Logical debate, the word “bigot” again, and the value of emotional statements

Over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Burt Likko argues in favor of a cool, emotionally detached form of argumentation. This is, Burt says, “a journey towards the truth.”

My own preferences for debate style align pretty closely with Burt’s. But I’m skeptical about how effective logical argumentation is as a tool for finding truth. Very often, internet debates — including debates in Burt’s (and my) preferred style — are less about finding truth than they are about demonstrating who is the more skilled debater.

Burt writes:

I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that any particular subject matter, or any particular viewpoint about a subjet matter, is so out of bounds that it is unworthy of debate.

Ironically, Burt goes on to argue, in effect, that logical debate should not include criticism of positions for being bigoted (specifically using the example of racism). So apparently some subjects — those that make Burt uncomfortable — are out of bounds, according to Burt.

Worse, Burt does this in a dishonest manner. When a comment writer suggest the argument “the logical leap from P to Q is incorrect, and what’s more, rests on some bigoted and hateful premises,” Burt responds:

If the logical leap from P to Q is incorrect, then your response should be to refute the major premise…

That’s not good enough for you? You have to go the extra step and say “…and you’re a bigot for suggesting what you did”?

So the comment-writer says that an argument rests on bigoted premises, and Burt dishonestly paraphrases that as the writer having accused someone of being a bigot. Burt conflates calling an argument bigoted and saying “you’re a racist!”

Burt writes:

Aziz Ishak‘s actual statement is that being called a racist or a bigot just plain isn’t so bad.1 He’s right from a logical perspective, but as we’ve seen over the past two days, logic is not the only level upon which people operate. There is a very high degree of moral opprobrium attached with attitudes of racism and bigotry in our culture. For the most part, our (relatively recent) cultural condemnation of bigotry has been a good thing.

So I think it’s appropriate that, for instance, Tim defend himself against claims that he is a bigot, or more precisely, that his post advocated bigoted ideas.

Tim’s post did advocate bigoted ideas, incidentally (as Burt’s co-blogger E.D. effectively argued). But that aside, note that Burt is once again conflating criticism of an idea with a direct attack on the person making the argument.

That’s a nasty rock to have thrown at you and not responding in some way to it can create the impression that you willingly accept the moral opprobrium associated with racism. (If you want to see what real anti-Muslim bigotry looks like, take a look at some comments offered in response to one of my recent posts.)

I don’t think “you want to see what real bigotry looks like” is a very persuasive argument. Apparently Burt believes that if statement X contains over-the-top bigotry, while statement Y contains only subtle (and questionable) bigotry, the mere existence of statement X is enough to prove absolutely that statement Y is not bigoted. But that makes no sense. If Sally calls Charlie Brown “wishy-washy,” but Lucy calls Charlie Brown “a COMPLETE BLOCKHEAD,” Lucy’s statement is clearly meaner than Sally’s. But it doesn’t logically follow that Sally’s statement isn’t mean at all.

There’s also something distasteful about Burt — who I suspect isn’t a Muslim — lecturing a Muslim about what “real” anti-Muslim bigotry looks like. I’m not saying that Burt can’t logically disagree with Aziz about what does or does not qualify as “real” bigotry; but Burt should do it with thoughtful, considered arguments, not with a dismissive “this is what real bigotry looks like” sneer.

It’s also the case that one person throwing that rock tends to end the discussion. [...]

If you call me a “racist”, you are using an appeal to emotion not to win the argument2 but rather to end it.

This is very problematic.

Remember, Burt has already established, multiple times, that he doesn’t acknowledge a distinction between saying “the argument rests on some bigoted premises” and saying “you’re a racist!” So in Burt’s view, just saying “the argument rests on some bigoted premises” is an act of rock-throwing, an appeal to emotion, and an attempt to end the argument.

Let’s imagine this in dialog form:

MARCIE: Your argument is wrong because it rests on bigoted premises–
PATTY: How dare you call me a racist! You blockhead!

What happened there is that Patty mischaracterized Marcie’s statement and ended the argument. But if we use Burt’s standards, we’d blame Marcie; by merely bringing up the question of bigotry, Marcie ended the argument. But this is not only unfair to Marcie, it also unfairly absolves Patty from responsibility for her own actions.

* * *

Emotion has more value in argumentation than Burt credits. I agree that it’s not good for constructive debate if Schroeder calls Woodstock an asshole rather than answering Woodstock’s arguments. But emotional expression can be persuasive, and sometimes rightly.

Remember what I said earlier; just because someone has the better logical argument3 doesn’t always mean that they’re right. Sometimes it just means that they’re the more skilled debater. If someone makes a very logical argument concluding that the highest good requires kicking all puppies to death, our emotional revulsion may protect us from accepting a bad argument merely because it’s well-constructed and hides its holes cleverly. Emotion can be used to test logic’s soundness.

Of course, emotion isn’t the end-all and be-all; sometimes emotion is wrong. Just as we use emotion to test logic’s soundness, logic should be used to test emotion’s soundness. The point is to maintain balance; a wholesale rejection of either logic or emotion is a mistake.

Emotional speaking can also facilitate good communication and debate, by letting the debaters know that someone in the room has a personal stake in the issue under discussion.

PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average farmer is just lazy, and…
SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a farmer!
PIGPEN: I’m sorry, Sally. You know I respect you. What I should have said is, the average farmer, like all intelligent workers, strives to be more productive with less effort whenever possible.

If Pigpen acknowledges Sally’s stake and responds, not by giving up his argument, but by phrasing it in a way that shows respect for Sally, that facilitates discussion and gives him a better chance of being persuasive.

  1. This wasn’t actually Aziz’s statement, as Burt admitted later in the thread. []
  2. By the way, outside of formal debate, I’m not sure that there is such a thing as “winning” an argument. Which doesn’t stop me from using the phrase, I admit. []
  3. Or at least, the best logical argument of anyone in the room and presenting arguments at that moment. []
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80 Responses to Logical debate, the word “bigot” again, and the value of emotional statements

  1. 1
    Aziz Ishak says:

    Wow, a mention in one of the blogs I regularly read. What a way to start the day!

    I don’t normally comment at the blogs I read because I just don’t have the time, but the original post by Mr Kowal so infuriated me that I was sucked in. Too deep, I think, and without the cool, emotionally detached form of argumentation favored by Mr Likko. My comments at the various threads at LOG on the subject are slightly hysterical and angry, I’m sorry to say.

    Ironically, Burt goes on to argue, in effect, that logical debate should not include criticism of positions for being bigoted (specifically using the example of racism). So apparently some subjects — those that make Burt uncomfortable — are out of bounds, according to Burt.

    Thank you for making this point. I feel that Mr Likko, in trying to instruct people on how not to police the debate, is policing the debate himself, but in his own terms.

    Thank you also for noticing that I did not claim that being accused of racism or bigotry is not that bad at all. You’d be surprised at the number of people in real life who make the same mistake Mr Likko does, equating the claim that (being accused of racism or bigotry is not as bad as being a victim or racism or bigotry) with the claim that (being accused of racism and bigotry is not that bad). Surely there are levels of badness that do not reach the level of being victimized by racism or bigotry, but can still be considered bad?

    I was not one of the people who called Mr Kowal a bigot or his argument bigoted, actually. My response was more towards the controversy that greeted the use of the word bigot. I am a bit of a coward in this respect, actually. To save myself all the hassle and trouble that normally arises whenever the word is used, I make it a general rule not to call anyone a bigot, even if I believe he/she is. I’d rather call an argument idiotic, nonsense or condescending, and keep my opinion about someone’s level of bigotry to myself. As a minority in a country, sometimes silence is the easiest policy. Not the best, certainly, but I don’t always have the energy to fight for the best.

  2. 2
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    One common issue in debate is the conflation of “personal” and “emotional”. Feminist theory teaches that “the personal is political”, and thus that things that have a personal impact (my ability to access birth control) have political implications.

    One of the more common derailing arguments is for someone (usually but not always male) to come into the argument and accuse the debater of “arguing from emotion”.

    This serves to attempt to invalidate an entire subset of argument — that which says that the individual experiences of human beings who are affected by a particular policy matter, both in an individual sense and in the aggregate.

    It’s similar to the hand waving that goes on when someone plays “devil’s advocate” by pre-supposing assumptions that are counter to reality. (“Let’s suppose for a second that all human beings are rational actors with perfect information who always act in the own long term self interest”)

    If you accept the supposition of the “devil’s advocate”, you find yourself arguing about something that cannot possibly be true. When one counters these blatantly false assumptions by positing the real world, some debaters try to pull out the emotion argument, again conflating ‘effects on real people’ with ‘emotion’.

    Emotion can be a valuable rhetorical device, used sparingly and largely coded in word choices rather than in central arguments (compare referring to Democrats as “socialists” to “for the working class” for emotional effect). However, in my experience, most of the debaters who object to ‘emotion’ in a debate are really objecting to the use of real life examples of the effects of policies on real people.

    It’s a lot of fun to theorize about politics and economics, until someone gets hurt.

  3. 3
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    A statement can be objectively right or wrong. A statement can be bigoted or non bigoted. They’re two separate Venn circles.

    Everyone is fine with the right/non-bigoted overlap being good.
    Everyone is fine with the bad/bigoted overlap being bad.
    Most (though not all) people are fine with the bad/not bigoted overlap being “not good”, though there are still a lot of arguments when people confuse the reasons why something is “not good”.

    But there’s a lot of argument about the right/bigoted overlap.

    Civil libertarians–and I’m in this camp–feel that if something is objectively correct, then the fact that it may or may not be bigoted is irrelevant. After all, it is right. In other words, we’re not at all convinced that there should be social opprobrium for speaking the truth.

    We actively support discussions which are uncomfortable. But we don’t believe in conversational affirmative action: we don’t want to impose social limits on the content of investigations.

    Note that this is entirely different from deliberately being an asshole. But it does mean that we believe it’s permissible to actually make our point. If the listener wants to work with us to try to find a way to have the conversation, that’s all well and good; both sides either need to politely acknowledge their inability to chat, or need to agree on a way to talk.

    So when Amp says:

    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average farmer is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a farmer!
    PIGPEN: I’m sorry, Sally. You know I respect you. What I should have said is, the average farmer, like all intelligent workers, strives to be more productive with less effort whenever possible.

    This is an amusing thing to choose, because from what I’ve seen here it would usually go like this:

    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average [group] is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a [group member!] That statement is bigoted!
    PIGPEN: well, if you’re not lazy, then I’m not talking about you. Deal with it. (unwillingness on part of speaker to compromise)

    or like this:

    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average [group] is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a [group member!] That statement is bigoted! Retract it immediately! (unwillingness on part of listener to compromise.)
    PIGPEN: I apologize and retract the statement.

    but it SHOULD go like this:
    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average [group] is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a [group member!] That statement is bigoted!
    PIGPEN: Well, OK, then. I am trying to make a point about [group.] Can you have this discussion at all? I’m talking about averages, so I’m happy to agree that this doesn’t apply to you personally.

    So in our opinion, an accusation of bigotry often serves to obscure the truth. That’s why people start yelling about bigotry when they think they’ll lose an argument: since there’s almost no way to objectively judge bigotry, it’s a way to prevent losing.

    The other thing that an accusation of bigotry usually (though not always) carries is an implicit a priori status. After all, in our view, if something is correct, it’s not bigoted or racist or sexist or ageist or -ist to believe it’s correct. When you fling an accusation of bigotry, you’re not only moving the argument away from objectivity, but you’re doing so based on the (now off the table for discussion) assumption that it’s wrong.

