Rants and Raves

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Monday, December 03, 2007

The Ron Paul "debate" examined

First of all, let me refer you to a previous post of mine, "Can you think?" http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/10/can-you-think.html

In it I asked, "How often have you realized while listening to someone speak for a position you agreed with, that it was nonetheless being supported by a weak or invalid argument?"

Now let me ask how many of you took freshman logic? It's usually an elective course, one of a choice of two or three I believe.

If you did take it, you may have noticed that there were always a number of students who simply could not comprehend that when given examples of arguments they were supposed to decide whether the argument was valid or not - not whether they agreed with it or not. I.e. they were supposed to address the form, not the content of the argument.

Now I suspect very strongly that some readers are going to write in to argue with me on the basis that I'm wrong about Ron Paul - don't. Save it for the future post, My Take, wherein I will chip in with my two cents.

But some undoubtedly will...

So, in my previous post The Ron Paul "debate" - have a look I urged readers to look at two blogs with contrary opinions on Ron Paul:

"Ron Paul's "noninterventionism" fraud" http://bidinotto.journalspace.com/?entryid=637

"On Idiot Ideologues Who Pan Paul" http://blog.ilanamercer.com/?p=581

Please glance at them again.

(I will remind readers that I don't know exactly which libertarians Mercer had in mind. I am using the example of Bidinotto to show that her claim is a false generalization. In fact, I'm quite sure she is right in a number of cases - but not all.)


OK now, notice how they opened. Bidinotto began with several quotes by Ron Paul, lengthy enough to give a fair amount of confidence that they're not taken out of context. And, the nature of the quotes is such that it would be difficult to take them out of context to deliberately give a misleading impression.

Mercer begins with insult, "A word about the tinny ideologues who pan Paul because he isn’t perfect: They hate freedom, plain and simple. They don’t know what it is to live without it. They are mollycoddled milksops."

First sentence, very clever alliteration. It also contains an assumption - that some commenters swallowed whole - that if libertarians don't like RP, it's because of because of ideological "purity" issues.

This might be an easy assumption, because lord knows libertarians have had their share of ideological purists. But unless one says which libertarians one is referring to, it remains an unsupported assumption.

"They hate freedom, plain and simple. "

An assumption of motive - and motive is the one thing that cannot be known for sure since, 1) it resides in peoples heads, 2) is very often mixed, 3) is what people most often lie about - especially to themselves.

And, as I am fond of saying, disagree is what free men do.

"They don’t know what it is to live without it."

Same objection, which libertarians? I know a number of libertarians who live (as I have) or who grew up in tyrannies, whose big problem with American libertarians is their tendency towards isolationism. Do you think the Romanians, Lithuanians, Hungarians etc want America to "mind its own business" and defend only its own borders in the event of a resurgent Russian empire or Isalmic caliphate?

"They are mollycoddled milksops."


This, together with "idiots encased in an armor of worthless ideology," "pussies, and worse, slaves to abstractions" are examples of a technique that the Institute of Propaganda Analysis called by the highly technical term "name calling." http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.wg.name.html

Now look down through the Bidinotto piece. He goes on at some length showing plainly that it is not an issue of ideological "purity" that causes him to reject Paul as a candidate, it is that there is one issue of supreme importance that is the deal breaker: that Paul's concept of the nature and origins of the assault on Western civilization in general, and America in particular, are so flawed that they would constitute a serious danger to America and the freedoms we do still have.


Bidinotto objects to this view:

"The only "moral" alternative they imply, therefore, is a de facto, hunkered-down pacifism: a steady retreat by the U.S. from any interactions in the world -- lest we diss some backwater bully, cross his arbitrarily declared boundary lines, offend him for his subjective notions of religious or cultural blasphemy, or thwart his laughable claims of "national sovereignty."

"Part of the sloppy thinking at the root of "noninterventionist" lunacy is the tacit equation of individual rights with "national sovereignty" -- and also the equation of "economic interventionism" (against peaceful individuals) with "political interventionism" (against despotic regimes). Philosophically, these twin equations are completely bogus. Only individuals have rights or "sovereignty"; and only those governments that recognize the individual rights of their own people have any legitimate claims to exist. Dictatorships thus have no "rights" or "sovereignty."


Bidinotto therein also indulges in some name-calling, but also gives a cogent, well-supported argument.

Mercer does better (and concedes some of the point) when she cites a previous post of her own:

"Paul was wrong to imply, reductively, that Islamic terrorism in general and September 11 in particular are the sole consequences of American foreign policy. Libertarians cannot persist in such unidirectional formulations. As I’ve said previously, our adventurous foreign policy is a necessary precondition for Muslim aggression but it is far from a sufficient one, given that Muslims today are at the center of practically every conflict across the world. The received leftist wisdom that the Arabs were (and remain) hapless and helpless victims of the West is false and patronizing. As scholars such as Efraim and Inari Karsh have shown, ‘Middle Eastern history is essentially the culmination of long-standing indigenous trends, passions and patterns of behavior rather than an externally imposed dictate.’ Ultimately, a rational suspicion of power, upon which libertarians pride themselves, must be predicated on distrusting all power, not only American power."

I have underlined the relevant remarks, 1) where the disagreement lies, and 2) where they are in fact in agreement.

Mercer next cites her experience in leaving the collapsing society of South Africa. This is moving, and I have often said myself that experience generally trumps ideology. However, see above. Same caveat, lots of people with similar experience have differing opinions - and afterwards the post veers off into irrelevance and further name-calling.

Mercer has done lots better than this, see the above quote which is good example of a strong argument - agree or disagree* (and in fact, I do not agree with the first underlined sentence.)

However, this is not an argument, it is a polemic. That's why "debate" is in quotes - because it isn't. Bidinotto is arguing, Mercer is polemicizing.

