Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New years resolutions from elsewhere

I've spent about 25 posts trying to say what Eric has managed to get into one. And then he uses it as a suffix to his announcement that he's going to shut up. Wanker! Come back, Eric, and I'll retract the insult.

And Polly's got some as well. There's nothing very surprising there. But look at how many of the comments that have the following phrases in the opening para...

"Naive, sentimental twaddle"

"Her political reform proposals are largely a joke"

"You complete idiot."

"Poor old Pretty Polly, parrott-like she rattles off a wish-list with the same old left-wing (or is it just novel-reading) problem - she hasn't thought it through."

"Oh Dear - a crop of New Resolutions that, far from being NEW are both ridiculous and belie a naive understanding of politics and the way the world works."

Excellent. The 'Comment is Free' project has been a complete success in every way imaginable, hasn't it?

8 comments:

Igor Belanov said...

Oh yes, Eric, one of the leading conservatives on the internet. 'Don't complain about politicians unless they're fascists'. I can tell the difference between Blair and Saddam Hussein, but I still don't like him.

Paulie said...

Shit Igor, I didn't see that sentence in Eric's article!

Did he really say that? Or were you just being a dim fuckwit making an unfounded ad hominem attack?

Igor Belanov said...

It was a synopsis based on that article and on his collected works displayed at DSTPFW.

He just seems to put an awful lot of faith in whatever the government does relating to civil liberties, foreign affairs etc, and seems very critical of anyone who looks unfavourably on New Labour's record on these issues.

I find this quite tiresome myself as I don't agree with all the rubbish about 'Bliar', I'm not hysterically anti-American and I don't think that the government is trying to institute a police state on the sly. I do however disagree with the policy on Iraq, think the anti-terrorist legislation is an unnecessary mistake and have numerous other problems with New Labour. This doesn't make me some kind of 'middle class' liberal, neither does it make me a sympathiser of the 'Islamofascists'. Issues like this aren't black and white, them or us, and Eric has seldom made allowances for that.

Paulie said...

I've been reading him for a while as well, but I don't recall him being an unconditional supporter of all anti-terrorism legislation.

I agree that things aren't usually 'them and us' either. Eric is one of the few bloggers who is prepared to put an unfashionable view with conviction - and then defend it.

His (hopefully premature) announcement that he has retired is - I expect - partly because he sticks to the argument and gets responses such as yours.

It was an ad hominem criticism based upon a caracature of his position. And it's not very original either. The exact opposite, in fact...

Daniel said...

Well Eric did actually say (in an endorsed quote from Martin Kettle which formed the conclusion of his piece) that "such talk" would make it more likely that Britain would be ruled by someone "worse" than Augusto Pinochet, so I don't think this is actually a straw man.

Just to make this clear because I am all about fairness, how about you Paulie? Do you think that people who complain about politicians are paving the way for Britain to be ruled by a military junta that throws people out of helicopters?

Paulie said...

I'm guessing that this is Daniel DSquared? I say that because - aside from the name - there are one or two give-aways. For instance, this is how you argue isn't it?

Firstly, you translate the position that Eric, Kettle and myself are putting in different ways as a general objection to "people who complain about politicians" and then you translate Kettle saying...

"Ultimately such talk paves the way for a Le Pen or a Pinochet - or worse. We may be drifting towards such a point"

...as "if anyone complains about politicians we WILL end up with a brutal dictatorship."

If you were capable are arguing decently, you would acknowledge that it is legitimate to argue that - if democracy becomes degraded - that it may lead to something worse.

You don't have to concede the point, of course, but acknowledge, then refute. The more that I look at the way you argue, the more I think that you don't have any ability to grade things or apply any proportion.

It's all polemic with you, isn't it?

Cian said...

Oh I don't know, Daniel's comments on Freakonomics, or why he supported Hillary Benn, didn't strike me as particularly polemical. So maybe he can argue decently, even if he doesn't know what a deadline is.

On the other hand, your preferred mode of argument appears to be critiquing the style of argumentation, or to overgeneralise your opponents argument until it becomes ridiculous. Maybe the horse isn't so high after all?

Eric's and Martin Kettle's posts describe a number of what they (apparently) see as the major compalaints made about politicians at the moment. Martin Kettle (and Eric) both then argue that these criticisms are largely groundless; Kettle then argues that such criticisms run the danger of paving the way for some form of fascism. Eric agrees with this, and you agree with Eric's post. Daniels' summasing of your position seems reasonable. Maybe you believe certain forms of criticism are acceptable, or will not lead to fascism, but the reader's left guessing as to what those might be.

Moving onto polemic, there's this excellent example of such in Eric's post:
"In reality, the more arrogant voice of liberalism is that coming from those downplaying the threats, who big up the (non-existent) threat of an authoritarian centrist government (Labour or Conservative). It's as though they believe that democracy is some sort of natural condition, not susceptible to attack or degradation. That it exists in some other parallel universe, never at threat from external forces in the world."

Now your argument may have a little substance if you can explain how "Ultimately such talk paves the way for a Le Pen or a Pinochet - or worse. We may be drifting towards such a point" is the same as saying "if democracy becomes degraded - that it may lead to something worse"

The former phrase sets up a powerful and emotive negative image. While it doesn't say it explicitly, it implies rather heavily that Martin Kettle thinks that criticism of a type that he dislikes is likely to lead to some form of fascist dictatorship (I'm assuming that Martin Kettle doesn't think Le Pen is a democrat).

Now either Kettle is an inept writer, or this was exactly the impression he meant to leave. Stylistically it is the kind of language that is designed to start a fight (and possibly end it with a knockout blow), rather than a discussion. It is clear too, from the words preceeding it, that Kettle sees himself in a fight with "the educated middle class [with their] assumption of contempt and superiority". He's not arguing with them (and by implication those who disagree with his position), he's arguing against them. If you disagree with him, you're the problem (and presumably helping push the country towards fascism). Hard to see how you could have a serious discussion with that opening gambit.

The latter example that you considered equivalent removes the imagery, the emotive force of the language and leaves it open as to what worse might be. It does not suggest that the opposing party is part of the problem, leaves open how democracy is degraded while allowing (through the use of the word "may") that something worse might indeed not happen. It allows for the possibility of error, that minds might be changed.

Paulie said...

"Maybe you believe certain forms of criticism are acceptable, or will not lead to fascism, but the reader's left guessing as to what those might be."

For the avoidance of doubt, criticism that attempts to engage with the totality of power-relations or that offers counterproposals is a useful form of criticism. I don't think you need to guess very hard about that, do you?

"Kettle sees himself in a fight with "the educated middle class [with their] assumption of contempt and superiority". He's not arguing with them (and by implication those who disagree with his position), he's arguing against them. If you disagree with him, you're the problem (and presumably helping push the country towards fascism)."

Nope. Kettle is quite specific about the kind of arguments that he doesn't respect, and he is simply arguing that a degraded standard of public debate can have dire consequences for democracy.

He may be generalising about the educated middle class (I'm modestly educated and borderline middle class myself, Kettle is, I suspect, even less borderline on both counts), but he primarily concentrates on the need for context in arguments.

It's a very good piece. And did you see the comments under it at CiF? Still think that there's no problem?