Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Zone Defense

I believe I have linked to Cathy Young twice in my blogging tenure: Once when she blew apart Eric Alterman on Holocaust trivialization, and once nailing Stephen Bainbridge on a disparate-impact switcharoo. Both times I was quite gleeful at her skilled dismemberments.

It's, uh, a bit less entertaining when I'm the one in the crosshairs. The topic is my two posts (plus one at The Moderate Voice) on whether or not a particular Feministe post is or isn't emblematic of liberal "blame America firstism." It had stirred up quite the hornet's nest already, but even I wasn't expected a Boston Globe columnist to weigh in. But alas, I'll fight the good fight, even when I'm in over my head.

But let's start off with my main target, Jeff Goldstein, who also had some choice words to say on my arguments. Basically, I said this his critique of Feministe followed the following path:
conservatives take a reasonable liberal post, distort it so it "blames America first," proclaim it to be the epitome of liberal thought, and conclude with a lament that all the moderate liberals who don't engage in this type of thinking are gone.

And Jeff cried foul, saying I "completely misread[] the post" and saying his post did nothing of the sort.

Did it? To the videotape.

1) "Distort it so it 'blames America first'":
Jeff approvingly quotes a comment by Karol which said the following:
Is America perfect? Yes, compared to the land of Saud, we are. You do a disservice to the battle against violence of women by even noting our problems in the same post as Saudi Arabia. America bashing is always fun, I'm sure, but it makes us take the problems of Saudi Arabia much less seriously when you draw a moral equivalence between what happens here and what happens there. It's actually a classic liberal problem, to be unable to criticize anything without first criticizing America. It makes people tune you out and not to take you seriously and whatever point you were trying to make becomes muddled or irrelevant under that equivalence. [emphasis added]

As I pointed out in my own post, this isn't what Feministe was saying at all--far from "first criticizing America" and then, bona fides established, lamenting Saudi Arabian abuse as well, the post spends the first 9/10 bashing Saudi abuse and then as a one paragraph disclaimer asks that we not ignore or minimize abuse at home. So to say, as Jeff approvingly quotes, that this is a case of "America bashing" (much less that the bashing came "first") is simply wrong. So the "distort" claim goes through.

2) "Proclaim it to be the epitome of liberal thought"
Jeff says flat out: "It is typical of the kind of discourse those on the left are treating us to these days." So yes, he's proclaiming this to be "typical" of leftist discourse. He also says that to get rid of it, we'd need to "nuke the base"--implying that this is a common rhetorical move within the mainstream movers and shakers of the Democratic party (I apologize to everyone that I've never seen "Alien"--but I assume this doesn't completely change the meaning of the phrase?). And of course, the second italicized portion of Karol's quote also argues that this is a "classic liberal problem."

3) "Lament that all the moderate liberals who don't engage in this type of thinking are gone"
Jeff references what Democrats would have to do to bring moderates back into the camp:
Rox Populi asked the other day what it might take for moderate Republicans and independents to return to the Democratic Party.

To which I said, quite seriously, that the first thing the Dems would have to do is nuke their base.

A base which, presumably, is rife with this pattern of thinking and where moderates who don't think this way are AWOL.

So, I think Jeff's post follows my pattern relatively closely. I love ya, Jeff, but here I think you're just flat wrong.

Now, on to Cathy. She focuses on the particular claim of mine regarding inconsistency. That is, I argued that insofar as conservatives are claiming that post's like Feministe are part of a pattern of liberal anti-American discourse (even conceding for the moment that the post was part of said pattern, which again I don't think it was), the claim falls flat when conservatives just ignore posts which don't meet the pattern. If they only link to posts that fit the pattern, of course it will exist (and look like a pathology). But that's nothing more than confirmation bias. Cathy flips this point around:
Left-wing feminists don't offer an "it's bad here too" disclaimer every single time they talk about the oppression of women in the Third World? Fine.

Commenters at TMV made similar points, that I wanted the right to give Feministe a cookie every time they didn't attach a requisite America-smack to a post. But it's the right who's forwarding an empirical claim about how liberals talk, that this is a "classic problem," an "inability" to condemn the sins of others without condemning our own. In that respect, they have an obligation to examine the left as a totality, not plucking individual posts out and proclaiming a trend. That's the confirmation bias problem I was talking about--they're drawing a consciously skewed picture and presenting it as fact.

