Archive for November, 2003

So am I mean, or only stupid?

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003

Yesterday at the cafe at Schuler, a copy of the book entitled Dude, where’s my country (or something like that, I feel silly just typing that title) by Michael Moore was sitting next to my table. I picked it up and flipped through it, not expecting to find any “facts” or “insights” necessarily, but I was hoping for a few laughs. Unfortunately, I was disappointed (in the latter expectation at least).
I enjoyed Roger & Me, as well as TV Nation the couple of times I watched it. I understand there’s some widely divergent opinions regarding Mr. Moore, but I figured that as long as you take his work as the expression of a particular viewpoint, not an attempt to present an unbiased expression of all viewpoints, it was okay.
However, towards the end of Dude, Moore violates my personal cardinal rule for political discourse. As a result I would like to propose a new rule, modeled upon “Godwin’s Law”, which regards gratuitous comparisons of one’s opponent to Hitler/the Nazis. (Thanks to Andy for the link to the official definition). My rule, which I would like to call the Moore-Coulter Rule, runs as follows:
“Any argument based upon the attribution of the arguer’s opponent’s political opinions to his or her ignorance, fear, or malevolence, should be disregarded.”
Towards the end of his book, I think in a chapter about how to talk to your conservative brother-in-law, Moore explains that the reason conservatives are conservative is because they fear [black people, gay people, Moore himself, whatever] because they are ignorant–they don’t know any [see list above]; and therefore they wish to oppress them in order to protect their own personal worldviews and lifeways. (That’s what I gathered from my quick skim, anyway.)
I wouldn’t dream of touching the logic of this argument with a ten-foot pole. What aggravated me was that Moore, a man a good deal older than me and presumably more politically savvy, is using the same dopey arguments that I did when I was 16 (the only possible reasons anyone could disagree with me is that they must be either mean or stupid or both). Like the Nazi comparison, the mean/stupid gambit is a blatant ad hominem attack, and works by instantly conjuring up emotional animus against the opponent by means of an unprovable generalization; in place of an actual reasoned argument against the opponent’s position.
I’m so tired of this kind of stuff. I first noticed it when I used to read the editorial page in the University of Nebraska’s student paper. I guess it’s understandable in 20-year-olds, but, to borrow Moore’s argument, by the time you’re forty-ish one would hope you’d actually met some [conservatives, liberals, republicans, democrats, whatever] and realized that they’re a pretty equally mixed bag as regards intelligence and philanthropy.
In any case, I believe that this rule would improve the quality of public discourse, and reduce the amount of time I have to waste reading about how Republicans hate everyone whereas Democrats only hate America.
By the way, the “Coulter” in the rule’s title refers of course to Ann Coulter. I haven’t read any of her work, but their titles speak for themselves as far as this rule’s applicability in her case. As a final note, I would also like to propose that the credibility of anyone who chooses to appear on the cover of his or her own book should automatically be reduced by 50%; but maybe another time.

Light bulb joke

Friday, November 7th, 2003

How many Marxists does it take to screw in a light bulb?


Pet theory #1

Wednesday, November 5th, 2003

I have a number of pet theories about a variety of subjects. One of them is about the book House of Leaves. Last time I was in Chicago I wandered down to the little coffee shop in the library and they were playing Poe’s Haunted, which reminded me of the book, which Andy and I read a couple of years ago. It’s one of those books that leave a lot of questions unanswered and loose ends untied-up, and hence lends itself to pet theories. Here’s mine (spoiler, perhaps):