Polemics have their place of course. When addressing a mass audience in a narrow time frame, carefully reasoned (but dry) arguments are seldom the most persuasive. That's the difference between logic, and rhetoric.

So is it a good polemic (i.e. effective)?

That can only be determined by the effect it has on people. Will it sway the undecided and cause those of contrary opinion to change?

I think not but I could be wrong. It is difficult to get someone to consider changing his/her opinion by insulting them. And face it, no matter how reasonable no man enjoys being insulted by a beautiful woman.

However, what scares me is that I am by no means certain that reasoned argument backed with relevant examples does any better. I'd have to say that a lot evidence is against it...

************************************************************************************

This is intended as part of an ongoing series on the subject of logic, rhetoric and propaganda.

* For another, visit her post on the movie "Redacted" here http://blog.ilanamercer.com/?p=582 and then have a look at some of the hostile comments for examples of really poor arguments.

Note: Next I'll give my take on Ron Paul - then you can call me names too.

6 Comments:

  • At 11:17 AM, Blogger Rhys said…

    I would like to refute the majority of your piece with two points.

    "Only individuals have rights or "sovereignty"; and only those governments that recognize the individual rights of their own people have any legitimate claims to exist. Dictatorships thus have no "rights" or "sovereignty." -Bidinotto

    If only individuals have rights and sovereignty, then individuals that exist under dictatorship must also be in a unique position to exercise their sovereignty and their inalienable rights of free will. It renders your premise false to assume that sovereign individuals are unable to exercise their inalienable rights. To argue that sovereign individuals with inalienable rights are absolutely limited by their government (or anything else) from exercising their own free will, is to refute your premise that individuals are the only source of sovereignty and the ultimate source of inalienable rights.

    For example, to argue that it is possible for a government to eradicate individual sovereignty and inalienable right, is to admit the possibility that such things do not exist independent of government grant, in which case the premise that individuals are the source of this sovereignty and inalienable right is defeated and defense of such abstract ideas as individual sovereignty and individual rights becomes arbitrary and without moral certainty.

    "Ultimately, a rational suspicion of power, upon which libertarians pride themselves, must be predicated on distrusting all power, not only American power." -Mercer

    This is true, but I think it is pretty clear, that the US government - in particular the Federal government - has grown in power to a point that it threatens one of the primary assumed checks in balances for the proper functioning of our constitutional republic, namely Federalism - the fair division of power between the States and the Central government. Also, it seems clear, since I work more than 3 months of each year for the federal government, not counting the continual devaluation of my cash holdings created by the inflation of the money supply to fund Federal defecit spending, that the Federal government has far more influence over my life than all of the international terrorists and foreign islamic nations combined. This means that the majority of the time that I have to fight the aggregation of power must be aimed at the Federal government. My weapon of choice is Ron Paul. May he find his mark and strike true.

     
  • At 12:06 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    "I would like to refute the majority of your piece with two points."

    I knew it. Not posted for more than a few hours and someone fulfilled my prophecy:

    "If you did take it (freshman logic), you may have noticed that there were always a number of students who simply could not comprehend that when given examples of arguments they were supposed to decide whether the argument was valid or not - not whether they agreed with it or not. I.e. they were supposed to address the form, not the content of the argument.

    Now I suspect very strongly that some readers are going to write in to argue with me on the basis that I'm wrong about Ron Paul - don't. Save it for the future post, My Take, wherein I will chip in with my two cents.

    But some undoubtedly will..."

    One refutes arguments - which is what this is not (at least not vis-a-vis Ron Paul.) This was a description of two different arguments and a content analysis of one of them.

    And you said "your" about Bidinotto's piece, without asking whether that was my position or not.

    Fact is, I do largely agree as I will elaborate on later - and I also agree with the Mercer point cited, as I believe Bidinotto does also and has explicitly stated so.

     
  • At 12:53 PM, Blogger 147 Grain Solution said…

    As I have noticed on some blogs (like this one), I would RECOMMEND NOT REPLYING. This is one person's attempt to work on his debating and journalism skills with a pop icon-RON PAUL. Since the writer does expect to be ATTACKED for his efforts, LET'S DISAPPOINT HIM. Everyone has a candidate (hopefully), and this blog is an attempt to "WAKE US UP" to the reality of Dr NO. Thanks anyway, but my eyes have been opened playing "WAR" for the DoD.

     
  • At 5:15 PM, Blogger Rhys said…

    You got me.

    I did falsly attribute Bidonotto's position with yours. But in my defense, my argument against Binidotto's position was purely logical. (S)He defeats the premise of the srgument with the conclusion. My frist point still stands even if I attributed it to you, for which I am sorry.

    As for the second point, This again was not a defense of Ron Paul. I simply pointed out, that to agree with Mercers position, would require that action to limit the greates threat, and then I made an empirical argument for my personl belief about that threat and one possible solution.

    So, now I know that you can think, I'll see if I can prove the same to you.

     
  • At 7:21 PM, Blogger Tom the Impaler said…

    "name calling."

    I'll just write that one down... give me a minute....

    Got it! Thanks!

    (to the moderator, I might have posted this twice, or to the wrong post, please delete the errors, or not. Just be aware that I'm

    A: tired and

    B: at the end of my 8 tens on, and so not terribly cerebral at the moment.

    Thanks!)

     
  • At 5:30 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    Doesn't really matter, because without a miracle, he's not going to win anyway.
    As much as I like him and admire his sand, I don't think Ron Paul has an accurate grasp of the scope of what he's dealing with, but he's going to acquire one very rapidly. I hope it doesn't kill him, like it almost did Reagan.
    At any rate, the 12 million bucks aught to be useful traveling money, which he will need.

     

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