    And the final thing that it does is to, very often, indicate that the speaker isn’t willing to change. Who likes to talk to a brick wall? Nobody. Compare these two exchanges:

    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average [group] is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I’ll have you know that I am a [group member!] That statement is bigoted!

    versus

    PIGPEN: Let’s face it, the average [group] is just lazy, and…
    SALLY: What? I think that [group] is some of the hardest working people I know!

    Really: Would Pigpen seriously believe that Sally #1 is entering the conversation with any willingness to consider Pigpen’s position? Or would Pigpen believe–for good reason–that arguing with Sally #1 is a bit like arguing abortion with a fundie?
    So in the end, what does an accusation of bigotry bring to the table? Nothing, most of the time. It can be a useful term to have in groups of like-minded individuals as a shorthand for certain political views. If “Christians in general are more racist than Hindus” is classified as bigoted, then not only are you taking the position that the statement is wrong, but you’re saying that the act of challenging your position is wrong.

    Most of the time, it’s an argument of the weak, raised when you can’t otherwise win….

    Unless, that is, you want to take the frightening ultra-liberal stance that speech control is more important than truth: that it is more important to stifle unpleasantness than to discuss reality. This is rapidly becoming more common, to our dismay. But at least if you’re up front about it then it’s still possible to respect you as a conversational partner.

  4. 4
    mythago says:

    It’s been my experience that the people like Burt who argue for ‘cool logic above all’ and scold other posters for being ‘emotional’ are, themselves, apt to lose their shit when they find themselves out-debated.

    gin-and-whiskey @2: You’re conflating criticism and censorship. If a statement is both true and bigoted, it is not silencing to point out the bigotry. I’ve never understood the viewpoint that the only speech that should not be uttered is criticism of bigotry – even if true.

  5. 5
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    mythago — you got there first on the ‘censorship’ vs ‘criticism’ issue. These so called “civil libertarians” with regard to ‘free speech’ on the internet are not denied their right to free speech based on their views, not ever.

    They are denied 1) the privilege of not being criticized, and occasionally, 2) the privilege of being allowed to contribute to the conversation in someone else’s hosted (legally private) space.

    Further, any statement that begins that all X — (class of humans) are Y is inherently bigoted regardless of the speaker’s intentions, because unless X is a biological imperative (All males are incapable of carrying a child to term given current scientific advances), there are always exceptions.

    No class of humans is a monolith. There is infinite variety within all cultures. Even saying “generally” all X are Y is problematic, because you are thereby rendering inconsequential those X that are not Y, which may not actually be the case.

    gin-and-whiskey misses the point by a wide margin. Pigpen’s initial statement, “all farmers are lazy” is in fact bigoted and untrue as well as a lazy statement in and of itself. It also serves to pre-emptively silence the opposition, by stating that anyone who speaks up for farmers has a personal stake in the discussion and (obviously) cannot be trusted to be ‘objective’. (And I’ve got far too many things to do today to get into the whole side subject of the nature of objectivity).

    gin-and-whiskey, liberals do not want to control speech. What they support, and enforce, is that speech has consequences. If you say something problematic, expect to have it criticized. If you want to discuss problematic issues without being criticized, create a bubble with people who agree with you. Otherwise, deal.

  6. 6
    mythago says:

    I’m running around this morning so also didn’t have time to comment on gin-and-whiskey’s lecturing “we”.

  7. 7
    Jake Squid says:

    I’m not sure that saying that somebody’s argument is based on bigoted premises is not saying that that somebody is bigoted. If your argument is based on bigoted premises, aren’t those premises yours? And if you hold bigoted premises, doesn’t that make you a bigot?

    I think that saying that somebody’s argument is based on bigoted premises is a kinder, gentler way of telling somebody that they’re a bigot. It is a way of taking the sting out of the criticism – of making it a criticism rather than an insult.

    Perhaps I’m missing something important.

  8. 8
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    If you get a chance, go for it. I have another book review to write, at least one more non review article for Am I the Only One Dancing?, waiting for an article assignment at Technorati, working on an article for my blog for community mental health centers, and dealing with the shite-storm my post on Ashton Kutcher stirred up at Walking Upstream. And yet, I still wade into internet arguments. (Will she ever learn? No, I don’t think so).

    This is how I do “unemployed”.

  9. 9
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    April 20, 2011 at 7:58 am
    gin-and-whiskey @2: You’re conflating criticism and censorship. If a statement is both true and bigoted, it is not silencing to point out the bigotry. I’ve never understood the viewpoint that the only speech that should not be uttered is criticism of bigotry – even if true.

    I’m not conflating them. I’m taking the position that true statements are not bigoted, because they’re true. Bigotry isn’t just having an opinion about a group, it’s having an unwarranted negative opinion about a group. Bigotry requires some level of untruth or selective truth. Offensiveness does not.

    One can be a bigot and still reference true statements, through partial or selective truth. If I only talk about the black felons in the court report, and ignore the white felons in the court report, the fact that the statements are true isn’t a perfect defense against bigotry.

    And one can be offensive and entirely accurate: there are times and places where talking about any felons is not OK.

    So in the end it has nothing to do with a claim of “censorship.” It has to do with truthiness; a rejection of reality in favor of what you wish reality would be.

    Maureen O’Danu says:
    No class of humans is a monolith. There is infinite variety within all cultures. Even saying “generally” all X are Y is problematic, because you are thereby rendering inconsequential those X that are not Y, which may not actually be the case.

    This is so incredibly ridiculous, I’m not even sure how to reply.

    If you want to discuss taking measures to combat racism among the U.S. moneyed elite, you have to be able to talk about racism among the U.S. moneyed elite. And unless you want to personally interview them all, that requires discussing averages. If you want to be able to discuss taking measures to educate children, you have to be able to talk about those children on average, unless you want to interview them, too.

    The variety matters because you have to control for it. To give an example, although weight and height and age and cognition and number of teeth are all generally linked, depending on your selection goals you may use only one (or all) of them to screen. But discussing averages is a crucial part of discussing large scale issues, unless you happen to be an omnipotent deity who can make instantaneous decisions for everyone.

    It’s all the more strange because I suspect you would not suggest that we treat everyone as perfectly equal. Do you ever refer to sexism, racism, kyriarchy, etc? Welcome to the laws of averages.

    Of course, that also ties in to the link between bigotry and truthiness. A lot of folks are all too happy to use averages and the like… when it supports their argument. Start talking about averages of their pet group, and it’s bigotry. I’m sure that you wouldn’t do that, though, right?

  10. 10
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    Jake — if you’re missing something, its that people can make an argument from many motives. It is possible to be blinded by privilege or swayed by incomplete or misleading information, and make a bigoted statement without the intent of being bigoted.

    In my experience, though, when someone doubles down and says, “No, my intent was to say all X are Y, and that’s what I meant, and you’re mean if you call me bigoted for it” that they are asking for a free pass on their lazy logic. And want the privilege of being a bigot without having to own the title.

  11. 11
    Jake Squid says:

    It is possible to be blinded by privilege or swayed by incomplete or misleading information, and make a bigoted statement without the intent of being bigoted.

    Is bigotry really about intent? I hadn’t thought so.

  12. 12
    mythago says:

    gin-and-whiskey @9: Those positions are changing awfully fast. In @3 you said that if a true statement is bigoted, the bigotry is irrelevant; now you’re saying the bigotry doesn’t even exist. What?

    So in the end it has nothing to do with a claim of “censorship.” It has to do with truthiness; a rejection of reality in favor of what you wish reality would be.

    I don’t even know what you were trying to say here.

  13. 13
    Myca says:

    When you fling an accusation of bigotry, you’re not only moving the argument away from objectivity, but you’re doing so based on the (now off the table for discussion) assumption that it’s wrong.

    I’m not sure why on Earth you think that arguing that a claim is bigoted moves truth claims off the table. You’ve said it before, and it’s utter nonsense.

    I agree with you that truth and bigotry are mutually exclusive (though I think true claims may be made in a bigoted way, but that’s different than the claim being bigoted), so if someone says that a claim is bigoted, arguing that it’s true is a defense. Of course, they’ll argue that it’s false, and not just ‘false’ but ‘false-and-bigoted,’ which I think is appropriate … but the truth or falsity of the claim clearly isn’t off the table. It’s front-and-center.

    I think that it’s important to be able to say that certain things are bigoted because it’s additional, and pertinent, information.

    Claiming that my car is blue is untrue.
    Claiming that the holocaust didn’t happen is untrue.
    These statements aren’t untrue for the same reasons or in the same ways. One of these statements is untrue in a way that’s bigoted, and probably for reasons that are bigoted. It’s delusional to ask us to ignore that.

    —Myca

  14. 14
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    It’s “ridiculous” to state that declaring “Most X are Y” can be problematic? One counter argument does not refute such a conditional statement. While it may not be problematic for someone to state that “Study X has show that Y opinion holds sway to % with Z population”, it might very well be problematic to state that “because study X has shown Y opinion is common among Z population, Z can be generalized to be Y”

    Words have very precise meanings and grades of emotional content. “Can be” problematic is a very different proposition than “must be”. You are arguing that accusations of bigotry “must be” problematic (though actual bigoted statements are not necessarily).

    To be short, you set up a straw man, defeated it, and claimed victory. There’s truthiness for you.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Aziz wrote:

    My comments at the various threads at LOG on the subject are slightly hysterical and angry, I’m sorry to say.

    I can’t say, not having read all of those threads. But on the thread I was talking about, I think your comments, especially after your initial comment, were very well-argued and made good points. (And they were also slightly angry – but not in a way that made debate impossible.) Frankly, if I had been in your position, I would have been angry too; Burt’s refusal to give what you were saying a reasonable benefit of the doubt, and also his tendency to put words into your mouth, was infuriating.

    To save myself all the hassle and trouble that normally arises whenever the word is used, I make it a general rule not to call anyone a bigot, even if I believe he/she is. I’d rather call an argument idiotic, nonsense or condescending, and keep my opinion about someone’s level of bigotry to myself.

    I often do the same thing. I think it’s fine to refrain from using the word “bigoted” for any number of reasons; but to argue, as Burt did, that no subject should be outside of reasonable debate but no one should ever say an argument is bigoted, is ridiculous.

    Anyhow, I’m glad my post brightened your morning, and glad to find out you read “Alas.” (Unless I already knew but forgot, which is very possible with me.) :-)

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Jake, I kind of believe that everyone is a bigot at some level, some of the time. So for me, saying “you’re a bigot” is often a sort of meaningless statement, because it’s too generalized and nebulous to be useful.

    But many people don’t want to be bigots. And sometimes the bigoted assumptions or results of a policy can be relatively subtle, and perhaps haven’t been noticed by everyone. So in that sense, I think arguing “this policy you endorse is bigoted, because X Y and Z” can be useful, and in some cases even lead to minds changing.

    For instance, the argument that hugely disparate sentences for crack cocaine vs powdered cocaine are problematic because they lead to racist outcomes (blacks on average being sentenced to far harsher punishments for essentially the same crime) has been very powerful, and has caused lawmakers to reduce (although not to eliminate) the disparities.

