Replying to SANE

We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane.
— Bob Dylan

I regret having to devote time and attention to issues that are utterly trivial in themselves and of no real interest to anyone, and even more I regret that I ever invited David Yerushalmi of the SANE website to what I thought was a friendly debate on an important subject, because misleading and damaging things are now being said about me at his site to which, notwithstanding their substantive triviality, I must reply in order to set the record straight and protect my reputation.

First there is the “momentous” question of whether Mr. Y had agreed with Separationism and then suddenly turned against it. However, that is somewhat to misstate the issue. At the time the discussion began which was posted at VFR, it was understood by both of us that we agreed in part and disagreed in part. Indeed, that was the very reason for having a debate. Read this brief entry where I describe Mr. Y’s and my positions and look forward to a debate that I say we are going to have soon (in fact it was later the same day). Ask yourself if those are the remarks of someone intolerant of any disagreement—of someone who, as a commenter says today at the SANE site, is not interested in debating ideas but only in proving himself right. Also look at the debate itself, and see the number of points I concede to Mr. Y, including the main point, that ultimately some kind of all-out war against Islam such as he proposes may be necessary, but it’s not necessary now. Far from prohibiting Mr. Y’s disagreement, I was welcoming it, as the basis of a useful discussion.

It was not Mr. Y’s mere disagreement to which I objected, a canard that has been told about me over and over. It was the aggressive and inappropriate and unsettling turn his argumentation took, when, after we had seemed to come to a pretty good understanding of each other’s position, he suddenly began (in e-mails not all of which have been posted) speaking in an aggressive way, peremptorily demanding replies from me on points to which I felt I had already replied sufficiently, and overall acting as though we were on opposite sides instead of on the same side. I was taken aback by this, especially as I thought we had had a non-contentious, useful discussion up to that point. For example, he said that my position was as bad as President Bush’s, which was tantamount to denying any common ground between us. Indeed, in the context of this discussion, to equate my position in any way with Bush’s was fighting words. Mr. Y wrote:

SANE’s message being: A war in fact is winnable. Yours is not any more than the Bush Democracy Plan. Indeed I would argue a defensive quarantine just invites further attacks because you cannot quarantine science/technology. [Emphasis added.]

To which I replied:

Mr. Yerushalmi started today by sending me his article and saying that he was including himself among the Separationists. Now he’s dismissing Separationism as no more viable than the Bush Democracy project. That’s quite a change in the space of a few hours.

So the problem was not that he merely disagreed with me, but that his disagreement had suddenly turned into complete opposition, whereas the basis for our conversation was that we shared profound common premises and only disagreed on what to do about them. That was the mutual understanding that I felt he was violating with his unexpectedly abrasive tone in a debate to which I had welcomed him.

This places in context the “momentous” issue of Mr. Y’s agreement/disagreement with Separationism. The SANE staff, seeking to disprove my statement quoted above, that Mr. Y had agreed with me and then suddenly turned against me, correctly reports that Mr. Y. initially told me he wanted to write an article disagreeing with Separationism:

Lawrence: I wish to write an essay today critical of your view of Separationism. I’ve seen bits and pieces. Do you have a link I can get your best statement on this approach?

To the casual reader this will make me look like a liar. But, astonishingly, after quoting that e-mail from Mr. Y. saying he planned to criticize my view of Separationism, SANE dishonestly neglects to quote the subsequent two e-mails in which I explained my separationist position to Mr. Y. and he wrote back saying he now agreed with Separationism. True, SANE refers in general to the subsequent e-mails and correctly, if imprecisely, characterizes their contents, but does not quote them, which makes all the difference, because the main impression will be created on the reader’s mind by the first e-mail which SANE does quote. And in fact one of the commenters today at SANE takes SANE’s partial and incomplete quotation of our correspondence as proof of my dishonesty. So SANE gets it both ways: they get to convince partisan and lazy readers that I am dishonest, and they can successfuly deny that they misrepresented me because they did mention, without directly quoting, the subsequent e-mails.

Here are the two subsequent e-mails which SANE neglected to quote:

LA to DY:


Here are some links on separationism, which also contain links to other articles

But I think you’re misconstuing my policy somewhat. It is Rollback, Isolate, Contain, and Police. That last part means that we must keep a sharp eye on the Muslim area, have forward bases near it, and be ready on a moment’s notice to go in and smash things.

Remember, when I say “Isolate,” I mean that the Muslims should be isolated, not that we should be isolated.

So maybe my policy should be called Quarantine of the Muslim world.

[There then followed links to various articles of mne.]

He wrote back:

If I am correct and we agree, then add my name and SANE (which now includes the quite respectable Colonel Snodgrass) to the team. If not, we are only separated by nuance.

