Patterico's Pontifications


Obama: My Critics Talk About Me Like a Dog

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 3:23 pm


Poll: Was Glenn Reynolds Being Serious? Satirical? Or Kidding-But-Serious?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:50 pm

I’m replicating his poll here. I have this weird feeling that the results from my readers will be very different. But who knows?

Don’t complain about the wording. It’s his wording.

Is Glenn Reynolds’ column on eliminationist rhetoric serious or not?
Yes, deadly serious.
No, it’s Swiftian satire.
It’s what they used to call “kidding on the square.”
I’m voting “present” on this one. free polls

Because That Last Post Was Kinda Long

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:20 pm

Here is the basic argument in a nutshell, for those who didn’t read the post below (which you should read, because it really fleshes out the arguments better).

Reynolds compares certain analogies to pro-Nazi arguments, speaks of “policing rhetoric,” and argues for deeming certain viewpoints “unacceptable.”

What Reynolds wants to do with the environmentalists’ claims that “humanity is a virus” is the same as what the left wants to do to our arguments in favor of waterboarding.

Don’t take on the arguments. Don’t debate.

Just slap a label on your opponent’s argument (it’s torture, for God’s sake!!!!) with as much self-righteousness as you can muster. Declare the entire topic beyond the bounds of civilized discussion, work in a Nazi reference if you can, and then — this part is important — stomp off in a huff.

That’s how the leftists “police rhetoric” and deem certain rhetoric “unacceptable.”

Is that how we want to conduct ourselves? Really?

P.S. See Dan Collins for a somewhat contrary perspective.

Taking Seriously Glenn Reynolds’s Column on Environmentalist “Eliminationist Rhetoric”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:03 pm

Yesterday I posted about Glenn Reynolds’s column advocating the the banishment of certain environmentalist sentiments from the realm of polite society. I wondered whether the column was serious or satire. I e-mailed him to ask.

In response, Glenn ran a poll on his site. The possible answers included “deadly serious,” “Swiftian satire,” “kidding on the square,” and unknown. The overwhelming majority of his readers say he was “deadly serious” (between 65%-69%, depending on the time the poll is accessed). (I voted “kidding on the square” — which is a phrase meaning that he was joking, but also really meant it.)

Prof. Reynolds won’t say whether his column was satire or not, but enough people took it seriously that I think it’s worthwhile for me to treat his point seriously.

My problem is that Prof. Reynolds is using a leftist tactic — the attempt to ban certain categories of speech from polite society — to suppress discussion of a problem that concerns conservatives like myself. Rather than dealing with these issues in the conservative way that I would advocate, which consists of debating issues straight up, Prof. Reynolds instead argues for a mode of “debate” that I believe is rooted in leftism: namely, slap a disparaging label on a viewpoint, link it with Nazism if at all possible, and pronounce it “unacceptable.”

I believe overpopulation is a problem that should concern conservatives. I am a conservative. I believe in limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility — and controlling our borders. My work on immigration is at least partially rooted in my belief that opening up the borders to anyone who wants to cross over has a detrimental effect on our quality of life. Especially in the border states, our fundamental institutions are being overwhelmed by illegal immigrants. Our hospitals are overcrowded. Our freeways are overcrowded. Our schools, jails, and prisons are overcrowded — and this is in part a function of a population out of control. We did not design those institutions to deal with the millions of extra people that are currently burdening those systems. But we are nevertheless having to deal with those millions, thanks to our liberal betters.

Similarly, I believe that there is an overpopulation problem in the world at large. It reminds me of our national debt: it expands and expands and expands, and you can point to times when it expands slower than others, but it is still constantly expanding. We’re at close to 7 billion people now on Earth. We reached 2 billion, 3 billion, 4 billion, 5 billion, and 6 billion all in the 1900s. If aliens came down to Earth and silently observed this planet over the last 200 years, they would likely conclude that one species was spiraling out of control. They might conclude, quite reasonably, that humanity appears to be behaving like a cancer or a virus.

To the extent that I share such a view, I share it not out of contempt for humanity. I want humanity to survive. That’s why I am concerned by the population explosion of the last 100+ years. It’s not because I am worried about the planet per se, but because I am worried about the planet as a home for humans. Because they happen to be my favorite species. I don’t want us to kill the host, because if we do, it will kill us.

Now, to you don’t have to agree with me about this. I expect that many of you won’t. All I ask is that you recognize that these arguments I am making are good-faith arguments that are not founded in a hatred of the species, or a desire to see it destroyed. Quite the opposite.

But regardless of how you feel about overpopulation, I do want to secure your agreement on my larger point, which is that arguments such as these are worthy of discussion.

It seems to me that Prof. Reynolds is trying to take good-faith arguments like the one I just made, and deem them “unacceptable.” The fundamental goal of Prof. Reynolds’s column is to banish from polite society any analogy of human beings to viruses or cancers. He accomplishes this by using a tactic I associate with leftists — namely, taking arguments and branding them as Nazistic:

Likewise, references to particular ethnic or religious groups as “viruses” or “cancers” in need of extirpation are socially unacceptable, triggering immediate thoughts of genocide and mass murder.

Why, then, should it be acceptable to refer to all humanity in this fashion? Does widening the circle of eliminationist rhetoric somehow make it better?

I don’t see why it should, and I don’t see why we should pretend — or allow others to pretend — that hate-filled rhetoric is somehow more acceptable when it’s delivered by those wearing green shirts instead of brown.

Here’s the problem with the analogy: Everyone who refers to Jews as a virus wants to see all Jews eliminated. Not everyone who refers to humanity’s population explosion as a virus or a cancer wants to see all humans eliminated. As I have already argued, it is possible to see the overpopulation explosion as a problem without holding humanity in contempt. It is possible to oppose overpopulation out of a love for humanity.

