Sunday, October 31, 2004

On Ann Coulter and Her Lack of Critical Thinking


Following the debate between Ann Coulter and Peter Beinart at Amherst College two weeks ago, a member of the audience asks 'the reigning diva of the hysterical right' - referring to her column few days after 9/11 saying of moslems that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" - to explain "why Christianity is better for [those] people than Islam."

To which she replies, "It apparently leads to a lot less planes being flown into skyscrappers and thousands of Americans killed; it leads to fewer beheading, disemboweling, bombing..."

When asked to respond to such a virulent and meritless statement, the much wiser and intellectually superior Beinart retorts cooly, "There are certain arguments that are not worth dignifying with a response."

Morally, ethically, epistemically, and syllogistically challenged, Coulter then wonders aloud - rather innocently it seems - why her argument is "not worth dignifying with a response," and after which she continues with the following attempt to employ irony, "I miss that last year when Jerry Falwell and his army swooped planes into skyscrappers... when the Scientologists starting beheading people on TV... the Mormons... having bombs, carbombs in pizza parlors... I miss the newsdays."

Not yet done, she concludes with quite possibly the most ridiculously fallacious assumption on historical facts I have heard from an ignorant bigot - a public figure nonetheless - that she knows that "we haven't got much trouble from [Japan and Korea] in the last fifty years" because "the [US] military went in" after World War II and Korean War and "opened the door for missionary" to be "flown into" those countries.

That it is rather impossible (even when acknowledging theoritical possibility) to prove a connection between the two facts (hence her fallacy of false cause presumption of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc variety) is one consideration; but to attribute such an enormous influential capacity to a small group of faith workers over nations in whose culture Christianity has never been a dominant force is just downright preposterous.

This also assuming that "open[ing] the door for missionary" was some new ground-breaking event, as if the Jesuits who first came to East Asia around 16th century and the Protestants around 19th century had not done anything meaningful whatsoever. And if this were indeed the pressumption - that some four hundred years of intermittent (interrupted by persecutions, wars, etc) proselytizing produced no meaningful Christian values among the people of those countries - what made her think that a mere fifty years of converting attempts would yield better results? Last time I checked Christians only comprises of less than 1% of Japanese population and a quarter that of South Korean; and more importantly neither Japan nor South Korea is a Christian country or a country with Christian-oriented policies.

Looking at her short bio, I am at lost on how someone who graduated from a reputable law school and clerked for a federal court of appeals judge could make so worthless an argument. Already the quality of student-edited law reviews been questioned recently; one could only imagine the suffering of Michigan Law Review's quality under her editorialship. Perhaps, and most likely, hers is a sample case of reason supplanted by zealotry. And to think that her books continue to be on bestseller lists... Fxs

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Hanged on a Comma


From Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves (99-101):

=start of excerpt=

[H]aving landed in Ireland in 1916 from a German submarine, [Sir Roger] Casement [1864-1916] was arrested and charged under the Treason Act of 1351, whereupon his defence counsel opted to argue a point of punctuation... His point was that the Treason Act was not only written in Norman French but was unpunctuated, and was thus open to interpretation. The contested words in question, translated literally, were:

If a man be adherent to the king's enemies in his realm giving to them aid
and comfort in the realm or elsewhere ...

Casement's defence argued that, since Casement had not been adherent to the king's enemies "in the realm" (indeed, on the contrary, had scrupulously conducted all his treasonous plotting abroad), he was not guilty. ... Casement was clearly condemned by the phrase "or elsewhere", regardless of how you punctuate it. However, two judges duly traipsed off to the Public Record Office to examine the original statute and discovered under a microscope a faint but helpful virgule after the second "realm" which apparently... cleared up the whole thing. Mr Justice Darling ruled that "giving aid and comfort to the king's enemies" were words of apposition:

They are words to explain what is meant by being adherent to, and we think
that if a man be adherent to the king's enemies elsewhere, he is equally
adherent to the king's enemies, and if he is adherent to the king's enemies,
then he commits the treason which the statute of Edward III defines.

How this story ever got the sensational name "hanged on a comma", however, is an interesting matter. "Tried to get off on a comma" is a more accurate representation of the truth.

=end of excerpt=

This reminds me of an occassion in the Hundred Years War game when, role-playing as Lord Chief Justice of England, I made fun of the spelling of a French lord, and of the ensuing discussion on spelling, grammar, and a bit of other things. Fxs


Sunday, October 17, 2004

On Emerson the Philosopher


I am excited to have found that Prof. Brian Leiter of University of Texas at Austin Law School, a philosopher who speaks his mind liberally, deemed my link to an Emerson's essay merit a place in his article update.

In my opinion, writers like Emerson (Thoreau and Voltaire immediately come to mind) are not less of a philosopher than James or Kant or Locke is. In fact, they are "truer" philosophers under the literal definition of a philosopher, that is, a lover of wisdom.

The philosopher, writes the sagacious Will Durant, "is not content to describe the fact; he wishes to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its worth; he combines things in interpretive synthesis; he tries to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has analytically taken apart. Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate in retail and then kills us wholeshale in war; but only wisdom - desire coordinated in the light of all experience - can tell us when to heal and when to kill." (The Story of Philosophy 2nd ed., xxvii)

You recognize a philosopher when, after reading his work, life becomes suddenly more bearable. Few have taught us more on how to master life than Emerson has. Fxs


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Woodenheads Abound

An excerpt from Barbara Tuchman's An Inquiry into the Persistence of Unwisdom in Government (Esquire magazine, May 1980):

"A problem that strikes one in the study of history, regardless of period, is why man makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom - meaning judgment acting on experience, common sense, available knowledge, and a decent appreciation of probability - is less operative and more frustated than it should be. Why do men in high office so often act contrary to the way that reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process so often seem to be paralyzed? ..."

"Wooden-headedness is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. Wooden-headedness consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived, fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be confused by the facts. ..."

"Wooden-headedness is also the refusal to learn from experience..."

"Still another form is identification of self with the state... No wooden-headedness is so impenetrable as that of a religious zealot. Because he is connected with a private wire to the Almighty, no idea coming in on a lesser channel can reach him, which leaves him ill[-]equipped to guide his country in its own best interests. ..."

"Stupidity is not related to type of regime; monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy produce it equally. Nor is it peculiar to nation or class. ..."

An astute observation worth reflecting, especially at this time when not only that woodenheads are found in high offices but they are also abundance among the populace. I have come to accept that mediocrity ought to prevail in so diverse a democracy, but wooden-headedness is very much beneath mediocrity in regards to not only wisdom but also decency.

Obscenity is the sight of stupid people yelling for woodenheads to govern them for another four years. Now that repels me. Fxs