What do liberals want? (cont.); and, Do I treat my interlocutors as though they weren’t human beings?
Returning to the “What do liberals want?” thread after a hiatus, Ken Hechtman, in a reply to Vivek G., says that in sseking to eliminate border controls, he has no intention of imposing hate speech codes on people. I reply that that’s not the point, that there’s something much bigger than hate speech codes at stake here, namely that the idea, enunciated by KH himself, that “free migration is a basic human right,” and that “if somebody wants to come live here the government has no business saying [he] can’t do it,” would preclude the very possiblity of a country controlling its own border.
In the ensuing discussion, which continues in this entry, KH, replying to our latest exchange, says I am mistaken in attributing powers and intentions to him he does not have. This leads me into explaining my argumentative technique, which some people find objectionable.
But I’m not the Global Legislator and never will be. I am (was) a low-level worker bee in a fringe group of the open borders movement. I was much lower level than you are in the immigration restriction movement. I did the most mundane grunt work you can imagine. I wheatpasted posters. I phoned reporters and invited them to cover our events. I lined up chairs in a church basement for a press conference. Even now, when the NDP does a direct-mail attack campaign on the Conservatives’ immigration bill, I’m not the guy who decides to do it, or who writes the content or even who does the demographic analysis to target the different versions of the piece. I just enter the returns and try to see that they get followed up. A monkey could do my job. Before this particular conversation I have never before had 5000 people paying attention to my thoughts on the subject.LA replies:
I’m not disputing your right to explain all this stuff, but it’s irrelevant to my argument. My argument is not about you personally, your political activities and your relative importance on the left; it’s about the meaning and logic of your argument. As I keep saying, this quiet cultural disaster has progressively occurred since the Sixties, whereby people think that a criticism of their argument is a criticism of them personally, which by the way is why, given that I criticize people’s arguments so strongly, I’m one of the most hated people on the right. Not that you’re reacting that way at all. But what you have in common with my haters is the taking of my argument to be about you personally. In a debate with you, when I say “you,” or “Ken Hechtman,” I’m not talking about the human being Ken Hechtman in all his concrete particulars; I’m talking about the Ken Hechtman who is representing a certain idea in a discussion.KH replies:
Since you bring it up, one of the best guidelines I’ve heard for internet debates—and this is something you don’t do and pay the price for not doing—is “Remember the human.” At the other end of the wire is a real-life flesh-and-blood human being much like yourself. You’re not responding to a post or a position—nothing that abstract. You are having a conversation with another human.LA replies:
Have I spoken to you as though you were not a human being?KH replies:
Well … like you said, you responded to my position as if it was or was likely to be the one and only position governing the world. That’s not the same as responding to what I’ve done or can reasonably expect to do in my lifetime.LA replies:
Well, this is a basic difference in perception. Part of what I do is that I take people’s statements seriously, meaning, I look at the internal logic of their statements, and the end to which that logic tends. Because the people I’m talking to or about have often not thought through their own position to that depth, they resent this, saying, “I didn’t say that, you’re misrepresenting me.” But it’s an axiom at VFR, first stated by Matt years ago, that it’s not what people think their statements mean or even what they say their statements mean that matters in politics, but what their statements actually mean. For example, if someone says, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” or, “We can’t make illegal aliens leave, because all people are children of God,” what he’s really saying—the principle that he’s enunciating—is that national borders and national sovereignty don’t exist. That is the principle that he is implicitly appealing to in order to get his way in a particular debate. Yet he does not say in words, “I believe that national borders and national sovereignty don’t exist,” and indeed, he may never even have thought it. But nevertheless, that is what he has really said. By saying, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” he is enunciating a principle that would make any national borders impossible. And if he’s called out on this real meaning of his statement, he will respond in an indignant way (“I didn’t say that! You’re misrepresenting me!”), or in a mocking and dismissive way (“You’ve really gone around the bend now”).KH replies:
OK, you want a specific? I have not gone on and on about what you would do if you had godlike power to put your ideas into practice. That would have the effect of reducing you and your actual place in the world to an ideological abstraction.LA replies:
But that would be a fair argument for you to make against me, i.e., for you to hold my feet to the fire and try to bring out what my ideas would really mean in practice. And then I would have to reply, by explaining my ideas further.KH replies:
Not my style. I’ll call you to account for what you have done or are reasonably likely to do, but that’s it.LA replies:
I think this has been a very useful exchange.Sage McLaughlin writes:
Ken Hechtman’s objection to your debating “style” strikes me as self-serving and positively outrageous. Why is it that leftists constantly object to people actually examining their ideas and teasing out the implications, and go so far as to complain that to do so is a slight to them personally—in Hechtman’s case, he actually claims that his humanity is being disregarded, on the basis of no logical argument whatsoever. Who cares if he is not a god, and cannot simply have his will at any given instant? Neither was Lenin. (You have to hand it to him, though, this is a crafty way of putting criticism of his ideas out of bounds by re-casting them as a blow to his human dignity—he is obviously learning well at the sandals of his Obamassiah, who is busily writing the book on this very tactic as we speak.)LA replies:
I feel that Sage M. is being a little unfair to KH. in the opening part of his comment. It was I who brought up the idea that people hate me for my style of argumentation, and KH then noted that I make the mistake of failing to treat my interlocutors as human beings, and that is why I am hated. Whether that point is correct or not, I didn’t feel, pace Mr. M., that KH was really complaining that I was “slighting him personally.”
Robert Locke, who, like me, has been in e-mail contact with Ken Hechtman for some years, joining the discussion late, responds to KH’s belief in “one world, one people.”
Robert Locke writes:
It’s been obvious to me for years that this must be what you believe in. You’re too smart to believe in any of the old-school anarchist or socialist fantasies, so one-worldism is the only plausible thing you’ve got left.Dimitri K. writes:
Regarding Mr. Hechtman’s reply—it is an excellent example of leftist thinking! They don’t really want to ruin the country and society. to the contrary, they even believe that they improve them. Just a small improvement, who cares. It will be a little painful, but our country is so big and strong, it will hardly notice the consequences. But how noble and pleasant is to introduce such a legislation. He is a small guy, doing his small job. Let us not think about consequences. Don’t be ridiculous, its just nothing. Everything will be fine. Just a small pleasant improvement.Steward W. writes:
You write: “Can you think offhand of anyone who is the target of more pure ad hominem attacks and lies than I?”LA replies:
The Goldstein in “Nineteen Eight-four”? The object of the daily five-minute Hate? Yes, I guess so.Stewart W. replies:
That’s the one. It does seem that, at various times and on various websites, you have been subject to the “Two Minutes Hate” treatment. Hopefully, though, you’re not just an invention of the Party.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 14, 2008 11:21 AM | Send