Did I misinterpret Burton’s comment about me?

Clark Coleman writes:

I have been very busy and have not read the WWWW thread in several days, so I will just comment on what I saw in the first couple of days.

Obviously, if Steve Burton “does not understand” why you criticize the likes of Mark Steyn the way you do, he simply has not put in the effort to read and understand all that you have written, and deserves criticism for his lack in this regard. But it is not a simple lack of effort on his part. It is a common error in thinking about politics.

He is stuck in the same paradigm of thinking that so many are: If Mark Steyn’s views are closer to yours than, for example, Teddy Kennedy’s views are, then you should give Steyn a break and publish more criticism of Teddy Kennedy than of Steyn. But the danger is that conservatives already oppose Teddy Kennedy, they already have their guard up when he speaks, and they don’t really need constant warnings from you to continue to do so, while the typical conservative reader will be lulled into thinking that liberal lunacy is being effectively opposed by Steyn when it is NOT being effectively opposed. Hence, Steyn’s influence is more pernicious than Kennedy’s. He and others like him make conservative citizens think the battle is being fought and there is no need for them to get upset and speak out, because Steyn et al. are already speaking out. There are other criticisms of Steyn I could make that I will omit for brevity.

I think you have to be prepared for a lot of people you encounter not to understand this, and you need to be ready to patiently explain it for the hundredth time. Where I do not agree with your response to Burton was that you claimed first that he was accusing you of criticizing Steyn for some weird egotistical reason, and then your claim that he was accusing you of writing nothing but lies in all your articles about Steyn. He did neither. Rather, he was in the paradigm of viewing issues as a political contest in which we ask ourselves who is more “on our side” and who is more “on the other side” and tempering criticisms accordingly. It is the wrong paradigm when the existence of a civilization is threatened and there can be little compromise if we are to save it, but it is a common one. Your initial replies to him were definitely examples of putting words into someone’s mouth. They are also examples of taking someone’s criticism and making it sound more like a personal attack than it was. “I don’t understand why he does this” is a lot less of a personal attack than “Everything he has written about Steyn is lies,” wouldn’t you agree?

The fact that a lot of rubbish was written in that thread at WWWW does not justify putting words into Burton’s mouth, which adds fuel to the fire for all those over there who claim that you do exactly that with writers with whom you disagree.

LA replies:

Thanks for this.

First, Burton didn’t just say, “I don’t understand why Auster does this.” He said:

But it seems that the closer people get to your own position, the more furiously you denounce them for whatever disagreements still remain—as witness your ceaseless jeremiads against Mark Steyn & Melanie Phillips.

I simply can’t understand why you do this.

He is saying that I criticize Steyn, Phillips, P. Hitchens, et al. not for the reasons stated in my articles but because of some weird ego motive. He’s saying that the entire contents of my articles about Steyn (whom I’ve criticzed the most) are not what they appear to be and present themselves as being, but are an elaborate rationalization and ruse for some need I have to attack Steyn because he agrees with me—and the more he agrees with me, the more I attack him. In short, Burton’s comments make my articles sound like the work of demented liar and egomaniac.

So, for example, when I quoted Steyn saying that it would be better for the U.S. if Europe were Islamized rather than to continue under its present EU leadership, but that getting there will be messy and violent, and I denounced him for saying that, I didn’t really mean what I was saying. I secretly agreed with what he said and I was attacking him because I agreed with him. Or when I pointed out that Steyn’s “solution” for the Islam problem of increasing Western birthrates to the Muslim level is absurd and would do nothing to save us in the foreseeable future in any case, I didn’t really mean that, because in reality Steyn’s positions was the same as mine and I was just manufacturing a false arguments in order to attack someone who is in agreement with me.

Burton, who either has not read my articles about the mainstream conservative Islam critics or has the reading comprehension of a six year old, is calling all those articles a tissue of lies.

Also, did Burton say, quote unquote, “Auster’s articles are lies”? No. But that, as I argue, is the real meaning of what he’s said. I understand of course that others reading Burton’s comment will not see the same meaning in it that I see. But I see the meaning in it that I see, and I’ve explained why.

