops, but it makes for crazily bad arguments. 
The second argument is a little more interesting, and given our recent spate of discussions about tu quoque arguments, it caught my eye.  The argument has two prongs. The first is basically that Tool had already sold out before their first record, and so the accuser has no legitimate basis to say that the later album is a sellout compared to the first album. The first album was a sellout album, too!   The second line of argument is that the accuser, regardless of the accusations, nevertheless BOUGHT THE RECORDS!

All you know about me is what I've sold you,
Dumb fuck
I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.
I sold my soul to make a record,
Dip shit
And then you bought one.

I see both lines of the second argument out to show that the accuser, regardless of the issue of whether Tool have sold out, actually likes sellout music.  The first line is that since Tool sold out before the first record, and the accuser likes the first record, the accuser likes sellout music.  The second line is that since the accuser BUYS records he admittedly sees as sellout music, he must thereby like sellout music.  Therefore, he has no standing to accuse Tool of being sellouts.
Again, I'm sympathetic with many tu quoque arguments, as I think they can show double standards, dishonesty in criticism, and even sometimes actually show that some cases are likely true.  But I'm not sympathetic here.  The first problem is that even if Tool sold out before the first album, that doesn't mean that their second (or later) albums are of the same quality.  Here might be a reasonable response from the accuser: Sure, you may have sold out before the first record, but it didn't start really showing until the second.  I thought you had some shred of dignity and integrity, but I suppose I was wrong about that.  Thanks for setting me straight about the fact that you've always been a sellout.
The second problem with the line of argument is the fact that the accuser bought the album hardly means that he has no standing to complain about its quality.  I have many, many CD's collecting dust in the basement  that stink.  The only way to find out if they stink, back then, was to buy them and listen to them.   It was $15 to find out that, for example, Queensryche peaked with Operation Mindcrime.  Or consider any other commodity — if I say that the Big Mac is a terrible hamburger, I'd have had to have tried it.  Which means I'd have had to have bought one.  Would my standing to criticize a Big Mac be undermined by the fact that I bought one?  What would be the only way to sample them, then, without this charge?  Steal them?
The third problem with the argument is that even if Maynard has shown the accuser to like sellout music, and even if Maynard has shown that the accuser, THE MAN, and Maynard are all the same, it has not yet mounted much of a defense for sellout music.  If there's something wrong with "sucking up to THE MAN," then showing that we're all THE MAN or that some people like sucking up to the man doesn't do much in the way of defense. 
Toolheads, I remember, took this song pretty seriously.  They still do, if you peruse the comments under the YouTube videos for the song. They thought that it showed Maynard at his best, defending himself and his music.  It may show Maynard at his best, but it's hardly a defense.  You know, when you shout a bad argument, even with distorted guitars and heavy base in the background, it doesn't get any better. 

What refutes what?

Phyllis Schlafly is right about one thing: the Fourth of July is a good time to read the Declaration of Independence.  But she's wrong about pretty much everything else.  First, her timing is a little off — her posting is dated July 9, but she's giving advice about what to do on the 4th.  Maybe her plan was for us to remember what to do next year.   Second, she claims that the Declaration is a 'religious document.'  This seems a little thin, as her evidence is that:

The Declaration of Independence is the official and unequivocal recognition by the American people of our belief and faith in God. It affirms God's existence as a "self-evident" truth that requires no further discussion, debate or litigation.. . . The Declaration of Independence contains five references to God: God as Creator of all men, God as supreme Lawmaker, God as the Source of all rights, God as the world's supreme Judge, and God as our Patron and Protector. The Declaration declares that each of us was created; so if we were created, we must have had a Creator and, as the modern discovery of DNA confirms, each of God's creatures is different from every other person who has ever lived or ever will live on this earth.

