Thursday, July 31, 2008

In defense of name-calling

You'll notice that I don't have a problem calling somebody a "creep." Now, lots of people will immediately accuse me of name-calling or "ad hominems." They'll say I'm not objective or fair.

Well, that's just confused. My background is in Philosophy and Ethics. I believe in truth and I believe in moral clarity. And so, to my way of thinking, it's important to call a spade a spade. You're not being more accurate or objective when you call the My Lai massacre an "incident." You're not committing a fallacy when you call Stalin a tyrant or a murderer. To refuse to call a massacre a massacre or Stalin a tyrant is to engage in some kind of spin. It's to be Bill O'Reilly.

I think we can all agree that some people are creeps, i.e., detestable persons. We might disagree about some attributions (Donald Trump?) but there are many about which we'll find agreement (Lee Atwater, et al.). Some people are detestable, and, generally, we do best resisting the temptation to just say they have "a bit of an edge."

Naturally, it won't do to just call somebody a creep (aka a detestable person) when it isn't clear what the basis is for their creepitude, their detestulosity. Logically speaking, that's getting ahead of yourself. Now, on my other blog (with Rebel Girl), I often call people detestable. But regular readers of that blog (unless they're knuckleheads, which is possible) are very familiar with the basis for the attribution. The facts have been identified, over and over, man. I mean, it's like listening to Britney Spears and pronouncing her goofy. You don't have to explain it to anybody except cave dwellers.

People like to throw the term "ad hominem" around. In logic, it has a narrow meaning. One commits the "ad hominem" (i.e., "to the person") fallacy when one makes a particular mistake of relevance. It is the mistake of saying that a person's view should be rejected (or embraced) owing to some fact about that person—for instance, that they're hypocritical or, say, metrosexual.

Now if I start talking about "the dictator Adolf Hitler," I'm not committing the ad hominem fallacy. I'm not really reasoning; I'm making an assertion, and the assertion is, as we say in the philosophy world, "true." It's also negative, but attributing something negative to a person is not ipso facto a fallacy.

We're often told that we should not engage in "personal attacks." If what is meant by this is only that one errs if one supposes that an opponent's view is undermined by a criticism of him, then fine. Accordingly, personal attack=ad hominem.

But, clearly, sometimes people use "personal attack" to mean: criticism of a person. I have at times been "charged" with personal attacks when I've noted that the Chancellor of my college district is dishonest or conniving. (The grounds for such charges are overwhelming. Calling Raghu Mathur a schemer is like calling fish wet.)

But criticizing a person, if the criticism is fair, is not only defensible, it can bring moral clarity to a discussion that desperately needs it. For instance, lots of people insist on respecting George W. Bush, and part of that is an unwillingness to view him as deceitful. Too bad that, five or six years ago, more people didn't point at the guy and state the obvious truth: "Given what we already know about this man and his crew, we'd be fools to accept his assurances!"

In a certain sense, the world needs more disrespect.

George W. Bush is a liar and a lout. I hereby place my moralist hat upon my head and declare: get with the f***ing program.

Where are the conservatives?

[What follows is something I wrote the other day on Dissent the Blog. But it is exactly the kind of thing I want to put on Contra PalaVerities. I edited it a bit.]

I recall one night maybe a year ago in a parking lot. Seemed like nobody was around. Maybe there was one guy about forty yards away, where it was dark. But somebody was madly talking to somebody. It was creepy. How could this be?

It be all right. It was the solitary guy, walking across the parking lot, unapologetically yammering at full volume on his goddam cell phone. I hated that guy. I hated how he weirded me out and he never even knew or cared.

This happens to me all the time: you’ll be talking to somebody and then, wham, something starts buzzing on the table; or maybe some goofy calliope music plays; or maybe there’s the sound of nuts cracking coming from somebody’s pants. Your companion suddenly looks at a spot on the wall and then reaches for his goddam cell phone. He looks away from you. You’re forgotten.

