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Irrelevance of persoanl attacks - & other matters

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Posted by Lycinus on Monday, November 04, 2002 at 22:33:06 :

In Reply to: Re: Well, this is the stupidest pile of crap I've ever read. posted by Anitah on Monday, November 04, 2002 at 05:38:21 :

Your point regarding ad hominem attacks indicating a weakness in argument is false. The fact that folks often resort to ad hominem attacks when they lack a substantive argument does not translate into a rule that all ad hominem attacks necessarily indicate weakness in the attacker’s argument. Following are two example arguments; one faulty argument with no ad hominem attack and one sound argument which liberally (though unnecessarily) employs the ad hominem attack.
Example 1: I respect your opinion but you are mistaken. Two plus two does not equal three, it equals five. I know so because I feel it deep in my heart and because the great Mumbojumbo (who can only been heard by true believers) told me so. But I do understand why you think otherwise and for that I sympathize with you. May the great Mumbojumbo forgive you and bring you wisdom.
Example 2: You idiot! Two plus two is four! Look, take two of these. Now, add two more. Now, count them stupid! One, Two, Three, Four! Four, right? OK, that’ll teach you to argue with me you dolt!
Example 2 contains ad hominem attacks. It’s nasty and mean. But the substance of the argument is better than that of Example 1. I might not like the gal making the argument in Example 2. She might hurt my feelings and unnecessarily insult me. I might even be so turned off by her approach that I fail to appreciate the substance of her argument. But that doesn’t make her argument wrong. On the other hand I might think the man making the argument in example one was wonderful and kindhearted. But he’d still be wrong and I wouldn’t trust him to count my cattle.
Isn’t your calling the use of the ad hominem “puerile” a sort of ad hominem attack on users of the ad hominem attack? Or are you unaware that in common usage the word “puerile” is almost exclusively used to derogate? I apologize for bringing this up if it is an error due to English not being your native language – I understand – I make similar mistakes occasionally (though not often in English – it is my native language). Anyway if someone uses “puerile” methods in an internet forum we might be wrong to condemn them out of hand. Maybe Joe is a youngster (or young at heart), full of enthusiasm and prone to excess as youngsters often are. Kids and childishness in general are cute sometimes. Even ad hominem attacks can be cute and amusing (though in the case we are discussing it wasn’t and didn’t appear to be intended as such).
Even you, in your own post, employed the ad hominem, but in a more clever fashion. For example your comments: “Ad hominem attacks are puerile and only reveal a weakness in the argument. We all know that, but it seems Joe doesn't.” The “We all know that” part subtly suggests that if I don’t know it I’m not part of “we” and like Joe, am missing something. The emperor’s new clothes are beautiful, “we all know that” (except fools like Joe of course). Then in your closing remarks you try for a subtle ad hominem coup de grace: “I'm sorry, but I don't have the time to bring you up to date on the facts. I suggest you catch up.” Wow! Nicely done. I think it translates into something along the lines of “It’s beneath my dignity to waste time arguing with you because it seems you may be an ignorant buffoon who doesn’t know even the basic facts required to converse intelligently with us really-super-smart people.”
Regarding the substance, I think Joe didn’t cite specific statistics because he (not entirely unreasonably but perhaps mistakenly) assumed folks would be familiar with how nice life is in the USA compared with many other places. In your treatment of that point you refute a claim that he did not make. Strangely, in support of your refutation of the claim he didn’t make, you offer evidence that seems to support the claim he did make. I refer to your mention of statistics that do not place the USA first in standard of living. Joe did not claim the USA enjoys the highest standard of living. He simply said we do well in comparison to other countries. This is true and the statistics you vaguely cite indicate as much. For a country as populous and diverse as our to be number six or seven worldwide in terms of material well-being (imperfectly measured but still indicative of something) ain’t bad. But that is a neat trick – set Joe up as saying something which he did not say but which you can refute with facts so as to impart an aura of factual substance to your otherwise stylistic and ad hominem critique of his ramblings.
I wonder what you were driving at when you wrote “I have statistics of my own (and you can check them on the web).” It’s a rather mysterious statement in light of your immediately previous remarks criticizing Joe for referring to statistics without providing them; “Either state the statistical data or don't mantion [sic] it, because I am not inclined to take Joe's word for it.” Or is a vague “(and you can check them on the web)” something entirely different that simply stating that the statistics exist and allowing the reader to guess that he might be able to find them on the web or through some more primitive venue of research?
You said “If the richest country in the world cannot provide the best standard of living for its people then something stinks.” But the US government is not set up “to provide the best standard of living for its people.” The people’s standard of living depends much more on the activity of the people than the government. Is it the entire concept of the US government that you object to or the just the manner in which the thing is executed today? The US Constitution was established to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Now I suppose you could argue that the “promote the general Welfare” line in the short preamble prior to Article I of the Constitution gives the US government the responsibility “to provide the best standard of living for its people.” But that’s a novel interpretation and it is certainly at odds with the spirit of the rest of the document which addresses almost exclusively the structure of the government and limits its power and scope - and certainly does not address anything like a power or responsibility to provide a living for people. (you can look it up on the web http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html). I think the founders were wise not to include such provisions. Perhaps you are familiar with the several experiments in the last century when governments tried taking charge of the standard of living – China, Soviet Union, Cambodia, Cuba, California (just kidding – I like California - really).
You say that US foreign and domestic policy is evil and that the evidence supporting this assertion is overwhelming. Well, I know that in some circles this flags me immediately as an ignoramus, but I am not overwhelmed. What evidence? Is all US policy evil or only some specific policies? Is it policy that started with good intentions but ended up achieving evil results? Or is US policy motivated by evil from its very source? Is it because our government is founded on a boring, document that fails to even address good and evil but rather simply delineates where certain powers will reside within government, and then severely limits the power of that government, leaving Americans to a great extent to do as their evil wills desire? Would we be better off to repeal the Constitution and adopt a document that does address good and evil – the Koran maybe? Heck, they say the Koran is literally the word of the one true God – and it addresses good and evil quite a lot. Would we be better off with that? Or maybe we should simply leave it all up to some very benevolent person. Maybe if our government had a more human face (like that of Kim Jung Il maybe – or maybe you) we’d be better off. Or are we beyond redemption? Is the US evil because we, its citizens, are mostly evil? Do you know the source of this evil? Is it the devil? Could the US do good or is it fated to always do evil? And again I ask what evidence would you accept as casting doubt on the assertion that US policy is evil?
To your question “What does all this rhetoric matter?” Interesting question. Does it apply to everything on the board or only the specific issue you were addressing? Never mind. Either way I’m not certain I could offer an answer that would satisfy you. Sorry.
: What does all this rhetoric matter. The point still stands. Ad hominem attacks are puerile and only reveal a weakness in the argument. We all know that, but it seems Joe doesn't. The reason I point it out is that it needs to be said. I don't need a better reason than that on a discussion board.