Just for the record, I took a quick look at the Declaration, and I counted only four overt references to God.  One in the first paragraph, to Nature's God.  One in the second paragraph, that "we are endowed by our Creator….", and two in the final paragraph, one an oath to the Supreme judge of the world, and another about trusting 'divine providence.'  Now, with each of these, I don't (especially given the widespread deism of the day) see these as strongly theistic as Schlafly sees them.  Regardless, whatever these references mean, they aren't there as core commitments of the Declaration — the Declaration is about human rights and about the role of government (and also to list all the colonial grievances against the crown).  To put it on record that they all love God doesn't seem to be the point, but more a rhetorical element of the presentation of more (ahem) humanistic concerns.  If you use reference to God in making a point, that doesn't by necessity make your speech religious, because I often punctuate my angriest moments with "Goddammit!", but that hardly makes my speech religious.

Schlafly's third error is most troubling.  She claims:

The message of the Declaration of Independence is under attack from the ACLU and atheists because it refuted the lie about a constitutional mandate for "separation of church and state."

Wait.  That gets it backwards, doesn't it?  The whole point of the Constitution was to provide a framework for government that wasn't there in the Declaration. And in putting those things together, wasn't the objective to either supplement or correct the Declaration?  What about the First Amendment, the one that prohibits laws "respecting an establishment of religion"?  If the Declaration had a line that said anything about acknowledging and establishing a religion of the one true God (which seems to be Schlafly's reading), it's the Constitution that would refute that establishment, not the Declaration that would refute the Constitution. 

New study shows: liberals don’t have conservative economic views

Ron Ross, at The American Spectator, reports that a Zogby International survey "confirms what (he's) long suspected — when it comes to economics, liberals are clueless."  The survey asks respondents to identify themselves on a spectrum from very liberal to very conservative, and then eight questions come.  Ross notes: 

On the basis of eight economic questions, wrong answers correlated consistently with ideology.  Progressive/very liberal respondents got four times more wrong answers than libertarians.

Ross concludes that the survey results "demonstrate a strong connection between economic ignorance and interventionist enthusiasm.  Those who are most determined to interfere with the economy know the least about it."

Well, golly, if there really is a connection between not knowing economics and being a liberal, that'd be a bad thing.  Especially for liberals and their views about economics.  So let's look at all the economics that liberals are so ignorant about.  Here are two of the most telling questions:

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.  (Unenlightened Answer: Disagree)

6. Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. (Unenlightened Answer: Agree)

The rest of the questions are the usual libertarian talking points (minimum wage laws increase unemployment, licensing professional services causes the price for those services to be raised).  The crazy thing is that question 1 is so vaguely stated that anyone with any sense would ask for clarification: Are the restrictions with regard to where the houses will be built, what kind of houses, or whether they must meet safety codes, and so on? In some cases, those restrictions will drive prices up, and other times, down.  Of course, the survey has the right answer that they do.  Why? Because that's what libertarians believe.

With question 6, I don't see this as a matter of having knowledge of basic economics or any such thing, but more a question of having ethical judgment about what counts as exploitation.  Again, because the right answers are being determined by people who casually use the term "leftist," as a term for anyone who's not a member of the John Birch Society, the right answers will likely be different from, say, any morally developed adult.

None of this would be surprising or irritating if the survey and report did not use terms like "unenlightened" and "wrong" for the answers here.  Now, if the survey were about, say, basic economic knowledge, where there is no reasonable disagreement, then we'd have no problem.  But here we have the simple strategy of polling one's opponents in a disagreement, noting how they have views you reject, casting them as being wrong, and then reporting how often those with whom you disagree are wrong about things that matter.  But, even if liberals are in error, these are not the simple errors that Ross portrays them to be.  These are controversial matters in economics, ones about which intelligent people disagree.  To portray this as a matter of ignorance, as Ross does, is not just a distortion of the debate, it's simple lying.  But Ross is all too happy to run up the score when the deck is stacked:

What we're seeing all too often is "the arrogance of ignorance." Both arrogance and ignorance do enormous damage in the world, but together they are a toxic brew.

Ross's gerrymandered study really only shows that opinions about economics track political self-identification.  That's not news, and certainly not something to make the hay Ross does of it.  There's another toxic brew, in addition to Ross's arrogance and ignorance: it's willful deception and self-righteous indignation.

