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."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Local Journalists as Paladins of the Chamber of Commerce

"The wall of sep­aration between American news and the business interests is being systemati­cally dismantled at institutional levels of journalism. The practice of selecting news in order to make advertising more effective is becoming so common that it has achieved the status of scientific precision and publishing wisdom."
—Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California in Berkeley
One must wonder how journalism got so corrupted in America today—so fixated on famous airhead personalities and diversionary fait divers. Mass Communications programs in the nation’s universities and colleges likely play an important role. After all, what can one expect from Mass Comm professors who don’t even have the courage to report corruption in their own respective institutions? Spinelessness seems to have become a defining trait of the professorial herd. I’ve witnessed it over and again. If not courageous truth seeking and truth telling, therefore, what might professors be instilling in their journalism students, many of whom end up at the helm of local community newspapers? For one thing, journalism students seem to have been learning that bending over backwards in order to avoid offending the thin skinned is far more important than truth telling. Democracy, however, demands citizens with tough skin.

Over the past couple of decades, on a number of occasions, in vain, I brought First Amendment issues to the attention of local journalists. Their response has more often than not been simple indifference and silence. Nearly 15 years ago, for example, I was evicted from my office without due process at Fitchburg State College, a public institution. Eventually, the college paid me a settlement. However, neither local nor the student newspapers would publish a story about the incident. For the college, it was as if it hadn’t happen. Just the same, I founded The American Dissident as direct result of the intrinsic corruption witnessed first hand at Fitchburg State College.

A decade ago, I was accosted by police on three different occasions over the period of a year at Walden Pond State Reservation, each relative to the exercise of free-speech rights on public property (for details, examine www.theamericandissident.org/WaldenPondStateReservation.htm). Not one newspaper contacted proved interested in the stories. On one of those occasions the police incarcerated me for a day. The judge, of course, threw that case out three months later.

More recently, I brought to the deaf ears of local journalists anomalies also pertinent to the First Amendment regarding the Concord Cultural Council and Watertown Free Public Library. As for the latter, it issued a no-trespass order (see previous blog), though no crimes had been committed, that is, with the exception of lack of display of deference and curtsy. Although I informed the local editor of the Watertown Tab & Press that the librarian had lied in the text of the order stating I’d made threats and had caused a general disturbance, he was not sufficiently interested to investigate. But where and who were the witnesses and what threats had been made? Also, no hearing whatsoever was offered by the library for me to attempt to defend myself. My right to exercise free speech at that public library had simply been terminated on the whim and prevarication of an uptight reference librarian. But the journalist was not at all interested in investigating the breach of a citizen’s right to free speech in a public space. Why not? Didn’t attacks on citizen rights constitute a good enough subject for journalists nowadays? Well, he did publish a brief letter to the editor of mine, though corrupted its title to “Man, forbidden to enter the Watertown Free Public library, has his say.” Yes, I had my say, but I didn’t have my hearing!

As for the Concord Cultural Council, it decided this year to disregard any project proposals that might be of a “political nature,” a policy likely provoked by my overt questioning and challenging of the Council over the past several years. But what is “political nature”? It remains conveniently undefined, of course. My proposal was rejected this year for that reason. Why, a thinking citizen ought to wonder, didn’t the Council enact instead a policy to disregard projects of an “entertainment nature”? After all, entertainment is generally a superfluous form of culture, one that when too pervasive can indeed be detrimental to the health of democracy for it diverts citizen attention away from important issues, including war and corrupt politicians and other local leaders. Political engagement is, however, necessary for democracy’s very survival. Nothing at all in the minutes of the Council, which I examined, indicated that a discussion on the issue had even been engaged. I brought the matter to the deaf ears of The Concord Journal.

Finally, a thinking citizen, would have to wonder why there has not been a continued journalistic effort at revealing the extent of the damage effected by the millions of dollars used by the American Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s number one lobby in Washington, to purchase politicians in a very successful effort to stifle business regulation, which ended up wreaking havoc on the nation’s financial system and in the lives of everyday citizens regarding their retirement accounts.

Below are two letters I wrote this past week. Chris Helms (Watertown Tab & Press) did not respond to my questions, though did permit me to post a very short account of the event in question. Patrick Ball (The Concord Journal) has yet to respond, though it’s been about three weeks now.

Chris Helms: Please do let me know if you decide to run that letter of mine. Actually, I was really hoping, however, you'd investigate and write a story on the incident. After all, the First Amendment is clearly in question. My right to exercise free speech has been denied in a public space. As a journalist, why don't you care about that?

Were there witnesses besides the two librarians? If in fact I upset patrons, did any patrons complain? Why is there no recourse to contest the no-trespass order? Why doesn't Leone Cole respond to my emails with that regard? Why is she uninterested in my side of the event? Why did Francoeur lie? Why did she say I made threats and upset patrons, when nothing of the kind occurred?
G. Tod Slone

Patrick Ball: No response at all from you regarding my cultural-council complaint! Perhaps you ought to investigate. I’ve been investigating. The issues are clear. This year the Council enacted a new provision for excluding culture: “political nature.” Why? Or why didn’t it enact a new provision excluding culture of an “entertainment nature”? Why has it been according grants year after year to the very same organizations? Why does it reject my requests year after year? Well, at least now we know why: “political nature.” Why are the Council’s minutes devoid of debate on that issue? I examined them yesterday in Town Hall. Why should politicians (selectmen) select Council members… in order to exclude those like me who challenge politicians and their masters, the business leaders of the Chamber of Commerce?

Here’s another interesting story you could do. It would be a fascinating one: “Local Journalists, Paladins of the Local Chamber of Commerce?” Think about that!

G. Tod Slone