One year ago - Macleans.ca
 

One year ago


 

This weekend marks the first anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death.

Now is probably a fine time to reread his coverage of John McCain’s 2000 campaign—the Rolling Stone article is here, the expanded book version can be purchased here.

The Believer interview I excerpted a year ago, is now available in it entirety, all 6,000 words. His struggle, discussed there, with modern political journalism is only more relevant.

The reason why doing political writing is so hard right now is probably also the reason why more young (am I included in the range of this predicate anymore?) fiction writers ought to be doing it. As of 2003, the rhetoric of the enterprise is fucked. 95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil. Conservative thinkers are balder about this kind of attitude: Limbaugh, Hannity, that horrific O’Reilly person. Coulter, Kristol, etc. But the Left’s been infected, too. Have you read this new Al Franken book? Parts of it are funny, but it’s totally venomous (like, what possible response can rightist pundits have to Franken’s broadsides but further rage and return-venom?). Or see also e.g. Lapham’s latest Harper’s columns, or most of the stuff in the Nation, or even Rolling Stone. It’s all become like Zinn and Chomsky but without the immense bodies of hard data these older guys use to back up their screeds. There’s no more complex, messy, community-wide argument (or “dialogue”); political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition. Everything’s relentlessly black-and-whitened. Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying. Watching O’Reilly v. Franken is watching bloodsport. How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community.


 

One year ago

  1. One thing that's changed since 2003 is that few now think such trends can be reversed. It's a brave new ad hoc world. Yet I wonder if the disorder and dishonesty were not always implicit in democracy, while order and honestry, such as we've had them since the invention of TV, were perhaps mere relics of a bygone, top-down age. Once you disseminate the idea that everybody, no matter how ill informed or unserious, has an equal right to an opinion — and this idea did not, I believe, result from a universal franchise but rather provoked it — then opinion was destined to triumph over reason; the Internet just handed opinion the weapons of conquest it required. IMO anyway.

    • Yes, perhaps — though don't we need some "prophets" from the fourth estate to guide us to the promised land where truth (or at least the less dangerous lie) dwells?

      'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important [or should return to being more important] than them all.'"

      — with apologies to the memory of Edmund Burke

      • Oh, I'm all in favour of prophets — and I think we need them; but I fear for them.

    • Jack, I just read A Loaded Anniversary. Beautiful work! An enjoyable read, very ambitious (5 at once!), sweeping in its scope, technically flawless, and I learned a lot. The paragraph where you switch gears to talk about this year's controversy is almost Wellsian (in a good way, of course… "prince of the weather vanes" made me chuckle.)

      • Thanks, CR! Very glad you enjoyed it. I do love writing in that format — I decided to be a writer when I read Gore Vidal's NYRB essays at an impressionable age. Wells is supposed to have a review there himself soon, if I recall correctly.

        • Exactly how young were you when you were reading Gore Vidal's NYRB essays? I have a feeling that it was the same age that I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and reading pulp science fiction :).

          Between your acclaimed BoPA epic poem and your comprehensive LRC piece, by now you must be one of the top ten experts in the country on this subject (the other nine would of course include Lacoursiere, Quimper, Carroll, Manning, and Macleod).

          What are you working on now?

        • Exactly how young were you when you were reading Gore Vidal's NYRB essays? I have a feeling that it was at the same age that I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and reading pulp science fiction :).

          Between your acclaimed BoPA epic poem and your comprehensive LRC piece, by now you must be one of the top ten experts in the country on this subject (the other nine would of course include Lacoursiere, Quimper, Carroll, Manning, and Macleod).

          What are you working on now?

  2. The problem begins with upholding emotion over reason. Notions like "if it feels good do it" are anathema to rational discourse, since everyone is tempted at some point to throw ad hominems at an opponent, or to respond to false accusations and insults with the same. Reacting according to how one "feels" in these cases leads to complete conversational breakdown.