**Hello Everyone–Welcome Scott Aikin, our newest contributor



Lately I've been thinking of making some modifications to my usual practice here.  One thought is that I should wander into some of the darker corners of the internet (by which I mean the National Review or Ann Coulter's website–if she has one, but she probably does).  One reason for this is that it's a sure bet you'll find something really silly.  Another reason is that I confess I sometimes think I'm guilty of the philosopher disease: shoddy and imperfect public discourse is too uninteresting to bother with (oddly enough, this disease produces two contrasting sets of symptom: (1) ignoring shoddy public discourse while engaging in the same; (2) being overly charitable to shoddy public discourse because it's not worth one's time to look at crappy arguments).  Well, crappy arguments exist, they really do.

And you don't need most of the time to leave the hallowed pages of the major dailies to see them.  Take this little gem from our favorite paralogist, George Will:

The name "progressivism" implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

The cheerful assumption is that "evolving" must mean "improving." Progressivism's promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism's premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.

Funny.  "Liberalism"–Will's usual name for the hollow man brigade he attacks–implies and endorsement of the "Founding" ("liber" means "free" or "book" or "child," well anyway).  Nonetheless, this has to be one of the sillier things he's written of late.  In the first place, a progressive, I would imagine, does not define his view tautologically, as Will says.  I think rather they have a pragmatic definition: are things working better, as in, "did you make any progress on the problem of the oil spilling in the Gulf of Mexico? " "No, we've made no progress.  Time has marched forward, so we have progressed into the future mind you, but we haven't made any progress with regard to our goal of an oil free Gulf of Mexico."  See, it's just not that hard. 

Second, in that phrase he quotes from the SCOTUS, evolving does mean "improving."  Oftentimes, however–at least in a scientific context–it doesn't. 

These objections of Will's are just silly.  Besides: didn't the "Founding" leave much to be improved upon?  After all, we had to declare that corporations were persons.  Also women.  And African Americans.

Every little dollar is sacred

Ross Douthat, noted abstainer, argues in yesterday's New York Times that despite evidence that abstinence only education is as effective one of its alternatives (comprehensive sex education), which is to say, not effective, the federal government should continue to fund it anyway, because it might be effective.  Besides, people in Alabama don't want to hear about condoms, and people in Berkeley don't want to hear about abstinence.  You see, it's all relative.  No really:

Predictably, the rare initiatives that show impressive results tend to be defined more by their emphasis on building social capital than by their insistence on either chastity or contraception. A 2001 survey published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, for instance, found that “most studies of school-based and school-linked health centers revealed no effect on student sexual behavior or contraceptive use.” The exceptions included an abstinence-oriented program with a strong community-service requirement, and a comprehensive program that essentially provided life coaching as well as sex ed: participants were offered “academic support (e.g., tutoring); employment; self-expression through the arts; sports; and health care.”

None of this renders the abstinence-versus-contraception debate pointless. But we should understand it more as a battle over community values than as an argument about public policy. Luker describes it, aptly, as a conflict between the “naturalist” and “sacralist” approaches to sex — between parents in Berkeley, say, who don’t want their kids being taught that premarital intercourse is something to feel ashamed about and parents in Alabama who don’t want their kids being lectured about the health benefits of masturbation.

As someone who thinks government money ought to be spent wisely, I find this puzzling.  Douthat argues that while neither approach works unequivocally well at its intended goal, a third one has been shown to be effective (I don't know, by the way, whether any of this is true, my sense is that it isn't, but that's not my point).  Given the option between the three things–two ineffective, one effective, Douthat argues that it doesn't matter, because it's all a matter of community values:

The debate might be less rancorous if the naturalists and sacralists didn’t have to fight it out in Washington. This is the real problem with federal financing for abstinence-based education: It drags the national government into a debate that should remain intensely local.

We federalize the culture wars all the time, of course — from Roe v. Wade to the Defense of Marriage Act. But it’s a polarizing habit, and well worth kicking.

