Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The other side of Reasoned Discourse : "I don't think you're a Nazi, but I do think you're a bigot."

I know I've had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra from my "Christmas blogging break", but it appears my off/on debate with Kevin Baker on gun control has very abruptly come to a definitive end, so I thought it might be fitting to use this post as a monument to the rather telling manner in which the landmark moment finally arrived. First of all, let's recall Kevin's idealistic words when he arrived at this blog out of the blue on 8 April 2009, proposing a debate -

"There are those like you who hold an honest belief that "gun control" works to (somehow) make the world a safer place. There are those like me and the majority of Rachel's commenters who hold an opposing view. There's a vast middle out there who don't know what to think, and a large segment of them don't care, but there are "fence sitters" - and many of them vote. They are interested - and these debates provide an opportunity to show both sides.

I believe that my side - argued calmly, with statistics (with sources!) and logic - is the one that is most convincing.

I did not engage you in Rachel's comment thread because I came to it too late, but I now invite you to actually debate this topic. I suggest that the forum for this debate be our two blogs. We can trade posts, or I'll be more than happy to give you guest posting privileges at my blog.

I'm quite serious. And I promise that you will learn things you didn't previously know. I don't expect to change your mind, but I do predict that you will be made uncomfortable by what you learn...

No, James, it's not about "winning" or "losing," it's about the philosophy. As I said above, I don't expect to change your mind, nor you mine. What I want to do is get the discussion out there where "fence-sitters" can find it.

You seem like the type capable of defending his position, and (given your performance at Rachel's) willing to.

You have no idea how rare that is. On my side of the fence we have a running joke about "reasoned discourse" - it's what your side does here on the internet generally when confronted with facts and reasoned arguments. They close their comments and often delete them. I don't think you'd do that.

Obviously, I think your philosophy is the wrong one. Just as obviously (as you noted) your philosophy is not unknown on this side of the pond. That's what I'm fighting, and - not to put too fine a point on it - I want to use a debate between us as a tool in that fight.

If you think you can defend your position, then accept my invitation. I believe I can defend mine. I have no doubt that in the end we will agree to disagree, but it is my most earnest hope that readers of the discussion will come away believing that my arguments are the more convincing ones.

Can you say the same?"

So there's not much doubt as to the inferences we are being invited to draw about anyone who runs away from an open, rational exchange of views, and specifically their confidence in their ability to defend their corner in such an exchange, and to ultimately prevail in the battle for the hearts and minds of the undecided.  Bearing all that in mind, spot the slight irony in the manner in which Kevin today announces that he's no longer quite so keen on this whole debating lark...

Baker : Yup. Our first principles are completely divergent. And while I'm content to leave his type alone, they cannot leave my type alone, because they feel threatened by us.

Me : Genuinely bemused by that comment, Kevin, given that it was you who came to me all-guns-blazing (if you'll forgive the expression) in spring 2009, not the other way round. Oh, I know that was before you "flipped my rock over", but let me remind you that you also claim not to have been remotely "surprised" by what you found under it.

You may not feel threatened by me or my "type", but you certainly feel threatened by something - isn't the whole raison d'être of this blog "our freedoms and way of life are under mortal threat"? A "decades-long hate crime", and all that?

Baker : James, the reason I blog? Agitate for individual rights? Put my hard-earned money into the hands of people who fight for my rights? Stand up to people like you who are afraid of people like me?

I don't want my headstone to read "He didn't love freedom enough."

Here's the deal, Sparky, which you (also unsurprisingly) can't grasp: I don't think you're a Nazi, but I do think you're a bigot. You're the one who nonchalantly threw out the accusation "It can only be that he feels black people are innately more prone to violence than white people." In no uncertain terms you called me a racist. I doubt you even considered the question for a second, you just put a checkmark in the box that said "gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, redneck racist." It fit your preconceived notions

So I thought I'd give you some of your own back. I should've known better. Water off a duck's back.

Oh, and on that Hiroshima/Nagasaki question. No, that was not "genocide." What we did to the Indian populations of North America was genocide. Try to learn the difference. I'm not proud of either, but I'm not disturbed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for reasons I have no doubt you'd reject. I don't care if you reject them. I do have objections to the genocide of the Indians.

You're welcome to continue to hang around. As someone called you in an email, you are more than welcome to become Scotadelphia, but I'm done with you. You've served your purpose as the quintessential example of type, and for that, again, I thank you.

Me : Kevin, the atomic bombings were genocide. I accept that's a controversial point of view even outside the US, but it's hardly a novel one, so for you to work yourself up into a state of moral outrage as if no reasonable person could ever make that claim is faintly ludicrous. The reason the bombings were genocide is that they clearly fit the definition of genocide. It was very telling that when I quoted that definition, neither you nor anyone else was able to explain why it wouldn't apply in this case. Your own tactic was to ignore the point completely, while others suggested that they (conveniently) preferred another definition entirely.

