A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the Ad Hominid

[N.B.: Interestingly, a journal distributed to libraries will be publishing my previous blog account, which is embedded in a much longer essay on my experiences with librarians. When published, I shall mention here what journal published it.]

He [man] has invented a complete catalogue of vile and scabrous epithets which he is ever ready to sling at those who think and act differently, that is, think and act as he himself would like to, if he had the courage.
—Henry Miller, "When I Reach for My Revolver”

Often, an ad hominem insinuates that there is a connection between the character traits of a person and the ideas or arguments that the person is putting forward; it is an attempt to discredit a proposition by discrediting the person who articulates it. It involves pointing out characteristics of the person being attacked that the audience, real or assumed, will tend to perceive negatively, and then concluding that because of these negative traits, the person's arguments and ideas, especially those which were the object of discussion, are also toxic. [...] When an ad hominem is committed, this pertinent link [between the person and his ideas] does not exist.
—Normand Baillargeon, A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense

To those in power, all whistle-blowers, dissenters and boat-rockers are obnoxious, at least while they remain lone rebels... The ideas that rebels expound tend not to be attacked by those in power. The latter are inclined rather to kill the messenger by character assassination. For example, one rebel was said to be a womanizer... bitter... disloyal... and even, in the words of one accuser, dangerously mentally ill.
—C. Tarvis

What makes me different from most of those trying to “succeed” in the academic/literary established-order milieu is that I've tended to put “success” on the backburner, while truth telling in the forefront. Unfortunately, in academe, that makes for a disastrous carreer. Today, I am essentially unemployable because of it.

Thus, I am not only highly critical of that order, but also do not make it a habit of arguing via ad hominem, a widespread form of vacuous rhetoric, once the argumentation of predilection of children, but today that of so many, many “educated” adults.

Logic is my weapon of choice, while ad hominem seems to have become that of the established-order milieu and those seeking to become part of it. After all, how can such persons possibly explain themselves and the corrupt order they so admire with logic? In fact, Mather Schneider, a poet autodidact, recently argued he didn’t “give a damn about logic!” Now, that’s honesty, a rarity indeed!

Certainly, I succumb, from time to time, to the common modus operandi, for is it not so much easier to simply dismiss a person and his arguments by calling him a “fucking moron,” as that fellow who didn’t give a damn about logic called me? Nevertheless, I’ll readily admit my errors in judgment—my weak moments—and rectify them. After all, ad hominem is a knee-jerk reaction. I do have such reactions but, unlike most, I am quite aware of them and consciously attempt to replace them with logical argumentation. Indeed, a certain amount of intellectual energy is required. The lazy prefer not to expend it.

Miller was partially right that the ad hominid tends to lack courage. However, I disagree with him that ad hominids would like to think and act as I do or he did, that is, as brazen critics of society. Likely, it is the shock of sudden, unexpected, and in-habitual criticism that overwhelms the ad hominid’s ability to reason with clarity. Fragile ego is another factor, for the ad hominid tends to be bathed in positive feedback. That is what the milieu does. It seeks to spread false happy-face positivism and ignore anyone or anything poking holes in that shiny veneer, or at best dismiss the criticism with ad hominem. The sudden shock of unexpected negativity thus provokes knee-jerk anger and subsequent childish name calling.

Nearly all of the criticism I’ve received over the past several decades has been of the ad hominem variety. Sadly, such rhetoric is commonly used by academics, editors, and poets, amongst others, too intellectually indolent or incompetent to counter-argue with convincing logic. In fact, it is so common that one ought to be disturbed by the trend and wonder how and why both higher and lower education have managed to fail so egregiously with regards the inculcation of the importance of logical thinking and argumentation. Evidently, logic is not the friend of corrupt systems, including and especially the educational one.