    I also think we should acknowledge that “your argument is based on some bigoted premises” is different from “you’re a bigot” as a matter of argumentative fairness. If I just say, “Linus, you’re a bigot,” Linus really has no way to respond. I’m commenting on what’s in Linus’ heart and soul, and Linus has no means available to prove to me I’m wrong. In contrast, if I aim my criticism at Linus’ policy, then I’m forced to come up with specifics, and will therefore give Linus potential grounds to argue on.

    Here’s another example, something I wrote some time ago regarding opposition to SSM:

    No one would support laws that kept blacks, or Jews, or women, in legal inequality in order to protect marriage. No one would argue that they should have never have allowed interracial marriage, because the lives of interracial couples should be sacrificed to protect the rest of us from the horror of multiple-marriage or cousins marrying. We’ve reached a social consensus that blacks, Jews, women, interracial couples, etc. all have enough value as human beings that to reduce their lives to tools used to protect the rest of us from a dubious harm to marriage, or from a slippery slope, is unjust.

    In contrast, SSM opponents implicitly assume that it is acceptable to force queers to remain unequal, in order to “protect marriage as an institution” in an unproven and marginal fashion. In doing so, they endorse a devaluation of same-sex couples that they would never endorse were they talking about blacks, or Jews, or women. That assumption – unstated and not even consciously thought about – is homophobic. And anyone who opposes SSM but also considers themselves opposed to bigotry against queers, should seriously consider this contradiction in their views.

    Just as dispensing with women’s rights to protect marriage on the margins would be a misogynistic policy; and just as dispensing with racial equality to protect marriage on the margins would be racist; dispensing with equality for same-sex couples in order to protect marriage on the margins is a homophobic policy.

    That is different from just saying “Linus, you’re a bigoted blockhead.” It gives Linus possible grounds to argue back on — grounds that are actually about the issue under discussion, not about Linus personally.

  17. 17
    Jake Squid says:

    I agree, Amp, that we all have our bigotries. However, “bigot,” has currently come to be one of the worst insults. Nobody wants to be a bigot. If you tell somebody that their policy is bigoted, they’re going to – correctly, I think – reach the conclusion that you are telling them that they’re a bigot.

    The strategy that you prefer is the difference between a criticism and an insult. But since, “bigot,” is such a big insult these days, your criticism is, very often, immediately translated to insult. Since I think the connection between the criticism and the insult is so clear, I don’t think it’s fair to condemn somebody for making the jump.

    I agree that your strategy can be helpful, but I also agree with those who translate it as, “You’re calling me a bigot.”

  18. 18
    Robert says:

    All bigots are lazy.

  19. 19
    DSimon says:

    Of course, emotion isn’t the end-all and be-all; sometimes emotion is wrong. Just as we use emotion to test logic’s soundness, logic should be used to test emotion’s soundness. The point is to maintain balance; a wholesale rejection of either logic or emotion is a mistake.

    I disagree; when it comes to figuring out what’s true, we ideally should always put logic first. Math has the pretty serious advantage of being really predictable and self-consistent; emotional attitudes change with time and culture, but math is math.

    But before I start looking too much like Spock, I also want to point out that I strongly agree with you that emotion has a crucial place in logical argument!

    This is because emotions can be seen as an implementation of logic. An emotion is a mental heuristic; it takes some inputs and arrives at an estimated output very far more quickly than the formal cerebral process. Way better to think “Oh crap, a tiger, RUN!” than “There appears to be a striped cat-like creature in front of me, pacing forward in a manner that I can safely interpret as aggressive. I notice also that it is quite thin, and therefore likely hungry. Perhaps I should consider a preventative response such as AARGGHGH *chomp* *chomp*”

    Emotions sometimes also give horribly wrong answers, but we can double-check them when necessary by going back to the slow formal process. For most people they work often enough and well enough that they serve as a very good starting point, and they waste a lot less time that approaching every new situation from first principles.

  20. 20
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Maureen O’Danu says:
    April 20, 2011 at 9:24 am

    It’s “ridiculous” to state that declaring “Most X are Y” can be problematic? …
    Words have very precise meanings and grades of emotional content.

    No, that’s not ridiculous. It’s also not what you said. I took your words at their precise meaning.

  21. 21
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Myca says:
    April 20, 2011 at 9:13 am

    When you fling an accusation of bigotry, you’re not only moving the argument away from objectivity, but you’re doing so based on the (now off the table for discussion) assumption that it’s wrong.

    I’m not sure why on Earth you think that arguing that a claim is bigoted moves truth claims off the table. You’ve said it before, and it’s utter nonsense.

    It’s not nonsense at all. It happens routinely, here and other places.

    People don’t like being called bigots. They especially don’t like being called bigots when the accusation is untrue. So in the vast majority of conversations, the accusation of “bigot” (or “racist” or “misogynist” or “pro-rape” or “man-hater” or “feminazi” or whatever) ends up functionally stopping the discussion on the underlying issue and addressing it towards the issue of the label. Happens. All. The. Time.

    And your protest is more than a bit disingenuous. Most people–including you, I’m sure–realize the insult power of those labels. That’s why they use them. Right? Hell, if labeling something didn’t make it a hell of a lot easier to win arguments, people wouldn’t be so gung ho to use labels. That’s also why they protest against labels being used against them.

    Also, it takes the discussion off of the table because by using the “bigoted” label almost everyone has, in advance, signaled an unwillingness to actually consider adopting their opponent’s viewpoint. When’s the last time you adopted an opponent’s position? It probably happens all the time, if you have good discussions. But when’s the last time you adopted a bigoted position? Probably not in a looong time, if ever. So, again, it takes the discussion back to the proper application of “bigotry” and not to the underlying matter. Instead of needing to convince you (or listeners) of the rightness of my position, I first need to counter the insult.

    I agree with you that truth and bigotry are mutually exclusive (though I think true claims may be made in a bigoted way, but that’s different than the claim being bigoted), so if someone says that a claim is bigoted, arguing that it’s true is a defense. Of course, they’ll argue that it’s false, and not just ‘false’ but ‘false-and-bigoted,’ which I think is appropriate … but the truth or falsity of the claim clearly isn’t off the table. It’s front-and-center.

    From a logical perspective you’re right, insofar as “bigoted” implies falsehood. But from a practical perspective it’s wrong. The use of “bigot” or any other label serves only to skew the discussion away from truth and towards the label, as i discussed above.

    Say you’re an elected official discussing immigration policy. If you want to have a good discussion about policy, it is not helped by having your opponents label every liberal statement as “un-American,” “traitorous,” or “communist.” In fact, if you’re not willing to be plastered with those false labels, you might not even make those suggestions, even if they’re 100% true. Same goes for your opponents who are trying to tag you as a racist anti-immigrant.

    The fear of being labeled often controls people’s speech, which is why those labels are used. To steal your word, it is delusional to suggest that folks aren’t using labels as a means of avoiding a discussion of the underlying principles.

    I think that it’s important to be able to say that certain things are bigoted because it’s additional, and pertinent, information.
    Claiming that my car is blue is untrue.
    Claiming that the holocaust didn’t happen is untrue.
    These statements aren’t untrue for the same reasons or in the same ways. One of these statements is untrue in a way that’s bigoted, and probably for reasons that are bigoted. It’s delusional to ask us to ignore that.

    Delusional? Well, you are talking about holocaust deniers, so sure.

    But bigoted doesn’t get limited to Holocaust deniers, hmm? It gets used in a lot of ways where either (a) it’s irrelevant, or (b) it’s possibly relevant, but not relevant enough to justify its ‘trash the rest of the conversation’ effect. Same with other labels.

  22. 22
    nobody.really says:

    I agree that it’s not good for constructive debate if Schroeder calls Woodstock an asshole rather than answering Woodstock’s arguments.

    Especially since all Schroeder would need to say in response is, “ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / !!!

    But I wonder: How many years until people start using Hereville characters in examples rather than Peanuts characters?

    I agree that this is not a model of constructive debate:

    Fruma: You want to slaughter innocent dragons? How could you?

    Mirka: All right! I give up! I won’t slay dragons.

    Fruma: Mirka! You mean you’d let the dragon devour me and the whole town? How could you?

    Mirka: Ok, now you’re just being an asshole.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Nobody Really:

    Fruma: Mirka! You mean you’d let the dragon devour me and the whole town? How could you?

    Mirka: Ok, now you’re just being an asshole.

    LOL! Oh, this is brilliant. Thanks.

  24. 24
    mythago says:

    gin-and-whiskey @21: People especially don’t like being called bigots when it IS true, I’ve found. Hence turning to the label; it’s the equivalent of the husband saying “I found this picture of you having sex with another man,” and the cheating wife then tries to turn the discussion into how-dare-you-snoop-in-my-desk.

    Not really following your argument that using the term makes it easier to “win” arguments. If the other person then shuts down the debate by saying “if you call me a bigot I’m not talking to you,” didn’t they just win, by ending the argument before they were, inevitably, going to lose it?

  25. 25
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    April 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    gin-and-whiskey @21: People especially don’t like being called bigots when it IS true, I’ve found. Hence turning to the label; it’s the equivalent of the husband saying “I found this picture of you having sex with another man,” and the cheating wife then tries to turn the discussion into how-dare-you-snoop-in-my-desk.

    I don’t know if it’s intentional, but both you and Myca selected extreme examples to make your point. And I’m happy to concede that there are some circumstances where an accusation of bigotry is appropriate or, at least, not inappropriate. But these situations are a tiny minority of the times that this comes up. Most of the time it’s a conversation-killing ad hom which is used deliberately to stifle discussion, not add to it.

  26. 26
    Ampersand says:

    G&W, what did you think of the two examples I gave in comment #16?

  27. 27
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I’m not intentionally being obtuse, but rereading #16 I’m not sure precisely which things you want me to reply to. I’d otherwise be happy to respond, though.

  28. 28
    Ampersand says:

    You wrote:

    I’m happy to concede that there are some circumstances where an accusation of bigotry is appropriate or, at least, not inappropriate. But these situations are a tiny minority of the times that this comes up. Most of the time it’s a conversation-killing ad hom which is used deliberately to stifle discussion, not add to it.

    In comment #16, I gave two real-life examples of people objecting to a policy or argument on the grounds that the policy or argument was bigoted. One was the example of activists objecting to the racist outcome of wildly disparate sentences between crack cocaine (used mostly by Black people) and powder cocaine (used mostly by white people). The other was this argument:

    SSM opponents implicitly assume that it is acceptable to force queers to remain unequal, in order to “protect marriage as an institution” in an unproven and marginal fashion. In doing so, they endorse a devaluation of same-sex couples that they would never endorse were they talking about blacks, or Jews, or women. That assumption – unstated and not even consciously thought about – is homophobic. And anyone who opposes SSM but also considers themselves opposed to bigotry against queers, should seriously consider this contradiction in their views.

    In those two cases, do you think bringing up racism and homophobia (respectively) was “not inappropriate,” or was it “a conversation-killing ad hom which is used deliberately to stifle discussion, not add to it”?

  29. 29
    nobody.really says:

    [D]o you think bringing up racism and homophobia (respectively) was … “a conversation-killing ad hom which is used deliberately to stifle discussion, not add to it”?

    It seems to me that we’re missing the logically prior question: Did bringing up racism/homophobia actually have the effect of killing/derailing the conversation? It would be useful to have this information before speculating about whether someone used the terms for the purpose of achieving those ends.

