Monday, October 17, 2005

The Truth Be Hanged

I blame Dick Wolf. Mebbe Jacques Derrida, too.

Derrida you can look up for yourself, but Wolf is of course the mastermind of the 68 versions of Law & Order, an episode of which is airing right now somewhere on cable regardless of when you're reading this.

In this course of my work, I lunched today with a grizzled litigator, a "trial dog," who in his younger days prosecuted and convicted Sam the Plumber DeCavalcante, a pretty big fish in the New Jersey Mafia.

His take on trial technique is that you find a hole in the other side's story, and you win. What if you're prosecuting, I asked. Same deal, he replied. Even when you have the burden of proof, you bullseye the other guy.

Ah, it occurred to me. That's what's happened to social intercourse. We're all lawyers now. We no longer hold joint inquiries looking for truth, like the old days of Socrates, symposia or the original Reform Club, whose members included polar opposites GK Chesterton and GB Shaw.

We look to prove the other guy wrong. That a flawed argument can contain more truth than the polished but limited one is an alien concept. A man's reach must equal his grasp, and may not exceed it, or else he is an idiot or a liar. We don't search for truth together anymore---truth is a solitary pursuit, and everybody else is our adversary.

To me that's a shame, because the Symposium, the original Reform Club, and the Algonquin Roundtable were parties, not an excuse to inflict one's misery upon others. Knock back a few, dress in women's clothing (in drag, I look a little like Susan Estrich), make a few bad puns, consider the universe, and mebbe walk away with something of lasting value or in the least, a good buzz.

I suppose there was a good time to be had at a public execution back in the day, although why escapes me. We put the truth on trial at all times these days, and it is always guilty. It's not surprising nobody says nothing anymore, because the hangman always wins. Everybody gets what they came for.

32 comments:

Tlaloc said...

There are 17 errors in your reasoning here.

No but seriously I do think you may be mistaken in thinking that real debate has precluded other forms of communication. It seems like far too often it's the reverse. People don't debate the important issues but instead only listen to those who tell them what they want to hear.

Example: after 9/11 people wanted to hear that we were totally blameless pure innocent little flower children and that just coincidentally had a massive military which we were now justified in using for bloody vengeance. So that's what Bush told us. And a shocking number of intelligent folks believed it despite the fact that it deviated significantly from reality in any number of obvious ways.

What we needed back then was a good healthy debate. What we got was a lot of fleecy herbivores nodding in unison.

I'd maintain that while a good argument may not leave you feeling better it just might help prevent you making a big mistake.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Obviously, someone got what he came for.

connie deady said...

Well, Tom, now I agree with you. But you may recall that your critique was precisely my criticism of your method of argument. I always felt like you are trying to get a zinger in by lampooning a liberal argument. And certainly your comments about peaceniks are in that vein.

It's hard to discourse when we are busy making fun of the other side, like posting pictures of ugly women...

James Elliott said...

As Stephen Colbert once said: "Forget your facts... I'm going with the truth!"

This is how I often feel when experiencing the utter semantics of many of the Right's arguments. No facts, just pure, unadulterated belief.

Tlaloc said...

"No facts, just pure, unadulterated belief"

That's the danger of mixing religion with politics. Or science. Or really just about anything.

Tlaloc said...

By the way has anyone noticed that we now have our 21st hurricane of the season. If it should happen to hit florida while still a category 3 (which seems to be the common prediction) then that means this season will have had at least 4 major storms make US landfall. Combine that with the three major storms from 2001 to 2004 and we are well on our way to breaking the previous record of 10 major storm hitting the US in a decade.

Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ouch, Connie. First I get (predictably yet still ironically) Law & Ordered, and now you Derrida me.

I wrote nothing of the kind---I'd be overjoyed if Democrats called Republicans ugly, instead of evil. I'd love it if the Left rediscovered its sense of humor, but I fear it's dead and gone, strangled at the hands of PC.

No, what I'm asking for is principled counterargument instead of spitballs from the gallery. For instance, I've heard enough of what shouldn't have been done with Saddam and Iraq, but precious little of what should, besides the unacceptable Clinton status quo of alternately doing nothing and starving their children.

