Tag Archives: Ironmanning

Philosophy15 on Swamping and Spitballing

A new episode at Philosophy15 is up, and in it Talisse and I talk through the related phenomena of what we’d been calling in our old 3QD piece, Spitballing and Swamping.  The topic’s gotten good coverage here at the NS, but it’s worth noting that spitballing has a close connection to what John and I have been calling the iron man.  (An earlier post about the connection here.)

The connection is that with spitballing, a speaker makes a number of statements, mostly controversial, usually vague, and always memorable, and waits for people to react.  When they respond critically, one strategy is for the spitballer to then say that they’ve interpreted the statement incorrectly — that’s not what I said!  And then follow up with more stuff, or rely on allies to craft interpretations of the statement that are more plausible.  Hence, spitball and rely on iron-manners in the background.

Swamping is still a concept in the works.  One version of it is that it is the use of spitballs to completely fill the space of discussion with matters that are pure distraction.  And so, for example, one may be enraged with the tweets from an orange monster and the consequent iron-manning the monster’s minions pursue in light of criticism, but this distracts us from the policy decisions the orange monster’s other minions are making at the EPA or in the Department of Energy.  Moreover, it makes it impossible to have any discussion that is not about the spitballer.  The crucial thing about swamping, then, is that we are in a way complicit with the strategy, because it’s we who go along with the outrage and drama of spitball consequences.  We, as it were, pull the wool over our own eyes.

Don’t try this at home

Hunter, writing at the The Daily Kos makes a salient point about iron manning.  Speaking of Ralph Reed, invited just this Sunday to NBC’s Meet the Press to comment on the subject of gay marriage (he commented on the science!), he writes:

Anyway, this all leads to the biggest scientific question of all: Just how shamed and discredited do you have to be before Meet the Press and the Wall Street Journal will stop propping your sorry ass up as someone we all ought to be hearing from? The press is still looking for insights into the moral issues of our time from Ralph Effing Reed? Why?

Here’s a question, however.  Philosophers have long distinguished, perhaps wrongly, between informed discussants and the rest of us.  They argue that since not everyone can pay attention to every single issue, at least in the way required to participate as a fully informed and capable interlocutor, they ought to be kept ignorant of those debates.  Don’t try this at home.

This raises for me a related question.  In light of the fact that not everyone is paying attention, or paying very close attention, to our various Democratic debates, do we not therefore have a special obligation in their regard–a special obligation that we are on our best behavior?  People do not pay close attention to debates over moral or scientific questions, so when you host them and invite them to join, you should perhaps think carefully about what you are going to expose people to.