  30. 30
    Sebastian H says:

    “I agree with you that truth and bigotry are mutually exclusive (though I think true claims may be made in a bigoted way, but that’s different than the claim being bigoted), so if someone says that a claim is bigoted, arguing that it’s true is a defense. Of course, they’ll argue that it’s false, and not just ‘false’ but ‘false-and-bigoted,’ which I think is appropriate … but the truth or falsity of the claim clearly isn’t off the table. It’s front-and-center.

    I think that it’s important to be able to say that certain things are bigoted because it’s additional, and pertinent, information. ”

    I don’t understand how these paragraphs work together. You *CAN* argue that something is false and bigoted, but the conversation will at least 9 times out of 10 get sucked exclusively into the bigoted/not bigoted question. So if there is any possibility that the claim is true (and therefore not bigoted under your definition though apparently not Amp’s) the truth possibility will almost always get short shrift . It is a little bit like discussions of torture (in theory you might get good information that you wouldn’t get otherwise, but in practical reality that is so super-rare as to be a distraction to most discussions of torture) or rape (yes some women lie sometimes, but it is fairly rare and non a pertinent issue to most discussions of rape). Much of the time calling someone’s claim bigoted, talking about finding useful information from torture, or mentioning that women lie in a discussion about rape are all methods of trying to divert the conversation rather than explore the topic.

    I’m obviously not perfect at avoiding it, but usually trying to explore someone’s difficult-to-know motives BEFORE attacking their truth claims isn’t useful as a truth finding method. Showing that something is false and THEN suggesting it is bigoted is better. As a rhetorical bomb, it is fantastically useful, of course. When used as a rhetorical bomb, it signals to your allies that you are serious, it signals to people who haven’t decided yet that they would be better off shutting up, and it makes your opponent the “other” which is useful for all sorts of things later (making it easier to casually dismiss other arguments, signals group solidarity, lets you tar his associates with negative group characteristics, etc.).

    I’m not convinced that there are very many cases where attacking the truth claim and bigot value of the claim at the same time (or much worse attacking it from the bigoted side, first) is helpful to the truth finding kind of conversation we are talking about.

    [Note: I'm talking about statements or claims. It is perfectly possible for a deeply bigoted person to use true claims in selective ways that are bigoted. But the way to expose that is to show the selective games they are playing. Calling them a bigot in those situations may actively cause harm, because undecided people may notice that you are calling them bigoted over true claims.]

  31. 31
    Sebastian H says:

    “In comment #16, I gave two real-life examples of people objecting to a policy or argument on the grounds that the policy or argument was bigoted. One was the example of activists objecting to the racist outcome of wildly disparate sentences between crack cocaine (used mostly by Black people) and powder cocaine (used mostly by white people).”

    Actually the history of that particular policy most specifically is not bigoted, or at least not in the way you mean. The existence of the disparity in the 1986 Anti Drug Abuse Act was intentional and seen as a pro-black measure because crack cocaine was considered such a particularly powerful and destructive menace to the black community. The idea that the disparity should be considered to have more anti-black results didn’t gain large amounts of traction until the late 1990s (though Jesse Jackson picked up on it as early as 1995, still 10 years later than the act). And even then it is interesting that w don’t talk about it as a failed/deeply counter-productive policy to help the black community, it has been retconned into an anti-black measure. Its persistence since then is testament to the stupid power of the words “Drug War” for both parties ever since, with only very recent willingness to consider change in drug war methods after decades of showing how awful it has been for communities.

    But even in that case, I’m not sure what you think ‘bigoted’ is adding to the conversation other than obscuring its history. Destructive? Sure. Foolish in retrospect? Absolutely. Ineffective? Definitely. Attacking it on any of those levels allows for a climb down based on failed technique. What does bigoted get you that those don’t?

  32. 32
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ah, OK.

    activists objecting to the racist outcome of wildly disparate sentences between crack cocaine (used mostly by Black people) and powder cocaine (used mostly by white people).

    Did not add to it; in fact, detracted from it hugely.

    Do you want to side track into a discussion of whether anything which is race-differential in outcome is, necessarily, racist? (Wasn’t then. Isn’t now. At least IMO. Doesn’t mean it was a good or justified or worthwhile law, though.)

    Or, do you want to ask whether the resulting racial disparity is bad; how bad; what we should do about it; etc? Do you want to get into a discussion about whether base is “different enough” from powder in its physical, social, or other effects, to justify its disparate treatment? About the degree of freedom which Congress should have to craft laws? About the degree to which laws should balance the severity of offense and penalty? About the degree to which similar laws should produce similar penalties? About the degree to which laws are designed to prompt behavior modification; about the degree to which individuals do (or don’t) bear responsibility for following/failing to follow the laws?

    Yeah, I remember those conversations well… “Racism” was a means of “convincing” people who didn’t want to be tagged as racists. Didn’t do shit for the actual subject matter, though.

    SSM opponents implicitly assume that it is acceptable to force queers to remain unequal, in order to “protect marriage as an institution” in an unproven and marginal fashion. In doing so, they endorse a devaluation of same-sex couples that they would never endorse were they talking about blacks, or Jews, or women. That assumption – unstated and not even consciously thought about – is homophobic.

    Well, you’ve created a straw opponent to insult; that isn’t really a good example. But if your straw is actually true, then I agree they’re probably homophobic. Nonetheless, I’ll venture an educated guess that the first thing most opponents protest is the “homophobic” part. That sentence probably side tracks quite a bit. Since I don’t frankly see what “homophobic” adds to the conversation (it’s a lot less powerful than the prior sentence) I’ll stick to my views.

    I might also point out that there are a lot of SSM opponents who generally believe that it’s OK to treat different things differently. Those people would say that it would be OK to treat Jews, blacks, or women differently in a context where religion, skin color, or womanhood was relevant. They’d say that since gays are different in a significant (relative to couplehood) way, it’s OK to treat them differently. You may disagree with one (or all) of those statements, but people dislike being called homophobes as a result of those statements… because, frankly, those beliefs are not per se homophobic. (Or at least, they’re not unless you use the same “negative effect on __ group means it’s ___ist” concept as was raised in your first example.)

    And anyone who opposes SSM but also considers themselves opposed to bigotry against queers, should seriously consider this contradiction in their views.

    I don’t have a problem here because of the way it was phrased. Also, this is an example of where you really need to use the term in order to make your point.

  33. 33
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    Speaking of silencing debate, I have to say, I’ve been reading this thread since I stopped commenting, and forceably stopping myself from commenting, because I’m so angry at the silencing going on by gin-and-whiskey saying that it’s absolutely acceptable to insist on being able to use whatever language construction you like to refer to people, even if it has a strong negative, stereotyping content, and not expect to be in any way called on that language, or be called “silencing”. It sounds to me like a bunch of self serving bullshit, and I silenced myself on that because I had lost the ability to speak on the issue with compassion and humanity, two traits I value.

    So yeah, gNw, I think your entire argument is self-serving bullshit, the equivalent of saying “I can bully you, but to call me a bully is silencing you” and I think far less of you as a human being because of it. I’m simply a random stranger on the internet, so that probably doesn’t mean shit to you, but I was tired of watching this thread deteriorate into you twisting one argument after another into “you’re mean if you call actions or words or ideas bigoted, and therefore you lose the internets”, without you being thoroughly called out for what you are… a self-serving bully who isn’t after “free speech” at all, but the privilege of being able to silence opposition through demanding that your framing be accepted as the only valid one. And that’s piss poor logic and piss poor humanity.

    I have succumbed to the temptation to pursue an argument long past the point where I’d argued it into absurdity like you are doing here, and I have to tell you, your head really hurts later when you wake up and realize what a fool you made of yourself. I feel for you, even as pissed off as I am.

  34. 34
    mythago says:

    gin-and-whiskey @25: as nobody.really points out, isn’t it the bigoted statement in the first place that’s the conversation-killer? I really tire of the idea that bigotry is some kind of magical No Tagbacks mode of conversation, where “that’s bigoted” or “that’s offensive” are the only kind of statements that are not free speech, are conversation-killers, etc.

    If A says something which is in fact bigoted, it is not an ad hominem (or “ad hom”, as you have it) for B to observe the statement was bigoted. An ad hominem is a logical fallacy whereby a premise is attacked based on a characteristic of the speaker. If A says “All women are dumb,” why is it an ad hominem if B says “That is a sexist statement” or “You are sexist”?

    Now, if what you’re saying is that strategically, it is better for B not to say “You are a bigot”, that’s probably true; few people will thoughtfully consider whether they just said something bigoted or whether they are, in fact, bigoted. There are all kinds of responses that might work better while not allowing the bigotry to slide, like “Why do you say all farmers are lazy?” or “I’m kind of surprised that you would make such a negative generalization about farmers.”

    Of course, this presumes a mutual debate, as opposed to a situation where A would no more stop making dumbass statements than she would stop breathing, and B’s intent is not to convince A she is wrong (which is futile) but to demonstrate to C and D, who are listening to the conversation, that A’s views are incorrect and shameful.

  35. 35
    Myca says:

    I really tire of the idea that bigotry is some kind of magical No Tagbacks mode of conversation, where “that’s bigoted” or “that’s offensive” are the only kind of statements that are not free speech, are conversation-killers, etc.

    Seriously. You know what signals an even greater unwillingness to consider the opponent’s point of view than calling their position ‘bigoted’? Calling their position ‘wrong.’ After all, when’s the last time you knowingly adopted a ‘wrong’ position?

    Ooh, or how about untrue? It’s totally out of bounds to call any statement untrue, because it signals an unwillingness to consider your opponent’s point of view. When’s the last time you knowingly adopted an untrue position?

    Or, alternately, we could stop fucking around playing language police.

    If we’re going to keep playing language cops, though, then I propose that people who habitually misuse logical fallacies (ad hominem and appeal to authority seem to be the big ones) just stop talking.

    —Myca

  36. 36
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Maureen O’Danu says:
    April 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm
    Speaking of silencing debate, I have to say, I’ve been reading this thread since I stopped commenting, and forceably stopping myself from commenting, because I’m so angry at the silencing going on by gin-and-whiskey saying that it’s absolutely acceptable to insist on being able to use whatever language construction you like to refer to people, even if it has a strong negative, stereotyping content, and not expect to be in any way called on that language, or be called “silencing”….

    the privilege of being able to silence opposition through demanding that your framing be accepted as the only valid one

    Huh?

    Of course I think my framing is valid, and of course I think your framing is invalid. That’s why I’m arguing for mine and against yours.

    But framing my post as “silencing” is to use the ultra-liberal-flipped-backwards-to-bullshit definition of “silencing.” You know, the one where “not silencing” usually involves telling your opponents not to speak (i.e. silencing), while “silencing” usually involves someone saying too many things you don’t like (i.e. the opposite of silencing.)

    You want to post, post. You don’t want to post, don’t post. But don’t put that shit on ME: it’s not my blog and I’m not a mod so my ability to silence you in this forum is absolutely nil. The only way I’m “silencing” is by taking a different position to you.

    Besides, IMO you can feel free to call anyone else a bigot, or anything else you choose. I’d never say otherwise. (In fact, I’m probably one of the biggest free speech advocates that you’ll encounter on this blog. The difference between me and many posters seems to be that I’d completely support your speech rights irrespective of your political position or argument, and not just if they were things I agreed with) Were this a public forum, I’d fight heartily for your right to personally insult me in this argument, or to call my statements bigoted even if they weren’t.