There's certainly a place for trashing risable arguments, like the one that calls for violating Afghanistan's sovereignty by chasing al-Qaeda while leaving the ruling Taliban in place, but there's more to inquiry and the search for truth than spitballs and trash. Life's too short to spend one's time in the dirt.

I'm looking for affirmative visions, instead of negation or the endless nihilism/relativism of "well, that's just your opinion."

Tlaloc said...

"No, what I'm asking for is principled counterargument instead of spitballs from the gallery."

You have only to ask.



"For instance, I've heard enough of what shouldn't have been done with Saddam and Iraq, but precious little of what should, besides the unacceptable Clinton status quo of alternately doing nothing and starving their children."

Disengagement with the middle east as a whole was the best option. If you want to get into the merits of the argument we certainly may.



"There's certainly a place for trashing risable arguments, like the one that calls for violating Afghanistan's sovereignty by chasing al-Qaeda while leaving the ruling Taliban in place"

If you feel the argument is flawed by all means argue to that effect but don't just ignore it and then pretend no one has offered up legitimate alternatives to the GOP's warmongering.

James Elliott said...

"Ouch, Connie. First I get (predictably yet still ironically) Law & Ordered, and now you Derrida me."

For this, you must be neutered and given a pair of cement flippers and no snorkel. I'm sorry, but it's the only way to save future generations.

"'d be overjoyed if Democrats called Republicans ugly, instead of evil."

Why settle for the one when you can have both?

"I'd love it if the Left rediscovered its sense of humor, but I fear it's dead and gone, strangled at the hands of PC."

On what planet? Oh, because Dennis Miller is soooo much funnier than Jon Stewart? Or are you saying Ann Coulter's brand of mendacious polemics qualifies as wit these days? If that's funny, I'll stick with PC, which doesn't make my ears bleed.

"I'm looking for affirmative visions, instead of negation or the endless nihilism/relativism of "well, that's just your opinion.""

Well, that's just your opinion. And we all know how often you're wrong. Stop trying to conflate visions you disagree with with nihilism. It's demeaning. To you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you all for your kind advice on what I should think and how I should write.

I apologize that I'm not interested in debunking ideas I find laughable. I'm also not interested in being told what ideas I should find interesting and how and to what I should respond.

I am not particularly interested in being parsed, and even less interested in parsing others. I am not interested in arguing and neither am I interested in indulging those who argue and take advantage of my politeness.


The one shining virtue of the rude sophist Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic is that he is in the end a good guest who does not hog the conversation and knows when to get out of someone's face. Had he not, instead of ten books, Republic would have only one, the same thing over and over again.

That would not have been interesting. Word up.

Kathy Hutchins said...

the original Reform Club, whose members included polar opposites GK Chesterton and GB Shaw

But Chesterton and Shaw were not polar opposites in one essential respect. They both subscribed, probably unconsciously and implicitly, to a code of honorable behavior that required a member of a gentlemen's club to act as a gentleman. Chesterton and Shaw could only go at it hammer and tongs because they felt no duty, for example, to admit Mehmed Talaat into the smoking room for a cozy chat about the Armenians.

Such considerations enacted today brand one an elitist or a jackbooted censor. Ironic, is it not, that the restriction of speech in is some respects a necessary condition for free speech to flourish.

James Elliott said...

For this, you must be neutered and given a pair of cement flippers and no snorkel. I'm sorry, but it's the only way to save future generations.

Come on. That's meant to be funny. Well, it's the poor humorist who blames the audience for not getting the joke, so I'm sorry if you felt attacked.

Tlaloc said...

"I apologize that I'm not interested in debunking ideas I find laughable. I'm also not interested in being told what ideas I should find interesting and how and to what I should respond."

Fine, but then don't whine about not being presented with positive alternatives.



"I am not particularly interested in being parsed, and even less interested in parsing others. I am not interested in arguing and neither am I interested in indulging those who argue and take advantage of my politeness."

