Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, October 29, 2010

Civil Discourse In The Age Of Unreason


The Queen of Civility, yesterday:
I can practically hear my more leftish readers grinding their teeth as they prepare to unload a wagonful of vitriol, but my objectives here are as much liberal as they are conservative.

Megan McArdle does not seem to realize that assuming and constantly saying that her liberal readers are knee-jerk mouth-frothers isn't exactly civil. No doubt conservatives would also object to being lumped in with the angry mob, as McArdle sometimes does for libertarian balance, but we will concentrate on her constant and long-running stream of abuse aimed at liberals.
Note to My Angry Liberal Interlocutors

Before you pop off at me, would you please try to read all the words in the post? In order?

I say this because in the past few weeks, I've had a notable uptick of incidents where someone berates me by saying, "Well how come you don't think we need to help mentally ill people who have jobs!" or "You're completely ignoring the possibility that once a company gets a monopoly, they will jack up prices!", when I have spent a paragraph or so discussing exactly the problem that they are angrily demanding that I address . . . or rather, angrily declaring that my failure to understand this point is evidence of my total hypocrisy/ideological blindness/hatred of the unfortunate.

I have many flaws. There is no need to go fabricating imaginary ones.

This is cute. And incredibly stupid. Leaving aside the issue of what constitutes a war crime that should be prosecuted in international courts--you heartless fiend! my liberal readers cry, we knew all along that you loved torture!...I know that I have a lot of seething war opponents reading this, their souls screaming that the practical considerations are secondary to the moral ones....

Before my liberal readers freak out, this does not make me happy.

I know that my liberal friends and readers think of me as a union basher who just can't stand the thought of workers claiming a bigger share of the pie.

When I wrote the other week about why I am opposed to national health care, a number of people angrily demanded to know why I was writing about something that "no one is proposing". Now, this is clearly a lunatic statement. I was writing about something that many people were proposing. I just wasn't writing about the nebulous bills currently wending their way through various committees.

This first sentence is just here for all the bloggers who want to read the first sentence of the post and then go write an angry rebuttal of my claim that poor Americans should have to torture puppies in order to be eligible for Bandaids.

A series of posts at Reason illustrates that the liberal rage at right-wing loonies is starting to sound, well, a little loonie:

I find it hard to believe that none of the liberal commentators breathlessly celebrating Wal-Mart's "capitulation" on national health care have even entertained the most parsimonious explanation: that Wal-Mart is in favor of this because it raises the barriers to entry in the retail market, and hammers Wal-Mart's competition.

I see a lot of liberal blogs crowing that Obama's really taking it to the hedge funds who are holding out on the Chrysler bankruptcy.

Number one item in this post on Graeme Frost:

1) I told y'all this was going to happen. Maybe next time you'll listen, hmmm?

Weirdly triggered angry email from liberal commenters, who offered this as an example of my tendency to make snotty dismissals of liberals. This is weird because, of course, I was talking to conservatives, in re my earlier post on the general political unwiseness of attacking programs that give money to cute children.

Poverty policy[:] Liberals will scream, but George Bush gets this one. Kerry has one plan I like--increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit--but the rest of his programme is just standard Democratic same-old, same-old.... For all the hysteria, Bush's plans for Social Security and Medicare are excessively modest....I'm unconvinced by anti-war people screaming about screw-ups in the early weeks of the war, including the latest explosives flap. As a project manager, I know too well that when you operate in a tight time frame, no matter how much you plan, nothing goes according to plan. Something comes out of left field and makes half your planning obsolete, and the other half irrelevant.

So it looks like the Torch is going to drop out of the New Jersey Senate race.

Democrats are getting slightly hysterical, because it's not clear that it's legal to replace him after the primary.

These insults and slights have been going on for years. Megan McArdle has a lot of civility rules for other people but, as we said, not for herself. She is allowed to say what she wants but others must show her her due respect.

Some of Megan McArdle's Internet Civility Rules For Everyone Else:
2) Stop complaining that the other side is advocating for their ideas. Lying and deception are fair game for outrage; campaigning is not. If your ideas can't stand the heat, throw 'em out and get some better ones.

3) Stop calling the other side names. It's not just counterproductive; it's boring. Unless your rhetorical skills are something special, limit your attacks to their ideas.

5) Can the hypotheticals. I don't know whether Gore would have done all right in office after 9/11 or not. You don't either. You don't know what the Republicans would have said or not said about him, although I would point out to one commenter on this site that what restrained Daschle & Co. from criticising Bush for so long was neither good taste nor goodwill, and one can assume the same rough factors would have restrained the Republicans. Either way, you don't know. What's particularly odd is that the people presenting these hypotheticals always act as if they were irrefutable facts with which no one with smidge of reason could possibly disagree. "You can't tell me that if a plane had gone down in China on Clinton's watch, the press wouldn't have given him a full pass." Whatever, chum; the Psychic Friends Network just cut me off for non-payment.

6) If you have to fudge numbers and blur distinctions in order to make a case for your ideas, why do you believe them? If you don't understand the science or math behind an issue, why are you arguing with people who understand it better? Do you hope to convince them with the vast inertial weight of your ignorance? Or are you hoping to get them so frustrated by the difficulty of explaining climatology to someone who dropped out of freshman physics that they spontaneously combust? [unfortunately, this does not work -- ed.] Or do you just enjoy looking like a total idiot in public?

8) Assume, until proven otherwise, that your opponent is a person of goodwill. Accept that some things are value judgements that will not be argued away: between, for example, a higher absolute standard of living for the poor, or less inequality of income. Between economic growth and wilderness preservation. Between great taste and less filling. If you know that your opponent is factually or theoretically wrong, assume that this is ignorance or misinformation, not malice.

