Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Informal Logic 101

In rhetoric or logic when one person responds to a claim or an argument from another by simply insulting the other instead of trying to answer the claim or refute the argument it's called the fallacy of ad hominem abusive. This article contains a textbook example of the tactic:

Kerry spokesman David Wade issued the following slap down today in response to Rush Limbaugh, who said on his radio show that Kerry's Swift Boat attackers in 2004, "were right on the money and nobody has disproven anything they claimed in any of their ads, statements, written commentaries, or anything of the sort."

Now set aside the question of whether Limbaugh is correct in saying this and look instead at the Kerry spokesman's response. Rather than seeking to show that Limbaugh is wrong Mr. Wade launches a stream of insults aimed at Limbaugh. Here's what he said:

"At first I thought, that's not Rush, that's just the OxyContin talking. Nonetheless, this is a despicable but unsurprising new lie from a man whose closest brush with combat came when customs officials tried to take away his Viagra.

This portly peddler of hate is once again wrong on the facts. John Kerry served his country with honor in Vietnam, and has fought for his fellow veterans ever since. The lies and smears of the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush were disproved conclusively in 2004 by the men who fought by John Kerry's side in Vietnam, by the military's own records, by investigative journalists, and by the incredible contradictions that exposed these right wing smear artists. It is long past time that we end the politics of fear and smear that we have seen used against decorated veterans from John McCain to Max Cleland and John Kerry.

Rush Limbaugh's ignorance and determination to divide Americans is just another reminder that you can't spell 'Rush Limbaugh' without the letters L-I-A-R."

Wade engages in much name-calling but he offers not a single rebuttal to Limbaugh's claim. He simply states that it has been rebutted by others and proceeds to prove it by calling Limbaugh a liar. Wade evidently possesses a black belt in the art of ad hominem. He has mastered the technique of filling the air with sufficient invective so as to convince the listener that the person on the receiving end of the insults must surely be wrong because he's apparently so despicable.

One of the sad things about this tactic is that it often works.


A Whiff of Totalitarianism

The New Republic has an interesting article by Damon Linker titled Atheism's Wrong Turn.

There are a few minor matters with which one might quibble - for instance his imputation of atheism to Socrates is puzzling - but his overall point is a good one:

"[T]he new atheism" is not particularly new. It belongs to an intellectual genealogy stretching back hundreds of years, to a moment when atheist thought split into two traditions: one primarily concerned with the dispassionate pursuit of truth, the other driven by a visceral contempt for the personal faith of others.

Today's atheists, he writes, have followed the second of these traditions and as such stand in defiant opposition to the grand tradition of classical liberalism. Their implicit desire to expunge from public life every vestige of religious faith and practice fills the pages of their books with more than a whiff of the totalitarian impulse.

Read Linker's article to find out why.


The Road to the Woodshed

After years of declaring the war in Iraq a failure and months of denying that there was any progress being made there, old John [Offer-Me-the-Bribe-Later] Murtha has had something of a Damascus Road experience:

U.S. Rep. John Murtha today said he saw signs of military progress during a brief trip to Iraq last week, but he warned that Iraqis need to play a larger role in providing their own security and the Bush administration still must develop an exit strategy.

"I think the 'surge' is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president's decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."

Violence has dropped significantly in recent months, but Mr. Murtha said he was most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province, where locals have started working closely with U.S. forces to isolate insurgents linked to Al Qaeda.

Kudos to Rep. Murtha for his honesty, but it probably is not very much appreciated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Majority Leader Harry Reid for whom, Murtha's candor cannot be good news. No doubt they will soon be taking old John to the woodshed for some "counselling" on the importance of keeping such politically unhelpful epiphanies to oneself. It's a fact of political life that the Damascus road often leads straight to the woodshed.