The Ron Paul "debate" examined
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.