Very few literary journals publish negative critique. Instead, they tend to publish self-congratulatory commentary. In that sense, The American Dissident is quite different. In each issue, the editor publishes the harshest comments directed at the journal and/or editor. By the way, the editor has never stated nor implied that he is a revolutionary, a great writer, or a brilliant poet. It is amazing the things ad hominids will say when a citizen simply stands up and speaks his mind against the herd. As for egotistical, any writer who puts up a website, publishes a literary journal, or sends out his or her writing could easily be accused of it. That epithet is as vacuous as the rest. Indeed, when the fellow who “didn’t give a damn about logic” stated I had an “enlarged ego,” I argued: “If you were not an egotist, you would have a purpose besides simply getting published.” His response deflected the point made: “I never said I wasn't an egotist, I said that you were an egotist. It's not the same thing.” Yet, isn’t it? Deflection is what ad hominids do best.

Another aspect of the ad hominem phenomenon is to call the argument itself names, as in "rant" and "diatribe." Again, that rhetorical tactic avoids dealing with the argument. The editor of Journal of Information Ethics, for example, wrote the following regarding an essay I’d submitted on librarians: “it is a personal diatribe based on a limited experience at a limited institution. It is not publishable.” When I brought to his attention the ad hominem phenomenon, he argued: “A diatribe is an aggressive talk or lecture or essay that insists very vehemently on a point caring little about counter-arguments or even fairness. For me it is not a pejorative term.” Websters.com defines it as “a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.” How can an intelligent person possibly argue that “diatribe” is not a pejorative term? By the way, one of the arguments in the librarian essay was clear and entirely avoided by that editor: the free speech of a citizen was truncated on the whim of a librarian in a public space without due process. To any responsible citizen in a democracy, that fact ought to be pertinent. To that editor, however, it was simply a diatribe. Besides, reality is based on single such experiences and, more importantly, never did I even remotely suggest all librarians behaved thusly. Just the same, rotten eggs, like that librarian, should be exposed, not condoned via indifference. Later, I discovered that editor had been a careerist academic librarian!

Finally, one might easily fall into the trap of thinking that if so many people have dismissed my arguments, then maybe they're right and I’m wrong. Such people are urged to read Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” Indeed, Ibsen argued "The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war. Who is it that constitute the majority population of a country? Is it the clever folk or the stupid? I don’t imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over."


Scott Blair said...

Congratulations on fighting your way into the libraries, even if you had to circumvent the system by being published in another journal.

My issue with Academia is that college has become another certificate/pre-requisite to have blue and white collar jobs. Students are no longer students but cattle being herded through life, choosing pre-determined paths by choosing majors and then pursuing a career in that path. Learning and higher education have either ceased to exist or have turned tail and gone underground, for when i walk the campus i merely find mindless cattle, following in the misguided footsteps of their forefathers.

What a sad state to find ourselves in, when those who truly seek to gain knowledge and understanding must forsake the halls of learning and retreat into solitude to find what they seek.

mather said...

Did you misspell my name on purpose? I'm a kind of French-German crossbreed? Also, the quote is wrong. There should be a "..." between the first and the second sentences, to indicate that one didn't directly follow the other.

Who are the other two entities in the drawing? It's supposed to be an "et all" but I don't even know their names.

"There are no facts, only interpretations." Nietzsche.

mather said...

Or maybe you suffocated in your robes?

Charlotte W. said...

There is another way of looking at the term "ad hominem". Below is an interesting page that addresses the over use and misuse of "Ad Hominem". Its title is "The ad hominem fallacy fallacy."


G. Tod Slone said...

Hello there Scott! Good to hear from you! Excellent points made on higher ed. Thanks much. Higher ed, behind the scenes (and I know it quite well) tends to be anything but what it should be: truth seeking, rigorous logic, and principles of democracy. Instead, it tends to be backstabbing, ad hominem, and principles of business 101, gaining tenure and PC.

It is a tedious process, begging before librarians.

Charlotte, I agree with what that person states RE ad hominem. And that is precisely how I’ve stated it.

“Et al” is correct and should not be “et all.” It is abbreviated Latin for “et alii” and is commonly used to mean “and others.”

But you’re right, Schneider was spelled incorrectly. I will rectify it. Thanks much for bringing that to my attention, Master Grammarian Mather.

mather said...