All the best,

Thus DY’s initial disagreement with Separationsim was based on his not knowing and not understanding my position. As soon as I explained it to him, and this whole interchange occurred in under a half hour, he said he was on board with my position (which by the way indicates that he had never read me carefully prior to this).

So, that’s what I was referring to when I said that Mr. Y wanted to be included among the separationists. He had said, “add my name and SANE … to the team.” In fact, this was granting me more than was appropriate. I am not the head of any team. I have not claimed to be the leader of the writers I’ve listed as separationists, far from it. In trying to advance Separationism and show it as a viable perspective and not just the view of one person, I have quoted various writers who seem to share Separationist principles. Yet somehow Mr. Y. was putting me (or Separationism) in the position of the “leader,” and then, just as suddenly, he turned around and attacked me (and it).

In this connection, we can perhaps understand Mr. Y’s dishonest statement (spoken through his corporate mouthpiece, the SANE staff):

Mr. Auster has characterized his dialogue with Mr. Yerushalmi as one beginning with Mr. Yerushalmi attempting to cozy up to Separationism, later finding out that they were in disagreement, and then becoming confrontational or as he puts it “abrasive.”
I never suggested that Mr. Y had “attempted to cozy up to Separationism,” as SANE now claims, trying to make me sound like I was putting Mr. Y down as someone who was being sycophantic to me. I did not characterize his actions in that way at all. I did not say anything of a negative or belittling nature on that point. I simply reported that he had said that he was a separationist and wanted to be included among the separationists. But Mr. Y, speaking through his staff, falsely claims that I said that. Why? If I may engage in some reasonable speculation as to motives (and when a person acts as irrationally as Mr. Y has done, such speculation is appropriate), perhaps it was because, having said, “Add my name to the team,” and then deciding he didn’t like this team or its putative leader, and then having turned completely against the team by equating it with the disastrous Bush policy, he now needs to deny his previous position as someone who regarded me, however briefly, as the leader of his team, so he is projecting onto me his own act of having cast himself as my subordinate. That’s why he writes: “Mr. Auster has characterized his dialogue with [me] as one beginning with [my] attempting to cozy up to Separationism…”

That’s enough for now. However, I want to add that, on balance, notwithstanding the unpleasantness for myself personally of dealing with Mr. Y and his commenters at SANE, our debate was still worthwhile, because it brought further clarity to the question of what to do about Islam, and in particular it definitively established that Mr. Y’s position, despite his denials, does indeed add up to a war of destruction against Islam itself. As I have said over and over (conceding far more to Mr. Yerushalmi’s position than he has to mine), no one can say with certainty that in the course of time we might not be forced for our own survival to embark on such a war. But that time is not now.

- end of initial entry -

Larry G. writes:

I only wanted to comment on the line: “SANE’s message being: A war in fact is winnable. Yours is not any more than the Bush Democracy Plan.”

I think what he’s saying is that his plan (an exterminationist war against Islam) has a definite end point. Separationism, since it includes as a component permanently policing the Muslim world, does not have a definite end point, and thus is not “winnable”. He brings in a comparison to the Bush democratization plan, but the word there is, I think, “workable”, not “winnable”. I think the language just got a bit confused. The blowup is unfortunate in any case.

LA replies:

His comparison of Separationism to the Bush Democracy Project is ridiculous. While I make it clear that I don’t think we can “win” in the normal sense of winning a war, I have said over and over that under my strategy, which requires constant vigilance, we can make ourselves permanently safe from Islam. Does anyone on our side believe that the Bush democratization plan can make us safe at all from Islam? Yet Mr. Yerushalmi said my position would make us no safer than Bush’s. When, in the middle of a public debate, Mr. Yerushalmi made that remark about my position, a position that just a few hours earlier he had said he wanted to sign up for, I realized to my dismay that any further one-on-one discussion with Mr. Y was out of the question.

David H. writes:

It is no joy to see the direction that Mr. Yerushalmi has taken this conflict (he has made it obvious that I can no longer properly call it a “discussion”, which I had hoped so mightily that it would be when I replied to your announcement of the debate). Against us is a veritable army of enemy-enablers, from academia to the press, the White House, both parties (virtually all Democrats and most Republicans), television, entertainment, and so on. All who recognize the real enemy face the collective might of those forces, and now this pettiness on the part of one who should be an ally is disgusting and demoralizing.