It's quite clear that your underlying reason for rejecting not only the genocide claim, but also the lesser claim of war crime/atrocity, is very simply that the bombings were carried out by the US to finish off a campaign that has since become an integral part of America's national story, feeding into the country's (partly justified) self-image as a force for good in the world. Indeed, you explicitly invited your readers to find what I said objectionable on the sole grounds that it attacked an action of the country they love - there wasn't even the slightest trace of a defence of the bombings on their own merits. Doubtless that tactic will work in the very narrow sense it was intended to (ie. demonising me as an individual) - but at the expense of any credibility you had left as someone who debates based on reason and logic, rather than on emotion, jingoism, and what in your country you would call 'handwaving'.

Now, onto the issue that clearly led you to lose the plot and write this intemperate piece. No, it is not true that I implied you held racist views on the basis of my own preconceived ideas, and it's categorically not the case that I said it without considering the point very carefully. I made the claim based specifically on a close reading of things you said in your previous post. As I pointed out in my reply, you seemed to me to be very noticeably switching to insinuation and suggestion whenever you got to the bits of your belief system that you felt would be somewhat unpalatable to neutrals in this debate. My intention was to tease out what it was you were so shy about fronting up to - I didn't claim to be 100% certain in the guesses I was making, as can be seen from my words "he can always correct me if he thinks I'm going astray" (which I note you didn't quote). To be fair, that's exactly what you did - it turns out you believe black culture, not black genes, is the problem. I'm not sure that's any more attractive a worldview, as it still pins all the blame on the black community, and runs away from society's collective responsibility for racial inequality. But others can make up their own minds about that. In that sense teasing out what you actually meant - when you seemed strikingly reluctant to spell it out - entirely served its purpose.

In closing, I'll just remind you of your stated reason for wanting a debate with me - it was that virtually all others on my side of the argument refuse to engage in a dialogue, resort to name-calling and mindless abuse upon having their belief system challenged, and go on to practice the fabled "Reasoned Discourse". Well, it's now plain for all to see that it is you who has unilaterally decided, as a result of arguments you've heard from me that your belief system is unable to cope with in a mature way, that withdrawal of engagement after one final abusive post is the way to go. That's fine. Now that you've made that unilateral decision, I won't be "sticking around" as you put it, any more than I have during the previous lulls in this 'debate'. There would be little utility in me doing so, as there are only a very small number of posters here who are any more interested in a meaningful exchange of views than you are. A few hours ago, I had a perfectly civilised debate with Nate (as I've had in the past) on my own blog, but unfortunately those with his constructive approach seem rare indeed.

What I will be doing, however, is posting your above comment on my blog, along with this reply, as a monument to the very telling manner in which this 'debate' finally came to an end. Thankyou for getting angry, Kevin, and a very Happy Christmas to you and all your readers. 


Incidentally, it's worth pointing out that one of Kevin's readers, who fully agrees with him on the substantive issue of gun rights, nevertheless suggested that he'd gone too far in his latest essay, noting that "referring to 'flipping over a rock', calling him a bigot - these are not the tools of reasoned debate". My suspicion is that, on reflection, Kevin knew perfectly well that he'd made a tactical blunder, hence his hurried attempt not only to draw a line under the whole debate (having first declared a total, crushing victory, naturally), but also to 'clarify' his abusive comments in the following hilarious terms - "Here's the deal, Sparky, which you (also unsurprisingly) can't grasp: I don't think you're a Nazi, but I do think you're a bigot." But hang on - in exactly what sense have I failed to grasp that? Did I ever actually give any indication that I thought he was calling me a Nazi, and not just a bigot? I can't help wondering if that's the very revealing slip of a guilty mind...


  1. These people are unreal. Well said, James - a very dignified response.

  2. Ezio Auditore da Firenze at ChristmastimeDecember 22, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    James, I shall toast you with my heartiest wine this Christmas!

    A clear victory for the forces of good or evil.

    To James Francis Patrick Augustus Kelly...the man whose keyboard we owe so much to. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

  3. What I find quite perplexing in this long series is the constant reference of Mr Baker to 'philosophy'.

    He refers to reason, logic, premises, conclusions, & first principles as though he has some academic training. Yet, where his arguments are not merely disordered or contradictory, they are pitifully confused.

    I wonder why he uses terms he doesn't appear to understand. Perhaps he imagines the mention of them lends his views authority and persuasive force.

  4. Thanks, Anon, and best wishes for the season to you too, Ezio! PB's loss is Florence's eternal gain!

    Ratzo - yes, that thought has occurred me many times as well, but I didn't want to say it out loud just in case it turned out he was a Harvard professor on the quiet (although given the ideological reputation of that institution, it was probably always fairly unlikely!).