    I’m arguing against its intelligent use, not its permissibility. I think it’s usually an ad hom (which I dislike) and I think it’s usually pointless (which I dislike) and I think it usually gets in the way of finding out truth (which I dislike) and leads to side tracks (which I dislike) and prevents people from coming to agreement (which I dislike) and shuts down debate (which I dislike) but shit, say whatever you want.

    It may have the effect of stifling debate, if your opponents are unwilling to deal with your labels. I think that’s a bummer, but still permissible. I don’t view that as “silencing.”

    Don’t complain, of course, when the shit gets slung back at you. Ya know? So long as you don’t end up whining when you don’t like the labels that get applied to YOU, it’s reasonable to argue for an “anything goes!” style. And of course you can always make any argument you want (free speech!) it’s just that those really one-sided arguments are pretty weak.

    I have succumbed to the temptation to pursue an argument long past the point where I’d argued it into absurdity like you are doing here

    Oddly enough, you haven’t really argued anything. You’ve just made a lot of impassioned statements of how right you are and how wrong I am, but you haven’t really used good examples, or addressed mine, or done much to discuss the issue. You’ve simply made a post which is, to some degree, a multi-paragraph ad hom.

    No surprise. Because of course, that is…. (wait for it)….. exactly the thing you’re arguing in favor of doing!.

  37. 37
    mythago says:

    I’m arguing against its intelligent use, not its permissibility.

    And as has been pointed out over and over again, it’s curious that you focus on the proper response to a bigoted statement, rather than the statement itself.

  38. 38
    Myca says:

    And as has been pointed out over and over again, it’s curious that you focus on the proper response to a bigoted statement, rather than the statement itself.

    Haven’t you paid attention to the stuff he writes? It’s not curious at all.

    —Myca

  39. 39
    Ampersand says:

    Everyone, let’s please not make G&W the subject of this discussion. Thanks.

  40. 40
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    April 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    gin-and-whiskey @25: as nobody.really points out, isn’t it the bigoted statement in the first place that’s the conversation-killer?

    Sure, sometimes.

    I really tire of the idea that bigotry is some kind of magical No Tagbacks mode of conversation, where “that’s bigoted” or “that’s offensive” are the only kind of statements that are not free speech, are conversation-killers, etc.

    Free speech has nothing to do with it. Bigoted statements are free speech, as are callouts. Bigoted statements are conversation-killers (sometimes), as are callouts (sometimes.)

    You have no obligation to engage in discussion with your opponents, at all. Plenty of people don’t. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense, though, to engage in discussion if you

    You may think “my opponent is wrong. Because he is wrong, his position is misogynist.”
    They may think “my opponent is wrong. Because she is wrong, her position is misandrist.”

    Such a discussion is unlikely to be enhanced by adding misogynist/misandrist to it.

  41. 41
    mythago says:

    Sure, sometimes.

    If I understand your argument correctly, you are saying that a bigoted comment is sometimes an argument-killer, but pointing out that a bigoted comment is, in fact, bigoted is always or almost always an argument-killer.

    The last half of your post makes no sense. “Because my opponent is wrong, he is misogynist” – what? We’re talking about a debate where the other person has said something bigoted. “Wrong, therefore bigoted” is a non sequitur.

  42. 42
    Ampersand says:

    “In comment #16, I gave two real-life examples of people objecting to a policy or argument on the grounds that the policy or argument was bigoted. One was the example of activists objecting to the racist outcome of wildly disparate sentences between crack cocaine (used mostly by Black people) and powder cocaine (used mostly by white people).”

    Actually the history of that particular policy most specifically is not bigoted, or at least not in the way you mean.

    Since you’re obviously not reading what I actually wrote, you don’t have the slightest idea what “the way [I] mean” is.

    I didn’t use the word “history,” and wasn’t talking about the history. I specifically said “the racist outcome of wildly disparate sentences.” The word “outcome” doesn’t mean “history.”

    Read what I say, please, and stop putting words into my keyboard.

    (Actually, I do think there was a lot of racism involved in the social panic over crack in the mid-1980s, but that’s a separate discussion; it’s not what I said, nor what I meant.)

    The idea that the disparity should be considered to have more anti-black results didn’t gain large amounts of traction until the late 1990s (though Jesse Jackson picked up on it as early as 1995, still 10 years later than the act).

    The disparity isn’t “considered” to have anti-black (is “anti-black” more P.C. than “racist” in your crowd?) results; it did have anti-black results.

    The five-year-mandatory-minimum for crack didn’t happen until 1988. Liberal criticism of the racist effects of this was commonplace in the early 1990s, and had penetrated the mainstream so much that by 1995 the US Sentencing Commission — the government group in charge of setting sentencing recommendations — issued a report on crack cocaine which explicitly criticized the racial disparity in sentencing and recommended that Congress get rid of the disparity.

    And even then it is interesting that w don’t talk about it as a failed/deeply counter-productive policy to help the black community, it has been retconned into an anti-black measure.

    According to a USSC report (pdf link):

    Congress apparently believed that crack was significantly more dangerous than powder cocaine in that: (1) crack was highly addictive; (2) crack users and dealers were more likely to be violent than users and dealers of other drugs; (3) crack was more harmful to users than powder, particularly for children who had been exposed by their mothers’ drug use during pregnancy; (4) crack use was especially prevalent among teenagers; and (5) crack’s potency and low cost were making it increasingly popular.”

    I’m sure that some jackass (probably Joe Biden) did frame it as a pro-black people measure at one point or another (although you haven’t provided a single link or citation to support your claims). But it’s simply not true that either the 1986 or 1988 laws were primarily or even significantly sold as measures to help the Black community.

    Although it can’t be proven, I actually do think there was a lot of racism behind the 1980s crack cocaine panic — you may recall mainstream media claims that “crack babies” were going to grow up to become “super-predators.” There was a lot of fear of black teenagers at that time (remember “wilding”?). That social panic, in turn, led to the 1986 and 1988 anti-crack legislation.

    Its persistence since then is testament to the stupid power of the words “Drug War” for both parties ever since, with only very recent willingness to consider change in drug war methods after decades of showing how awful it has been for communities.

    The one thing you’ve said I agree with.

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    April 22, 2011 at 8:19 am

    I’m arguing against its intelligent use, not its permissibility.

    And as has been pointed out over and over again, it’s curious that you focus on the proper response to a bigoted statement, rather than the statement itself.

    I will point out that I have a) given numerous examples of what I see as the problem; and have b) specifically answered questions about other people’s hypotheticals, in detail.

    If you want to have a discussion of why the response is relevant, I’ll have one. But I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that if I posted a response, you’d raise yet another protest.

    If you think I’m so obviously incorrect, why not attempt to illustrate it by responding to some of the specific issues I stated (some of which Amp originally raised) and not by looking for a new topic?

    but anyway: This started in the context of a discussion–not a random political argument, not a soap box, not something where you are simply trying to convince a third party.

    Remember this, from the OP?

    Amp said:
    …Burt goes on to argue, in effect, that logical debate should not include criticism of positions for being bigoted…

    Presumably if you’re in a logical debate you would actually like your opponent to stay in it. Presumably you would also be interested in your opponent’s point of view, especially if you’re expecting them to reciprocate that interest.

    In other words, this thread debate is in the context of an attempt to mutually communicate. That’s what logical debate implies. And in order for that communication to be effective, you have to deal with certain constraints on language.

    You have to make some sort of exemption for positions, otherwise the communication won’t work. You can’t have the legal-abortion talk with someone who yells “murderer!” every time you say the word “abortion,” and you can’t have it with someone who yells “misogynist pig” any time you say the word “limits.” It’s like having an argument where you’re both wearing earplugs.

    If you want to talk at people and not with them, then there don’t need to be any constraints at all. That’s free speech for you. But that isn’t what is normally referred to as “logical debate,” or, even, “discussion.”

  44. 44
    Ampersand says:

    Regarding crack cocaine, both Sebastian and G&W say — without the slightest evidence cited — that for activists to have talked about the racist effects of crack was a mistake.

    Sebastian:

    I’m not sure what you think ‘bigoted’ is adding to the conversation other than obscuring its history. Destructive? Sure. Foolish in retrospect? Absolutely. Ineffective? Definitely.

    G&W:

    Yeah, I remember those conversations well… “Racism” was a means of “convincing” people who didn’t want to be tagged as racists. Didn’t do shit for the actual subject matter, though.

    Forgive me for asking this, but: Are you two on crack? :-p

    Since the Nixon administration, exactly one Federal mandatory minimum sentence has been eliminated — the five-year mandatory minimum for crack possession. The sentencing disparity for crack has been cut down to one-fifth of what it used to be (although it hasn’t been eliminated, alas). This is the only significant rollback of federal “war on drugs” laws since the so-called war on drugs began, as far as I know.

    So you two are, in effect, pointing at the only effective campaign to roll back tough-on-drug laws, EVER, and saying that one of the primary arguments they used was totally ineffective and probably counterproductive. That seems more than a little illogical. Do either of you have ANY evidence at all to offer in favor of your views?

    No group has been more important to bringing about this change than the USSC. But the USSC was obviously very disturbed by the racial aspects of the sentencing disparity — something I know because they themselves have said so repeatedly. At some point, someone must have made the argument to the USSC members; someone must have been the first USSC member to point out the racial consequences of the law to the other members. Obviously that WAS an effective argument, or it wouldn’t have become such an important issue to the USSC.

    Claiming it wasn’t effective just seems ahistorical.

  45. 45
    mythago says:

    But I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that if I posted a response, you’d raise yet another protest.

    Are you actually complaining that I might disagree with you? Or are you simply saying that no matter what I will be contrary? That latter’s an ad hominem, is it not?

    And going back to the original point, “don’t ever call somebody a bigot” is a silly constraint in a logical debate. It’s like saying “don’t ever criticize somebody’s statistics by saying they are incorrect mathematically.”

  46. 46
    Ampersand says:

    (In fact, I’m probably one of the biggest free speech advocates that you’ll encounter on this blog. The difference between me and many posters seems to be that I’d completely support your speech rights irrespective of your political position or argument, and not just if they were things I agreed with)

    G&W, who are the “many posters” on this blog who oppose free speech for people they disagree with? Me? Mandolin? Myca? (I mean, apart from “we disagree with child pornographers” or stuff like that.)

    You seem to be implying that it’s commonplace for “many” left-wingers here to oppose free speech for conservatives, or vice versa. I say you’re completely wrong, and you’ve made a groundless slur made against people you disagree with.

    I’m asking you to back up your claim with quotes and links, please. Or admit that your claim was over-the-top (which is fine, we all say wrong things sometimes) and withdraw it.

    * * *

    Note that I’m not saying you can’t criticize other people, or better yet their arguments, for being anti-free speech. I think it’s fine to make that claim that in a logical debate, as long as you back up your claim with arguments and/or evidence.

    Similarly, I don’t see anything wrong with saying “this policy has racist results” or “this argument is grounded in devaluing lgbt people,” as long as the claim is backed up with arguments and/or evidence.

  47. 47
    Ampersand says:
    Amp said:
    …Burt goes on to argue, in effect, that logical debate should not include criticism of positions for being bigoted…

    Presumably if you’re in a logical debate you would actually like your opponent to stay in it. Presumably you would also be interested in your opponent’s point of view, especially if you’re expecting them to reciprocate that interest.