Now, I might agree with Prof. Reynolds that it’s over the top to be talking about humanity as a cancer that needs to be extirpated. If the only reason you are analogizing humanity to a cancer or a virus is to argue that humanity should be exterminated, then you are certainly not in my camp, and I have every right to distance myself from your rhetoric.

But later in his piece, Reynolds appears to expand the definition of “unacceptable” rhetoric to encompass anyone who analogizes humanity’s current population explosion to the behavior of a virus or cancer:

But biotechnology is getting more common and — thanks to folks ranging from Paul Ehrlich (Holdren’s coauthor) to Al Gore — so are apocalyptic environmental views that treat humans as a cancer upon the earth.

How common are these views? I typed “Humanity is a” into Google and the top three suggestions were “Humanity is a virus,” “Humanity is a disease,” and “Humanity is a cancer.”

With such views spreading, and with technology making it steadily easier for individual or small groups to try creating their own viruses or diseases to, in their mind, level the score, perhaps we need to hold the environmental movement responsible for its frequent use of eliminationist rhetoric.

Policing the science is likely to prove difficult. But policing the rhetoric — as American society has long done with expressions of racial hatred or genocidal sentiment — seems well within reach.

In this passage, Reynolds implies that there is an equivalence between analogizing humanity to a cancer or a virus, and arguing that humanity must be exterminated. I have already told you that these concepts are not equivocal in my mind — but let me expand my proof, to show that plenty of other people have made the analogy without calling for the extermination of the species.

Reynolds argues that if you type the phrase “Humanity is a” into Google, you get suggestions like “Humanity is a virus.” To my way of thinking, that’s a rather unpersuasive way of “demonstrating” the prevalence of a particular viewpoint. It’s especially unconvincing if you’re trying to demonstrate, as Reynolds is by implication, that the viewpoint calls for something as extreme as the extermination of all humankind. So let’s take that next step — the one Reynolds apparently did not take — and see what happens when you click on a search term like “Humanity is a virus.” We’ll put quotes around the phrase to increase accuracy, so we’re not pulling up results that just happen to talk about humanity and viruses together.

If you look at the top ten results. Surely at least nine of them will call for the extermination of the human race, right?

As it turns out, not so much.

The top entry is the Wikipedia entry for Agent Smith from the Matrix. He thinks humanity is a virus. He is an evil character.

The second entry is from a blog that discusses the concept of humanity as a virus and rejects it. That blog entry discusses the range of viewpoints held by people who believe humanity is a virus, from the innocuous (let’s not expand into space but rather confine our contamination to one planet) to the more extreme (the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which seeks not to kill humans, but rather secure a voluntary pledge from them not to reproduce).

The link to the third entry doesn’t work, but the cached version is some kind of unreadable personal outpouring that seems to have nothing to do with the current discussion.

I’ll stop with the examples now, but the fact is that you can perform the search and scroll and click to your heart’s content, and you’ll have a tough time locating that collection of seriously advanced writings that call for the destruction of humanity. I’m sure such hateful rhetoric exists. But are the majority of people discussing these analogies engaged in this “eliminationist rhetoric”? That is far from clear.

Reynolds seems to assume that any analogy between humanity and viruses or cancers is an action alert for the destruction of the human race. And that, I contend, is a faulty assumption, perhaps born of the unwillingness to actually click on Google’s suggestions.

And based on that faulty assumption, Reynolds now appears to want to squelch all talk of comparing humanity to a virus or cancer.

And this is what bothers me. His article is full of phrases like “policing the rhetoric” and discussions of whether certain ideas are “acceptable” or “unacceptable.” He wants to take the analogies I have discussed and slap the “unacceptable” label on them, as we do with pro-Nazi speech, or speech that stigmatizes minority groups.

No, he doesn’t want to “ban” speech in the legal sense. But he wants to take what I believe is a leftist approach to this speech: compare it to the Nazis, slap the “BAD” label on it, and put it up on a shelf, where polite people need not talk about it.

And this is where we get to the whole “is he serious” part. Because for those who have followed me this far, there is always the fallback argument: well, he isn’t really advocating labeling this speech unacceptable. He’s just holding the left to its own standards!

Look: if that is all he is doing — if he is truly rejecting the David Neiwert school of “blame the speaker for the violence of the nut case” — I am totally with him. But a good 65% of his readership think he is making the Neiwert point in reverse. Another 14% think (as I do) that he is “kidding on the square.” And make no mistake: when you’re “kidding on the square” you’re actually being serious. It’s like when someone pays the bill and “jokes” that you are a cheapskate. Ha, ha! They’re really just calling you a cheapskate, but doing it in a way that gives them a phony “out.” I see it as a way of having it both ways: you get to make your point — but if someone calls you on it, you can always claim you were kidding.

In any event, drawing a connection between rhetoric and violence — whether you do so in a “deadly serious” fashion or “kidding on the square” — requires one to accept the flawed Neiwert premise: that your passionate rhetoric can be deemed morally responsible for a murder committed by some crazy person. That is a flawed premise, and if we accept it to score a cheap rhetorical point against the environmentalists, we are playing the other side’s game. It is a game that allows them to ignore their own side’s violent rhetoric and treat people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity as accomplices to murder.

This is a road we don’t want to go down, folks. Not even “kidding on the square.”

UPDATE: I condense the argument here, noting that Reynolds’s proposed tactic is the same thing leftists do when they (refuse to) debate “torture” with us — declare the whole topic taboo and Nazi-like, and end the discussion.

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