If the federal government wants to invest in the fight against teenage pregnancy, the funds should be available to states and localities without any ideological strings attached. (And yes, this goes for the dollars that currently flow to Planned Parenthood as well as the money that supports abstinence programs.) Don’t try to encourage Berkeley values in Alabama, or vice versa.

America’s competing visions of sexuality — permissive and traditional, naturalist and sacralist — have been in conflict since the 1960s. They’ll probably be in conflict for generations yet to come.

But as long as they are, it shouldn’t be Washington’s job to choose between them.

How about another school of thought on sexuality: the empiricist.

There once was a union maid

Driving to work at my unionized (no contract at the moment however) government job, I heard a story on NPR about "Cadillac" health care plans and higher wages.  Some unions, you see, have negotiated for themselves some pretty good health benefits.  They did this even though it meant sacrificing higher wages.  They must have done some math somewheres, and figured it's better to have better benefits than higher wages.  One would suppose, in any case, that they did this.  Not NPR, however.  Here is how they framed the story:


The fate of Congresss health care overhaul is unclear after this weeks election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts to the U.S. Senate. One of the major issues thats been holding up the health care bill is how to pay for it. The Senate wants to impose a Cadillac tax. That is a tax on the most expensive health care plans. Executives with gold-plated plans don't like it and neither do labor unions, whose workers have generous plans. But many economists say it could help everyone in the long run. Here are Planet Moneys Chana Joffe-Walt and David Kestenbaum.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Economists on this issue feel lonely, sad and very misunderstood.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: Well, yeah, because economists use math and charts to make their arguments. Labor unions use emotion and advertisements featuring sympathetic characters with asthma.

Something tells me there is a chart somewhere in the union argument.  Nonetheless, the interchange that follows is hilarious.  It is a discussion between a union worker and a professor of economics, one who holds an endowed chair.  He, the professor, argues that if AT&T were forced (by the Cadillac tax) to abandon "expensive" health benefits, they would increase wages.  The union maid argued there was no evidence of that particular entailment.  Unable to provide any, the professor changed tactics. 

JOFFE-WALT: And to Valerie, the idea that she should be taxed in the first place is just insulting to her. She has given up wages over the years to get better benefits, great benefits she says she needs.

KESTENBAUM: Steve pauses, and says well, maybe not.

Prof. STEARN: When was the last time you had a medical emergency?

Ms. STANLEY: I went to the ER seven years ago when I broke my arm.

Prof. STEARN: It sounds like you dont need the health benefit plan that you have. On the whole, my guess is youre losing money on your health insurance. You would benefit from having a worse health benefit plan and taking that extra money and getting higher wages.

The sheer dumbness of that argument boggles the mind.  But the amazing thing is that the professor seems not to understand that someone must have done some math and figured generous benefits were better for the workers–even if they weren't necessarily going to have a medical emergency.  Indeed, if one knows anything about family medical costs, incrementally higher wages mean nothing–nothing–in comparison to the costs of one serious (and eventually likely) medical episode.

Biocentric anti-vegan arguments in the NYT

There has been a lot of coverage of veganism in the major media recently–Jonathen Safran Foer–bears much of the credit for this: And so, it was probably just a matter of time before we saw desperate and silly self-justification start to be printed. I was unprepared for seeing one of the silliest arguments that I have seen in the New York Times op-ed pages.

But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way.

The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze. It’s time for a green revolution, a reseeding of our stubborn animal minds.

I take it that her point is that there is a moral fault in eating plants. This is because plants are sophisticated and have responses to the world around them. Of course, these are not the reasons that anyone thinks that animals are morally significant and our use of them for food is a moral fault in the circumstances in which most people (in the West at least) consume animals.

Perhaps, I wouldn't have a problem with a form of this argument–there are many interesting biocentric ethical positions, which hold that non-sentient living things have interests in a morally significant sense. But, when this argument is deployed to create a moral equivalence between harvesting grain and the slaughter of sentient animals for non-necessary purposes, we end up with this twaddle bent, it seems, on scoring cheaply a clearer moral conscience.

Doesn’t anyone read this stuff before they print it?

For half a second–OK, a couple paragraphs–I thought Jonah Goldberg might have an interesting argument for an interesting distinction. Goldberg is tired of hearing about moral hypocrisy, understandably perhaps, given the exposure of the pecadillos of so many of his party's stalwarts. But, this just fuels his desire to accuse those pointy headed liberals of some form of hypocrisy. Since, he can't seem to wait patiently until Geithner is caught shacking up with a Bolivian movie-star, he tries to invent a charge of hypocrisy.

Regardless, what I don't think we hear enough about is intellectual hypocrisy. What do I mean? Well, if moral hypocrisy is saying what values people should live by while failing to follow them yourself, intellectual hypocrisy is believing you are smart enough to run other peoples' lives when you can barely run your own.

I'm not entirely sure that this is a coherent idea (see my comment below), but let's play along for the time being. If someone is "barely able to run their own lives" and yet believes that she or he is able to "run other peoples' lives" then lets call this "intellectual hypocrisy."

The chairman of a small college's English department thinks it's obvious intellectuals should take over healthcare, but he can't manage the class schedule of three professors or run a meeting without it coming to blows or tears; a pundit defends government intervention in almost every sphere of economic life, but he can't figure out how to manage the interns or his own checking account.

Goldberg seems to have forgotten his definition just two paragraphs earlier. Our chairman does not seem to be "barely able to run his own life" nor does believing that "intellectuals" should take over health care meet his own definition. The same can be said for the pundit. So maybe we can revise his definition in the light of his actual examples:

I.H. occurs when a person believes that intellectuals (does he just mean "experts" here?)  should manage parts of our society while being unable to manage every problem in their lives (run an obstreperous department or manage interns). But, what's wrong with this? Does it make any less sense than saying that I am unable to diagnose my own health perfectly, while believing that others are smart enough to diagnose other peoples' health. I'm not sure that this is an analogous, but the general point seems right to me–there is nothing intellectually dishonest occuring in either of these examples.

But, Goldberg has some more loaded examples to try to make fit his definition.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) offers a more timely example. Rangel heads the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code, and he recently backed the imposition of an income tax surcharge on high earners to pay for healthcare, calling it "the moral thing to do." Yet he can't seem to figure out how to file his own taxes properly or, perhaps, legally. The lapses are the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation.

Is the problem here really intellectual hypocrisy, or perhaps the moral hypocrisy that Goldberg is tired of? Perhaps, Goldberg didn't have time to revise his op-ed to free it of this self-contradiction, but this example does not seem to bolster his case for intellectual hypocrisy.

Now I also know lots of conservatives who are basket cases at everything other than reading and writing books and articles, giving speeches and thinking Big Thoughts (just as I know lots of liberals who despise conservative moralizing about sex and religion who nonetheless live chaste and pious lives themselves). The point is that conservatives don't presume to be smart enough to run everything, because conservative dogma takes it as an article of faith that no one can be that smart.

So, even when conservatives think that they're smart enough to re-write tax code, and have the same difficulties paying their taxes on time, they aren't being intellectually dishonest, because they hold an ideology that takes it as an article of faith that no one can be smart enough to re-write the tax code!?

Moral hypocrisy is still worth exposing, I guess. But we are living in a moment when revealing intellectual hypocrisy should take precedence. The American Enterprise Institute's "Enterprise Blog" recently ran a chart from a J.P. Morgan report showing that less than 10% of President Obama's Cabinet has private-sector experience, the least of any Cabinet in a century. From the stimulus to healthcare reform and cap-and-trade, Washington is now run by people who think they know how to run everything, when in reality they can barely run anything.

Hmmmm. Somehow Goldberg seems to infer from a claim about people not having run a business to a conclusion that they can barely run anything.

If I follow the implicit argument here it seems to be: 90% of Obama's cabinet are intellectual hypocrites. By hypocrites I mean people who haven't worked in the private sector (but who now work in government). Intellectual hypocrites should not be in power. Therefore 90% of Obama's cabinet should not be in power ((All liberals are Nazis, by Nazis I mean people who vote democratic. Nazi's support genocide, Therefore all liberals support genocide.)