Professor Froward's Slough of Despond

Proud purveyor of flawed generalizations and vacuous tautologies.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Ad Hoc Definition Syndrome

I've decided to start collecting instances of a few categories of characteristic left-wing logical and rhetorical habits.

Here's a fine post over at Tom Hamilton's Let's Be Sensible, concerning some "anti-war left" rhetoric about "moral agency". The whole thing is worth reading, but the AHDS outbreak appears early, in the quoted text:

...the contention that terrorists are possessed of 'moral agency', i.e. they possess the capacity to make rational, self-interested moral judgements and take actions which are in accordance with morality...

Hamilton writes that this sentence "...shows one of the strangest understandings of the concept of moral agency I've ever seen." It does indeed, but it's not really an "understanding of moral agency"; it's a a refusal to admit that the concept of moral agency even exists, a refusal so forceful that the writer insists that the very phrase actually refers to something else.

The punchline is that this "definition" of moral agency, this "dangerous bullshit" that our lefty ascribes to the Diabolical Pro-War Left, approximates the very common anti-war left belief that violent Islamists are in fact acting rationally and morally, in their own accurately-perceived self-interest, and can therefore be negotiated with. It is axiomatic to (much of) the anti-war left that all of Osama bin Laden's demands on the West are reasonable, and that bin Laden can be trusted to honor any bargain we strike with him. I have personal doubts about the wisdom of any policy that relies on the infallible wisdom and sweet reasonableness of a religious fanatic who massacres civilians for a living, but maybe that's just me.

Then again, our lefty loses interest in this ridiculous "definition" almost immediately (I don't blame him; it's useless for his purposes). When he goes into detail about why the pro-war left are wrong to believe it, he starts accusing them of other things entirely. Hamilton goes over all that in detail; read it, it's good.

UPDATE 8/10/2005: Added "(much of)" to the stentorian "It is axiomatic..." line, because somebody in comments pointed out that, erm, well, it's really not quite all of them, is it? Quite a few, certainly, but not all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Fishwife Left

So how about those "progressives" who decree that we must call them patriots?

I don't doubt that any allegedly patriotic lefty worth a damn could, if asked, instantly invent a shiny new definition of "patriotism" off the top of his head which fits him like a glove and excludes you. Ask him tomorrow and he'll invent another. But we'll skip that, since it's meaningless.

I prefer a conventional definition, the kind that describes what most people mean by a word when they say it. The OED thinks a patriot is "one whose ruling passion is the love of his country". Oddly enough, I think that one may apply to most "progressives" after all, in an eerily pathological way: Consider the abusive spouse. Not physically abusive, necessarily, but the kind who rakes his partner over the coals for anything that goes wrong, and most of what doesn't. The "I'd better do this myself because you always screw everything up" type. The "look what you've gone and made me do" type. The type who's never been pleased and never will be, but who always insists that he could very easily be pleased, if only his beloved would just try a little harder.

I think your average fishwife (or fish-husband, if applicable) gets a cozy, comfortable sense of moral and intellectual superiority out of all this. And they sincerely believe that they're just trying to help their partner improve. They're just trying to help. Isn't constructive criticism a good thing? Isn't there room for that in a relationship? And if constructive criticism is good, isn't more of it better?

Some people call that "love", and they honestly mean it.

The analogy breaks down at the edges. A nation is not a romantic relationship. In a relationship, the usual advice is to ditch the creep and get on with your life, maybe with a restraining order. But a democracy can't deport people for being neurotic losers. We also didn't choose them: There was no first date, years ago, when they behaved themselves. They just sprout up in our midst, whether we like it or not.

If you're utterly blind to somebody's faults, you're probably a doormat, and that's not healthy either. But if you never, ever give the benefit of the doubt to people you care about, you've got a problem. It may be "rational" to give your spouse precisely the same slack and consideration that you give a perfect stranger or a mugger you meet in an alley, but it ain't the way healthy human beings operate. Giving your spouse less consideration is nuts.