    In other words, this thread debate is in the context of an attempt to mutually communicate. That’s what logical debate implies. And in order for that communication to be effective, you have to deal with certain constraints on language.

    You have to make some sort of exemption for positions, otherwise the communication won’t work. You can’t have the legal-abortion talk with someone who yells “murderer!” every time you say the word “abortion,” and you can’t have it with someone who yells “misogynist pig” any time you say the word “limits.” It’s like having an argument where you’re both wearing earplugs.

    I certainly agree that it makes sense to modulate language to increase the chances of a good dialog. (I have practiced that myself quite a lot.) But:

    1) Saying “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means black people get punished much more harshly than white people for a substantively identical crime” is not even remotely the same as yelling “murderer!” or “misogynist pig!”

    2) Someone who cannot see the difference between saying “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means…” and yelling “MURDERER!” is probably not someone it’s possible to have a reasonable discussion with.

    You seem to be saying that if I say “”I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means…” and Linus responds by yelling “HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A RACIST KKK MEMBER NAZI!!!,” I am the one being unreasonable, not Linus. I think you’re mistaken.

    If I’m a pro-choicer, and I want to have a debate with a pro-lifer, it’s reasonable for me to expect him to restrain himself from calling me a murderer, or pro-murder. It’s not reasonable of me to expect him to not say “I think that legal abortion effectively sanctions the killing of innocent human beings.” That is his (mistaken and wrongheaded, but that’s another thread) case, and although I can expect him to phrase it in a manner that isn’t directly accusatory and shows respect for me, it would be unreasonable of me to expect him to refrain from stating the pro-life position at all.

  48. 48
    nobody.really says:

    Someone who cannot see the difference between saying “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means…” and yelling “MURDERER!” is probably not someone it’s possible to have a reasonable discussion with.

    You seem to be saying that if I say “”I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means…” and Linus responds by yelling “HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A RACIST KKK MEMBER NAZI!!!,” I am the one being unreasonable, not Linus. I think you’re mistaken.

    If I’m a pro-choicer, and I want to have a debate with a pro-lifer, it’s reasonable for me to expect him to restrain himself from calling me a murderer, or pro-murder. It’s not reasonable of me to expect him to not say “I think that legal abortion effectively sanctions the killing of innocent human beings.” That is his (mistaken and wrongheaded, but that’s another thread) case, and although I can expect him to phrase it in a manner that isn’t directly accusatory and shows respect for me, it would be unreasonable of me to expect him to refrain from stating the pro-life position at all.

    How does the statement “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist, because it in effect means black people get punished much more harshly than white people for a substantively identical crime” compare to “I think Roe v Wade is murderous, because it in effect means innocent humans can be intentionally killed”?

    I’m not thrilled with either of them.

    I prefer the statement “I think that legal abortion effectively sanctions the killing of innocent human beings.” This statement focuses on cause and effect: legalizing abortion (allegedly) leads to killings. The speaker respects the listeners enough to let them draw their own conclusions about the policy. And the speaker does not muddy a discussion about adverse consequences – a relatively concrete proposition – by throwing in a discussion of intent – a notoriously indeterminate proposition.

    For the same reasons, I prefer the statement, “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity results in black people get punished much more harshly than white people for a substantively identical crime.” Again, it focuses on cause and effect, and avoids sidetracking a discussion about adverse consequences with a discussion about intent.

    Finally, I’ll take this opportunity to beat my old drum: The premise of Amp’s lastest post is, “There exists one standard of reasonableness and we can, though debate, establish what it is.” I would offer a contrary premise.

    People differ. I know of no one standard of reasonableness, and I try to avoid claiming authority to judge the rightness or wrongness of another person’s emotions. At best, I can try to anticipate how my words will affect people and select words that will be most likely to have the desired effect. For example, when I desire to encourage thoughtful discourse, I focus on cause-and-effect and avoiding questions about intent. Finally, I reconcile myself to the fact that anything I say may provoke someone. I take responsibility for that, and try not to expend much energy justifying my words by appealing to some alleged standard called “reasonableness.” My words are my own; judge them as you will.

  49. 49
    Ruchama says:

    For the same reasons, I prefer the statement, “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity results in black people get punished much more harshly than white people for a substantively identical crime.” Again, it focuses on cause and effect, and avoids sidetracking a discussion about adverse consequences with a discussion about intent

    But saying that the sentencing disparity is racist says nothing about intent — it says something about result. “I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist” says essentially the same thing as your statement, just with fewer details.

  50. 50
    Ruchama says:

    Also, plenty of people will hear “You’re racist” or “You’re a murderer” or whatever even if it isn’t actually said. As a somewhat sorta related example, I’ve had some variation of the following conversation countless times:

    Person: Want a brownie?
    Me: No, thanks.
    Person: Why not? They’re really good.
    Me: I’m vegan, and those have egg.
    Person: You’re vegan? So, like, you think that I’m a murderer for eating this brownie? Jeez, you vegans are so judgmental.
    Me: Huh?

  51. 51
    nobody.really says:

    [P]lenty of people will hear “You’re racist” or “You’re a murderer” or whatever even if it isn’t actually said.

    Indeed they will. In fact, I think Justice Clarence Thomas said something rather similar in his dissent in the Lawrence v. Texas case striking down an anti-sodomy law — but that boy has always been niggardly in recognizing privacy rights.

    Yet I think you’d agree with me that some phrasing is more likely to provoke people’s reactions than others. Now, I could argue all day long that when I characterized a policy as “bigoted” I didn’t mean to imply anything about a person’s intent. But I’d have to be pretty unfamiliar with the Engish language not to recognize that people are going to make the inference. If I have any desire to avoid derailing a discussion, I can choose phrasing to maximize that likelihood. And conversely, if I want to derail a discussion, I know the phrasing that’s most likely to provoke that response, too.

    Pick your goals; then pick your tools. You can’t guarantee how people will hear your words, but you can definitely improve your odds.

  52. 52
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    April 22, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Regarding crack cocaine, both Sebastian and G&W say — without the slightest evidence cited — that for activists to have talked about the racist effects of crack was a mistake.

    Well, I said it didn’t do anything for the discussion, and I stand by that. There’s a big difference between that and politics. I’m well aware that obviously worked, so I can see why my (assumed) disagreement would make you think I was on crack, or at least powder ;)

    In this particular case, I remember the topic well. It happened to be a particular interest of mine at the time (though I was far from a specialized expert) and I was involved with and working with a lot of people who would often debate pros and cons of various changes. There was never much of a problem with the discussions, even though they addressed disparate racial impact (a fairly common subject in legal analysis) but the word “racism” tended to shut them down fast.

    (nonetheless, there was a growing belief that the crack disparity was incorrect. not incorrect because it was racist, but simply incorrect.)

    After all, not everything which creates a disparity based on a given characteristic is ___ist for that characteristic. When Ruchama says ““I think the crack cocaine sentencing disparity is racist” says essentially the same thing as your statement, just with fewer details” I couldn’t disagree more.

    Randomly pick a crime, and imagine that you enforce it perfectly against the entire U.S. population for a year. Plenty of them won’t be balanced across some spectrum or another. There’s probably a shortage of Asian horse thieves, Jewish cross burners, female murderers, etc. You don’t get balanced results in many cases.

    Now, instead of picking a crime, randomly pick a GOAL–”stop child abuse,” “reduce drive by shootings,” “stop drug sales in high-crime neighborhoods,” “protect people’s savings” or “prevent lead poisoning in infants” and, again, you’ll get different results. Say you crank the punishment and the enforcement. Then what?

    Well, if you’re more concerned with saving billions of dollars from being stolen, you’ll end up focusing on rich white people (both on the criminal and victim side, as it happens.) If you’re more concerned with stopping drug sales in high-crime neighborhoods you’ll end up focusing on POC, both as criminals and victims. With lead poisoning, you have more white criminals (large property owners) and everyone’s a victim. And so on.

    So: If the goal itself is facially neutral, but the resulting enforcement ends up targeting a particular race, is that a problem? When is it a problem? What’s the distinguishing factor between the problem ones (crack enforcement) and the ones that everyone likes (financial enforcement?)

    It is a very important topic. It’s a discussion I love to have. But I don’t think it’s helped by the early classification of something as “racist” before it’s been properly analyzed and compared.

  53. 53
    Bernie Madoff says:

    What’s the distinguishing factor between the problem ones (crack enforcement) and the ones that everyone likes (financial enforcement?)

    Not everyone likes financial enforcement! I’m innocent, I tells ya.

  54. 54
    mythago says:

    Ampersand @46: Don’t wait underwater.

    The fallacy in the “don’t say ‘bigot’ because it’s emotional” argument is this: it pretends that up until the accusation of bigotry the conversation has been rational and unemotional. It ignores the fact that a bigoted statement is irrational and emotional.

    Now, I can certainly understand the argument that it is unproductive to try and counter such an irrational, unemotional statement by saying ‘that was bigoted’, because there are better ways to shut it down.

  55. 55
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ah, you must mean this:

    Ampersand says:

    G&W, who are the “many posters” on this blog who oppose free speech for people they disagree with?

    Let’s see. Here are two quick examples.

    1) Unless I am misremembering–in which case, forgive me–all of the mods here support, generally speaking, hate speech laws. Those are inherently antagonistic to free speech and represent an expansion of government power which strict civil libertarians like me generally find problematic.

    2) I’m also fairly certain that all of the mods here also ascribe to the theory of “silencing” that I described above: that, in order to encourage or attend to the voices of the preferred group in question, certain voices must occasionally be actively silenced, obscured, or banned. This position is also inherently opposed to strict free speech, for obvious reasons. I read enough education blogs that I’m not certain it was here, but I have a feeling that the stop-silencing-through-silencing-others approach has been discussed in the education context, here with fairly widespread support.

    I could probably think of others if it’s really necessary. And I certainly concede that #2 isn’t technically “free speech” insofar as it’s not a governmental act (though it can involve free speech if it occurs at a public school) But I don’t think there are many (any?) other FIRE types here.

    Am I wrong? I suppose I may have misremembered something. But generally speaking you seem much more comfortable than I do with an incremental softening of speech, whether through legal, practical, or social means.

  56. 56
    Mandolin says:

    (2) Oh, for fuck’s sake. Asking people to shut up on a blog is not equivalent to supporting government restrictions on free speech. If you’re talking about “silencing” people with government power, let’s see it.

    (1) Go ahead. Find the support for laws against hate speech. It could have happened. My personal position on the issue is “our system works, but it seems like hate speech laws in other countries have worked too, and I don’t really have enough information to differentiate between one being better than the other, but I find it annoying that Americans assume our way is the only moral one.” But A) that’s not “supports hate speech laws,” and B) you said all the mods, and I think actually (apart from Maia), my “I dunno” may be the most extreme on that issue. Now, it’s possible I said something in support of hate speech laws at some point; particularly on issues I feel like I don’t know enough about, I have a tendency to swing. So if you can pull that up, that’d probably be interesting. But let’s see some of the other American mods sayin’ what you attribute to them.

    You really seem to want us to be straw people for you. It’s tiring.

  57. 57
    Ampersand says:

    [Cross-posted with Mandolin.]

    G&W, on one issue you’re flatly wrong, and on the other issue you’re stretching to say the least.

    I’m mildly opposed to hate speech laws. I don’t think it’s an important speech issue – in the US, where they’re plainly unconstitutional, worrying about hate speech laws seems moot, and there are far more important impositions on free speech to worry about. My guess is that Mandolin and Myca would oppose them too, although I don’t know for sure.

