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On sneers, smears, and mutual sniping

Friday, July 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not exactly an enthusiast of negative campaigning ]
.

I’ve been having a series of conversations with my friend Tom Merino recently, and a couple of days ago he suggested two quotes to me for comparison:

SPEC DQ Tom's DoubleSpeak

I’ve formatted them in my usual DoubleQuotes style, but my friend calls the pairing DoubleSpeak and sees them as the starting point for an investigation of the vexed question — who uses the most frequent and vicious slurs against “the other side” — liberals or conservatives?

**

How would we even begin to measure that? Who would decide whether, for instance, smearing a Republican presidential candidate with a remark that clearly evokes slavery is a lesser or greater lapse than smirching a Democratic president with a remark that clearly evokes the Holocaust?

And who would host a venue where both liberals and conservatives could and would report abuses and insults of this sort, so that some measures of frequency, severity and authority could be employed in something resembling a fair ranking?

Note: on the difficulties of such ranking, see Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Order of Things.

**

And then there’s Sarah Palin, who used the phrase “blood libel” to describe attacks on her the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords — because she, Palin, had used a map with crosshairs on Democrats she hoped would be defeated.. Giffords included.

SPEC DQ Palin map blood libel

— the problem here being that “blood libel” refers pretty specifically to the accusation against the Jews that they bake matzoh for Passover using the blood of young Christian children they have slaughtered.

Again, the rhetoric she used trivialized the blood libel, just as Biden trivialized slavery and Huckabee trivializes the Shoah.

**

But then, hey — if putting cross-hairs on Democrats you’d like to see removed from office is itself an example of heated and dangerous rhetoric, wouldn’t the same be true of putting targets on Republicans you’d like to see removed?

Here’s a helpful DoubleQuote in the Wild:

acceptable or not

Neither “targetting” political adversaries nor “having them in your crosshairs” equates to killing or there would have been a whole lot more attempted assassinations — just the one was bad enough.

Have some proportion, people.

**

How about that claim that Ahmadinejad said he wanted to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”?

Over the top rhetoric can be rabble rousing, it can also be a warning or a threat, and threats on occasion get carried into practice. So, serious as divisive language and a divided nation is (Luke 11.17), some rhetoric is charged with meaning that transcends mere words and implies — or impels or incites to — action.

Some details. Ahmadinejad didn’t say anything about “wiping Israel off the face of the map” — specifically, he didn’t use the word “map”, and he was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini in any case. What he said is better translated “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” That’s Juan Cole’s translation, admittedly — but Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told an Al Jazeera interviewer “They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’”

Is that the end of it? Ahmadinejad didn’t say “wipe off the face of the map” but “vanish from the page of time”?

By no meanms. The faulty English translation was picked up by the Iranians and used, in English, on billboards:

wiped banner from teitelbaum

That banner was on the outside of a Basij HQ.

There’s room enough for some nuance here, but also plenty of room for concern. I’ll include a selection of readings under “Sources & Readings” below..

**

Oh. Getting back to simple slurs..

Now I learn there’s a new word of scorn, applied by “alt.conservatives” to “conservatives.” Frankly, I find it a distasteful reminder of how low our public speech has fallen — but then I’m a Brit, and rank politeness pretty high — we’re more prone to understatement than plain speaking.

The Washington Post calls it “the the conservative insult of the month” and I won’t go there.

**

Sources & Readings:

  • Deena Zaru, Anti-Defamation League: Huckabee ‘completely out of line’
  • Mackenzie Weinger, GOP slams Joe Biden ‘chains’ remark
  • SarahPAC, Palin target map
  • Michael Shear, Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’
  • RedState, Missouri GOP Senate Candidate Brunner Slams Sarah Palin For Rhetoric And “Cross-hairs” Map
  • Jonathan Steele, Lost in translation
  • Glenn Kessler, Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?
  • Robert Mackey, Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map’
  • Joshua Teitelbaunm, What Iranian Leaders Really Say about Doing Away with Israel: A Refutation of the Campaign to Excuse Ahmadinejad’s Incitement to Genocide
  • American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

    Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

    Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

    MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

    PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

    Is there truth in victory?

    Friday, August 2nd, 2013

    [by Lynn C. Rees]

    Things change. Beliefs don’t. Facing change, belief clings to the agreeable and resists the disagreeable. Current fashion names this reflex “confirmation bias” and frames it as the enemy of truth. Closer truth names this reflex “concentration of force” and portrays it as the friend of victory.

    The notion that discovery of truth is an individual effort persists. By its curiously resilient lights, the only truthful mind is a blank mind. Purge existing beliefs. Capture change free of entanglements. Embrace blindness to see clearly. Above all, lean neither one way nor the other. Only then, after much trial, with the last mental debris bulldozed away, will light come.