  5. Whilst I haven't been an avid follower of your discourse with Kevin and his gun toting buddies, I've been a mildly amused and thoroughly encouraged, occasional bystander. It was an excellent if somewhat long exchange. Nothing Kevin said swayed my opinions towards his viewpoints - quite often the opposite occurred, but mainly because I hadn't considered the particular angle he was pushing before reading it.

    Anyway, well done!

  6. You have proven yourself, by all objective measures, to be a bigot.

    And yes, you did accuse Kevin of being a racist, because you lacked the intellectual ability to comprehend and refute his point logically.

  7. In point of fact, I didn't use the word 'racist'. What I actually said was "it can only be that he feels black people are innately more prone to violence than white people". It has to be said that, on my travels on the internet, I've come across many right-wing posters from both the US and the UK who would furiously deny that such a worldview is actually racist - after all, as Kevin says himself, "facts aren't racist, they're just facts". The only sense in which Kevin actually claimed I was wrong in the inference I drew about his views is that he thinks black culture, rather than black genes, is the culprit in the greater rate of violence. Some people on the other end of the political spectrum would argue that viewpoint is every bit as racist as the one I ascribed to Kevin - so what is, and what isn't racist, is very much in the eye of the beholder. It wasn't a word I used. By way of contrast, 'bigot' is a word that Kevin used. Many, many times. How he can square that with his self-image as someone capable (in such noble contrast to the beastly 'other side') of defending his corner solely through 'calm, reasoned, logical argument' is something he'll have to answer to the next time he challenges someone to a debate.

    On your latter point, at that moment I wasn't particularly trying to "logically refute" anything - I was trying to logically tease out what Kevin was insinuating. If he's quite so touchy about people misconstruing what he says, I'd suggest he might want to stop relying quite so much on strategic ellipsis whenever he gets to the more unpalatable portions of his belief system.

    But I'm so thrilled you finally noticed this post, Mike. It's the little things that make it all worthwhile.

  8. I recently read "Bloodlands" by Timothy D. Snyder. The book is a history of Northern Europe, between Berlin and Moscow during the years 1935 to 1945. At this time and in this place, the dream of many was real ("no guns in private hands, only the government."). About 20 million people lost their lives (not including those deaths solely attributable to combat).

    As I read it, I could not help but think, what if there had been a significant number of firearms in private hands there? People were shot in their homes, herded to pits and shot, loaded into transports and gassed, worked to death or starved, etc. In some places nearly all food stores were stolen by police and politically favored groups, leaving residents to starve. It is really difficult for me to imagine that these atrocities could have been carried out if a large segment of the population had been armed.

    I highly recommend this book.

  9. Thankyou for the recommendation, Hank, but I'm wondering if you've noticed that the 'dream' - as you put it - is still very much alive? The UK achieved universal suffrage in 1928, and as stubbornly inconsistent as it may seem with the Articles Of Faith, we still have it despite decades of strict gun control legislation. But then, to be fair, the dream hasn't yet died on the American experiment to see if democracy can survive despite millions upon millions of legal guns sloshing around, so - as Zhou Enlai might put it - it's far too early to tell which of our dreams is going to prove most durable. Could yet be both, you know - you may have missed it, but even Kevin conceded the other day that British democracy may well survive in the long-term even with gun control. That admission struck me as hugely significant - I suspect he knows full well that the conviction of others on his side that democracy will inevitably falter in the absence of widespread private gun ownership looks fairly risible on any reading of modern history.

    Incidentally, if you're still wondering how a 'government gone bad' in your country would go about mass-slaughtering an armed population, you might want to consider the vast US stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. American gun advocates do seem to suffer from collective amnesia on that point - they quaintly imagine they're defending themselves against the 18th Century 'threats to liberty' that the Framers of the Constitution might have foreseen.

  10. True, but these type of government-run mass killings have now happened in quite a few places. It seems to me that all of these occurrences have been in places where private firearm ownership is severely limited. Is there a case of this happening somewhere where private firearm ownership is widespread?

  11. Iraq springs to mind. There may well be other examples - I'm not armed with that particular Doomsday Database.

    The flipside to your question is : is there a case of it happening in an entrenched democracy with strict gun control legislation? I can't think of one. The Weimar Republic was only a fledgling democracy, and an extraordinarily weak one at that - there were sweeping 'state of emergency' powers that made it extremely easy for Hitler to circumvent the democratic process by almost entirely constitutional means.

    You're looking in the wrong place for the failsafe against genocide/democide, Hank.

  12. have only recently found your blog, as a scot working in the oil industry with a few gun totin defenders of 'freedom' i enjoyed your efforts and sympathise with the response you had to endure. onwards to independence in 2011