The confirmation bias can also be seen in how Cathy reads the post itself. She writes:
In fact, the placement of the comment about domestic violence in America at the end of Jill's post - in the concluding paragraph, not a footnote - has the effect of shifting the focus from the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia to the "cultural ills" that afflict women in America. If she had wanted merely to acknowledge that we have problems too, why not say, "Yes, America has problems with domestic violence and gender inequality, too, but to even compare them to the abuse and oppression of women in America is delusional to the point of being obscene"? The way her post is written, its main point ends up being: Let's not feel too superior to those Saudis.

To me, the post only comes off that way if you want it to come of that way. To be clear, 85% of the Feministe post (I did a word count) focuses on Saudi Arabia with nary a mention of the US. To interpret the concluding 15% as entirely absorbing the rest strikes me as an act of will. It doesn't strike me as something that would come about absent a pre-conceptualized narrative about how the "left" talks. Cathy's re-write would completely destroy Feministe's real point, which is that we shouldn't minimize our own abuse even while condemning the much worse abuse abroad. Cathy's wording would let us feel all superior about our abuse-response, which isn't a mindset likely to galvanize the masses toward true reform. It encourages political quiescence, the exact opposite of what we want here. So to propose it as a viable alternative only makes sense if the goal is to condemn Saudi Arabia and praise America, as oppose to condemn Saudi Arabia and not let America off the hook. The latter, to me, seems a far more reasonable (and honest) characterization of the way the world is.

The final point Cathy makes is that the presence/absence of America bashing in the Saudi/Columbia posts (respectively) comes from a reflexive leftist opposition to imperialism, which they are currently superimposing on the war on terror:
But actually, the contrast between the two posts is interesting. Maybe the difference in approach is due partly to the fact that the oppression of women in traditional Islamic societies has become a conservative cause lately, with the plight of Muslim women invoked as a justification for U.S. intervention; so, when leftists talk about women's oppression in those countries, they want to be especially careful to avoid even seeming to validate "American imperialism." More broadly, radical/fundamentalist Islam right now is America's "Other," the them in "us vs. them." Maybe that's why talk of the mistreatment of women under fundamentalist Islamic regimes has to be accompanied (no, not always, but often enough) by disclaimers that are supposed to bring America down a peg: Can't allow those ugly Americans to feel culturally superior to the Other!

First of all, I don't think this is true. Any Patriarchy-blamer worth her salt could find a link between Columbia and American imperialism. Plan Columbia anyone? And I can at least speak for myself that I'm pretty gosh-darn hawkish on the War on Terror--I don't see it as imperialist but as a morally obligatory liberation of oppressed. But more importantly, I think that this distinction hurts conservatives as much as it hurts liberals. Recall a point I made in the first post:
I never see conservative blogs rail against domestic abuse in America. I never see conservative blogs argue in favor of difficult sacrifices to make up for our failings to African-Americans, women, and other minorities continually left behind in the America dream. Very occasionally, the subject comes up, but it's only instrumental to other goals ("Many black children live in broken families. We have to ban gay marriage!"), it's never discussed for its own sake.

Conservatives have only made domestic abuse in the Muslim world a "cause" recently because Radical Islam is our enemy d'jour. This is not to say that it isn't a problem, that they aren't our enemy, or that we shouldn't be condemning it. Rather, it is an observation that whereas liberals are opposing bad things because they're bad (regardless of whether it advantages us in the geopolitical realm--I don't think Columbia is going to challenge our hegemony in the near future), conservatives appear to only challenge bad things to the extent that its an effective lever to achieve broader ends (such as winning the war on terror). Now, I want to win the war on terror as much as anyone--but I don't think that opposition to domestic abuse should be tied to that, to be summarily abandoned when we win the battle. Insofar as conservatives are not opposing abuse qua abuse, but abuse qua abuse by our enemies, they're engaging in a form of relativism of their own--every bit as despicable as the straw man rhetoric they claim liberals engagement.


protein wisdom said...

If you would only take the time to re-read the original post and follow the threads, you'd stop making such a fool of yourself.

Seriously. It would take you maybe five minutes.