    The problem worsens when we begin to take positions based on how we "feel" about them rather than what we think about them.

    Where I disagree with this author is in the origin. He suggests that it began on the Right and spread to the whole spectrum. On the contrary, the "if it feels good do it" mentality is the raison d'etre of the modern Left while duty and principle are upheld (albeit often hypocritically) as the raison d'etre of the Right. And the demonization of opponents was obvious years ago with "Borking" before it became mainstream. It is now endemic to both sides, with those of us on the Right being accused regularly of bigotry and those on the Left of moral decay. In short, we are all acting like Leftists!

    Still, using this forum as a gauge, in which direction does the invective usually run, left to right or right to left? We can all improvce but my own experience suggests the former, in keeping with the fundamental principles of each side.

  3. The problem begins with upholding emotion over reason. Notions like "if it feels good do it" are anathema to rational discourse, since everyone is tempted at some point to throw ad hominems at an opponent, or to respond to false accusations and insults with the same. Reacting according to how one "feels" in these cases leads to complete conversational breakdown.

    The problem worsens when we begin to take positions based on how we "feel" about them rather than what we think about them.

    Where I disagree with this author is in the origin. He suggests that it began on the Right and spread to the whole spectrum. On the contrary, the "if it feels good do it" mentality is the raison d'etre of the modern Left while duty and principle are upheld (albeit often hypocritically) as the raison d'etre of the Right. And the demonization of opponents was obvious years ago with "Borking" before it became mainstream. It is now endemic to both sides, with those of us on the Right being accused regularly of bigotry and those on the Left of moral decay. In short, we are all acting like Leftists! (Progress?)

    Still, using this forum as a gauge, in which direction does the invective usually run, left to right or right to left? We can all improvce but my own experience suggests the former, in keeping with the fundamental principles of each side.

  4. The media needs to do a better job of shutting out stupid voices.

    • In that case we should all hurry up and post our last few posts before Macleans removes IntenseDebate.

      Not saying that your posts aren't good, just that some days there is a lot of chaff and not much wheat.

      • I take your point and your levity. I would apply it to us all including myself.

      • Readers' comments at Maclean's aren't stupider, in general, than those of the mass media; there are just more of them and they have to pack a lot of punch, and there's no need to pretend to a professional standard of courtesy. How many non-stupid voices are there in the Globe every morning? Just because somebody wears a bow tie doesn't mean they're worth listening to.

        • In some cases (e.g. Tucker Carlson) the bow tie is a loud, tacky signal that the wearer's voice is not worth listening to.

          • Forgot about Tucker, although George Will dons the bow tie, no? Sort of a shame to mention George Will in a sentence with Tucker.

            And I suppose I was also sort of thinking about US Senators/Congresspeople; isn't there a reasonably strong correlation between wearing a bow tie and being a Republican?

            But apparently Jack actually meant all establishment journalists; fair enough.

        • My comment was supposed to be humourous….I may have fallen a bit short; that does seem to happen fairly regularly. And I actually do agree with you wrt comments from Macleans readers; in my experience the typical comment here is noticeably more lucid than at some other sites.

          Not sure what you mean regarding "standard of courtesy"; in general I would be in favour of a higher level of courtesy on these pages, but I'll survive if that doesn't happen. And off the top of my head the only people who wear bow ties that I can think of are conservative columnists – is that the group of people to which you are alluding?

          • I think you and CR are the only two on this thread not taking yourselves too seriously. Kudos.

          • Gee, don't apologise too abjectly.

          • You are such an obnoxious boor.

          • Careful, sf, or you're going to disrupt Gaunilon's thesis about the inherent civility of the Right.

          • Sorry, PhilCP, I didn't mean to be directing that at you! And I wasn't being intentionally bilious. But I do find our readers' comments section a fascinating phenomenon, and I was just thinking about that. I just find the direct expression of argument and opinion on these boards — and by our hosts on the blogs, bien sûr — so much more satisfying than the cautious, reasonable opinions and arguments one gets in the MSM, as you say. (Bow tie = my failed metaphor for establishment journalism.)