    No one thinks like this. Despite the occasional brave try, everyone reflexively favors things that fortify belief over things that undermine belief. If truth is a self-help exercise, the existence of confirmation bias means the mind is inescapably flawed. If truth is trial by self-improvement, the only cure for mind flaws is constant reinforcement of what experience suggests is impossible. And if reinforcing the impossible only leads to more impossibility, at least it leads to an impossibility redeemed by its righteous aggression.

    And so it would be, if leaving a vacuum and calling it truth is truth. But if truth comes from group contortion rather than individual self-flagellation, confirmation bias is a feature, not a bug. Then the mind is not flawed, at least not in that way. If the mind was guilty of chronic confirmation bias, it would only be guilty of operating to spec.

    Those who insist on convening a symposium for a full and frank exchange of views every time they come under fire rarely need a good retirement plan. Because of this, to enforce effectiveness under fire, Darwin decrees that the mind comes preloaded and then preloaded with live ammunition, not blanks. Beyond this, freedom to arbitrarily switch the caliber of mental ammunition mid-stream is sacrificed for clarity of supply: mind yields measured in thoughts per calorie rise when ideas are bought in bulk following spec, especially amid uncertainty in the field.

    Because buying ideas in bulk creates economies of scale, if confirmation bias is bias confirmed then it is bias shared. At the tribal scale, where human routine plays out, bias shared is indistinguishable from agreement. It too is guilty of operating to spec: Agreement reduces friction. Reduced friction lets group efforts prioritize targets. Prioritized targets let group effort selectively focus. Selective focus creates opportunities for local asymmetries. Local asymmetries can be exploited to further the tribe.

    This makes confirmation bias concentration of force. Concentration of force is biased, first in favor being very strong and then at the decisive point. But it is confirmed only when being very strong and then at the decisive point yields victory. Local superiority in strength at a decisive point is neither constant nor guaranteed: it is only guaranteed to not be constant. So the mind must stay on target: it earns its keep by concentrating for victory, not emptying for truth.

    This explains why what humans experience as “me” is a social loop: it is a argument simulator for forging chatter into weapons through endless drill of imagined conversations. It’s a display device, not a thinking machine. The thinking machine lies deep in the mind: real thought emerges from offline processing, especially during sleep. Conscious “me” is suited to rehearsing if small variations in action lead to opportunity through asymmetry. These variations are what gets flung at others as weaponized chatter. Some variations stick, leading to victory. Some miss, leading to defeat. Some should only be flung if clearly labelled FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

    Truth emerges from accumulations of such victories piled on mass burials of such defeats. It is an unintended byproduct, not an intended end product. But its emergence reaches back to shape its source. Generation by generation, the mind is doomed to more and more bias in favor of weaponized thought measured in victories confirmed, always subject to how well they fit, however haltingly, what is true.

    So things change while beliefs don’t. Confirmed truth is biased toward victory and victory is biased toward agreements with friends to win something with something rather than lonely pursuit of nothing through nothing.

    See the argumentative theory of reason for more background on this framework.

    Update on America 3.0 Book Events – Bennett and Lotus

    Friday, May 31st, 2013

    America 3.0 

    From Chicago Boyz:

    America 3.0: Mike Lotus on The Bob Dutko Show

    Mike Lotus will be on the Bob Dutko radio show tomorrow, May 31, 2013 at 12:40 p.m. EST. Bob hosts Detroit’s #1 Christian Talk Radio Show on WMUZS 103.5 FM.

    Please listen in if you can!

    Many thanks to the Bob Dutko Show for having me on.

    This weekend we will post an updated list of upcoming appearances by Jim Bennett, Mike Lotus, and occasionally both of us together, talking about America 3.0.

    Thanks to The Takeaway, the The Armstrong & Getty Show, and The Janet Mefferd show for interviewing Jim Bennett — all yesterday. It was a Bennett Threefer! 

    And Author Appearances:

    Upcoming appearances for Jim Bennett and Mike Lotus discussing America 3.0

    Tuesday, May 28, 2013
    Lou Dobbs Tonight (James and Michael)
    We will be on about 7:45 p.m. EST.

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013
    Armstrong & Getty (James)
    11:15 am EST

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013 
    Janet Mefferd Show (James)
    3:30 pm EST

    Friday, May 31, 2013 
    Bob Dutko Show (Michael)
    1:40 pm EST

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013
    Talk to Adam Smith Society, Booth School of Business (Michael)
    Noon

    Thursday, June 6, 2013
    Mornings with Nick Reed (Michael)

    Saturday, June 7, 2013
    Marc Bernier Show (James & Michael)
    4:25 pm EST

    Monday, June 17, 2013
    Western Conservative Summit, “Envisioning America 3.0” (James)

    And their maiden TV appearance with Lou Dobbs:

    The Controversial CTC Report

    Friday, January 25th, 2013

    The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

    First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminalinsurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

    The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

    ….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

    ….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

    This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

    By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

    As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

    I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.


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