9) Do not walk in assuming that you occupy the moral high ground. No one listens to sermons except the converted.

10) If you're wrong, admit it at once. No one will fault you for being mistaken. Everyone will hate you for refusing to admit it. Andrew Sullivan et al. didn't go after Tapped because they got the numbers wrong, but because they refused to admit the possibility that the numbers were wrong, and wrote snotty posts about anyone who suggested they should check again.

14) No one is much moved by exhortations to the effect that they're just selfish and mean. First of all, it's rarely true, except in the case of Objectivists, and they don't care.

15) I don't care how mad you are -- I mean it. No name calling. Unless they call names first. Even then, it's polite to fire a warning shot across the bow.

Authoritarian (wanna-be) leaders control people in many different ways, but social control is one of the bigger and more successful ones. McArdle nips and barks at the members of the blogging community to keep them in line, defining the parameters of discourse and routinely forcing them to commit acts of public obeisance to her and to the public in general. She is the perpetual victim, as someone said recently, because by portraying herself as a victim she can portray her political opponents as victimizers, thereby harming their professional reputations and lowering the influence of liberal ideas in general. McArdle is nothing if not cunning. She (like us) is a Mean Girl, and through long observation and practice (unlike us, who bloomed late), she has perfected social control through manipulation and ritual social humiliations.

McArdle says that people should stick to criticizing her arguments and have nice, civil, bloodless discussion about (abstract) policy. If we were her we'd fervently want the same thing. But we are not her, nor are we her liberal strawmen who are shrill and hysterical, mindlessly angry and mean, and too weak to fight back.

As for McArdle's pleas to move on from the regretted past, let's see what Megan McArdle tells eveyone else to do: (With many, many thanks to Clever Pseudonym)
"Words have consequences, and I'm afraid I've no sympathy with those who complain about it. When you want to blather away into the ether, collecting the accolades and shunning the negative response, you're not advocating for speech to be free -- you're advocating for talk to be cheap."


ADDED: See also.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wal, I dunno, Megan. When you think it's funny to talk about smacking people upside the head with a 2X4, you can't expect people to engage in "civilized discourse" in response.

As William Burroughs once said, "If you say things that aren't nice, you hear things back that aren't nice."

Clever Pseudonym said...

Much like passive-aggressively telling that Dan_S commenter to fuck off was infinitely more civilized than just saying fuck off directly. "Lesser people might resort to telling you to fuck off, but I'm better than them, so I won't."

Anonymous said...

McCardle reminds me of the Jane Austen character in Sense and Sensibility--the sister in law of the heroine who smilingly and bitchily sticks the knife in to her widowed mother in law and sisters-in-law. She starts the entire plot moving by persuading her husband that the sisters don't need any grant of money, just occasional gifts from the park like food. "Indeed, they shall be much more able to give you money!" she winds up, having totaled up all the expenses she and her husband will have now that they have more money and power.

McCardle's whole method of argumentation is an indirect speech act and a barefaced subversion of morality and humanity always put off on the other person--they said something mean so I just "fired a warning shot" across their bow. She never admits to being the first actor in a drama of lies and bitchery.

aimai

commie atheist said...

If you have to fudge numbers and blur distinctions in order to make a case for your ideas, why do you believe them? If you don't understand the science or math behind an issue, why are you arguing with people who understand it better? Do you hope to convince them with the vast inertial weight of your ignorance?...Or do you just enjoy looking like a total idiot in public?

She actually wrote those words? McMegan? She..doesn't have a lot of self-awareness, does she?

Lurking Canadian said...

Before you pop off at me, would you please try to read all the words in the post? In order?

Remember, this is the same Megan who criticized the bonobo book because it didn't address jealousy, having missed that Chapter Ten was entitled "Jealousy".

Is there a pool going on how many of her own rules she's violated in the last six weeks?

cynic said...

I just love #5 and #6 on her blogger commandments:
5: Thou shalt not use hypotheticals
6: Thou shalt not fudge numbers

Considering her entire schtick is about fudging numbers on hypotheticals....

atat said...

That entire list is an exercise in projection. Her lack of self awareness continues to boggle my mind.

Anonymous said...

http://www.amazon.com/If-Youre-Smart-Narrative-Expertise/dp/0226556719/sr=1-10/qid=1170421970/ref=sr_1_10/102-4212116-7085762?ie=UTF8&s=books

Aimai said...

atat's point is very important. No one can read that list of "don'ts"--every one of which McArdle uses as a basic check list of "do's" in her own work--and not think that this woman is, simply, nuts. I particularly like the one about not fudging numbers in which she argues that people who use numbers deceptively probably don't even believe their own lies and should just give it up. McArdle is famous for many things but chief among them is her complete disregard of numbers, facts, and logic. If she read through her own list of dos and don'ts and decided to take it seriously and follow her own advice she'd either have to retract every single blog post since she began blogging or she'd kill herself for very shame.

aimai

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is that her regulars break these rules all the time.

Also accusing zosima of condescension despite all of her regulars doing the same thing for years?

Anonymous said...

"So it probably made some difference, but how much did it matter? If Republicans get fewer than 45 seats, I think we can say that health care didn't matter much at all. But as they start pressing towards 50, I think we can blame a lot of that advance on health care. Not all of it--Obama has made stupid messaging choices like the one I linked above, and TARP and the stimulus--which many at-risk Democrats supported--are undoubtedly taking their toll. But health care ate up virtually an entire year of a two-year administration, and it's their signature achievement; I don't know anyone who would point to a greater legislative victory, or a bigger advance on the progressive agenda. Given its unpopularity, I think it has to take at least half the blame for any "excess" losses. If Democrats lose the senate--or even get pushed to a tie where suddenly Joe Lieberman becomes a very, very powerful man--I'll be inclined to say that health care reform was an electoral disaster."