Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Let's say you are walking down the street and a very tall woman trips you. You look at her with disbelief and a little ire. You yell at her, "Why the hell did you trip me, you mean little jerk?

Does she apologize? Does she smirk and walk away? Does she look guilty and slink away? No. She lectures you on your incivility.

Imagine that.

The journalists who were cheerleaders for war, ignoring morality, history, and any contravening advice, are now lecturing the world on its incivility. How dare the little people criticize the elite? Call them bad names, mock them, attack them? Don't they have any manners, any respect for their betters? Do they actually think their opinions matter? People just don't understand how this works!

Mr. Stephen Colbert, great Republican-American:
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

The elite are just doing a job here. Somebody--it doesn't really matter who, everyone must be paid by someone--gives them money. They write what their employer wants them to write. He is paying after all; it's only fair. Then the elite journalists cash their checks and go out and buy a sous vide. That's how it works. That's all it is. What's the big deal? Why does everyone get so upset and angry, with their red faces and loud voices that keep one from enjoying one's cocktail after a hard day's typing?

Consequences don't exist for the elite because, well, consequences don't exist for the elite. They already have money and influence, which will take care of any problems that arise. If their little boy gets sick they know they can afford to pay for his medical care so they don't care if other people want national health care. If the stock market suffers from the machinations of the elite they won't have to worry about a drastically reduced lifestyle when they retire. If Social Security is eliminated they will have more than enough money to live on. Consequences are unpleasant things that lead people to make accusations of callousness, cruelty and corruption, so one just doesn't think about them.

Since this is all just a big, well-remunerated game, it's inconceivable that someone would actually get upset by what the elite journalists say. The angry people are just rude and mean and are looking for reasons to be ugly to perfectly nice people who never even met them and certainly never did anything bad to them like try to destroy health care reform and support corrupt banks.

Mrs. Megan McArdle:
I know, I know--after this post, I will swear off the Henry Farrell blogging. But this is really too extraordinary to pass up. This is Henry Farrell on why he ought to read me more:
(I don't think she cares whether she is right on the facts or not, because she deeply and truly believes that she is correct in some Platonic sense). This results in some genuinely pernicious writing, that is nonetheless quite influential - and while I'm not especially influential myself, I think that I have to do my bit, and probably should be doing it more than I do do it.

This in the comments to a post in which Henry Farrell accused me of rank hypocrisy by juxtaposing something I wrote yesterday with something that I wrote close on eight years ago. Mr. Farrell was unaware that I had publicly retracted these remarks, and apologized for them, two years ago.

Did he "care whether he was right on the facts or not"? It seems to me that if he had, he might have taken the elementary step of asking me, before he wrote the post, whether I still supported what I wrote all those years ago. At the very least, he might have thought, "well, eight years is a long time and there's always a small chance that she's changed her mind", and hedged a little, rather than launching the all-out frontal sarcasm assault.

Henry Farrell's sin was to reprint McArdle's giggle about how anti-war protesters should be hit in the head with a 2x4, preemptively, before they commit any violence. His comment, sans update:
I’m afraid I’m not quite bright enough to understand why kerb-stomping-as-a-metaphor for-argumentative-victory is creepy and unfunny, while actually beating up war-protesters with bits of lumber is hee-LAIRIUS. Perhaps someone can tease out the nuances for me in comments.

How dare he remember and hold her to account for her actions? Doesn't he know about the moral and philosophical position called "take-backsies", also known as "doing a mulligan"? You see, if you apologize for being wrong while saying that the only way to know something is by hindsight and through failure, that means that the consequences of your actions just go away, poof!, like magic and all those dead and tortured people who should haunt you to your grave can just be forgotten and you can continue your lucrative career.

This is what should happen instead: you sell pieces to magazines and travel across the country to lecture on failure, you make lots of money, and you buy a sous vide. That's the way it's supposed to work.
When his error was pointed out, rather than simply graciously admit that he had misjudged me in this instance, he resorted to talmudic readings of what I said in the comments thread to that long-ago post, rather than tender an apology.

We have to admit, she does have balls. Farrell didn't make an error. McArdle just thinks that she should be able to be incivil to other people and lecture others on their supposed incivility despite her own past actions. She would have to be ashamed of her actions to avoid lecturing others for doing what she has done. Since she is not ashamed and continues to find excuses to be incivil, her attitude is pretty damn funny.
Yet no matter how you read those comments--and I think Henry is reading them extremely selectively--that doesn't really change the fact that I already said years ago that I oughtn't to have written it. Is this the shining example of "caring whether one is right on the facts" that I am supposed to emulate?