  5. Aaron, you should post about the late, great, Norman Borlaug! Many of your readers have never heard of him.

    Agriculture pioneer Borlaug dies

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8253005.stm

    His life's work on developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops has been credited with having saved an estimated one billion people from famine, and one billion hectares of forest and rainforest from being cleared for agricultural production.

    http://agriculture.senate.gov/Hearings/hearings.c

    • No one person has ever saved more lives, it has been argued. What a magnificent contribution this man has made. And you're right; he had spent the rest of life in relative obscurity.

  6. Thanks for posting this, I hadn't read either article before and honestly, I didn't appreciate the loss near as much as I do now. That Rolling Stone article was doubly heartbreaking: not only did the author commit suicide, but look at the McCain campaign in '07 and '08…

    That's kind of soul-crushing.

    • I bought Infinite Jest a week after DFW's death, and although I have enjoyed it piecemeal (by flipping it open at random and reading 50 pages or so at a time), I'm ashamed to admit that I have yet to finish reading the entire book. DFW was a brilliant, crazy writer, but there's something about his prose style that makes me feel exhausted after 50 pages or so.

      • First thing I read of DFW was his collection of essays Consider The Lobster. None of the essays are exceedingly long and many are laugh out loud funny.

  7. The problem begins with upholding emotion over reason. Notions like "if it feels good do it" are anathema to rational discourse, since everyone is tempted at some point to throw ad hominems at an opponent, or to respond to false accusations and insults with the same. Reacting according to how one "feels" in these cases leads to complete conversational breakdown.

    The problem worsens when we begin to take positions based on how we "feel" about them rather than what we think about them. This reduces all ideas to personal biases. Obviously one cannot change another person's feelings with reasoned argument, so reasoned argument goes by the wayside in favour of verbal bullying.

    Where I disagree with this author is in the origin. He suggests that it began on the Right and spread to the whole spectrum. On the contrary, the "if it feels good do it" mentality is the raison d'etre of the modern Left while duty and principle are upheld (albeit often hypocritically) as the raison d'etre of the Right. And the demonization of opponents was obvious years ago with "Borking" before it became mainstream. It is now endemic to both sides, with those of us on the Right being accused regularly of bigotry and those on the Left of moral decay. In short, we are all acting like Leftists! (Progress?)

    Still, using this forum as a gauge, in which direction does the invective usually run, left to right or right to left? We can all improve but experience suggests the former, in keeping with the fundamental principles of each side.

  8. The problem begins with upholding emotion over reason. Notions like "if it feels good do it" are anathema to rational discourse, since everyone is tempted at some point to throw ad hominems at an opponent, or to respond to false accusations and insults with the same. Reacting according to how one "feels" in these cases leads to complete conversational breakdown.

    The problem worsens when we begin to take positions based on how we "feel" about them rather than what we think about them. This reduces all ideas to personal biases. Obviously one cannot change another person's feelings with reasoned argument, so reasoned argument goes by the wayside in favour of verbal bullying.

    Where I disagree with this author is in the origin. He suggests that it began on the Right and spread to the whole spectrum. On the contrary, the "if it feels good do it" mentality is the raison d'etre of the modern Left while duty and principle are upheld (albeit often hypocritically) as the raison d'etre of the Right. The demonization of opponents was obvious years ago with "Borking" before it became mainstream. It is now endemic to both sides, with those of us on the Right being accused regularly of bigotry and those on the Left of moral decay. In short, we are all acting like Leftists! (Progress?)

    Still, using this forum as a gauge, in which direction does the invective usually run, left to right or right to left? We can all improve but experience suggests the former, in keeping with the fundamental principles of each side.