1) I "approvingly quote" Karol's comment in order to say that it raises a valid political point -- that many simply stop reading when they see a certain rhetorical maneuver employed, and that this might be the cause of so much talking past each other. My exact words: "Karol’s argument represents a legitimate opinion—and exposes a problem many people have with the progressive worldview that feels the need to establish its bona fides with knee jerk self-criticism before it can dare criticize others / Others." I then go on to discuss the response she received to what I've called a "legitimate opinion" that exposes a problem some people have engaging arguments of a particular type.

2) The response to Karol's comment -- the sound of sheep bleating -- led me back to Rox Populi's question, and those in her comments who likewise tried to shut up someone trying to engage in a discussion with shouts of "liar" or other attributions of bad faith. You have failed to mention this your posts -- strange, in that it is a central concern of the post you keep trying to criticize.

3) You quote me as saying "it is typical of the kind of discourse those on the left are treating us to these days," but you ascribe that to Jill, not where it belongs.

To the videotape, as you say. The quote in its proper context:

But instead of addressing any of those feelings, which translate, I should add, into the current political reality so many on the left rail against consistently and in the most vile terms (how many Dems crossed over to vote for Bush in 2004?), people like Chris Clarke react by suggesting Karol is a sheep, that she hasn’t thought through her position at all.

It is typical of the kind of discourse those on the left are treating us to these days. And yeah—blah blah Michael Savage Rush Limbaugh Ann Coulter blah blah blah. But if you read through that the thread at Rox Populi, where moderate Repubs and independents explained what needs happen to the Dem Party before they’d consider voting that way again, you’ll note that, about midway through, the response from the leftists who showed up to hijack the conversation is to suggest that all those purporting to be “moderates” are in fact “liars,” that they are evil, that they are sheep, and that they shouldn’t be listened to.

Clearly, it was the response by Chris Clarke and the shouts of "liar" and "evil" received during a good faith attempt to offer honest critiques on another site that I was referring to. Not Jill, whose post I praised but for it's unnecessary and self-defeating (in my opinion) rhetorical nod to oblique equivalence. That you spend so many words deconstructing something you haven't taken the time to read through bespeaks a kind of intellectual arrogance you have yet to earn.

You go on from that misstep to again extrapolate incorrectly: "So yes, he's proclaiming this to be 'typical' of leftist discourse. He also says that to get rid of it, we'd need to 'nuke the base'--implying that this is a common rhetorical move within the mainstream movers and shakers of the Democratic party[...]"

Not so. I'm talking of the sheep sound and the shouts of liar. See above. And when I say "nuke the base," I'm talking about just that -- the party lefties whose Bush hatred is so profound that they refuse even to engage in a dialogue in good faith.

I could go on, but really, what's the point?

You seem either unable or unwilling to represent the post and its arguments fairly. Instead, you seem interested in nothing more than compounded your original mistakes.

Sorry, but my post doesn't follow your pattern in the slightest. Perhaps if you try reading it without your pattern in mind, it might become apparent to you that I'm moving outside your erudite expectations.

Dymphna said...

Recall a point I made in the first post: I never see conservative blogs rail against domestic abuse in America

Well, I'm a conservative blogger and I have discussed "domestic" domestic violence. And I've also discussed Islamic domestic violence which is qualitatively more evil because it is written into the law, the religion, and the mores of Muslim culture.

Women in America who experience domestic violence are not victims, they are volunteers. The children are the victims. I say that as one who survived 16 years of abuse and the usual legal run-around that had no way to keep me safe while still preserving my husband's constitutional rights. It's a real conundrum...

Looking back, I can see things I might have done differently. I also see the way I was able to successfully manipulate in certain areas to get what I needed. It was about survival. Eventually, I trained my husband not to be physically violent, but it was a long, slow process. I was lucky. And then, as I had hoped, he found someone else and left, thus setting me free. Of course, he also abandoned his children, too, but that's another story.

The problem for severely abused women is that their tormentor does not consider himself answerable in the usual ways that others do. So if you leave, you're dead -- not immediately, but eventually. The most dangerous time for battered women is when they leave. And it keeps on being very, very dangerous until they return.

I've counseled over 3,000 battered women from all walks of life. I used to think it was economic, but that's not always the case. I've seen very successful clinical psychologists with good incomes stay on, determined to "make him pay"...but it was the kids who paid.

BTW, the only woman I ever saw not complain about her fate came into town on a bus, got herself a job, slept in the woods, eventually established her life. I met her when she was getting her name and SS# legally changed.And then one day, after several years,pictures of her appeared on telephone poles all over town, posted there by her husband who was reporting her as missing. So she got on the bus, Gus. As she said, she married him and it was up to her to escape him. Somehow, I think she did.