You'd think he'd have at least interspersed a few posts between mote and beam . . .

But of course, we all do this. It's so easy to see the faults in people we dislike, even as we ignore them in ourselves. I'm reminded of something I blogged a while back, writing about Obama's controversial speech on race. It's a passage from C.S. Lewis on what it means to "love thy neighbor", and I wish that commentators--including me--would take it to heart more often.

Every time an elite conservative is caught doing something immoral he trots out C.S. Lewis, like a wooden duck on a string. Reading a Catholic Christian apologist (something that has a whole new meaning after all those child rapes) does not confer morality.
. . . we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society.

Conservatives think self-respect is a bad thing. It leads to physical, moral and intellectual independence.

Have you ever wondered exactly what people were thinking when they ignored any advice or fact that they didn't want to hear, whether it was about Iraq or Bush or capitalism or themselves? Oddly enough, Lewis decided to show us. Watch while he explains the psychological underpinnings of liberal rage and meanness to nice Christians who are just trying to Love One Another.
So apparently "Love your neighbour" does not mean "feel fond of him" or "find him attractive". I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty ones. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all of my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Back to McArdle:
I really do think that we would go farther if we were more charitable to our opponents. There are very few people in the world who are simply mean and deliberately ignorant, and telling ourselves otherwise is simply flattering our own vanity: our opponents must be awful people, because otherwise they couldn't possibly oppose our wise and wonderful plans.

There you go. There is her justification for all the criticism she so richly deserves and so frequently experiences: The left is full of meanies who just want to win because they think they're so smart and good.
I'm not speaking specifically about Henry here--I don't think it much matters whether he likes me, or I him.

Then who is she talking about?
But this is really what I was trying to get at the other day, when I blogged about all the anger on the web. Maybe it's not very novel, but for whatever reason, it bothers me more right now. And what bothers me more is that people seem to spend so much time looking to get angry--or so I judge by what blogs, and blog posts, succeed.

Yes, criticism of Megan McArdle is rather popular, isn't it? That is because it's so easy to see the manipulations of the elite when they are attempted by someone like McArdle. She is not quite smart enough or callous enough for her job, although that should do nothing to diminish her considerable accomplishments in those areas.
It seems to me that I see less in the way of novel argumentation on many blogs, and more in the way of tu quoques, exhortations against "the stupidest/most evil person alive", and lengthy back-patting exchanges in which bloggers and commenters reassure themselves that they really kicked some ass in that last argument. The ass-kicking--the argumentation--is pretty secondary, and indeed, the amount of high-fiving doesn't actually seem to be related to the quality of the argument that preceded it. Hell, the other side is usually busy congratulating each other because they totally eviscerated 'em.

(Oh, this reminds me, thanks very much to Roy Edroso and everyone else who has spread the word about my blog in comments sections hither and yon. I am very grateful and flattered, although I'm usually too shy to say so at the time.)
If the other side is unaware that you've won, your victory can't be too compelling. And so I rather feel that the winning isn't even the point; the real point is simply to be able to tell your fellow travellers that we beat them. And moreover, that this victory was a small step in a crucial cosmic battle, because they are really dreadful slime, full of stupidity and malice.

Hence, as Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson have been noting, the prevalence of arguments that don't really make any constructive point at all; they seem mostly designed to decrease the relative status of the other group. It's like eighth grade, with white papers.

How do your defeat the elite? Lower their status.
How many of us liked eighth grade the first time around? Not many, I'd wager, so I'm not sure why we're so eager to repeat the tiresome status games.

I'm certainly imperfect in this regard, but I'm trying to do better. It don't think it should be impossible to have a blog world with a little more charity, and a little less bile.

We'll remember that when our insurance company is saying that our kids can be denied medical care for previous conditions. After all, this is nothing but a game and why are people so mean, when God's in his Heaven and all's right with the world?


Clever Pseudonym said...

Jesus, that post was so petty, so full of whine and self-pity, I can barely believe it is something that could possibly appear in the Atl...oh, Christ, I sound like a broken record by now. Every time I set the bar lower when it comes to my expectations about Megan's "work," she writes something even more stupid. Half the stuff she's crying about could easily describe herself and her ridiculous lack of the slightest bit of self-awareness. She's not a journalist. She's a case study for when egomania actually morphs into psychosis.

Lurking Canadian said...

Shorter Megan: The only person in the blogosphere who's allowed to be snarky and rude is ME, because I'm effortlessly better than everybody else and you're all fortunate I'm doing this instead of making the money I deserve.