  9. The problem begins with upholding emotion over reason. Notions like "if it feels good do it" are anathema to rational discourse, since everyone is tempted at some point to throw ad hominems at an opponent, or to respond to false accusations and insults with the same. Reacting according to how one "feels" in these cases leads to complete conversational breakdown.

    The problem worsens when we begin to take positions based on how we "feel" about them rather than what we think about them. This reduces all ideas to personal biases. Obviously one cannot change another person's feelings with reasoned argument, so reasoned argument goes by the wayside in favour of verbal bullying.

    Where I disagree with this author is with respect to the origin of the problem. He suggests that it began on the Right and spread to the whole spectrum. On the contrary, the "if it feels good do it" mentality is the raison d'etre of the modern Left while reason and honesty are upheld (albeit often hypocritically) as the raison d'etre of the Right. The demonization of opponents was obvious years ago with "Borking" before it became mainstream. It is now endemic to both sides, with those of us on the Right accused regularly of being bigots and Fascists and those on the Left of being unpatriotic and Communist. In short, we are all acting like Leftists! (Progress?)

    Still, using this forum as a gauge, in which direction does the invective usually run, left to right or right to left? We can all improve but experience suggests the former, largely in keeping with the fundamental principles of each side.

    • You are aware that you just managed to attack "the Left" ad homines three or four times in your lament for our culture of the ad hominem? Was that intentional?

      • Only a leftist would point that out.

      • You areapparently not aware that an ad hominem is an attack on someone's personal character, not their philosophy or their relevant actions.

        Saying "Jack Mitchell posts fraudulent links" is an accurate statement, based on past experience. Saying "Jack Mitchell is a liar" would be an ad hominem.

      • You are apparently not aware that an ad hominem is an attack on someone's personal character, not their philosophy or their relevant actions.

        Saying "Jack Mitchell posts fraudulent links" is an accurate statement, based on past experience. Saying "Jack Mitchell is a liar" would be an ad hominem.

      • An ad hominem is an attack on someone's personal character, not the truth of their philosophy or the impact of their (relevant) actions.

        Saying "Jack Mitchell has posted fraudulent links and spewed vitriol at opponents" is an accurate and a relevant statement in light of this discussion, based on past experience. Saying someone is a vicious liar would be an ad hominem.

        • It's ad hominem if it's related to the character of a person or group and does not address the logic of the argument. It's akin to "poisoning the well"

          So saying that you're a vicious liar is not an ad hominem argument in this case because your entire argument is based on your ad hominem and untruthful attack on the character of the "Left".

          "If it feels good do it?" Please. You do realize it is the left that advocates personal responsibility for the good of the community.. ie, that we're all responsible for making sure that the community is as strong as it can be, and for helping others in time of need, to the point where the community has the power to compel this behavior? How is that "if it feels good do it?"

          • I like your summary of the ad hominem, although I think my summary of the Left's fundamental principles and their effect is accurate. Also, I think "misguided fool" would be more accurate if you disagree with me, not "vicious liar" unless you can make the case that I willfully make false statements coupled with vicious insults.

            I've met Leftists who are good people, but I think they're acting contrary to their principles when they demonstrate self-discipline and courtesy. Just like I've met Righties who are jerks, and I consider them to be acting contrary to their principles by not demonstrating self-discipline and courtesy. The notion that we should curb our behaviour according to some moral standard follows from the Right's notion of moral standards, not the Left's notion of doing what feels good.

            As to the Left advocating personal responsibility, it's just the opposite. The Left advocates that all be taken care of by the social safety net. This is a manifestation of "if it feels good do it" because everyone is guaranteed protection from the consequences of their poor choices – in other words they are encouraged to do whatever they want, and then taken care of regardless. This is the opposite of personal responsibility. The Right advocates each taking care of himself, and using his surplus to care for others (granted, that last bit often gets neglected).

