Tag Archives: Fallacy of no reasonable alternatives

Writing echo chambers

Double-dipping on the recent series of articles from Inside Higher Education.  In "The Facebook Mirror," Lisa Lebduska makes an interesting observation that the more you think your writing's audience is like you (especially holding similar beliefs about what you're writing about), the less likely you are to be explicit about your reasoning.  And as a consequence, the quality of your writing suffers.  On the one hand, it's good to preach to the choir every once in a while, but, on the other hand, without a devil's advocate around, it becomes pretty empty verbiage.  Lebduska sees this in spades with the writing on Facebook:

On Facebook we never think outside the four walls of the self, and we need never imagine readers different from us. We expect neither argument nor curiosity nor challenge. Just a thumbs up or down.

This is an interesting observation, but  a few things.  I've kept a journal off and on since I was in high school.  My audience for the journal is me.  Usually me 5-10 years down the road.  It's an  exercise.  I don't imagine myself all too different from me when making entries, but but I do expect some skepticism.  So how is facebooking different from journal entries? Facebooking, according to Lebduska, doesn't even have that critical distance.

Teachers spend years working to broaden students' intellectual worlds beyond their own virtual backyards. We challenge them to discover ideas that come from individuals who might be very unlike them; people they would never conceive of friending, or if asked to friend would be more than likely to ignore

So Facebook backyardifies writing (my term!).  That said, I think there are some subfields in philosophy that function similarly.  Elsewhere, I've called them "societies of mutual verbal petting" (Forthcoming in Philosophy and Rhetoric 44:3).  In light of this, Lebduska does make a nice point at the end:

The ability to imagine a perspective other than our own — the idea of an audience consisting of curious minds rather than adoring fans — defines our most effective writers. . . . If in reading their words we find that our young people have no sense of others beyond and/or different from themselves, we should supply them with that sense.

I'm not sure what Lebduska's suggestion amounts to in its specifics, but is it that we should be like essay graders in making responses to Facebook walls?  I, by the way, have opted out of facebook — maybe it is my duty as a blogger and commenter on other blogs?  It certainly seems that blog comments do that already.  Is there a Facebook norm against criticism? It's certainly the case in the societies of mutual verbal petting!

I’m rubber, you’re glue…

David Limbaugh (yes, brother of that Limbaugh) has a message for all those liberal-types and namby-pamby conservatives who aren't down with the Tea Party: the more you act like or say that Tea Party Conservatives are extremists, that just shows what an extremist you are. 

I'm surely not the only one who notices the persistent efforts of the leftist establishment and certain establishment Republicans to portray mainstream conservatives, especially those inhabiting the tea party movement, as radicals and extremists. The more they push this theme the more they marginalize themselves.

You see, according to Limbaugh, Tea-Partiers can't be extremists, because they believe in everything that is right and good.  And so, those who hold that the people who believe in all things right and good are extremists must themselves be the real extremists:

They reveal a great deal about themselves when they call "extremists" patriotic Americans who believe in the American ideal, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, originalism, the rule of law, blind justice, equal protection under the law, strong national defense, limiting government to its assigned constitutional functions, the Second Amendment, the nondiscriminatory application of freedom of speech and expression, the free exercise clause, a reasonable — not unduly expansive — interpretation of the establishment and commerce clauses, protection for the unborn, judicial restraint, federalism, the separation of powers, the free market, racial colorblindness, the existence of good and evil in the world, equality of opportunity rather than of outcomes, law and order, immigration control and border protection, motherhood and apple pie.

First of all, anyone who says he believes in apple pie has got to be an extremist, if only because he takes it that in having to avow belief in apple pie, there are people out there who don't.  Who doesn't believe in apple pie?  Anyone?  So who's he up against?   Well, sure, it's a rhetorical flourish… but what on Limbaugh's list isn't?  It's not that anyone in the debate doesn't believe that lower taxes and fiscal responsibility would be great… just if we didn't have to prop up banks that would otherwise drag the country down the drain or find some way to stimulate the economy in a way that doesn't take advantage of the fact that so many are suffering.  Who's against the rule of law, blind justice, freedom of expression and speech, free exercise of religion?  Who doesn't believe in real goods, real evils? Anybody?  Really, it's all a long list of stuff nobody really rejects, well, except Originalism and the stuff about the unborn.  But reasonable people disagree about those things.  Ah, but here's the rub: Tea Partiers have a quick tendency to use terms like 'fascism' or 'tyranny' or 'socialism' or 'communism' to describe those who disagree with them on the details.  That's what makes them extremists — they refuse to acknowledge that those with whom they disagree have good intentions, reasons, a love for their country, and a vision of justice.

Now, here's the problem: if Limbaugh can't see liberals (or even moderate conservatives) as committed to blind justice, free exercise, and fiscal responsibility, too, regardless of how they come down on originalism and abortion, then isn't that the real face of extremism?