Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Monday, February 10, 2003
Re the I-word: Jim Henley handed me some demerits for my use (two posts down) of the term "idiotarian." Of course, I only used it in the negative, as a lazy shorthand for "argument that can and should be taken seriously, as it employs logic that does not depend on axiomatic belief in either the evil of U.S. or the nefarious idiocy of the Bush Administration." Given the tenor of much of the rhetoric we have seen, I can't say I think use of the term has been entirely unjustified. It's understandable, though, that people like Jim committed to an antiwar position would want to see the term scrapped, since its use is in some part designed to keep them constantly on the defensive, as though their position is presumptively unworthy of respect because also espoused by others who engage in self-righteous idiocy. If the term itself represented a well-defined, valid concept, that it had this effect would not necessarily be sufficient reason to scrap it. But I have long been uncomfortable with "idiotarian" myself, because it is not a well-defined term and because it seems to imply the attitude that any criticism of the speaker's position can be dismissed as idiotic. The very attitude, in other words, to which the tagline of my blog is set in opposition. I should say that in my estimation Glenn and others (at least those others to whom I pay attention) have tended to use the term more responsibly than that, making clear that it refers not to an intellectual position as such but to a stridently illogical and morally irresponsible means of advancing it. The reason I was willing to accept the term is that it was being applied to people whose tone I took to be the very one described in my tagline, people who were essentially saying, "Only an uninformed, jingoistic cretin could possibly believe the U.S. to have any moral legitimacy in opposing terrorism." Further, Glenn has gone out of his way to make clear that the term applies not merely to antiwar arguments but to any policy rhetoric, from left or right, that exhibits those characteristics. And ultimately that's the problem. There is no defined "idiotarian" position, which means the term is more a catch-all epithet than a meaningful concept. (Unlike, say, "transnational progressivism," which I continue to think a well-defined term despite the protests of Aziz and others.) Far better to criticize specific offenders by defining their offense with real words. And far better for the quality of one's own thought to avoid use of terms that blunt rather than hone the precision of one's analysis. So I shall take Jim's admonition to heart and say ta-ta to the I-word.

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