Further, at least one commenter in the thread that Burton started for the purpose of attacking me, “The trouble with Larry,” has said that my articles on Steyn are a lie. I’m not aware that Burton disagreed with that statement.

On another point, I agree with you that when I criticize mainstream conservatives, it would be helpful to explain to conservatives readers what I am doing and why I am doing it. e.g.,

“Dear conservative reader,

“It is true that Mark Steyn is closer to me on some issues that Ted Kennedy and other leftists, but that doesn’t mean that there are not very problematic things about Steyn. My criticism of Steyn does not mean that I am letting leftists off the hook. The left is bad. But my subject here is Steyn, not the left.”

However, it is also the case that I have patiently explained many times to readers why I criticize mainstream conservatives as I do, why such criticism is central to what I’m about. I can’t repeat that explanation every time I say something critical of a conservative.

LA to Clark Coleman:

But for the moment, I will say this: to say that a writer attacks people MORE furiously the MORE they are in agreement with him, is to describe that writer as demented and his writings as the product of a demented mind. I don’t think you see that.

Mr. Coleman replies:

Maybe it is the product of Burton not thinking things out very well. For example, you could point out to him that Jim Kalb is more in agreement with you than Mark Steyn is. As you do not criticize Jim Kalb more furiously than you criticize Mark Steyn, his generalization does not hold up.

My basic point is that there is a way to point out such things, and make people think. Your approach seems to be not too persuasive of other writers. I think it would be good if traditionalist conservatives could persuade these other conservative columnists and bloggers to see things from a new perspective, outside of their old “mainstream” perspective. I am not sure how your response to him accomplishes that. Don’t you think it will be hard to save our civilization if we beat people up over their bad logic or incorrect perspectives without ever persuading them to change their way of thinking?

LA replies:

Burton made a moronic, baseless, and damaging statement about me. I protested against his comment, I explained why it was objectionable, and I invited people to read my articles on Steyn so that they could judge for themselves. What was I supposed to do, hold Burton’s hand?

Yes, of course, if Burton had made a good faith, reasonable error in his statement about me, I would have patiently attempted to persuade him to a better view, as I have done in response to numerous people who have criticized my positions. But he didn’t, and I didn’t. Experience has shown that it’s not possible to reason with people who are acting out of bad will. Of course Burton will deny that he was acting out of bad will, but that’s his passive aggressive game.

In any case, this is ironic, because in the past I’ve been criticized for replying to attacks on me and thus feeding personal feuds. Here I made two brief comments at Burton’s blog in response to his statement about me and then I went away, not even reading the subsequent attacks on me let alone replying to them (except for a couple that readers sent to me). Yet I’m still put at fault for replying too strongly.

June 20

LA writes

Also, regarding Mr. Coleman’s advice that I need to explain why I criticize mainstream conservatives, I have often done so. The below is from the collection of entries, Responding to criticisms of VFR and myself:

Am I being unfair to Steyn?

The worst of Steyn, redux [I explain and defend at length my criticisms of the Islam critics, particularly Mark Steyn. Several readers disagree with my view that Steyn is a “traitor to the West,” and I give my reasons, based on his statements, why I think he is one. An exchange is quoted in which Conservative Swede objects to my strong criticism of Steyn, and then is persuaded by it. He writes: “Touche! It’s just so hard to take it in that (Steyn is) really saying that. Incredibly hard. I still haven’t completed taking it in…. And I used to admire this man.”]

Am I being unfair to Spencer?

Am I wrong on Spencer?

Am I out of line in my criticisms of Bernard Lewis?

Is VFR too stingy with praise? A statistical study

Is VFR too negative?

A reader criticizes me for my view of Mary Cheney flap, and for seeing everyone as “the enemy”

VFR’s editor accused of wanting to be America’s philosopher-king [A reader criticizes me for attacking establishment conservatives, accuses me of respecting no one but myself, and says I’ll grow into a bitter old man, and I reply. October 2005]

A reader displeased over my attacks on Bush [In a follow-up, the same reader says I am beginning to have “stink of the gadfly” about me, and that VFR is “rapidly turning into another miasma of round-the-clock Bush hatred.”]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 19, 2009 11:22 AM | Send

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