And again...
Fine, but then don't whine about not being presented with alternatives.

See where you come off as more than a tad hypocritical when you make a post about how much better it'd be if everyone was civil, comment that you'd like to see alternatives, and then you rudely dismiss the alternatives provided out of hand? Can you see it TVD?

Tlaloc said...

"Ironic, is it not, that the restriction of speech in is some respects a necessary condition for free speech to flourish."

Your mistake however is in assuming the original reform club was right to exclude other views. Since you do make that asumption it's easy to see how you come to this conclusion but the conclusion is still wrong. Any debating society that restricts itself to the narrow views of a handful ends up inevitably insular and stagnant in their world view.

James Elliott said...

I apologize that I'm not interested in debunking ideas I find laughable. I'm also not interested in being told what ideas I should find interesting and how and to what I should respond.

I feel a strong need to address this both because it really bothers me and because I feel that it is an issue fundamental to the ideological divide in this country.

It is precisely because of this belittlement of other ideas and a condescending disinclination to engage that nothing ever gets done on either side of the aisle. You're disinclination to lend other ideologies or ideas credence sets you up for a similar reception. You perceive Leftist ideals as nihilism, yet shake your head in wonder when Leftists such as myself, LA, or Tlaloc find free-market boosterism laughably naive (as just one example). This sets up a perfect circle of denigration and condescension.

I don't come here just because I enjoy vigorous debate, being rude, and being insulted or condescended to. I also come here because I honestly want to engage and be engaged. My views improve and evolve when I have to reason and explain them, and if they are indefensible, I have to figure out how and why and reevaluate them.

The hypocrisy, Tom, is that you insist upon this from us Leftist commentators, but refuse to engage in it yourself, rather citing opposing ideas as laughable rather than considering their merits. I get the sense that you (and by no means would you be alone in this if I am correct) view dissent and contradiction as a personal affront on some level. Your response is to attempt to elevate yourself above what you view as an attack. Unfortunately, that doesn't solve the issue, it merely makes you look pompous. Believe me, I struggle with the same thing.

ChETHB said...

" Any debating society that restricts itself to the narrow views of a handful ends up inevitably insular and stagnant in their world view."

Mr. T - I don't see the problem here. I don't see any proof from your comments that a handful of brilliant people would necessarily present a narrow view. Why do you say that? Presumably, if the Reform Club chose to keep their group small, they would be within their rights. Let the other people form their own clubs. Oh, are you really saying that in our PC world with the ACLU lurking about, we can't have small exclusive groups?

Matt Huisman said...

"I don't come here just because I enjoy vigorous debate, being rude, and being insulted or condescended to. I also come here because I honestly want to engage and be engaged. My views improve and evolve when I have to reason and explain them, and if they are indefensible, I have to figure out how and why and reevaluate them."

I think we can all agree with that, and I'll add that it helps me to be reminded that the people on the other side have good [if misguided:)] intentions.

By the way, this is the internet...an insult or two is not the end of the world, and I have a hard time believing that the original Reform Club members didn't slip in an occaisional jab.

Tlaloc said...

"Mr. T - I don't see the problem here. I don't see any proof from your comments that a handful of brilliant people would necessarily present a narrow view."

You've heard of the term "echo chamber" right? It means you have a small group who forgo any outside influence and only listen to each other. As a result the group think mentality that was pretty well proven to exist in the Asch Conformity Experiments. Sooner or later someone will make a faulty assumption and no one will call them on it. That faulty assumption will become the foundation of arguments. Those arguments will spawn philosophies and paradigms. And all of them will be false. This is precisely why communication with people outside of your group (social, economic, national, etc.) is so critical to healthy thought processes.



"Presumably, if the Reform Club chose to keep their group small, they would be within their rights."

Oh certainly. I'm not advising them that they can't be insular by any means. What I'm saying is that it would be self defeating (assuming that one of their goals is to avoid making errors in their thought processes).



"Oh, are you really saying that in our PC world with the ACLU lurking about, we can't have small exclusive groups?"

