Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The most ludcrious argument about political terrorism...

...I have possibly ever heard.  As ludicrous a display of fallacious reasoning as Glenn Beck condemning income taxes and, in the same speech, explaining that he learned his beliefs by reading books in the public library (the quip that will go down in dumbassery history as the "books are free" line, or the moment where performative contradiction met itself).

This one is just as bad, maybe even worse because more people are committing it.  My friend David Rhaesa deserves credit for calling this kind of argument a "self-induced reductio ad absurdum"--when one side in a dispute makes an argument so ludicrously and gratuitously (unnecessarily) bad that it devastates their ethos. I call it an ill-conceived desperation play of an argument, brought about by an unquenchable desire to deflect, equivocate, and equalize.  So here it is:  Some folks on the right side of the spectrum are arguing that alleged Alabama-Huntsville shooter, professor Amy Bishop is the example of leftist violence the media has ignored in the wake of Joe Stack, patriots and oath-keepers, the Tiller murder, etc. Since this is possibly the worst argument since "She's a witch because she weighs the same as a duck," it is coming in strange fora around the blogosphere, but it reflects, in my opinion, a desire to strike back at the left for the obvious displays of right wing violence over the last year.

What was the political nature of Amy Bishop's shooting of a tenure committee? When pressed (meaning, when the time comes to make the obvious connection), none is ever made.  There was no political message in the shootings, nothing constructed by Bishop--eg, no online note, no deliberate targeting of her political enemies, no history of embracing or advocating political violence, no copies of other people's manifestos or notorious political tracts among her possessions, no public statements by her or authorities after the fact, and (distinguishing the Bishop case from the complex but clearly political Stack case) no followers creating Facebook pages in Bishop's honor.

Are these people really arguing that political terrorism is reducible to what side of the aisle you are on, irrelevant of the nature of your crime? Well, it's not even that explicit.  Those calling for Bishop to be branded the leftist Roeder are simply demanding the media treat him that way without establishing the primary linkage. Others are at pains to establish a configural, Beck-like connection, always falling short of making a case based on Bishop's ideology or purpose of the horrible act in question. A conservative blogger politicizes it by pointing out that "liberal" Democratic Congressman and then-Massachusetts DA Bill Delahunt dropped the ball on Bishop. But professional negligance, if that's indeed what happened, does not make this a political act.  Others point out the potentially racist motive or context in the killings, then skip to, see, she was a leftist who killed minorities because she was denied tenure--don't you see how this is political terrorism from the left? "The poor Moonbat is suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome," another blog reads. Others, knowing this couldn't possibly be the lefty-terrorist act they are looking for, attempt to make it contextually leftist: Bishop was a case of affirmative action gone bad, or the product of liberal tolerance toward crime.

I wondered about the lazy nature of these arguments for a while. I searched for the enthymeme. Then it hit me: Some of this is about Bishop being an academic.  It's an enthymeme because the suppressed premise--that all academics are dangerous leftists--doesn't need to be explained to a right wing audience; that audience, having been taught from birth to fear both academics and females, already sees every female professor as a potential terrorist. 

And before getting into a game of body counts: For the record, I know there have been self-proclaimed, and even organizationally sanctioned, ultra-lefty political murders in the past. There may still be a few going on now and then. Individual, terroristic political violence is pervasive in history, and it may perhaps be of little comfort that at least the Trotskyists condemned it (the Stalinists exploited it, like they exploited everything else). But one is tempted to ask where one might find the right's Trotsky. I am not interested in defending the Red Brigades, or the Unabomber (Luddism is arguably conservatism with a populist-leftist-anticapitalist fur hat, but again, let's discuss that some other time).  Antisystemic movements sometimes embrace the killing of innocents and when they do, we should roundly condemn it.  What's happening on the right, from the right, at this historical juncture (economic crashes, Black POTUS, large-scale global misery and alienation) is approaching epidemic, and you have talk show hosts, protest signs, and several other rhetorical channels calling for violence.  There's simply no present analog from the left, whatever the left "is" or isn't. 


That so much of the right can't see its own inconsistencies and freakouts on this issue makes me kind of sad for them, and frustrated at humanity's inability to more critically discern good and bad public arguments. But I would be remiss if I didn't note an important exception: Jonah Goldberg saves the credibility of mainstream conservatism by very reasonably concluding that Bishop's politics had nothing to do with her killing spree. This is an important distinction because Scott Roeder's politics so very obviously did have something to do with killing Tiller.

UPDATE:
A follow-up, and a rather inspiring one, in my opinion. Bishop's daughter, Lily Bishop Anderson, a genetics major at Alabama-Huntsville, went back to class this week. One of her classes had been taught by Maria Davis, killed by Amy Bishop. While some unspecified parents expressed concern to the media that Ms. Bishop Anderson was "allowed" to return to her classes, Davis's widower was actually supportive, while still obviously in pain.

Davis’ widower, Salumote Davis, said he didn’t realize Bishop’s daughter was a student of his late wife, but he would not hold the tragedy against her. “I don’t have a problem with it,” he said, his voice breaking.
That's the model--both emotional and moral-that we need right now.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You travel to places on the internets that only the courageous will tread if you find people making the arguments about the Alabama killings you describe here. Remember to shower.

The operative principle is clear and largely invariant. Those people/parties/movements/nations with whom I have issues engage in terrorism while those engaging in the same behaviors, but with whom I largely agree, are freedom fighters or, at worst, troubled individuals. For a movement that gets all up in arms about the need for moral absolutes, there are no better examples of sophistry and situational ethics than conservatives and American elites more generally. The foremost practitioners of moral relativism.

As Chomsky recounts in the opening pages of Pirates and Emperors, citing St. Augustine, Alexander the Great asked a pirate how he "dares molest the sea" to which the pirate responds "how dare you molest the whole world" adding "because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an Emperor."

How little has changed over the centuries.

Detroit

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