Anyone who is a regular at VFR (I count myself in that group, although I only found your website last fall, if I recall correctly) knows that you are not a liar and that you publish emails from supporters and critics alike. When this (still) very important debate began, Mr. Yerushalmi had every opportunity to win me over to his opinion on the isolation vs. destruction argument, but he has squandered each and every chance (particularly by equating the validity of your ideology with that of Bush’s idiocy, which is either an amateur mistake or a blatant falsehood). You Mr. Auster are the only one who appears resolute; and one reason your idea of “Separationism” (to be honest, I would call it “isolation / neutralization” but that part is of very minor importance) is so appealing to me is that, first, it requires less loss of life, materiel and treasure for us (I will be brutally honest: after September 11, I no longer care what it costs them); and, second, the threat of annihilation is ever present should it be required (I don’t remember you ever denying that element, in fact I believe you stressed it on at least one occasion, for it is vital if “Separationism” is to work). I find it utterly foolish for one to equate that position of strength with the spineless “democratization” of the Bush-ites.

LA writes:

More personally nasty things are being said about me at SANE today. Meanwhile, there was nothing of a personally nasty or belittling nature said about David Y at the VFR discussions (the very worst was that he “sounds like a bit of a warmonger,” which, as was pointed out, was not a personal attack at all, but a response to his argument). I also looked at my debate with him again, and saw how often I conceded points to him. I’m frankly at a loss to understand how people could construct me as an egomaniac whose driving motivation is not the desire to get at the truth of the issues I care about, but the need to prove myself right at all costs.

Here’s an explanation for this that goes beyond myself and the immediate question of whether it’s me or SANE that’s really insane, to the nature of liberalism. It happens to be the case that I am very persistent in argument, and am relentless in critiquing other people’s arguments, and also I tend to respond thoroughly and carefully to challenges to my own position. Some people interpret this as: “Auster is an egomaniac who only cares about proving himself right.” Instead of the issue being the truth of the issue that’s being discussed, the issue becomes my supposed will to win and prove myself personally superior.

Now this attitude fits perfectly with what I have often pointed out about liberalism. Because modern people deny anything higher than the self, all issues get reduced to the self. A result of this liberal attitude is that if you make a moral argument to some people today, saying that something is morally wrong, they will reply to you, “You’re saying that you’re morally superior to me.” Since there’s no reality higher than the self, any assertion of moral truth can only be seen as an assertion of the moral superiority of the person making the assertion.

In the same way, if you wage a strong intellectual argument and win the argument, some people will say, “You only care about proving yourself right.” Once the belief in a larger, objective world is lost, all assertions become self-assertions. Further, because there’s nothing higher than the self, all self-assertions must be equal. So any position that presents itself not as a mere self-assertion, but as something that is objectively more true than some other position, and moreover (here’s the real sin) that clearly demonstrates the flaws of the other position, as I expose the fallacies of liberalism and mainstream conservatism, is violating the liberal ethos of equality.

Ultimately this means that the very idea that words have an objective meaning is prohibited. Thus when I said to Brian C. Anderson, author of South Park Conservatives, that his philosophy was anything but conservative, his answer was: who was I to define conservatism? Instead of coming back with an argument that his position is indeed conservative, he said I had no right to say what is conservative and what isn’t. By doing so, I was illegitimately setting myself up as an authority and thus violating liberal equality. Anderson’s response to me was not unusual, but typical.

These liberal egalitarian premises—which, as I’ve just suggested, are just as deeply embedded in the psyches of “conservatives” today as of liberals—form a major block to the restoration of traditionalism in the West. Traditionalism means that liberal relativism is not true. It means that certain things about reality are true and others are false, and that society needs to form itself on the basis of rejecting the false and affirming the true. But if anyone who makes such a traditionalist and anti-liberal argument is seen as merely trying to assert his own ego and to dominate others, the traditionalist position is precluded from the outset.

On a side point, a similar result to the above is seen when any concern that whites have about race, e.g., about black lower class disorder and criminality, is interpreted by liberals as, “There are a lot of white people who just need to feel superior to blacks.” (Clinton said this often.) This is a complete distortion of what is happening. People live in the real world, and there is a group that is a serious social problem. But as liberals see it, if white people form conclusions about that group, it’s not because there is this objectively problematic group, it’s because the whites have a sick need to show their superiority. In other words, the worse a minority group behaves, the more the truth about it must be prohibited. Thus liberalism forbids genuine discourse and abolishes politics.

LA continues:

In the mid ’90s I was talking to a conservative colleague about the unbearable superficiality of “debate” today, especially conservatives’ inadequate rebuttals of liberals’ arguments. He replied: “They’ll let you glance off the truth, but they won’t let you wrestle it to the ground.” It was one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard. Traditionalism (or real conservatism) involves wrestling the truth of liberalism (and of “conservatism”) to the ground. And that is a grave sin.

Jim Kalb writes:

Agreed that present-day liberalism turns all disagreement, at least disagreement with the official view that’s supposedly a pure rational expression of neutrality and universal human concern, into a personal attack. Hence PC. Also hence the view that adherence to traditional sexual morality is simply a screen for “hatred of gays,” and opposition to immigration is opposition to immigrants.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 16, 2007 06:00 PM | Send

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