Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.

That's Ayn Rand.  Yeah, that Ayn Rand.  The one who fled Stalinist Russia and became a sort of proto-libertarian.

However, in this, I think, she's right.

It might be because it's not an original idea: a Chinese proverb apparently says, "He who strikes the first blow admits he's lost the argument."  Joseph Farrell, a contemporary of Rand's, said, "If you go in for argument, take care of your temper. Your logic, if you have any, will take care of itself."

They all essentially argue against the ad hominem attack.  Name calling being the first, and most juvenile step, and progressing sometimes as far as violence.   Most of you know that ad hominem means "at the man".  And it does, essentially, mean that you have lost the argument.  Because you are no longer arguing.  You're fighting.  You are no longer trying to convince your opponent.  You are bullying.

The immediate inspiration for this is the comment threads on the columnists of Sun News.  Now, if you don't already know, if you haven't read my other blog, I am not a fan of Sun Media.  It is... well, you know what it is.  If you don't, here's a link.  What I can say without devolving into ad hominem attacks myself is that they seem to spend an awful lot of time bitching about the CBC.  (Today they must all be creaming their tighty-whities, knowing that the government has cut CBC's funding, thereby weakening their "competition".)

What upset me was the comments from the probable "lefties" on the site.  My people.  The people who are fans of human rights, worriers about climate change, supporters of the idea of community, and believers in progress.  They didn't even bother to refute what the columnist had written.  They didn't talk about his arguments (which were specious), or about his evidence (which was non-existent), or even of the structure of his column (which introduced extraneous subjects and then almost used them as evidence, but didn't really).  This is what they said:


To be fair, the commenter wouldn't convince anyone of anything.  We simply don't think that way. We know what we know, and we're not likely to change our mind based on anything as ephemeral as evidence, or reason, or logic, or a well-crafted argument.  We accept what bolsters our opinions, and disregard the rest.  Makes sense.

However, that doesn't mean we stop trying.  Seriously.  And lefties?  We're winning.  We ended slavery.  We got votes for women.  We got gay rights.  We got lead out of gasoline.  We stopped the residential schools.  We got the weekend.  We stopped child labour.  We wrangled several flawed but working democracies.  We got gay marriage.  We got interracial marriage.  We ended segregation.

We're kicking ass.

And I had thought that part of the reason that we were kicking so much ass is that we were using reason and logic to wear the other side down.  And maybe it's because we are.  We don't have to resort to name calling because we're winning.

And we all know Godwin's Law, and maybe you've heard about my corollary (found here).  In fact, McKenzie's Law was based on my experience that the other side tended to Godwin before we did.

But maybe it's not true.

Are we just as bad as they are?  I'm prepared to accept it if we are.  I'd rather we weren't.  We're winning.  And we're winning because we're right.

And hey, I'm not saying don't get angry.  Angry fuelled the marches in the Civil Rights movement.  Angry got the US the Nineteenth Amendment.  Angry started the Stonewall Riots.  Angry, paired with righteous, wins.  The problem with angry is that it can get away with you.  And when you're too angry, you can lose focus, lose your capacity for reason, and you become a monkey flinging poo at another monkey.

Let's try not to be monkeys.

Today's budget day.  It's been a hard few years for liberals.  A hard dozen budgets or so.  The UK, the Eurozone, Greece, Italy, the US, Canada, Ontario, BC... they've all equated austerity with prosperity.  They've all decided that less government means more everything else (and on some things, like inequality, poverty, crime, they're probably right).  If we want to let them claw back some of the progress we've made on many issues (just as they're doing in the states with reproductive rights, or here in Canada with environmental protection, or they're doing in the UK with social programs), then we can go ahead and call them fascist, or children, or bullies, or evil.  Once we do that, they know we're not arguing anymore.

We're fighting, and they're winning.

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