Persuasion, Tone, and the Blogosphere:
Brian Leiter has a very interesting post up at the Leiter Reports defending the blunt and fairly dismissive tone he sometimes uses when blogging on political questions. If I understand Leiter's post correctly, the gist of his argument is that there isn't much point in trying to engage political questions seriously on a blog because: (1) blogging on big political topics almost never actually persuades people, (2) taking an opponent's arguments seriously legitimates those arguments, and Leiter is confident enough he is right that he doesn't want to do that, and (3) lots of people in the blogosphere are offended by his style only because they are "intellectual lightweights with trite opinions and limited analytical skills" who cannot see that he is clearly correct [with respect to what he calls the 'easy' questions, such as the War in Iraq, Social Security, and the like].

  It seems to me that these arguments for the most part are reasons not to blog at all about political questions, rather than to blog about them in a dismissive way. Leiter does offer two affirmative reasons to blog about politics, however: 1) "to alert like-minded readers to ideas and evidence and arguments which help strengthen their convictions regarding the truths they've already understood or glimpsed," and 2) to "give some expression to our collective outrage and dismay."

  I have two thoughts in response. First, my sense is that Leiter underestimates the number of his readers who are smart people open to persuasion on big political questions. Leiter is right that lots of people are hellbent on sticking to their guns, whether those guns are left or right. They will take on any argument they find that helps the cause, and there are lots of blogs both on the left and right to help them. What makes the blogosphere interesting, I think, is that there are a surprising number of people who are somewhere in the middle, or who have tendencies one way or the other but doubt their instincts and want to learn more. Lots of those people find their way to the Leiter Reports; its non-political posts have made Leiter's blog sort of a law professor's Wonkette. The blog has a large and loyal readership, and my sense is that lots of those readers are intelligent and open to argument on a number of important political issues.

  Second, my own view is that taking an opponent's argument seriously usually does not have the legitimizing effects that Leiter suggests it does. If anything, the opposite happens more often. First, there is the question of timing: If a weak argument is common enough that is it worth addressing, then a large group of people must actually believe it and already think it is legitimate. Second, blogging against that argument in a dismissive way often adds to the legitimacy of the argument, rather than takes away from it, as it recognizes that the opponent's argument is important enough to attack while not actually offering a reason to disagree with it. Finally, I think lots of people interpret a dismissive tone as a sign of weakness. It's a variation of the old lawyer's joke that if the law is against you, pound the facts; if the facts are against you, pound the law; and if the law and facts are against you, pound the table. When readers see a blogger pounding the table, many are likely to assume that there must not be a very good argument to be made in support of that view. "If it's so obvious that you're right," the thinking goes, "Why not just explain why?"

  Of course, neither of these arguments means that it is a bad thing that Leiter or any other blogger uses a particular tone. Blogs are the creations of their owners, and bloggers are free to create them in any way they please. I personally find Leiter's approach pretty entertaining, at least on the whole. But I do think that use of a dismissive tone comes with some considerable limitations.

  I have enabled comments; as always, civil and respectful comments only.
David Horowitz (mail):
Leiter's dismissiveness is the tip of the iceberg. He begs the question on almost everything. The man has an "Authoritarianism and Fascism Alert" section of his blog, and it seems that almost everything qualifies. Not enough salt on your super-sized fries at Mickey Dees? Authoritarianism alert! A Republican makes a snarky comment about a far-Left spokesperson (who isn't even representative of most progressives, and certainly not mainstream Democrats) -- Fascism alert! If the supermarket is out of organic cabbage or free range chicken, the Neo-Nazis must be taking over the American university system! Beware of the brown shirts, Brian Leiter's local supermarket is out of brie! Oh no!