          • I agree with your summary. I think that the left's complete disregard for personal responsibilty of peoples' actions renders their policies fundamentally flawed. I also think another fundamental flaw of the left's reasoning is that money that is redistributed by force is not charity and leads to further breakdowns in human behaviour, both on the part of the giver and the receiver.
            And I find it most disconcerting when I see leftists attack their opponents for (supposedly) lacking fundamental human qualities. It's disconcerting to me when leftists try to claim the moral high ground trumpeting the fight against racism and discrimination, and then in the next breath spew venom towards large groups of people with whom they disagree.
            Perhaps it happens on the right as well, but on the right I fail to see the same hatred and vitriol that emanates from the left, it is a hatred that is very pure.

          • Yes, there's a lot of bombast and over-the-top rhetoric on the right, but I've yet to see the distilled hatred prominent conservatives encounter from the Left. The "hate-f*ck list" that was published along with the venom directed at Palin was something else. It is remarkable, particularly when the conservative in question is a woman.

        • I'm so pleased you keep posting that link, my vitriol isn't wasted. Some of my best work, I'd say.

        • I'm so pleased you keep posting that link, my vitriol isn't wasted. Some of my best work, I'd say, albeit with an unworthy target.

        • Look at the contrast between my first post at the top and your first post (the second for this blogpost). My post addresses the phenomenon in itself and does not cast blame; yours is a thinly disguised rant against your opponents, of the sort that Wallace said was well established already in 2003. You can see the contrast in our discussion of Blackwater you link to also. I'm willing to debate anything fiercely but at arm's length, but when somebody attacks my character the gloves come off. With you and your school of debate, the gloves never went on in the first place.

          I guess it's a question of who you feel you're writing for. If you're trying to appeal rhetorically to like-minded third-party onlookers, i.e. casual readers, then there's less point in treating an opponent with respect (Dr. Johnson: "To treat an adversary with respect is to grant him an advantage to which he is not entitled"). But if one is trying to engage in honest debate for its own sake, as a way of refining or challenging one's own views OR as a way of convincing an opponent worth convincing, respect and good faith are the sine qua non. So some people are worth convincing, and can be convinced, and their ideas are their own and their arguments are made in good faith — they deserve respect; and then there are people like Gaunilon.

          • "but when somebody attacks my character the gloves come off"

            I see. Or when someone, for example, corrects you after you attribute mass murder to a guy who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right?

            Or when someone makes a casual remark about how torture is wrong, that also calls for taking the gloves off and telling them that they support rape and murder "in the name of freedom", right? (I'd link to that one, but Macleans had the good sense to delete it)

          • "but when somebody attacks my character the gloves come off"

            I see. Or when someone, for example, corrects you when you attribute mass murder to a guy who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right?

            Or when someone makes a casual remark about how torture is wrong, that also calls for taking the gloves off and telling them that they support rape and murder "in the name of freedom", right? (I'd link to that one, but Macleans had the good sense to delete it)

          • "but when somebody attacks my character the gloves come off"

            I see. Or when someone, for example, corrects you after you attribute mass murder to a guy who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right?

            Or when someone makes a casual remark about how torture is wrong, that also calls for taking the gloves off and telling them that they support rape and murder "in the name of freedom", right? (I'd link to that one, but Macleans had the good sense to delete it)

          • "but when somebody attacks my character the gloves come off"

            I see. Or when someone, as linked above, corrects you after you attribute random mass murder to a soldier who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right? Go after their religion, their principles, whatever. It's all good if they've threatened your credibility by refuting a slander you've just hurled.

            Or when someone makes a casual remark about how torture is wrong, that also calls for taking the gloves off and suggesting that they support rape and murder "in the name of freedom", right? (I'd link to that one, but Macleans had the good sense to delete it)

            Methinks we're all better off going after each others' arguments and statements rather than gratuitously sliming everything we can about an opponent. I don't always live up to this standard, but I do think it's a standard worth living up to nonetheless. You obviously don't agree. That is the difference between the Right and the Left.

          • "when someone, as linked above, corrects you after you attribute random mass murder to a soldier who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right?"