Well, you changed my name but you've still got me misquoted. The second sentence is not complete and did not follow the first in my original statements.

Also, great web page find, Charlotte! It almost seems like this was written for Slone himself!

G. Tod Slone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G. Tod Slone said...

Well, you're back to nitpicking, Mather. True the two sentences in the cartoon are not in original sequence. Nonetheless, that does not in any way whatsoever work to falsify what you wrote and intended to write. To be techically correct, I cold put the following between the sentences: [...]. Why is it so difficult for you to admit fault, as in ET AL? That is something you need to think about. It is difficult for me to understand you because I have no problem at all admitting fault and rectifying the error, as I've done now and then in this blog.

mather said...

I wasn't claiming you misspelled "et al", I simply misspelled it in my note to you. My concern was the fact that you put me in an "et al" group with these other people, like we're in some sort of coalition, that's the impression, and I don't know who they are. It was a poorly written sentence on my part, but it's interesting you chose to jump on that and use it as "proof" that I can't admit my faults! For a few minutes I didn't even realize what you were talking about! Et al, oh brother! I guess there is no English phrase that would approximate these two cliched French words. Verdad?

Talk about admitting faults: you can't even admit you stretch the definition of ad hominem to the breaking point, to the point where your very accusations and protestations of ad hominem is a form of ad hominem itself, and serves to avoid the issue at hand. That web page Charlotte posted here makes many good points. Don't you see how they might apply to you? Your obsession with every little mean name or turn of sarcasm dealt you just gets in the way of any debate that might be going on. A point can be argued logically and STILL sarcasm and insult can appear, but you only seem to HEAR the insults, and not the logic that is presented against you. It is not ad hominem unless it singularly serves to deflect an immediate argument and NO LOGICAL RESPONSE IS MADE. If I make an argument that you are a hypocrite, with logic and examples, and then conclude by calling you a hypocrite, that is not ad hominem, that is my logical conclusion.

When you make a cartoon of someone and put words in their mouth, the least you could do is quote them correctly. That's nitpicking to you? These are MY words you're talking about. What I said was: "I was MOCKING YOU, you fucking moron." And it was long after I said the former, the sentence about logic, which is also not complete and therefor a misquote. I'm not denying the essence of what I said, but I think I should be quoted truthfully. You seem to care about the integrity of your own art like you care about the integrity of your journal.

I'm glad it is not hard for you to admit fault, and for changing my name to the proper spelling. Ha! What a big man you are, to admit I know how to spell my own name! You're actually patting yourself on the back for it, attempting to use it as a sign of your superior nature.

I'm dizzy with admiration.

G. Tod Slone said...

Mather, you're not "dizzy with admiration," but rather with anger and inability to accept criticism. "Et al" is not a French phrase, by the way, it is Latin. And in case you don't know, there is a difference between "Latin" and the language spoken by "Latinos." Yes, you are right, apparently and sadly, today it does indeed take a "big man" to admit fault. Thank you for the lesson on cartooning.

mather said...

Well, Socrates, I think your robes have crawled up your ass-crack and affected your brain. You accuse me once again of being angry, as if that is something to be ashamed of, as if your words are not appealing to emotions instead of reason, which is the very definition of ad hominem. And I'm "blinded" by it too! Blinded to what? What am I not seeing that you think I should see? What faults do I have that I have not freely admitted to? Your only criticism of my poetry has been to call it politically disengaged, which is true and I know that and accept it. Where we disagree is in the judgment that this is a fault and I should write differently, meaning, I guess, I should write more like you. It seems you think that I, like Plato trying to win the approval of Socrates, should burn all my poetry and sit at your feet in reverence for logic and only logic. (It's your cartoon.) Art is deeper than logic, and it's certainly deeper than this civic investigatory type thing you do. I'm trying to get at something deeper, but am not so vain to think I have succeeded.