You also said:

I never see conservative blogs argue in favor of difficult sacrifices to make up for our failings to African-Americans, women, and other minorities continually left behind in the America dream.

We've done made up the deficit, son. In fact, one of the unintended consequences of "making up" has been to increase the numbers of the underclass, black and white.

Beware the laws of unintended consequences--read liberal Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan for a primer. He was prescient when he declared over 40 years ago that our poverty programs would destroy families. But the steam roller of good intentions simply flattened that truth and kept on going.

For every solution to a social ill there is the problem it then creates, which has to be solved, which creates another, often worse problem, and so on. Sometimes it is better, collectively, to let things be and trust people to find their own way. And to trust that others want to help, rather than being mandated to "help."

"The American Dream" is a mythos of self-help, individuality (sometimes carried to an extreme), and freedom from tyranny. It is liberty that is transformative, not "No Child Left Behind" pork programs that fool no one.

Women are already more than fifty per cent of the college population. What help do they need that they're not getting? Is this about "fair"? Women own more than half the wealth and they have a lower mortality rate from birth, besides living to a riper old age than their male cohorts.

As for "failing" African-Americans, no one has failed them like the poverty pimp leaders they've chosen. Al Sharpton is a national disgrace; Jesse Jackson is a crook, big time. Bill Cosby is right: it's about choices.

I went to my last diversity training program when I heard the facilitator say that only white people could be racist, black people couldn't be. Right. And only men can be sexist, huh?

That was in 1987. The bitter, "you-owe-me" victim mode has got to change. I am no longer willing to engage with those who want to accuse me of being wrong for breathing while white.

We have blacks and whites in our family. I was married in a black church, I live in a largely black area. This doesn't absolve me of anything because I don't need absolution to begin with.

This country needs a new conversation, one based on merit, integrity, and vision for all our children. We have become more color conscious rather than less --and nowhere is that more true than among young African Americans.

The blame game is old and out-dated. Blame is just another way of not taking on our own lives seriously. It's what the Islamists do when they complain that we took away Andalusia and we have to give it back.

Hey, the Normans invaded England in 1066 -- those French have some karma to account for, don't they?

You won't find conservative blogs taking your points about "failing" minorities seriously because conservatives disagree with your premise to begin with. In fact, they think such a proposition harms those it would seek to help.

You see, that's why they're called conservatives...and that's why you're not.

Anonymous said...

1. Dymphna is dead-on when she speaks of liberal Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan's previous observations about poverty.

When I read diatribe such as yours, I always look for the button marked "keep it simple."

When are you liberals going to let go of the nanny? Blacks are entirely capable. Sadly, thanks to our wonderful welfare state, those "left behind" have their entitlement streaming in uninterrupted- don't you fret one bit.

2. Muslim extremists are our "enemy du jour"?

I hope that was your only attempt at being glib. Otherwise, you're clueless. Suggest you call Professor Plum.

3. Returning to Feministe joust:

Had Jill left the US out of her discourse ENTIRELY, we would have listened. Why even make it 85/15?(your breakdown)

Had she made it 100/0, her point would have been well taken.

Anonymous said...

You still miss the point.

The last paragraph in the original post had the effect of totally diluting the rest of it, which was an excellent post.

To mention the Saudi's misogyny (as Jill suggests she meant) with that of our own in the same breath is ridiculous - and even you know that. I can't think of one person I know who would say there is not a problem with domestic violence in America, but for God's sake, how can any sane person compare it with the sadistic and inhumane treatment of women in Saudi Arabia? To put them in the same paragraph (on an equal footing, no less) just trivializes both problems.

I agree with Jeff that this last paragraph was totally unnecessary to the post, and that it DOES point to an urge of the left to establish "bona fides" by attacking America. America is far from perfect, but America learns and grows, unlike most of the rest of the world.

Cathy Young said...

David - please see the update here for my reply.

And your previous references to my work are greatly appreciated.

The probligo said...

I propos the need for an adjunct to "confirmation bias".

I suggest the form as "precognitive reading" or "precognitive comprehension".

This occurs when one sees the headline, sees the name of the author and immediately "knows" exactly what is being said in the article, or commentary, and the political bias that the author will have taken...

I for one catch myself guilty as charged - quite often!