Tuesday, February 03, 2004

First draft. I was going to post this as a comment at Crooked Timber but I'm just putting it here. It's too rambling at this point.

The tension between individual and state/community/collective etc. is a given. To use individualism as a methodology is as absurd as it is to use an ideal of collectivity. Does culture make the girl or is it the other way round? Who came first, Homer or the Greeks, Shakespeare or the Elizabethan age? Putting it that way makes it seem that I've chosen sides, which I suppose I have, but only to a point: to the point that is of finding libertarianism grotesque.

The issue is not whether we are or should be individualist or collectivist, but how society should respond to the tension that exists between two forms of desire. To argue from one side or another is an academic exercise, and such exercises are beside the point - assuming that is that 'the point' is wisdom.

I read arguments on legal interpretation that argue how things 'should be' that take no account of the structure of the debate itself. I've said this before, to no response: What does it mean for a 'strict constructionist' to get into an argument about the Constitution? In understanding the history of constitutional change, what matters more, the opinions being debated, or the fact that two people are having an argument?
Think for a minute.

I find it absurd the degree to which intellectuals- or is it intellectual web-enthusiasts?- are unwilling to take account of history or evidence. Economists are the obvious exception, but their use of both is predicated on assumptions which seem beyond question only to them. Economics uses mathematics while being based on something else. And what that is is not talked about much- by economists.

I've been involved in this lunacy from the beginning. You can click the first link and follow it back or just click here to read the original post. Cornell professor of philosophy Benjamin Hellie. The 'we' refers to he and his wife:

We're sick and tired of the following argument:
You wouldn't accept George Will's having argued that p as justification for accepting p; and your grounds for not doing so would be that Will is a right-winger. Since left-wing political writers and right-wing political writers are symmetrical, it follows that so-and-so's having argued that p does not (by itself) justify acceptance of p because so-and-so is a left-winger.

But left- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical. The goal of the right wing is to perpetuate and worsen a system in which a small number of people control obscene quantities of wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority, whereas the goal of the left wing is to distribute wealth and power more broadly. For short, the goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.

I don't know where to begin with this simple minded stupidity. And he's surprised he got howls of anger? There are a few post on Brian Leiter's site by now and I made my best point in a comments section which he has since taken down. In the earlier post you'll find me under my own name and a few others. I guess I thought I was having fun, but by the end I was just getting desperate. In a note to Leiter, after he removed the comments to the most recent post I wrote this [adapted here]:

"His logic is not wrong, just irrelevant. I don't see how logic can explain the xenophobic insecurity of Likudniks, or of Serbs. One of the idiots who responded, in his third or forth comment and under duress, stated finally that leftists just want power for themselves, and that he was not going to allow it. Logic does not explain fear...
I've witnessed similar events [arguments] in the past... a debate between a puritan and couple of drunks.
Most people are neither."

I am not going to argue evolution with a creationist. I'm just not. And that's precisely what Hellie is doing. He's a logician who wants to be politically engaged, only insofar as it does not conflict with his chosen profession. He seems pathologically averse to the use of evidence, even when there is so much to back up his case. He keeps all referents at arms length, as if aware that the trenches are dirty. I find his refusal to come to terms with reality as damning to his claim to intellectuality as it is to his politics. His argument is in its way as absurd as that of Antonin- "The Constitution as I interpret it is dead" Scalia.

At this point I have to admit, you can plug in any of my older arguments about communication and language. None of this is new, but Hellie's moralizing condescension drives me up the wall. And remember I am not saying that he's right, but ignores the fact that that everyone else is stupid, what I'm really saying is that he's just as fucking stupid as everyone else. And arrogance makes it worse.
On my good days I'm a humanist and a skeptic. I'm stupid, but I try.

On another note, my spell check flagged Antonin as antiunion.

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