The fact that you would make a cartoon about me shows that you are angry with me, though you won't admit this. Why else would you waste your time drawing that thing? Nobody knows who I am! Your mis-reading of my sentence involving "et all" and your immediate attack on that
(non)point also show you are the one blinded by anger, not me. Do you really think I would correct your spelling of "et al"? Did you stop to ask yourself that even for a minute? Have I ever corrected your spelling and not been right? Good Gordon, you just jumped, spurred by your anger, to a senseless attack on me, based on nothing but a misunderstanding of my admittedly awkward English. Ah, sorry, "et al" is Latin and not French. That doesn't make it any less cliched, unnecessary and pretentious.

Why is it so hard for you to be technically correct when quoting me? For all your insistence on reason, logic, rules, law, proper grammar, etc. I wouldn't think this would be much of a problem. Unless, of course, you are a 360 degree hypocrite. One of the things I've liked about your cartoons is the direct quotes you put in them, but now I'm wondering how many others you've misquoted, either deliberately or out of carelessness.

You didn't respond at all to what has been said about your ridiculous obsession with ad hominem, real or imagined, except to say that you use ad hominem "precisely" as it is defined on that web page. That isn't true, and here's an example of why: the editor of the Journal of Information Ethics told you he didn't want your piece because it was a "a personal diatribe based on limited experience at a limited institution." This is not ad hominem. For one thing, you did not offer your piece to him as logical debate, you submitted it for publication, which is not the same thing. His response is not to argue any point you made in the writing itself, but simply to reject your piece. For another thing his reasons (which he does not owe you) make logical sense: in his mind you did not raise your personal experience to the level of a broader interest (and broader does not necessarily mean "majority", we are all on the fringe). He doesn't assault your character or say anything irrelevant. What's he supposed to say about your sad story? He can't very well argue the truthfullness of it, but he can argue that it is limited, small, insignificant, not worth reading, let alone type-setting. But all you can do is jump on the word "diatribe", a single word divorced of its context, a word that can be used negatively OR positively, depending on the situation, and you run with it like a dog with a rag. The point is this: he didn't like your piece and he told you clearly why. You didn't offer any argument that your piece isn't a "personal diatribe based on a limited experience at a limited institution.", you simply attack him with the accusation that he's using ad hominem, which is in effect your own use of ad hominem to avoid HIS point.

Here's a genuine ad hominem for you: Why am I even arguing with a guy who uses the word "o'er" in his poetry?

G. Tod Slone said...

"Here's a genuine ad hominem for you: Why am I even arguing with a guy who uses the word "o'er" in his poetry?" says Mather.

First, that's not an ad hominem. You seem to enjoy being purposefully ignorant.

The response to your question is simple. How can you not possibly know it?

Here it is: Because you can't take criticism, are raging pissed off at nothing, hold grudges to death do us part, and evidently have nothing at all better to do with your time. Otherwise, you would have ceased reading this blog.

So, why the hell don't you start a lit mag and do something besides trying to get your trite verse published, right and left? Why don't you learn how to draw cartoons or whatever else, instead of simply sitting on your ass passively and not even attempting to fight the corruptors of democracy? Oh, I forgot, you're the one who doesn't give a damn about democracy.

Keep your responses short because Ive learned with you not to waste time writing long responses to them.

mather said...

Yes, it is an ad hominem, all it needs is statement from you preceding it, pretty much any one will do. Besides that, it was a rhetorical question.

You drew a cartoon meant to make me look like a fool and yet somehow the fact that I am responding to it means I don't have a life, am ragingly angry, as if I am totally out of line by chiming in and defending myself. You simply come back with your standard why-don't-you-just-shut-up-and-go-away.

And then to put a comment on your next blog dissing me right from the start! If you really want me to stop writing here you've got a funny way of showing it.

G. Tod Slone said...

The cartoon simply depicts you saying what you wrote. If that makes you look like a fool, so be it. You've lambasted me with so much crap: ad hominem ad infinitem! That's what inspired it.

Luke Daly said...

This isn't vigorous debate. This is idiotic. There is no learning to be had here, except on the way out the door: the lesson of time mis-spent. Debate and needling aren't the same.

But I also sort of love you.