Cuban defectors

It seems that 49 members of a Cuban dance troupe defected to the US — but two of them (*cough*political minders*cough*) went back to Cuba! Which, if I were a lefty, would be clear proof that Cuba really is a paradise and it's really sad and dishonest of those rotten right-wing tools to concentrate on the minority of bad apples who were, after all, only a mere 96% of the dance troupe after all, anyway, and I mean, hey, it's not all of them, right? I mean, if anybody would choose to return there, it must be a nice place!

Like that character in Australia who thinks Douglas Wood was "well treated" because after the goons abducted him, and while they were keeping him tied and blindfolded and executing other hostages in the room, they fed him... every day! Think of it: Every single day! What kind of a churlish freak would demand more than that out of life?

UPDATE 7/28/05: 49 is not 98% of 51; it's in the neighborhood of 96.078431372549019607843137254902%. So I fixed it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Michelle Malkin: Optimist at large

Quoth Malkin:

...America's nuttiest professor, Ward Churchill.

Emphasis mine. I'd dearly love to believe that Churchill is the most irrational assclown in American academia, but I doubt it. We should be so lucky.

UPDATE 8/9/2005: Welcome Worstallians! Darn, I wish I'd baked a cake.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Root cause" theology

Brian O'Connell over at has nailed it beautifully, barring one big caveat that I'll get to in a moment:

...This is typical of the Left. When the terrorists act, it is as a force of nature, like animals responding to stimuli. Blame or responsibility for their actions cannot be assigned to them. It is proper, in this view, to trace back the terrorist response to the most recent Western stimulus, because it is only to the Westerner that responsibility can be assigned or in whom the status of moral actor can be invested.

When the West acts it is responsible, morally and otherwise, for the consequences of its actions, and for others' responses to those actions. This is a one-way street. Non-Westerners are never blamed for Western actions.

Emphasis mine. He's got a point: In the standard narrative of the "anti-war" left, Muslims are exactly as capable of moral choice as animals are. But that's not the whole picture, and I don't believe simple racism is the sole "root cause" of the left's view.

Here's why not: Shortly after the Iraqi elections in January 2005, I recall seeing a lefty (it might've been a commenter at Harry's Place) claim that the elections proved that bin Laden was a great benefactor of humanity, since 9/11 set in motion the chain of events that led to the elections. This is a corollary to standard root-cause theology, less commonly invoked but hardly unknown: If they do evil, we made them do it; but if we do good, they made us do it. If your rhetorical point of the moment says 9/11 was bad, you follow the chain back to the first non-Muslim and blame him; but if you're saying that 9/11 was good, why then the buck stops at bin Laden and he gets all the credit.

So it's really just yet another case of the left inventing a distinct and specially-tailored set of Absolute and Permanent Universal Principles to support each distinct rhetorical point, though this one sure does get re-used a lot more than most.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thank you, ancestors, for leaving Europe.

Oh, goody: The EU "seeks to regulate television on the net":

Brussels is considering regulating areas such as taste and decency, accuracy and impartiality for internet broadcasters.

I don't give a rat's ass about "taste and decency"; they're not my field. But "accuracy and impartiality"? What does that mean, exactly? If you've got a better guess I'd love to hear it, but to me it looks like some media outlets will be required to pretend that "reality" is whatever the EU says it is. What kind of "accuracy" will they want to enforce when it comes to reporting on the EU itself? This is unhinged. Do they already have laws like that for other media? If so, the excuse will be that they haven't been abused yet, or at least not abused very outrageously, or some such thing, but that's howling, gibbering bullshit of the first order: You don't want government to abuse excessive powers? Simple: Don't give them excessive powers. What they get, they'll abuse, sooner or later. It may take decades, but it will happen.

But then they throw in a laugh-line, just for fun:

...the rules for websites will be less strict than those currently applying to the BBC...

No comment.

No, there won't always be an England

Saith Austin Bay:

The London bombing, instead of producing a new crop of Zapatero appeasniks, may prove to be a sea-change in the information [war]. Time will tell.

