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Shouting into the abyss

A while ago, I wrote about the "heckler's veto," where people are prevented from speaking by being shouted down or threatened. It's a despicable tactic.

And it's a tactic that seems to have evolved. Its practitioners have learned that shouting someone down requires meeting them face-to-face, and that doesn't always work -- especially in silent forums such as online and print discussions.

So they went looking for a way to adapt the heckler's veto to work, and they seem to have found one. If you can't increase the volume of your argument, increase the intensity. Ratchet up the rhetoric. Push everything into the extreme, and hope that the sound and fury of your words will overshadow the lack of substance.

With that tactic, everything becomes easier. Bush isn't a bad president, he isn't woefully wrong, he isn't misguided, he isn't leading us into disaster. He's Hitler, he's Satan, he's evil incarnate. Karl Rove is no longer a cunning political operative, a brilliant strategist, a visionary with a plan that you disagree with. He's Machiavelli, he's the evil genius, he's the puppet master, he's the shadowy power behind the throne. The war in Iraq isn't an error, it isn't a failure, it isn't wrong, it's American genocide and a ravenous lust for oil. And less-than-delicate treatement of prisoners, captured bearing arms against Americans on the battlefield while not in uniform (in violation of the Geneva convention) isn't mistreatment, it isn't questionable, it isn't a cause for concern, it's torture and slaughter and death camps and Gulags and the Killing Fields all over again.

I'm not the only one to have noticed this phenomenon. Jeff Harrell takes a different approach, exploring in depth just how and why this tactic works so well. It's a damned fine read, and Jeff definitely is on to something.

I've mentioned before "Godwin's Law," and I'd like to see it extended a bit. I'd like to see anyone who makes a comparison to some great atrocity in the past be immediately challenged to explain exactly what that great atrocity entailed, and then go into detail showing precisely how the current event compares with the historical one.

I'd like to blame this entirely on the Left, but it's done by those on the Right as well. I've heard numerous people toss around "communist" and "socialist" as insults, believing that they are dropping rhetorical bunker-busters that ought to end the discussion immediately. Unfortunately, they usually just come across as frothing, John Birch No-Nothings and ended up marginalizing themselves.

John Kerry had the right idea when he compared the actions of American soldiers in Viet Nam to Genghis Khan. (I'm sorry, "Jenjhis Khan." Mustn't lose that Brahmin pronounciation.) The victims of those Mongol hordes passed into dust centuries ago. Unfortunately for Senator Durbin, we still have people who lived through the Nazi death camps, the Soviet Gulag, and the Cambodian killing fields. And some of them were deeply insulted by Senator Durbin, feeling that he was trivializing and denigrating what they had been through -- and what so many millions hadn't been as fortunate to survive.

I'd like to see the rhetoric turned back down, and to see a resurgence of civilized dialogue. But, sadly, I don't see that happening. It's so much easier to simply reach out and whack someone with the heavy guns of "Nazi!" and the like than it is to actually think, and reason, and discuss matters in an intelligent fashion.

Because that actually might involve such ghastly notions as Thinking and Reading and Research, and who, really, has time for that? Being responsible is such a burden.


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Comments (41)

In the end, no responsibili... (Below threshold)
10ksnooker:

In the end, no responsibilities, no rights. It's what the leftist really want, remove all your responsibilities in life, take all your rights.

Then they will be able to tell you how to live. Freedom will have died.

Wow. That comment really il... (Below threshold)

Wow. That comment really illustrates what Jay was talking about.

You are right, Jay Tea.... (Below threshold)

You are right, Jay Tea.

And you are also right, that this isn't the exclusive tool of one side or the other. The right is up in arms this week about Dick Durbin's comments, but a couple of months ago Rick Santorum invoking Hitler on the Senate floor as well.

It's funny, because the complaints that The Right tends to have about the Left is about Shrill over the top rhetoric, but that is exactly the same complaint that the Left has about the Right (as 10Ksnooker's comment above illustrates).

Is it possible that the rhe... (Below threshold)
a4g:

Is it possible that the rhetoric so quickly devolves to the extremes because history has so often shown civilization crumbling to chaos in the blink of an eye? How many in cosmopolitan Berlin knew the evil frenzy their nation would soon be enthralled in under Hitler? The Shah's Iran was a semi-respectable second-world nation, until mad theocracy shot across it like a plague.

We speak with shouts because it could be that the stakes are higher than any of us realize, bathed in the comfortable glow our computer screens.

The Twentieth Century is a graveyard for men of moderation. It was moderation, caution, thoughtfulness, that facilitated those Towers crumbling to ruin.

Who wouldn't prefer this world you describe, where reasoned men and women sit in PBS studios and harumph and tsk over the issues of the day? The question is: is that world real? Can it ever be?

If you had told me at the turn of the Millenium, that in a few short years I would have burned into my memories the image of the Towers falling, of real human beings jumping a thousand feet to their deaths; of the beheading of men on snuff films, and the howling screams as they struggled for breath; of the grainy green video of men and women who drive full bore into battle not knowing if they will live or die; I would not have believed you. Yet here we are.

So perhaps in fifty years we look back and it was all nothing more than a kerfuffle. But the question you have to ask yourself is, "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

We've spent the last hundred years learning well, how the flapping of little butterfly wings can end in bodies piled like cordwood. If we push hard with our rhetoric, perhaps it is only because the scale has shown just how delicately it is balanced.

a4, if you shout at everyth... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

a4, if you shout at everything, you soon get tuned out. Re-read "the boy who cried wolf." Choose which issues you wish to shout about, and how loudly. Or risk being lost in the background din.

J.

Would making a statement li... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Would making a statement like "if Mexico doesn't doesn't do something like change it's constitution and close it's borders to Mexican citizens leaving it may be a prelude to war" fit? It sure seems to.....

Jay-I don't necess... (Below threshold)
a4g:

Jay-

I don't necessarily disagree with your original post. Who doesn't want real comity? There's value in stepping into a schoolyard fight and trying to break it up.

I just wonder if "the good old days" of debate ever were, or ever could be (ask Jefferson, or Lincoln). People perceive danger and they react. And yes, sometimes the wolves are just bored little boys.

But I'm not sure that ratcheting down the debate (while I'm certainly not advocating against a little calm) will change the specious arguments, the faulty logic; it will only make them quieter.

However, as a father of five, I must concede that a little peace and quiet should never be taken lightly.

I don't disagree tha... (Below threshold)
jc:


I don't disagree that we on the right let our rhetoric get out of hand too often (Rick Santorum's comments are a good example of that), but you can't deny that these days communism is much more pervasive on the left than fascism is on the right. People walk around my school with Che Guevara T-shirts on, for crying out loud.

jc

What this discussion needs ... (Below threshold)
frameone:

What this discussion needs is a bomb throwing troll.

Jay is right and I'm glad to see him acknowledge the bipartisan nature of the problem. I don't recall ever referring to Bush or the hard right as Nazis or fascists here but that isn't to say I haven't been tempted, not so much by the facts, but by the rising temperature of a thread. It's an easy out and I'm not above taking it.
But it never fails to distracts from the real point one is trying to make.

Durbin killed any real discussion about how we should treat prisoners in our custody by presenting the issue the way he did (although I don't think he was accussing our troops of being Nazis). At the same time, every evocation Nazi genocide and euthanasia programs that accompanied the Schivao debate seriously obfuscated the nature of what was going on there and brought an unfortunate vitriol to the discussion.

That said, I'm wary of calls for comity. Even calls for civility these days have become a weapon of attack in partisan debates. Admitedly, it is a weapon you hand your enemy, but it's a weapon nonetheless. Just five seconds of watching or listening to Sean Hannity interview a democrat provides a great example of the art of bludgeoning someone with calls for civility. Invariably, Hannity begins his interviews with liberals by confronting htem with some so-called extreme quote from another liberal and demands for condemnation of such "outrageous rhetoric." Tim Russert has nothing on Hannity for this kind of tactic.

When even calls of civility are uncivil you know that the well of public discourse has been seriously poisoned.

Yeah, and remember when the... (Below threshold)
tubino:

Yeah, and remember when the feminists weren't just misguided, they were FEMINAZIS? Yeah, and remember when Hillary wasn't just a corporate lawyer trying to provide a pro-insurance company health care plan, she was Hitlery/Hitlary?

And remember when abortions were compared to a holocaust? Heck, remember when Grover Norquist compared the estate tax to the Holocaust?

I'm sure you remember all these events from the recent past.

I'm also sure you never said a word about any of them.

Prove me wrong.

Durbin never compared US tr... (Below threshold)
tubino:

Durbin never compared US troops to Nazis. He read, verbatim, the words of an FBI agent who himself used the words TORTURE TECHNIQUES.

Then he asked if those words would make you think of Nazis, Stalin's agents, or the Pol Pot regine.

I have not heard ANYONE say those words ounded like a description of interrogation techniques of the USA we know and love. NOT ONE.

The REpubs cranked up the rhetoric on Durbin, but his words were not the exaggerations they claim.

Gosh, and remember when we ... (Below threshold)
tubino:

Gosh, and remember when we were told that Saddam Hussein, who didn't have the resources to win territory from Iran, was called worse than Hitler?

And remember in the last election when (was it West Virginia?) local Repubs spread flyers claiming that Democrats would ban/take away your Bible (and your guns)?

I mean, can we talk about uncivil discourse and exaggeration?!?! Can WE TALK???

Here's a stunning example f... (Below threshold)
tubino:

Here's a stunning example from today:
http://tinyurl.com/c2u3l
link

Turbino is right that Durbi... (Below threshold)

Turbino is right that Durbin never compared US troops to Nazis. That's why I argued in my essay that Durbin was right. He was literally correct. If you told the average American what we do to prisoners at Gitmo, the average American would think that's as bad a Nazi Germany. That's because the average American is ignorant.

But the problem with invoking over-the-top rhetoric is that, as Frame One said, Durbin basically killed any debate about Camp Delta. That's bad, because while I believe that what we're doing at Camp Delta is right under the circumstances, I want us constantly to question our goals and our methods. Only by constantly questioning can we be assured that we're doing the right thing.

The problem is, too many Americans are more interested in shitting on other Americans than they are in conducting the country's business. That goes for our Senators as well as our bloggers. How many "Durbin is an asshole" posts did we see this week? How many posts did we see about the war and our prosecution of it? Stunts like Durbin's accomplish one goal and one goal only: to capture the news cycle and distract us from what we should be talking about.

And too many bloggers take the bait.

This isn't about civility. This is about keeping our eye on the ball. I concocted my "tightrope over the abyss" analogy with great deliberation. Our nation has to walk a very narrow path to keep from either losing the war or sacrificing everything that makes us virtuous. The best possible way to do either of those things is through mass inattention. Every blogger who wastes time and energy writing about Dick Durbin is contributing just the kind of national negligence that could get this country in real trouble.

The stakes are a lot higher than folks being mean to each other.

Every blogger who wastes... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Every blogger who wastes time and energy writing about Dick Durbin is contributing just the kind of national negligence that could get this country in real trouble.

Sounds kinda funny after reading your post "A tightrope over an abyss, and the vital importance of doubt", which is all about Dick Durbin and what he's said. Was it a waste of my time to bother reading it? I have to disagree, things like this need to written about, in as many forums as possible. If you don't think his cowardly attack on our nation and our soldiers was printed in every newspaper in the middle east you're crazy. If we just ignore it we might as well be saying it's true ourselves.
It's not just the middle east, it's the moonbats there in the USA and the Eurobats jumping on this drivel likes it's a fact. Had we ignored the counterfeit TANG documents John Kerry might be president today as the result of a hijacked election. Bloggers didn't keep it quiet then and I hope they don't let this one slip past either.

Jeff does a double backflip... (Below threshold)
tubino:

Jeff does a double backflip: "If you told the average American what we do to prisoners at Gitmo, the average American would think that's as bad a Nazi Germany."

Nice try, Jeff, but that's not Durbin's fault, and not what Durbin was trying to do. Yet you want to blame Durbin.

"counterfiet TANG documents"? Bullwinkle seems to be saying, We rightwing nutcases HAVE to have our batshit crazy stories! Look how important THIS one was!

Meanwhile, I live in a state (Ohio) where the elections shenanigans are well-documented, and the fix was clearly in for Bush, which determined the whole election. And the crazy Swiftboat stories got more media attention.

The whole Shiavo concoctions about her mental condition got national attention, and Frist is lying about what he said then. There's the kind of BS that is destroying national political discourse. OH, and Jeb is still at it.

Meanwhile, the unexaggerated Downing Street Memos, which should be grounds for impeachment for lying to Congress, are still largely ignored.

Hmmmm."Durbin neve... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

"Durbin never compared US troops to Nazis. He read, verbatim, the words of an FBI agent who himself used the words TORTURE TECHNIQUES."

I'd be more willing to believe that if Durbin had released the actual TEXT of the email.

It's his word, and his ass on fire, that he was just reading verbatim.

Hmmmm.I see turbin... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

I see turbino is the pet example.

Jay something is really f-ed up with your server. About every 3rd comment I get an error page.

Just an FYI.

It's irritating when people... (Below threshold)

It's irritating when people like Turbino and Bullwinkle miss the point. No, my essay was not all about Dick Durbin, as you'd know if you read past the first four grafs. And no, I wasn't blaming Durbin for anything; again, you'd know that if you read what I wrote.

I think some people are more interested in arguing than in listening. I think Turbino, in particular, just wants to dominate the discourse. This is evident by the fact that when somebody says something with which he should by all rights be agreeing, he argues. Arguing just for the sake of arguing.

I wish it were easier to separate the people who just want to argue from the people who actually care. I wish that were easier to do.

The rhetoric is getting mor... (Below threshold)
Eno:

The rhetoric is getting more intense because the left sincerely believes they are morally superior to those with conservative viewpoints. Because they are so "correct", "progressive" and "good", obviously those on the other side are evil. Durbin clearly compared our military to Nazis and Pol Pot, but that's o.k. because he was talking about "techniques" as described by one FBI hack. What rubbish. Sorry, but in the speech he made the comparison in order to point out his opinion of the lack of morality in our armed forces.
Discourse is out the window if one side feels morally superior to the other. Amazingly its not "the Christian Right" (if such a thing exists) that expresses these feelings, it is the American left. Read the comments of Turbino and others on this thread to see a great example.

Hmmmm."because the... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

"because the left sincerely believes they are morally superior "

IMHO liberals think conservatives are evil and conservatives think liberals are crazy.

Reality has a tendency to straighten things out over time though.

Jeff, go back and read your... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Jeff, go back and read your essay, Dick Durbin and what he said is all it's about. It starts off telling us Durbin was right. The second paragraph is a direct quote of what he said.The third paragraph assures once again how strongly you feel he was right. Either you can't write what you mean to say or you can't read what you write. You would have never written it in the first place without Dick Durbin making an ass of himself first, there would have been little reason to, if you had written it without it being about him and what he said you wouldn't have needed to quote him verbatim and mention his name 3 times. Nice attempt to CYA but it just ain't working. No matter how hard you try to deny it it was about Dick Durbin and what he said.

Bullwinkle, I'd love it if ... (Below threshold)

Bullwinkle, I'd love it if you'd read past paragraph 3. That'd just make my whole weekend.

I read the whole thing. If ... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

I read the whole thing. If it's not at the very least inspired by Dick Durbin and what he said I'll eat a printout of it. If you try to claim it isn't you can eat one. A printout too. Just curious why you expect anyone to believe it's not when you spend half of it agreeing with him, got any special reason for that?

How did you get from "It's ... (Below threshold)

How did you get from "It's all about Dick Durbin and what he said" to "it's inspired by Dick Durbin," Bullwinkle?

Are we seriously having an argument over what my article is about? Everybody's free to read it for himself. Why is this even a thing with you? Are you one of those people who just wants to argue?

Certainly not with you, aft... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Certainly not with you, after all, you didn't say what you said and I didn't bother to read it, according to you. Can't argue with logic like that.

Amazingly enough, you seem ... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Amazingly enough, you seem to have written yet another Dick Durbin essay(http://www.theshapeofdays.com/2005/06/the_senate_shou.html) (Saturday, June 18, 2005, 6:35 PM)since you didn't write the first Dick Durbin (http://www.theshapeofdays.com/2005/06/a_tightrope_ove.html) essay that wasn't about Dick Durbin, but that was after you commented in this thread that bloggers shouldn't be writing Dick Durbin essays in the first place (June 18, 2005 04:13 PM). As near as I can tell it's the second Dick Durbin essay that you didn't write about Dick Durbin. You are one tricky dude. Do you plan any more non-Dick Durbin essays that aren't about Dick Durbin in the near future? I only ask because I don't want to not read another unwritten Dick Durbin essay.

I suppose a THIRD Dick Durb... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

I suppose a THIRD Dick Durbin essay, assuredly NOT about Dick Durbin would be too much to ask for but some days a guy just can't go wrong.

http://www.theshapeofdays.com/2005/06/hutchison_other.html

Yesirree Bob! Bloggers are only wasting valuable time writing about Dick Durbin. So, are you just the type of guy that enjoys writing about Dick Durbin then denying it's about Dick Durbin?

Pay attention to the forest... (Below threshold)
laurelei23:

Pay attention to the forest, boys! Parsing Dick Durbin's phrasing is futile. If anyone doubts that the US government isn't torturing people, I suggest you have another look at the pictures from Abu Gharib. The CIA is using American corporate jets to move prisoners to those "friendly" countries where torture is cheerfully practiced. And if our guys aren't actually turning the thumbscrews, they're standing in the corner watching.

We have now officially become everything we were supposed to be against. Cruelty, lies, manipulation of facts. Our elected leaders, and their appointed secretaries, openly sneer at the "quaint" notions of the rule of law, habeus corpus, that charges should be proven not just repeated endlessly. What happened to our "better angels"? Our ideals are meant to protect us from the worst ascepts of our nature, not used to justify them. And our president continually invokes those ideals without actually enforcing them. He also avoids hearing a discouraging word because all "public" forums are carefully screened to eliminate dissenting voices. You can't make intelligent choices if you're deliberately supressing or ignoring half the data. It isn't a "discusssion" unless you're listening to both sides.

We are in so much trouble. Walt Kelly was right: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Klinton's Kock! Klinton's K... (Below threshold)
poopie head:

Klinton's Kock! Klinton's Kock!

Dean's Scream! Dean's Scream!

Jeff, a laudable effort, po... (Below threshold)

Jeff, a laudable effort, point made over and over and over and over again.

It's all about having to try to "break through the clutter."

Hmmm.On another no... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

On another note:

Does anyone else think the name "Dick Durbin" is rather improbable? It sounds like something someone made up for a movie where the background music is a steady "chikka-chikka-wahaa-wahaa".

Jay Tea writes: I... (Below threshold)
s9:

Jay Tea writes: I'd like to see the rhetoric turned back down, and to see a resurgence of civilized dialogue.

This from the same guy who just go through writing this: Since we're already suffering the consequences of using torture, it only makes sense to me that we gain the benefits of such. Let's show the world just what good old American ingenuity, inventiveness, and resources can achieve.

Apparently s9 does not poss... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Apparently s9 does not possess the reading comprehension skills to detect satire.

I'm against shouting down p... (Below threshold)
Hieronymus Braintree:

I'm against shouting down people. That's wrong. I am, however, four-square behind intelligent, albeit brief, heckling that undermines a load of BS.

However, what we're doing at Gitmo is pretty darn loathsome. Leaving people in 100-degree heat w/o food and water and pissing on the Koran, torture at Abu Ghraib, etc. sure takes a lot of the fun out of being an American. Leaving people in a fetal position to pee and shit on themselves...well, OK, comparing that stuff to Hitler and Stalin may be a little over the top but it do not reflect well on us. Really, folks, I don't think Dick Durban is the appropriate repository for your outrage here.

And remember, we only have the Administration's word that the Gitmo guys are terrorist. We also had their word that Saddam had WMDs, was behind 9/11, in cahoots with Osama....The list goes on. Today Condi Rice said "The administration, I think, has said to the American people that it is a generational commitment to Iraq." when, in truth, the administration promised us a quick exit. Anybody who takes their word for anything by this point is an idiot.

But you know what's just as bad as shouting down speakers? It's excluding anyone who disagrees with you from a public meeting. Like the folks who got kicked out of a social security meeting for having an anti-Bush bumper sticker. Um, aren't we supposed to be a democracy? Or all the protesters arrested for trying to get within eyeshot of Bush. "Free Speech Zones" are as bad idea for the country as they are for liberal college campuses, you know?

And as long as we're talking about oppressive behavior we could also discuss the appropriateness of hiring a nakedly partisan Independent Prosecuter to try and destroy a sitting presdient by giving him unlimited time and money to find something, anything, to prosecute him with. I mean, if you're really into fair play and everything.

Heironymus Braintree:... (Below threshold)
fatman4003:

Heironymus Braintree:

I couldn't agree with you more. I also found the partisan depradations of Lawrence Walsh's witch hunt against President Bush the Elder appalling.

Seriously, Heironmus Braint... (Below threshold)
fatman:

Seriously, Heironmus Braintree, of the "charges" you level at the Bush administration, the only one that has any basis in fact is the one about W.M.D. The intelligence that Bush (and Blair) based their decisions on was obviously wrong. It was also, obviously, believed (unless, of course, you only believe those parts of the DSM that you claim [erroneously] support your case that "Bush lied, people died").

When and where did the Bush... (Below threshold)
fatman:

When and where did the Bush administration claim that Saddam was behind 9-11? There were contacts between Saddam and Al-Qaeda--at least according to the 9-11 Commission--but nobody claimed that Saddam was behind it, or even knew about it beforehand. Just as the Nazis probably didn't know about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor beforehand. If you're going to claim otherwise, provide links.

When and where did the Bush... (Below threshold)
fatman:

When and where did the Bush adminstration promise a "quick exit" from Iraq? Obviously the administration (particularly Rumsfield) misjudged the depths to which the terrorists (NOT insurgents) would sink to try and derail the democratization of Iraq. But I vividly remember Bush saying, in his first post 9-11 speech, that the war on terror(ists) would take years, even decades. Iraq is just one battle in that war.

As for the treatment of the illegal combatents (NOT p.o.w.s) at Gitmo, I don't have a problem with it. It beats the hell out of public beheadings.

Bush may have excluded non-... (Below threshold)
fatman:

Bush may have excluded non-supporters from public meetings (which I don't agree with), and protesters attempting to disrupt such meetings may have been arrested (which I do agree with). To my knowledge, however, Bush hasn't yet had anyone arrested for asking a tough question, as Clinton did.

It's rhetorical strong-armi... (Below threshold)
AST:

It's rhetorical strong-arming. By making such shocking comparisions, the people who use them are warning readers not to disagree if they don't want to be called a Nazi or worse.

What they don't realize is that such tactics also drive away readers they need to persuade. Who wants to stay around where an ape is shrieking and throwing feces? Nobody's that curious.




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