            Try rereading that thread you're so fond of. I disowned the link you debunked while asking, quite reasonably, why an informed person would be so emotionally invested as to go to bat for Blackwater mercenaries. I included several links to a major scandal of random shootings; from what I recall from Juan Cole back in the day, there were several others. You overlooked my disowning of the link and accused my good faith in the most offensive way. Let's just say that, as per your post in which you preened yourself on your opposition to Iranian torture, your defense of Dick Cheney and his storm troopers "awoke my inner dragon." Given that, at every opportunity you have to renounce George Bush and his torture program, you start ranting about "the Left" instead, I don't see why your easy remarks about torture being wrong need be taken too seriously. Ferociously supporting and defending the authors of torture while saying "Of course torture is wrong" more or less annihilates your credibility on such questions. Hopefully you will find another subject, or at least gracefully retreat from commenting on torture threads.

          • I can see why you're embarrassed about that thread, but since anyone can follow the link and read it, I don't see what you hope to gain by misrepresenting what was said.

            For example, "while asking, quite reasonably…" eh, I assume you're referring to your "You're so full of sh*t" post. Honesty is the best policy, particularly when people can check for themselves with one mouse click.

          • I doubt anyone will bother, but I would rejoice if they did. They would see you singling out my mistaken Youtube video link, which I had used as a proof that Cheney's private armies in Iraq had been out of control, and using my mistake as Proof Positive that Blackwater mercenaries are actually really great guys and then telling me I'm a slanderer for implying otherwise. That is simply a dishonest way of arguing — in the lingo, that you were full of sh*t. It is perfectly well known that the Blackwater mercenaries are dangerous and lawless, as the links I subsequently posted go to show. But no, apparently anything that would allow you to score points in favour of the invasion of Iraq on a thread about Dick Cheney is perfectly acceptable to your conscience. You are simply incapable of arguing like a grown-up, so I met you on your own level, and now apparently you've been weeping for several days. My apologies to your neighbours.

          • Well, at least we have an honest admission of what makes "the gloves come off" for you. Not attacks on your character (the nerve!) so much as anything with which you vehemently disagree. Defending a Blackwater convoy guard from slander apparently qualifies. It awakens your inner dragon, and you go into a vitriolic tailspin about everything from Christianity to abortion in response.

            That was Wallace's point.

          • Well, at least we have an honest admission of what makes "the gloves come off" for you. Not attacks on your character (the nerve!) so much as anything with which you vehemently disagree. Defending a Blackwater convoy guard from slander apparently qualifies. It awakens your inner dragon, and you go into a nasty tailspin about everything from Christianity to abortion in response.

            That was Wallace's point.

          • My point . . . God, it's like talking to a six-year-old . . . my point was that your religious convictions about abortion have poisoned your mind. Anybody who aligns himself, however hypocritically, with the anti-abortion movement — e.g. Bush > Cheney > Iraq > Blackwater atrocities — therefore gets a free pass in your book. It suddenly becomes not a gentle correction but a mission of religious sanctity to defend Blackwater guards who are shooting out other drivers' tires on the freeway (causing several accidents, IIRC) to defend their "bubble." That these mercenaries are shooting at civilians in their own country as part of an occupation force apparently counts for naught, given that they were sent there to shoot at cars by a man on a mission from God to rid the world of evil (and who was at least nominally anti-abortion). One vaguely wishes that someday your car will be shot off the road by invaders from a foreign power conquering your country from pure greed, but unfortunately your country happens to be my country.

          • "One vaguely wishes that someday your car will be shot off the road by invaders from a foreign power conquering your country from pure greed"

            Yes, wouldn't that be nice.

            People like Bush and Cheney don't get "a free pass" in my book. That's why I was shocked enough to go and watch the vid to see what it actually showed. You know this, of course. The problem you have is that your accusations boil down to obvious distortions of fact (like this one)…so one stops taking you seriously.