Kathy said...

"Liberals should have more ChristianCharity towards conservative people like me who advocate hitting them with 2x4s, and Liberals shouldn't get so angry when conservatives throw them to the ground and stomp on their heads! Try a little humility, Libs! (PS: I know nothing about conservative RAGE because I don't look at conservative blogs... it's that pesky log in my eye you see...)

Susan of Texas said...

I'm repeating myself as well. How could we not, when she keeps doing the same thing over and over?

It's like an eternal Groundhog Day, in which McArdle never learns and grows and gets to sleep with Andi MacDowell.

Morbo said...

I am offended that Megan used the term "eviscerated" in regards to rhetorical victories. To imply such violence against one's debate foes is just so uncivil.

Downpuppy said...

McArdle doesn't grow, but her slime trail does. Whatever strawman she erects to battle, Agent Potted Plant* swings out of her archives & bonks her in the head.

I think she's starting to sense, dimly, that she's painted herself into a corner with 10 years of lies, errors & refusing responsibility.

*Perry the Platypus replacement to battle Doofenschmirz when Perry was assigned to a more threatening villian was a flowerpot.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of Helen Rittelmeyer in Megan McArdle.

Question is, will her current hubby be the Todd Seavy in that equation?

Anonymous said...

Well, Megan may have said she was sorry about her 2X4 comment, but in light of yesterday's head stomping it's even less funny. Whether she likes it or not, Ms. Megan's comment is a perfect example of a certain right-wing mindset.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Farrell has responded.

Syz said...

Just to be clear: the unapologetic libertarian conservative is begging for charity because she does not think it is fair to judge her based on her work.

Batocchio said...

"A not-so-brief history of violence," linked by CP, is really something – as are some of the comments, particularly those by Salient. She's way out of her league. Henry makes a pretty solid case that McMegan doesn't deserve charitable interpretation after her well-documented history of bad, weak and dishonest arguments. And Syz has got a good quip there, too. It is interesting, isn't it, that a blogger who went by Jane Galt and expresses Randian notions all the time invokes Christian charity – when Rand herself hated Christianity? (Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser has done the same thing, as chronicled in the classic TBogg post, "Atlas Hugged.")

Personally, I never really believed McArdle's apology, and her whining about it (past and current) has never improved its credibility. After the latest Henry post and comment thread, she looks even worse. She wrote at least two posts supposedly admitting error on Iraq that were whiny and full of straw man attacks on war protestors. In McArdle's world – the same as Richard Cohen's, I guess – the people who opposed the war only got lucky. There's never been any recognition that opposing war is the default position, the stance of basic sanity. And she has the conceit in the old post that she "understands the horrors of war" while cheerleading for it.

Basically, in the 2x4 post, and in her war hawk posts (some of which are just dreadfully and dishonestly argued), she expresses a blood lust (as Salient puts it). She's scared and angry, so she's all for attacking dusky-hued foreigners in distant lands, regardless of whether they did it or not, or live in a different country, or oppose bin Laden. In the meantime, she's eager to do violence to anyone who would oppose her vicarious war violence. (Why not throw torture in, too, since it comes from the same impulse?) And a dishonest act of contrition, on top of her constant dishonesty otherwise, doesn't really redeem her.

bulbul said...

Reading a Catholic apologist ... does not confer morality
C.S. Lewis was Anglican, I think you are confusing him with G.K. Chesterton who was indeed a Catholic apologist. On the other hand, both are regularly trotted out by conservatives to bolster whatever argument they're currently advancing or defending. And as for "reading X does not confer morality" where X = the Bible or a Christian philosopher, this will probably be news to most of the evangelical community.

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks, bulbul and CP.

Kokuanani said...

Well, I see that Obama has not cornered the market on self-pity and whining!!

commie atheist said...

Megan now:

It seems to me that I see less in the way of novel argumentation on many blogs, and more in the way of tu quoques, exhortations against "the stupidest/most evil person alive", and lengthy back-patting exchanges in which bloggers and commenters reassure themselves that they really kicked some ass in that last argument.

Megan then:

Alex Tabarrok takes Eric Rauchway to the woodshed and spanks him so hard my butt hurts. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to title an exceptionally misleading and/or ignorant post “Stop lying.”

But she was so much older then; she's younger than that now.

Anonymous said...

I think Megan's problem is that she's got just enough metacompetence to know she sucks, and it pains her. A true Villager isn't supposed to care about such things.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure why we're so eager to repeat the tiresome status games."

Says the woman who is ALL ABOUT THE STATUS