So you shuffle away like Puff the freakin’ Magic Dragon—only to run into somebody else walkin’ and yackin’ on the phone. You step out of their way. You’ve always gotta step out of their way, ‘cause, when they’re talking, they’re morons, and they think they own the freakin’ universe.

Hate ‘em. Cell phones I mean.

Why do people—especially kids, but adults too—unthinkingly embrace popular new gadgets? It’s the kind of thing little kids should do, not adults. New modes of life—IMing, going through your day listening to music and utterly ignoring everything and everybody around you, suddenly startin’ up a phone conversation while you're in the bathroom, leasing a Mercedes—you’ve gotta take a beat, man. Don’t just jump in there! How do you know this isn’t just ridiculous?

It’s this endless enthusiasm for jumping right in there and feeling really good about being part of the mindless horde who doesn’t think about anything but just does stuff—that’s what pisses me off. If that’s the way people are, then there’s no hope. None at all.

I swear, soon somebody will find a way for two people to drink the same Coke—serially, I mean—probably with weird-assed straws shaped like Ronald McDonald and comin' out of your neck—or maybe they'll figure out a way to surgically exchange ears, and everybody will be all over it with their "new" ears and punctured necks. They’ll smile and laugh (through their neck hole) and think you’re obviously an asshole if you’re not into it too.

See, this has to do with how conservatism does not exist in this country. If you’re conservative in any meaningful sense, then you’ve got this idea that things barely work as it is. And that means, mostly, you don’t wanna just shuffle the deck just for the sake of shuffling. Things could get worse. We could lose what we've got.

But, in this country, everybody’s into shuffling. Everybody's moving around and doing new things, no matter how insane or ridiculous. And it’s all about commerce and somebody with something new to sell. The money people: they’ll change everything around without a thought, except the thought of how to make money and more money. And everybody goes along with it, ‘cause they’re zombies, and they don’t think about how the most valuable things might just be imbedded in away of life.

So you don't want to mess with things too much. You gotta be careful. Take things slow, if you can.

But who thinks like that, like a conservative?

My world and welcome to it*

Allow me to introduce myself

Sunny Girl (my nutty-but-sweet old cat) died maybe a month ago, and with her went all of my summertime resolve. Death hits me hard. It hits everybody hard, I know. I actually had a panic attack that day! Been better ever since though.

Sunny Girl goes to the vet:

The OC and the "board from hell"

My college district is still controlled, as it has been for many years, by local hegemonic forces, Neanderthal division. They've saddled us with an odious and incompetent Chancellor who, with the help of his trustee patrons, has brought our colleges to the brink of non-accreditation. It's stunning.

If ever you wanted to witness the spectacle of a stupefied electorate that has not a clue how things are done or what goes on, well, Orange County is the place you oughta be. It's kinda like a family in which the kids are stuck on an Infinite plastic carnival ride while mom 'n' pop, oblivious, are meditating in the bedroom or visiting Pastor Tom, who, between pontifications, is making love to farm animals.

Well, I guess I'm puttin' too much lipstick on this pig. I do that.

I don't mean to be negative. I love Orange County. I don't wanna leave. Honestly.

Despite what the rest of the country imagines (I guess), "the OC" is really two places: the older, vibrant, crumbling, chaotic north (Anaheim, etc., up towards LA) and the newer, tidier, orderly and rich south (Irvine, Mission Viejo, etc., down towards still undeveloped land). Newport Beach over to the west is sorta part of the south. It's older, and we keep some of our worst creeps there. I think that asshole Dennis Rodman is there. John Wayne, too, though he's dead and, so, not exactly a creep.

I live mostly in the south, in the mountains, a stone's throw from the Real Housewives. In fact, I routinely throw stones at 'em. (The locals know what bullshit that show is.)

As I was saying, this is one clueless populous, man. I guess that's true everywhere. But I only know here. I'll be talkin' about here.

Ten years ago, the president of my college district's board was a Holocaust-denying "eccentric":

*Note: "My World and Welcome To It" was the name of a short-lived TV program based on the sensibility of James Thurber. I remember it as being terrific, but I was just 13 when I last saw it.

In 1969, things were different: