Friday, August 31, 2012

Farmer's Anti-Intellectual "Argument from Intimidation"

I recently encountered a column by long-time NJ Star-Ledger reporter John Farmer, titled Far-Right Wing Has Taken Flight on the Republican Party. In this column, Farmer sees a "growing anti-intellectualism" inside the Republican Party. In light of Farmer's charge, this column has to be read to be believed.

Or, you can read my comments and get the gist of it:

Talk about glass houses: “Anti-intellectualism” is not an entirely false description of the Republican Party, but Mr. Farmer is the last one who should level that charge. This column is saturated with it. Derogatory terms like “crazies,” “kooks,” “odd balls,” “weird,” “scatterbrained,” “freak show,” and “wacko,” are not the stuff of a serious intellectual discussion of issues. And Farmer’s own paranoia is evidenced in his fear of “right-wing extremists who dominate the Republican Party,” without any explanation of what “right-wing” stands for (individual rights) or why extremism (consistent adherence to one’s principles) is necessarily bad (it depends on a moral evaluation of one’s principles). Where does one see a consistent defense of individual rights in the GOP today? (Ryan at least talks about rights, and for that he deserves credit. But opposition to legalized abortion and gay marriage are anti-individual rights, not right-wing, positions.) 
As a political Independent and authentic far right-winger, I have many disagreements with individual Republicans and with the Republican Party generally, and I don’t disagree with Farmer that some of the positions cited here are wrong. But this whole column is an argument from intimidation and smear tactics, not substance. The purpose of such tactics is to discredit an entire political party in order to stifle debate. It is anti-intellectualism. 

Ayn Rand identified the Argument from Intimidation thus:

There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. 

And "extremism" as an "anti-concept": "an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept." Extremism is taken ipso facto as a smear, without any attempt to define the term.

I also had the opportunity to point a thoughtful correspondent--a regular @ NJ.COM--to an Objectivist philosopher's lecture. He asked, in reply to my comments:

@Z...Let me ask this question, Zemack. Is this “Anti-intellectualism" you write about an established trend and here to stay, or is this an isolated phenomenon that will dissipate in time - in your estimation?

Here is my answer:

M_Town: By “anti-intellectualism,” I mean the practice of considering each issue without reference to principles of any kind, or any unifying ideology. I mean considering every issue in isolation, like a road with two dead ends, disconnected from any other roads. I mean anti-philosophical. Think of it this way. This country was founded on a set of philosophical ideas. Look at the Declaration. It’s very abstract. The Founders were true intellectuals. Where do you see their kind of intellectualism today? Mostly on the collectivist Left, to the extent that it exists at all in America. 
It’s a trend that dates back to John Dewey, among others. How long will anti-intellectualism last? Until the philosophy of pragmatism is rejected. If you are interested, I recommend taking the time for this talk; The Menace of Pragmatism: How Aversion to Principle is Destroying America, by Dr. Tara Smith. 
Thanks for the inquiry.  

1 comment:

Mike Kevitt said...

I think you're trying to take the term, right-wing, and reserve it as a fundamental contrast (showing differences) against left-wing and right-wing, fundamentally different from both. But, in keeping that term, how easy is it to show that "authentic" is anything more than difference of degree? I tend to leave "left" & "right" to them, under the term, statist (you,ve seen me use other terms), resorting, mainly, to descriptions of my authentic (radical) difference from all 3 of those terms. That might, of necessity, be no easier, or less easy, but the use of handy different terms still need descriptions, for while (I don't know how long), until their meanings are generally known so the descriptions can be dropped.

Now, guys like Farmer can use smears and arguements from intimidation to great effect to their purpose as long as thet're not addressing the wrong audience. In today's culture they can, thus, keep a lock on a great majority of the culture, since it's an irrational culture.

People of reason never want to do that, not even in a fully rational culture. They always want to give at least short, or short-hand, versions of arguments, with all philosophical fundamentals implied and ready for explanation when needed or helpful. In today's irrational culture, that's all that MIGHT help, as long as talking is possible and appropriate.

As for intellectualism v anti-intellectualism, it looks like intellectualism v pragmatism. The "intellectualism" of statists (l or r), outside pragmatism, might be taken as such, more or less. They might even have some basis in meta. & epist. But, even then, their altruism & collectivism kicks them outa the field of reason, due to no concern for human life. What kind of intellectualism is that? Perverted, at best, I'd say.

Intellectualism and philosophy of human life, THUS, of reason, must be clearly contrasted and separated from all that with full descriptions and subsequent terminology, made familiar to the culture everywhere.