He precedes this with all manner of evidence. Still, I don't believe him. Let's remember that on September 12th 2001, a lot of us looked around and thought there was some clarity on the subject in the United States, on both sides of the aisle. By the following spring, most Democrats had reverted to form (those of us who didn't revert are mostly calling ourselves "Republicans" now). And the UK is a lot farther gone than we are.

Here's a prediction: What little clarity they have now, will evaporate in the next six or eight months at the latest. And it's only a little clarity, to begin with: They're talking about ID cards (?!), letting the police arrest more people, and so on. What it adds up to is battening down the hatches at home. That's nice, I guess, assuming there's any sense in further whittling away the few civil liberties they've got left. But are they more, or less, committed to establishing reasonably sane governments in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are they less, or more, committed to funding Hamas? I'm betting on zero for two there. I'm betting that internationally, they'll lick the boot and hope it'll keep them safe at home.

Oh, and they just criminalized criticism of Islam. It's beyond me how anybody could be optimistic about the UK.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Er... What was that again?

This via Instapundit: Arnold Kling says that...

We live in a "can-do" society. If a terrorist group arose from within Western culture, after one or two atrocities it would be strangled by a myriad of networks, community organizations, and political entities capable of enforcing group norms.

Oh, yeah? Remember the Weathermen? The Symbionese Liberation Army? Bader-Meinhof? My recollection is that the Egyptian government's response to the Muslim Brotherhood was at least as effective as the German government's response to Bader-Meinhof was.

Let's not go overboard reasoning by analogy here, but Kling's point is not obviously sensible.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Back in September, 2001, Michael Moore was shocked and horrified that al Qaeda killed people who "didn't vote for George Bush". Right now, in July, 2005, George Galloway thinks it's odd that al Qaeda just massacred forty-odd non-policy-making Londoners.

They're both very confused. They, and others like them in the West, like to think of themselves and their friends as being somehow apart from the passports they carry: They disagree with their governments, so it's got nothing to do with them. This sort of "post-nationalist" thinking is very nice and all, but it absolutely cripples you when you've got to deal with enemies who still think in nationalist terms. As far as al Qaeda is concerned, Britons are Britons. Al Qaeda is at war with the UK, full stop. That includes you, George. Maybe Galloway will someday achieve his great dream of being the British Vidkun Quisling, but if al Qaeda happens to kill him in some random massacre before then, they won't shed a tear over it. He's still the enemy. They may tolerate him as a collaborationist licking their boots, but that's not the same as a friend.

This guy gets it.

UPDATE: Yes, but: The left generally prefers to think in communal terms. You are your race, your class, your gender, etc. Is it pre-nationalism? Or is post-nationalism relatively trivial, nothing more than a dividing into different groups, groups which happen to make no practical sense in the context of the rest of reality? You could see the left's problem as a sort of "impedance mismatch" between their worldview and that of the rest of the human race. Yes, but: The left is actually very supportive of militaristic nationalism, on the part of Palestinians for example (it helps if it's racialist militaristic nationalism, of course). Is there any coherent view here at all? Maybe the "post-nationalism" I'm describing is simply a specialized gimmick for leftists to exclude their own personal selves from the implications of their moral universe, one in which guilt and virtue are essentially communal (pop quiz: Describe any act of "social justice" which isn't primarily composed of individual injustices). Galloway blithely accepts the notion that all Britons deserve to be punished for anything any Briton does — except for that one little part where he and his friends deserve to die, too. It's a lot like those of us who feel sentimental affection for our pets while cheerfully eating hamburgers, except that we don't pretend it's a great moral principle. And, of course, hamburgers aren't made out of human beings.

UPDATE 7/11/2005: I suspect it's just a waste of time to try to deduce any general principles at all from what the left says and does.

Monday, July 04, 2005

White Man's Burden, Part II: The Horror Continues

Courtesy of Mick Hartley, an African view of Live8.

The European view of the third world is the same as it always was: Europeans still think "brown people" are children who can't be held responsible, and they still see themselves as the "parents". What changed is European child-rearing: In Kipling's day they were strict; now they're indulgent. In either case, it's just a bunch of self-important Europeans reassuring themselves that it's all about them.

This goes equally for our home-grown imitation Eurolefties in the States.