    (I wonder if you’re mixing up hate speech laws and hate crime laws? They’re not the same thing.)

    #2 is, as you admit, not really about free speech at all. If the teacher decides not to let Linus speak because he’s been making speeches all day and she wants to give the other kids a chance to talk, that’s not censorship in any way whatsoever. (If a teacher had a general policy of never letting white kids speak, of course that would be wrong and I’d be against that, and I’d bet money that Mandolin and Myca and virtually everyone else on this blog would be against it too.)

    So you can’t actually back up your accusation with any legitimate examples at all. This isn’t a ban threat or anything, so don’t take it that way, but I think you owe us a retraction.

    My suspicion, by the way, is that if we examined the issue of copyright, trademark and IP laws, we’d find that of the two of us, I’m the much stronger advocate of free speech. You seem like a pretty mainstream American in your views of free speech; I’m a free speech extremist when it comes to IP laws.

  58. 58
    Ampersand says:

    But generally speaking you seem much more comfortable than I do with an incremental softening of speech, whether through legal, practical, or social means.

    Except your entire position in this thread favors using “social means” to silence [*] discussion of bigotry.

    [*] ETA: Or at least, to discourage or “soften,” in your word, such discussion.

  59. 59
    mythago says:

    (I wonder if you’re mixing up hate speech laws and hate crime laws? They’re not the same thing.)

    People opposed to the latter generally pretend they’re the former.

    If by “hate speech laws”, gin-and-whiskey, you mean the sort of laws Europe has that make voicing certain opinions actual crimes – such as denying the Holocaust – I don’t think you’re going to find much support, if any, for those here.

  60. 60
    Myca says:

    1) I am utterly opposed to hate speech laws, and have argued against them here in the past. I don’t think that words should be illegal.

    2) I think of this blog like a discussion I’m having with friends, or a discussion in my living room (or Ampersand’s living room, actually), so I view banning posters like not inviting them to the discussion or kicking them out of my house. Neither of which is in remotely the same camp as curtailing their free speech. Your right to free speech ≠ my obligation to provide you with a forum.

    I’d agree with Ampersand that if those are your examples, you owe us a retraction, and, I’d add, an apology.

    Finally, I’d like to say that you just made an extraordinary charge against most of us … being pro-censorship/anti free-speech. Where I come from, that’s taken as seriously as ‘bigot’. I’ve worked with the ACLU, and I am in favor of free speech nearly without exception.

    But you know what happened? It didn’t shut down discussion. It didn’t take anyone’s opinion ‘off the table.’ Instead, we heard your charge, heard your reasons, and argued that they’re bullshit. This is the same reaction, generally, that people have to the charge that their position is ‘incorrect’ or ‘untrue’ or, yes, ‘bigoted.’

    They argue about it. They disagree. If you don’t think of yourself as a bigot and someone calls your position bigoted, you ask their reasons, and you discuss it. If their reasons are bullshit, then you say, “Nope, I think my position is reasonable because X, Y, and Z.” If their reasons are good, then maybe you have to rethink your position.

    In neither case does it shut down discussion. In neither case does it take anything off the table.

    —Myca

  61. 61
    Jeff Fecke says:

    I think almost all the mods here are anti-speech restrictions. Personally, I deplore hate speech and bigotry, and because of that, I encourage bigots to speak. Gay rights has no better ally than Fred Phelps, who shows the sick beating heart of intolerance every time he protests a funeral.

    But of course, G&W doesn’t care what I think, or what any of the mods here think. He’s just flailing at this point, because his premise — that being bigoted is okay, but calling someone a bigot is not — has been folded, spindled, and mutilated by the others on this thread. And through the logical argumentation that he claims to hold so dear. And so he’s resorted to baseless and false ad hom attacks — something he claims to abhor — to try to salvage a win that can’t be salvaged. It would be sad if it wasn’t so hilarious.

  62. 62
    Sebastian H says:

    “because his premise — that being bigoted is okay”

    Where is this his premise? Or even part of his premise? I don’t see it.

    “They argue about it. They disagree. If you don’t think of yourself as a bigot and someone calls your position bigoted, you ask their reasons, and you discuss it. If their reasons are bullshit, then you say, “Nope, I think my position is reasonable because X, Y, and Z.””

    You suggest this isn’t a shutting down of conversation, but in actual practice it usually is. Because instead of being forced to defend X, Y, and Z which they could have asked you about without calling you a bigot, you now have to ask them why they called you a bigot. You are no longer talking about X, Y, and Z, you are talking about the accusation that you are a bigot.

    As I said before, You *CAN* argue that something is false and bigoted, but the conversation will at least 9 times out of 10 get sucked exclusively into the bigoted/not bigoted question. So if there is any possibility that the claim is true (and therefore not bigoted under your definition though apparently not Amp’s) the truth possibility will almost always get short shrift . It is a little bit like discussions of torture (in theory you might get good information that you wouldn’t get otherwise, but in practical reality that is so super-rare as to be a distraction to most discussions of torture) or rape (yes some women lie sometimes, but it is fairly rare and non a pertinent issue to most discussions of rape). Much of the time calling someone’s claim bigoted, talking about finding useful information from torture, or mentioning that women lie in a discussion about rape are all methods of trying to divert the conversation rather than explore the topic. Calling something bigoted seems more as likely IN PRACTICE to be a rhetorical device which shuts down the talk about the truth claims. Whether or not this shutting down of the talk about the truth claims is its intention, is beside the point in the real world.

  63. 63
    closetpuritan says:

    Perhaps within the narrowly-defined parameters of logical debate with the person who is making bigoted statements that is aimed solely at that person and not bystanders, calling those statements bigoted is rarely or never useful.

    But surely, for anyone who values discussing subjects and getting at the truth no matter how sensitive or taboo the subject, it’s worth discussing how bigotry operates, what makes a statement bigoted, and whether particular statements are bigoted. I think many worthwhile discussions can be had about whether and how a particular statement, action, policy, etc. is bigoted. To quote gin-and-whiskey, “If you want to discuss taking measures to combat racism among the U.S. moneyed elite, you have to be able to talk about racism among the U.S. moneyed elite.”

  64. 64
    Myca says:

    But surely, for anyone who values discussing subjects and getting at the truth no matter how sensitive or taboo the subject, it’s worth discussing how bigotry operates, what makes a statement bigoted, and whether particular statements are bigoted.

    Yes. I think that what you’re pointing out is a feature in their argument, not a bug. I think that this feature is why there’s so much objection to ‘bigoted’ and not ‘untrue’ or ‘wrong.’ They’d like to be able to discuss whether a position is effective or not, or whether a statement is true or false … but they’d rather that bigotry not be discussed at all.

    —Myca

  65. 65
    Sebastian H says:

    “But surely, for anyone who values discussing subjects and getting at the truth no matter how sensitive or taboo the subject, it’s worth discussing how bigotry operates, what makes a statement bigoted, and whether particular statements are bigoted. ”

    Sure. You can certainly have a discussion about whether or not a statement is bigoted. But usually not at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not it is true.

    “If you want to discuss taking measures to combat racism among the U.S. moneyed elite, you have to be able to talk about racism among the U.S. moneyed elite.”

    Again, sure, but if the discussion is about something else and YOU want to talk about bigotry, you have to raise it and change the topic of discussion. Sometimes that may be appropriate, but usually it is a method of talking about bigotry and NOT talking about the truth value of the other subject. Which is why upthread we have talked about it shutting down discussion. It often/usually shuts down the rest of the discussion and forces the person accused to defend on the topic of bigotry.

    Just like when someone crappy always raises the question of lying about rape in a rape discussion. Yes, sometimes that question is appropriate to talk about. Usually it just a way to distract.

  66. 66
    closetpuritan says:

    Sure. You can certainly have a discussion about whether or not a statement is bigoted. But usually not at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not it is true.

    I’m skeptical about this, given that the strongest defense of a statement against a charge of bigotry would be to show that it’s true.

    Or if it’s true, and neither the person who stated it nor the person calling it out for bigotry disputes the truth of it (“Some women lie about rape!” “blacks have had lower IQ scores for years!”) then there’s no argument about the truth of the statement to shut down in the first place. If someone’s using bigoted arguments/assumptions and these go unchallenged, I don’t think that the result is a high-quality debate.

  67. 67
    Sebastian H says:

    No the truth of the statement is rarely a good defense because the charge of bigotry is so often an attack on the motivations of the speaker NOT the truth value of the statement. This can be seen as early as comment #4 in this very thread and also #10. And I think that Amp agrees. So for some of those in this very thread (and I might add some of the front posters, so not just random commenters) it appears that the truth of the statement is not the strongest defense, or may not be any defense at all.

    I would suggest that is because “bigot” and “bigoted” have a high valence of personal attack (i.e. are used so often as a personal attack that alleged attempts to use it in a neutral way are almost always doomed to failure).

    Bigoted does not equal unintentional disparate effect between different groups. It involves obstinate intolerance against another group. It involves a denial of positive facts about that group, an emphasis on negative facts about that group, and/or the propagation of negative lies about that group. That is the general valence of the word. If you try to use it in some hypertechnical sense, you are either not being realistic about how it will be interpreted by most listeners, or you are engaged in a dog whistle attack with only the most basic hint of deniability.

  68. 68
    Ampersand says:

    I think the truth is a defense against bigotry — but only if what’s being given is the full, contextualized truth.

    Miss Van Pelt is a teacher, and an activist who argues that Jewish kids are genetically saddled with lower IQs than other kids. When Linus asks Miss Van Pelt if the Jews in her class are able to keep up academically, Van Pelt says “well, just look at it: Jon’s grades are far below average. Allison’s grades are far below average. And Julie’s grades are far below average. You can draw your own conclusions, I guess.”

    Later on, Linus discovers that there are ten Jewish kids in Miss Van Pelt’s class, and the other seven are all scoring average or above average grades. Miss Van Pelt, confronted with this, says “well, everything I said was true.”

    So certainly, I can think of cases where I don’t think “the truth” is a defense, when “the truth” is actually a half-truth of one sort or another.

    But I can also easily think of cases where the truth is a legitimate defense. “Black people are much more likely to experience unemployment than white people” is not a bigoted statement, for example.

  69. 69
    Ampersand says:

    No the truth of the statement is rarely a good defense because the charge of bigotry is so often an attack on the motivations of the speaker NOT the truth value of the statement.

    1) There are some instances when “bigotry” (or related concepts) is brought up without being an attack on the motivations of the speaker.

    2) There are many examples of the motivations of the speaker being attacked, without the word “bigotry” (and related concepts) being brought up.

    3) Our stated goal is to reduce attacks on the motivation of the speaker.

    4) Our other stated goal is to be able to debate on any number of legitimate subjects, putting as few subjects as possible out of bounds of discussion.

    5) Therefore, rather than putting “bigotry” outside the bounds of discussion, we should ask people not to attack the motivations of speakers.

  70. 70
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    … and Amptoons wins the comments thread :-)

  71. 71
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    Foggy migraine hangover head. I mean Ampersand.

  72. 72
    closetpuritan says:

    I do agree that if you think a position is bigoted (or if you think it’s wrong), you’re probably not going to adopt that position. Actually saying that you think that position is bigoted signals this to the other person. But if you withhold this information, you’re still less likely to adopt that position, since the person advancing it has no chance to convince you it’s not bigoted. And that won’t lead to an honest understanding of each other’s positions*, either.