          • "One vaguely wishes that someday your car will be shot off the road by invaders from a foreign power conquering your country from pure greed"

            Yes, wouldn't that be nice.

            People like Bush and Cheney don't get "a free pass" in my book. That's why I was shocked enough to go and watch the vid to see what it actually showed. You know this, of course. The problem you have is that your accusations frequently boil down to obvious distortions of fact (like this one)…so one eventually stops taking you seriously.

          • The day I am taken seriously by someone like yourself, I will hang myself.

            Apparently were not shocked by the sight of mercenaries shooting at cars on the freeway in a country they had invaded and occupied, and videotaping it. You were more shocked that I had been told they were doing it gratuitously. And you were not so shocked at the civilian massacre incident that I linked to that you saw fit to mention it. You are really a model of conscience.

          • I think I speak for many in wishing you a long, healthy life.

          • "when someone, as linked above, corrects you after you attribute random mass murder to a soldier who's harmlessly guarding the back of a convoy. That also calls for the gloves coming off, right?"

            Try rereading that thread you're so fond of. I disowned the link you debunked while asking, quite reasonably, why an informed person would be so emotionally invested as to go to bat for Blackwater mercenaries. I included several links to a major scandal of random shootings; from what I recall from Juan Cole back in the day, there were several others. You overlooked my disowning of the link and accused my good faith in the most offensive way. Let's just say that, as per your post in which you preened yourself on your opposition to Iranian torture, your defense of Dick Cheney and his storm troopers "awoke my inner dragon." Given that, at every opportunity you have to renounce George Bush and his torture program, you start ranting about "the Left" instead, I don't see why your easy remarks about torture being wrong need be taken too seriously. Ferociously supporting and defending the authors of torture while saying "Of course torture is wrong" more or less annihilates your credibility on such questions. Hopefully you will find another subject, or at least gracefully retreat from commenting on torture threads — which you apparently can't resist.

    • I think you've gotten it wrong in your claim that "if it feels good do it" is the origin of ad hominem political attacks (I also think that it is important to address not only ad hominem attacks, but the genetic fallacy that accompanies them, and the ever present strawman arguments)

      In my opinion, a more accurate descriptor of the attitude which leads to ad hominem (and other) attacks is "if it works do it" or, more classically, the ends justify the means. It is not an attitude that is a priori present in any political ideology, but finds its genesis more in the particulars of any political culture, perhaps at a moment of desperation. Alternatively, one might theorize that it has always been prevalent in all political actors, but now the internet and the 24 hr. news cycle has greatly changed the definition of which means work, and for whom.

      • Yes, I agree that there is an element of the "ends justify the means". But I think another cause is the feeling "how dare he try to discredit my unquestionably sound arguments". The attack is usually preceded by an argument from the other side that is difficult to refute. Instead of acknowledging the strong argument from the other side, the individual retrenches and decides to try something else, and launches the adhominem, because personal fallibility is simply considered an impossibility. So to me, someone's ego is a large part of it. The adhominem is someone saying that "I am right and I need not justify it, your attempt to make me do so is an insult to my character".

        • BTW, there are a few commenters in particular that I think embodies what I described, where reasoned argument is eventually abandoned to adopt the ad-hominem approach.

      • Yes, I agree that there is an element of the "ends justify the means". But I think another cause is the feeling "how dare he try to discredit my unquestionably sound arguments". The attack is usually preceded by an argument from the other side that is difficult to refute. Instead of acknowledging the strong argument from the other side, the individual retrenches and decides to try something else, and launches the adhominem, because personal fallibility is simply considered an impossibility. So to me, someone's ego is a large part of it. The adhominem is someone saying that "I am right and I need not justify it, your attempt to make me do so is an insult to my character".

    • A far bigger problem is extremists using tired old arguments yet again to try justify extremist positions, and acting all huffy when people dismiss them summarily. Again.

      • "extremist" is another good one, yes.

        • And don't you forget it.