Sure you can, but if you are forming a group specifically for the goal of enlightened thinking about subjects then you shoot yourself in the foot if you design the group in such a way that it can't easiy be exposed to alternate points of view.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Tlaloc, I do not engage with you because one should not fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel. And cyberink is free.

You are not content, like Thrasymachus, with a demurral for the record; you stay in people's faces until you are yielded the last word out of disgust or fatigue. The comments sections of this blog are littered to bursting with the evidence of that.

By hiding behind a non de plume, you also hold--and take--advantage of those who sign their names to what they write, who have reputations to guard. They cannot answer you in kind with the incivility that has become your custom.

Further, I was not writing about you in my original essay. But that I find your opinions largely unworthy of discussion let alone debate is my right: whether about war or Wal-mart, they are almost exclusively moralistic, and your own morality is self-admittedly idiosyncratic. We do not share a common language, nor do you seek to achieve one with me or anyone else. I find your moralizing as tiresome and irrelevant as you would find Jerry Falwell's.

Any society is built on a certain commonality of purpose, and has a right to choose its own members. Your position is one of standing on the periphery of a conversation; if your interjections further the discussion, you may be included. If not, you are being intrusive and boorish.

And James, I was not offended at what I took to be your attempts at humor. And it would be presumptuous to tell you what is and isn't funny, what to write and what not to write, especially if I were commenting on your blog. I ask only that you accord me, and more importantly my fellows, the same gentility.

Tlaloc said...

"Mr. Tlaloc, I do not engage with you because one should not fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel. And cyberink is free."

A classic line, but since your ink is equally free I'm not sure it applies.


"you stay in people's faces until you are yielded the last word out of disgust or fatigue."

In other words I'm willing to stick with an argument until we've hashed it out. And that's a bad thing how? Compare that with dropping a bombshell like saying those who debate you never provide any alternatives and then dodging away when they do exactly that. Somehow I think my style of engagement seems rather more respectful frankly.



"But that I find your opinions largely unworthy of discussion let alone debate is my right"

Of course but the problem is that you denied that I had provided any alternatives. That was simply flase. Just as when Kathy claimed I never posted facts. It was false and easily disproven. If you simply want to say you think my ideas are stupid that is absolutely your right but of course that statement doesn't lend itself to righteous indignation so well as your other (more factually challenged) utterance.



"whether about war or Wal-mart, they are almost exclusively moralistic"

Actually they aren't, sometimes they are based on the concept that the posters here almost certainly share certain moral views with me by vrtue of our common culture but they certainly aren't "exclusvely" so. Of course we could debate the issue with each of us providing arguments in our defence and see whether we can determine the strengths and weaknesses of each side...but that'd require you to get off your high horse which you've indicated would be just far too demeaning for you.



"if your interjections further the discussion, you may be included. If not, you are being intrusive and boorish."

That might be fine if you could simply pick a single meaningful measure of what "furthers" the discussion. But you keep changing the goal posts. Besides which my goal is to help people (including myself) grow, if I have to be boorish to do so... well lets just say it's not going to keep me up nights.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, spreadin' the gospel, holding prayer meetings with your co-religionists in my living room, and foisting your (ersatz) morality on others.

Sort of a Jehovah's Witness of relativism, except even they buzz off sometimes. (More like that Hare Krishna in Airport.)

I don't know much about your catechism, but from I've gathered, that's as close to a mortal sin as it gets, at least when committed by others.

The ironies increase geometrically.

James Elliott said...

Tom, I wonder if you could take a step back and look at what you just wrote there. Tlaloc and I both attempted to engage you on this point, and while the language may have been blunt, it was never rude. You chose, instead, to stick with the semantic "holier-than-thou" game rather than get your hands dirty with the ink of real discourse.

Can you perhaps see how such empty, self-righteous (nay, prideful) moralizing completely undermines your writing except to those who already share your point of view? If your only goal is to preach to the choir and have your ego fellated by those of like-minds, you should disengage from commenters entirely and give up these pompous self-gratifying assertions; assertions, I might add, you blithely choose not to defend, rather placing your faith in others to do so for you or ignoring the naysayers. Your responses smack of the overeducated's version of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing Mary Had a Little Lamb. You call us on it, which is appropriate (and I don't much care how you do it).

The hypocrisy is when you decide that the only motivation for a dissenter to do so is a belligerent desire for ideological pugilism and take your moralizing high ground. It's frankly arrogant and blindingly unintelligent. It smacks of unwarranted certainty, and that paints you as a zealot and not a thinker.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You could be entirely correct in your opinion of me, and of the Right, and what I should and shouldn't say, and various other things you have written. But you are talking past me and now my pearls are buried beneath a mountain of goo that no sane third party would continue reading.

My colleague Ms. Hutchins correctly observed (and predicted) that any disinclination to wallow and muck about will be viewed as elitism.

I believe that if I were interested in parsing as I've been parsed, I could get the better of this or most any argument. But then I would be arguing, the very thing my original argument sought an alternative to, as it's something I'm not very interested in.

To be engaged, one must engage, and simple disagreement is not engagement. The soul of debate is to prove error; the soul of discussion and joint inquiry is that some truths are larger than others.

Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

That was a joke, James. A quick reading of my canon here indicates I'm a lover, not a fighter. If someone wishes to engage me, he (and preferably a she) need only speak the language of love. ;-)

ChETHB said...

"You've heard of the term "echo chamber" right? It means you have a small group who forgo any outside influence and only listen to each other. As a result the group think mentality that was pretty well proven to exist in the Asch Conformity Experiments."

Clever misdirection on your part. I fail to see how the experiments you reference have anything to do with discussions that an enlightened group such as The Reform Club might have.

Tlaloc said...

"Clever misdirection on your part. I fail to see how the experiments you reference have anything to do with discussions that an enlightened group such as The Reform Club might have."

SImple the experiments showed that even when we know something is wrong if everyone around us says it's right we will tend to go along. Hence in a fairly homogenous insular group the possibility for error may not increase but the possibility for that error to be caught and corrected goes down exponentially.

As a real world example of this look at the Bush whitehouse. By all accounts they are very insular and ignore outside perspectives. What was the result? They had absolutely no idea that they were 100% wrong on what the post war iraq would be like. Somebody thought that the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and nobody knew or wanted to say "That's insane!" As a result we had no post war plan and thousands are dead because of it.

Or as a more local example look at the reform clubbers false beliefs in Inteligent Design. There is simply no question among educated scientists that ID is garbage. But the ignorance of science by various reform clubbers reinforces itself and they become convinced of something that is quite simply and easily proven to be untrue.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

TVD ... great thread. You have affirmed many of my thoughts and feelings (yes, feelings) as to when to use ink and when not to.

If there is one thing that I have learned here, it is when to just move on.

Besides, Matt Huisman rocks! :)

ChETHB said...

"Hence in a fairly homogenous insular group the possibility for error may not increase..."

Do I detect that you are now conceding that members of my enlightened small group are no more likely to make errors than those representing the 'wide' worldview? A well-read enlightened group would already have been exposed to a wide variety of alternate views, hence, their views would be neither insular nor stagnant.

"Simple the experiments showed that even when we know something is wrong if everyone around us says it's right we will tend to go along."

All that proves is that it is possible to create an artificial set of circumstances where people feel pressured to conform to the thinking of the group. I seriously doubt that the enlightened Reform Club members could lured in that fashion.

"They had absolutely no idea that they were 100% wrong on what the post war iraq would be like. Somebody thought that the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and nobody knew or wanted to say "That's insane!" "

I concede that, in retrospect, we were unprepared to deal with the problems of post war Iraq. However, the situation is much like people experience in the public sector regularly - if the venture fails and you tell the big boys that you tried to warn them, they say that you should have jumped up and down on the table to get their attention. If, on the other hand, you jump up and down on the table, you are accused of being uncooperative. I suspect that the President's inner circle face that situation frequently.

I'll save my ID comments for later.

Tlaloc said...

"Do I detect that you are now conceding that members of my enlightened small group are no more likely to make errors than those representing the 'wide' worldview?"

I never said the otherwise. Yes I believe an insular group is no more likely to MAKE an error simply less likely to CATH said error.


"A well-read enlightened group would already have been exposed to a wide variety of alternate views, hence, their views would be neither insular nor stagnant."

That presumes that having read a perspectoive is synonimous with understanding said perspective which is simply not true. I'd read about communism but in doing so I had viewed it through my own misconceptions and prejudices. It was only in talking to actual communists that I recognized places where I had made errors. Ditto capitalism and so on.



"All that proves is that it is possible to create an artificial set of circumstances where people feel pressured to conform to the thinking of the group. I seriously doubt that the enlightened Reform Club members could lured in that fashion."

You can always second guess whether a sociological experiment really reflects life "in the wild." However since the results match well with day to day experience it seems a good bet that the experiment is valid.

Tlaloc said...

should be "CATCH said error."

connie deady said...

You could be entirely correct in your opinion of me, and of the Right, and what I should and shouldn't say, and various other things you have written. But you are talking past me and now my pearls are buried beneath a mountain of goo that no sane third party would continue reading.

Yikes, what happened here? I admit I didn't read anything once you and James Elliot started fighting. Looked to me like a male sexual organ thumping contest. Too bad, because I think both of you could communicate.

But honestly Tom, you say you want honest debate, and I've never seen anything from James Elliot that suggests that he has any desire other than to engage in discussion. Perhaps I misread him.

Aside from the fact that I personally like you, and believe there is a heart of gold beating there under all your cynicism, I participate here because I am truly, truly tired of each of us yelling and zinging arrows across the great divide, calling each other names and engaging in gratuitous back patting. We liberals could all just talk among ourselves and feel good, but I'd prefer to see people who think differently as good people with different views on the world. You aren't my enemy. I shouldn't be yours. Maybe things haven't changed much since Hamilton slayed Burr in a duel, which I'm guessing was over politics. (history isn't my strong point).

You said you get tired of liberals complaining about the war, but never offering any solutions. How about letitng the UN handle it? But even more importantly, we couldn't have done anything worse than what we did. I don't complain about the war just to attack the Bush Admin for political reasons. I hate it and am horrified at the loss of human lives, American soldiers and American strength and worldwide image as a result of the fiasco.

That's not slinging arrows. Perhaps if we spent time trying to understand why people hold the opinions they do, we'd have more constructive solutions and far less hatred. I'm tired of being called the enemy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, thanks for filing a response, Connie. I don't blame you for not wading through it all. My view is that this all got pear-shaped because some of us were reading from old scripts.

I wasn't doing a Rodney King "can't we all get along" thing, yet another bland call for civility. (My philosophy is that if you can't be civil, I'll either show you or myself the door.)

I was talking about a method of discourse that seems dead and gets deader every day. I was not calling for honest debate. I was calling for anything but debate.

CLA feels me. (Cheers, mate.)

I asked for discussion over debate and got debate. That's what I meant by the irony of the whole thing.

I decided to take the time, when challenged, to finally answer a correspondent directly about why I do not enjoy corresponding with him. I do not dodge direct questions; it's just that life is too short for things I find unnourishing.

We shall table Iraq for now, with your kind permission. I would love to trash the UN, but that would be counterproductive right now.

As for zingers, I shall never give them up. I can take 'em, and I render them as a substitute for things far more hurtful.

I believe that's why God invented them. Besides, they're fun. Fun is good, too.

Always nice to hear from you. The Reform Club is a better place for your presence.

connie deady said...

Tom, I admit you've lost me. I don't believe you are engaging in distinctions without a difference to you, but I don't know how you mean "discussion" as opposed to "debate". If you mean not approaching conversation as me against you and left against right I agree completely.

I think Jon Stewart said much the same thing in his barbed appearance on Tucker Carlson's old show whose name escapes me. I was a high school and college debater, but I'm not sure it helped me converse or reason. And more importantly, I'd love to completely eliminate the concept of "winning" a blog or message board dbate.