    *I think this is a positive thing, and much more likely to occur than changing someone’s position.

  73. 73
    Sebastian H says:

    “Therefore, rather than putting “bigotry” outside the bounds of discussion, we should ask people not to attack the motivations of speakers.”

    Sure. But if we were to sincerely attempt to not attack the motivations of speakers, we wouldn’t be using ‘bigot’ nearly as often as it gets used. I think the idea that it is “out of bounds” isn’t what we are talking about. What it is, is a very serious accusation about the character of the speaker, and as such ought to be made only very seriously and with a fairly high amount of proof.

    You can construct situations where ‘bigot’ isn’t an attack on motivations. And they may from time to time even occur in the wild. But normally, they don’t.

    I don’t think anyone here has attempted to put ‘bigot’ out of bounds in a factually descriptive sense: it can be used to describe someone who demonstrates an obstinate intolerance against another group, commits routine denials of positive facts about that group, emphasizes negative facts about that group, and/or the propagates of negative lies about that group.

    What we on the other side of the issue have suggested is that it not be used in a character assassination sense for someone not demonstrated to do that–which is its most typical sense.

    Do you agree that it *sometimes* is used in a character assassination sense?

    Do you agree that it is *often* used in a character assassination sense?

    Do you agree that it is *rarely* used in a sense that is largely free of character assassination?

    Do you agree that it is *commonly* understood by listeners to be a character accusation?

    Do you agree that if it is commonly understood by listeners to be a character accusation, that the person accused of it is very likely to demonstrate large amounts of defensiveness, which very often leads to the shutting down of useful discussion?

    Do you agree that those things might be bad for discussion generally?

    I’m not sure where we disagree. It is clearly somewhere, but I’m not sure where.

  74. 74
    Ampersand says:

    [Bigot]… can be used to describe someone who demonstrates an obstinate intolerance against another group, commits routine denials of positive facts about that group, emphasizes negative facts about that group, and/or the propagates of negative lies about that group.

    I’d also define it to include unjust situations that appear to be acceptable because the people harmed by it are in a discriminated-against group, or that form part of an ongoing pattern of unjust treatment of that group.

    Do you agree that it *sometimes* is used in a character assassination sense?

    Yes.

    Do you agree that it is *often* used in a character assassination sense?

    Depends on how one defines “often.” I don’t agree that I often use it in that sense.

    But yeah, sure, I think it’s commonplace.

    Do you agree that it is *rarely* used in a sense that is largely free of character assassination?

    No. It’s used in a non-character-assassination sense quite commonly.

    Do you agree that it is *commonly* understood by listeners to be a character accusation?

    Yes. Although it depends on the particular listeners. Here at “Alas,’ for instance, it seems to me that the understanding you describe might well be a minority view.

    Do you agree that if it is commonly understood by listeners to be a character accusation, that the person accused of it is very likely to demonstrate large amounts of defensiveness, which very often leads to the shutting down of useful discussion?

    Yes.

    Do you agree that those things might be bad for discussion generally?

    Yes. This is why I frequently avoid using those words, or minimize my use of them. But I’m doing that as a matter of practicality, and making a concession to a common way people I disagree with behave irrationally; not because I think that they’re morally or intellectually correct.

    I’m not sure where we disagree. It is clearly somewhere, but I’m not sure where.

    1) When Linus becomes completely unreasonable because Lucy used the words “bigot” or “racist” in a non-character-assassination fashion, I think that the responsibility for the failure of conversation falls entirely on Linus, and you should both blame Linus for his own freely chosen actions, and entreat Linus to behave better in the future.

    In practice, you seem to disagree with me on that; you’d put all of the onus on Lucy, and entreat Lucy to change her behavior. The idea that Linus should be held responsible for his own decisions isn’t part of the case you’ve been making here.

    2) There’s a cost when we agree not to discuss bigotry, sexism, racism, antisemitism, etc., because Linus is unwilling to discuss these topics rationally no matter how carefully Lucy brings them up. As Harry Potter would be the first to tell you, that which cannot be named is much harder to oppose.

    This is a major concern of mine. If it’s a major concern of yours, you’ve yet to say so in any comment that I recall.

    So those are, in my view, the two major differences of opinion between us. (Plus, we define bigotry slightly differently.)

  75. 75
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    May 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm
    I’d also define it to include unjust situations that appear to be acceptable because the people harmed by it are in a discriminated-against group, or that form part of an ongoing pattern of unjust treatment of that group.

    I’m trying to figure out what you mean by this. Can you elaborate and/or provide an example?

  76. 76
    Sebastian H says:

    “When Linus becomes completely unreasonable because Lucy used the words “bigot” or “racist” in a non-character-assassination fashion”

    I don’t believe that in most conversations where someone uses “bigot” or “racist it is used in a non-character-assassination fashion. Even in the more mid-level cases “bigot” is used to signal to allies that the person shouldn’t be listened to, and should be condemned and to those on the fence that they should be careful or they will be accused of it to. That is the valence of the word “bigot” even when not a direct character assassination. Some words, like bigot, slut, or faggot for instance have such a high emotional and attack valence that the speaker should realize that focus will attach to the attack word in almost all uses.

    “In practice, you seem to disagree with me on that; you’d put all of the onus on Lucy, and entreat Lucy to change her behavior. The idea that Linus should be held responsible for his own decisions isn’t part of the case you’ve been making here.”

    In practice, Lucy chose the word bigot *because*of its high attack/shock valence, its value in othering the person, as warning to neutrals to stay out, or all of the above in addition to whatever neutral discussion it was supposed to contribute to. And even if Lucy did not intend that (which I suspect though not being in people’s heads cannot prove) if she is attentive to words at all, should know that “bigot” is going to inspire that response in listeners.

    In one of the earlier threads on this topic, you suggest that it doesn’t matter to some people how carefully you approach the topic–whether or not you use the word bigotry or talk about unfair disparate impact for example. That is certainly true, but by then you are talking about people who are definitely not engaging you. There is a large class of people in addition to that (who are probably less confrontational among other traits) who can engage you on disparate impact, but won’t do so if risking being called a bigot. By overusing ‘bigot’ or using it in places where it could be easily substituted with other accurate descriptions you ensure that you are only preaching to the choir, or yelling at the person definitely not listening.

    “Bigot” may have perfectly good value in othering, ostracizing, or demonizing someone in cases where you really want to other, ostracize, or demonize them. Sometimes othering or ostracizing is something a community has to do. But that is the kind of word you are using. A word of putting the person beyond the pale. A word of separation. A word of casting out. Trying to use it as another type of word, a word of discussion, a word of passionless description, is either a passive aggressive game to avoid responsibility for using it as an othering, ostracizing or demonizing word or it represents a weird misunderstanding of how the word will be heard by neutral listeners.

    I’m not saying that you can’t ever “other” or ostracize. I certainly think there are people who deserve it. Rev. Phelps is clearly a bigot.

    But I am saying that “bigot” is a word of ostracism and you can’t use it without that valence. That isn’t saying it is off the table. That is just saying that you shouldn’t use it with people or arguments that you don’t intend to label as “out of bounds and deserving to be shunned”.

  77. 77
    nobody.really says:

    2) There’s a cost when we agree not to discuss bigotry, sexism, racism, antisemitism, etc., because Linus is unwilling to discuss these topics rationally no matter how carefully Lucy brings them up. As Harry Potter would be the first to tell you, that which cannot be named is much harder to oppose.

    Admittedly, I can’t have a rational discussion of some topics with some people; word choice is beside the point. But other people are on the borderline; I may be able to have a rational discussion if I can avoid (or at least delay) provoking defensive, fight-or-flight responses in them. When dealing with people in this category, word choices matter.

    I find the Harry Potter reference useful here. What motivated Dumbledore to exhort people to refer to Tom Riddle as Lord Voldemort, rather than the customary “He Who Must Not Be Named”? Clearly Dumbledore was trying to encourage people to think clearly about alternative viewpoints on matters of public policy. Dumbledore thought the term Lord Voldemort would lend clarity to the discussion because the term “He Who Must Not Be Named” would leave people confused as to the identity of the person under discussion.

    Of course, that’s nonsense. Dumbledore exhorted people to refer to their sworn enemy as Lord Voldemort to encourage them to overcome their fear of doing so – that is, to extinguish the emotional charge the words conveyed. Note that Dumbledore used the name “Lord Voldemort” and not, for example, Tom Riddle. Dumbledore deferred to Riddle’s preferences in this matter. Dumbledore did not seem to feel that the strength of his arguments would depend upon the name by which he called Riddle – provided the name did not convey needless emotional content that would impede critical thinking.

    And this is the irony. I have not heard anyone ask to be called a bigot, or to have their arguments characterized as bigotry. Nor have I heard what idea the word “bigot” or “bigotry” conveys that cannot be conveyed by other terms (e.g., “disparate impact”) that lack the same emotional baggage. Thus, as far as I have been able to determine, people choose the word “bigot” solely for its emotional content. In short, I regard this word choice to be the antithesis of Dumbledore’s lesson.

  78. 78
    nobody.really says:

    I favor the term “undue discrimination” over “bigot” or “bigotry” – yet I try to use even that term sparingly. When appealing to someone’s reason, I try to refer to observable fact. And I can’t observe “undue discrimination.”

    To “discriminate” means to observe distinctions, to choose from among alternatives on the basis of criteria. People make choices all the time. When asked, people can often state rationales for their choices. When their rationales don’t match their choices, I have cause to doubt the candor of their proffered rationales. But I still don’t know the actualbasis for their choices. To conclude that the chooser does not have a legitimate reason for her choice, I would need to prove a negative – a famously difficult thing to do.

    Courts get around this by shifting the burden to the chooser to articulate a legitimate basis for her choice. Yet even when a court concludes that a chooser engaged in undue discrimination, two facts remain: 1) The finding of “undue discrimination” is a legal conclusion, not an observable fact. 2) The finding of “undue discrimination” does not demonstrate anything about what was in a chooser’s mind. Rather, it merely reflects the chooser’s failure to bear the burden to articulate a legitimate basis for her choice. The conclusion that someone was motivated by racial animus, for example, can only be inferred.

    Given these dynamics, I far prefer discussions about “disparate impact” – a topic we can actually explore with evidence.

  79. 79
    mythago says:

    What are you talking about? Courts consider ‘what was in a chooser’s mind’ all the time in cases alleging discrimination in, for example, the workplace; that’s why we have legal concepts like “discriminatory animus” and “cat’s paw”.

    Courts in the US do not “get around this”. The burden is not shifted to the chooser until the person claiming discrimination proves that, yes, discrimination occurred. Then the chooser can prove that she had a legitimate reason for the discriminatory action. The plaintiff can then, if possible, attempt to show that the legitimate reason is a pretext.

    So if you are accusing me of failing to promote you because of your race, I do not have to say anything about my motives until you show evidence of discrimination. If you don’t, well, too bad for you. If you do, I can then try to rebut that by showing that really I acted because of your poor work record (or whatever).

    And in all of this, of course the courts look to what is in my head, the same way that everyone does – i.e., looking to my behavior. If I keep emailing HR saying “don’t promote any of those filthy Xs”, then it’s not mind-reading for a court to determine that when I refused to promote you, the only X in my department, despite your stellar work performance, that I acted with discriminatory motive.

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