          • Oh, I won't. It's an almost routine slur thrown by lefties in debates, along with "stupid", and "crazy". The day I see righties routinely behaving like that is the day I begin to wonder if I'm on the right side.

          • Oh, I won't. It's an almost routine slur thrown by lefties in debates, along with "stupid", and "crazy". The day I see a righties routinely behaving like that is the day I begin to wonder if I'm on the right side.

          • Oh, I won't. It's a routine slur thrown by lefties in debates, along with "stupid", and "crazy". The day I see righties routinely behaving like that is the day I begin to have serious doubts that I'm on the right side.

          • I'm sure you've been called stupid and crazy more times than you can count.

          • Why…yes! Coincidence no doubt.

  10. Excellent point. I agree. The principle that "the end justifies the means" is another root cause. And it does seem to have taken over both sides of the political spectrum. I'd argue that it falls under the realm of moral relativism but perhaps that's a discussion for another time.

  11. A couple of recent examples illustrating the points made by Foster Wallace…
    Maureen Dowd played the race card in her latest column about health care, which I think renders any further discussion nearly impossible, if the color of someone's skin is invoked as a reason to discredit the other side.
    Someone named Conason in Slate denounced the right as "having no empathy". Once again, the debate is over at that point. Someone could argue with him, but it's gone so far past the point of reason that I think there is no point. Not only that, reading the comments to that article reveals a hatred that is undetached from reason.

  12. I can't tell if your comment is quite funny or quite sad.

  13. Jack, thanks for the update! Congratulations on the award nomination for The Ancient Ocean Blues. What ancient civilization will you be exploring for your YA readers in the third book?
    I am intrigued by your idea for a satirical mock-history of a future Canadian civil war. Will it be set in a near-future sci-fi dystopia in which federalism has unravelled, climate change has turned the Prairies into a dust bowl, and armed enclaves roam the deserts of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Mad-Max style, fighting over precious fuel and water resources?

    I totally agree with your point about the “ceaseless Letters to the Editor” appeal of the Maclean's comment boards, which at its best approaches the ideal of civilized public discourse (the civility is often lacking, of course, but such friction is inevitable). You're being far too modest about your “pedantic niggles” – in addition to your credentials as poet/classical historian, you have a polymath's grasp of a broad range of contemporary issues.

  14. Jack, thanks for the update! Congratulations on the award nomination for The Ancient Ocean Blues. What ancient civilization will you be exploring for your YA readers in the third book?

    I'm intrigued by your idea for a satirical mock-history of a future Canadian civil war. Will it be set in a near-future sci-fi dystopia in which federalism has unravelled, climate change has turned the Prairies into a dust bowl, and armed enclaves roam the deserts of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Mad-Max style, fighting over precious fuel and water resources?

    I totally agree with your point about the “ceaseless Letters to the Editor” appeal of the Maclean's comment boards, which at its best approaches the ideal of civilized public discourse (the civility is often lacking, of course, but such friction is inevitable). You're being far too modest about your “pedantic niggles” – in addition to your credentials as poet/classical historian, you have a polymath's grasp of a broad range of contemporary issues.

  15. Jack, thanks for the update! Congratulations on the award nomination for The Ancient Ocean Blues. What ancient civilization will you be exploring for your YA readers in the third book?

    I'm intrigued by your idea for a satirical mock-history of a future Canadian civil war. Will it be set in a near-future sci-fi dystopia in which federalism has unravelled, climate change has turned the Prairies into a dust bowl, and armed groups roam the deserts of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Mad-Max style, fighting over precious fuel and water resources?

    I totally agree with your point about the “ceaseless Letters to the Editor” appeal of the Maclean's comment boards, which at its best approaches the ideal of civilized public discourse (the civility is often lacking, of course, but such friction is inevitable). You're being far too modest about your “pedantic niggles” – in addition to your credentials as poet/classical historian, you have a polymath's grasp of a broad range of contemporary issues.