: Furthermore, throwing out "i could show statistics" and not actually showing those statistics is rather pointless, isn't it. Either state the statistical data or don't mantion it, because I am not inclined to take Joe's word for it. I have statistics of my own (and you can check them on the web) that say the U.S. is not first in a standard of living, but more like 6th or 7th. If the richest country in the world cannot provide the best standard of living for its people then something stinks.

: Yes, I do agree that U.S. foreign policy and indeed the policy toward its own people is evil, and I say it as an American, without apology. THe evidence in support of this assertion is overwhelming. I'm sorry, but I don't have the time to bring you up to date on the facts. I suggest you catch up.


: : Anitah,
: : I think you may be mistaken in your apparent assumption that Joe thought he was arguing among intelligent people. You say he needs to “do better than call people stupid to make a convincing argument…” I agree that he needs to do better and I suspect that he could. But he did more that call Hard Truths stupid. In fact he didn’t call anyone stupid (unless you are referring to some other post). He did mention that Hard Truths sounded like a complete idiot (and there I disagree – I don’t think Hard Truths sounded complete).
: : Like you, I was impressed with Joe’s sarcasm and ad hominem approach to argument. However while you seem to have been negatively impressed I was somewhat favorably impressed (though not terribly so – more subtlety and perhaps some mercy would improve his style – though I suspect this is not a sample of his best work).
: : More importantly, you mentioned that Joe’s post was “utterly lacking in substance.” What about his claim to being able to “pile this post with statistics?” I am familiar with some of the sorts of statistics to which he is likely referring. His point that our citizens (I assume he meant the USA and maybe a few other nations but mostly the USA) are doing well compared to those of other countries as measured along many axes is a good one.
: : Why is it that you wish to save Joe from “deluding himself into thinking he is pulling the wool over everybody's eyes?” Is this purely a humanitarian effort on your part for Joe’s sake? That is wonderfully kind of you, especially considering I get the sense that you don’t care much for Joe’s ideas which as you say, fit into a “pattern that is becoming more and more recognizable as decidedly right wing and bigoted.”
: : Or maybe there is more to it? Do you actually agree with Hard Truths assertion that the US Federal Government is evil? That our “quality of life is ruined and human dignity raped” by the US government? That “the name "USA" will be synonymous with the greatest evil possible, like the name "Hitler" in our day.”
: : If you do believe this what evidence would you accept as casting doubt on these assertions?
: : Lycinus
: : P.S. Sorry if my punctuation is not up to your standards Joe. I'm imperfect and sometimes not even improving.
: : : You need to do better than call people stupid to make a convincing argument for your side among intelligent people. Your post is chock full of sarcasm and ad hominems, while utterly lacking in substance. But you are not the only one on the right using these ploys to discount and belittle what other people have to say. It seems that this is a pattern that is becoming more and more recognizable as decidedly right wing and bigoted.

: : : I thought you should know that this is what I see, lest you delude yourself into thinking that you are pulling the wool over everybody's eyes.

: : : : I assume you'll be voting Republican next Tuesday, to reduce the size and power of the American government.

: : : : I could pile this post with statistics regarding how well our "innocent civilians" are doing compared to any other country in the world, but I get the distinct impression you don't really care if you're right or wrong. Sadly, I fear you see yourself as sophisticated for adhering to the predictable, anti-American chic which so many people desperate for attention think distinguishes them from the great unwashed. Best of luck in your life of self-congratulation. The rest of us do actually know quite a bit about how the government, our economy and the international order works, and you sound like a complete idiot.

: : : : Joe

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