There is nothing wrong with being a liberal, a progressive, a Democrat, or even a Marxist, but why Brian Leiter thinks that shilling for Noam Chomsky every chance he gets is an appropriate form of argument is beyond me. It's a blatant fallacy, an appeal to an irrelevant authority. Noam Chomsky is not a seer on every topic known to humankind, but one wouldn't know that reading Brian Leiter's blog. Apparently, Professor Leiter has seen fit to pronounce Noam Chomsky "The Only Source of Truth In the World". Disagree with an argument of Leiter's? Why, you haven't read enough Chomsky! What if I don't like Chomsky? What if I hate Chomsky as much as I hate cabbage? What? I hate cabbage? Authoritarianism alert! BEWARE OF THE BROWN SHIRTS!
6.30.2005 7:17am
Perseus (mail):
Since Leiter wishes that "unlike-minded folks would simply 'go away,'" adopting a snide and supercilious tone seems like an effective way to induce them to do so.
6.30.2005 8:00am
anonymous coward:
I understand Leiter's point about not wanting to legitimize, say, the Discovery Institute by seeming to take their arguments seriously. [N.B. I'm leaving aside the business with JNV, which was IMO unwarranted.] But I think that a blustering reply by a tenured professor can have the opposite effect, particularly among those with an anti-elitist bent (popular but not limited to the Right at the present moment). Cranks and extremists love being viciously attacked by someone like Leiter, especially if they deserve it. I think the approach of a Tim Lambert is far more effective.
6.30.2005 9:04am
Ursus Maritimus (mail) (www):
It is pretty obvious that Leitner proceeds according to the "politics as civil war" method: the goal is not to persuade, but to delegitimize the opposition. Because once only one political position remains within the limits of polite society, persuasion won't be necessary.

That is why such energy is devoted to "alerting" that opposition are fascists and/or authoritarian. Because fascists and authoritarians are beyond the limits of polite society.

That is why such energy is devoted to outing opposing anonymous untenured academic bloggers and threaten them with professional extinction: blog publicly and be blackballed, blog anonymously and even if you get tenure, it will be stripped from you one your anonymity is breached.
Its because if no dissenting voices are heard in academia it is much easier to claim that the opposition is beyond the bounds of polite society.
6.30.2005 9:17am
Anonymous jim (www):
I much prefer Orin Kerr's perspective on the tone of political blogging. That said, I do see how one could just fall back to a position that does not foster debate(though it is possible that some bloggers started there rather than fell back to that place). The reason I can see it is the vitriolic tone that is pervasive on blogs. It might be frustrating to some to write a thoughtful post on a specific issue and have it be met in a dismissive and/or vitriolic manner. One might think: "Hey if I am going to be treated like a raving loon of a lefty/righty, I might as well write like one."

I would point to the response that come center bloggers who are concerned about torture are receiving. It may be tough to maintain civility when you are being called a "traitor" because you are concerned about such issues. Another example is Mr. Kerr's post on "Impeaching Nino" in which he (facetiously) argued that Scalia should be impeached. I suspect that if he had made those comments in a less quixotic corner of the blogosphere, his comments would have been met with much derision.
6.30.2005 9:29am
theDA (mail):
you have to at least admire the following use of english: "intelectual lightweights with trite opinions and limited analytical skills."

i am going to use that one today...somewher...hopefully, it will not be followed by the words contempt.

6.30.2005 10:18am
John P. (mail):

"What makes the blogosphere interesting, I think, is that there are a surprising number of people who are somewhere in the middle, or who have tendencies one way or the other but doubt their instincts and want to learn more."

Agreed -- that is one of the reasons why Volokh Conspiracy and Marginal Revolution (to name but two examples) are such great resources. I find Prof. Leiter's dismissive tone entertaining when I'm in the mood for that sort of thing, just as (at another extreme) I find the tone of Cafe Hayek entertaining. However, Prof. Leiter's apparent habit of disparaging the intelligence of academics he disagrees with politically (e.g., his attacks on Arnold Kling and James Boyle) not only fail to persuade but also cast doubt on the quality of Prof. Leiter's more considered work.
6.30.2005 10:24am
Joe Kristan (www):
Well said. I've tried to make a similar point, but you've said it far better.

It's strange that after losing both houses of Congress and the Presidency, Mr. Leitner and his like-minded bloggers aren't more interested in persuading others. They can't win until they change some minds.
6.30.2005 10:25am
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
If Leiter tried to pursuade his audience, failed, and concluded that his audience are all idiots, one of two conclusions follows:

(1) They are all idiots.

(2) Leiter is an idiot.

In neither case does it make sense for him to try to rationally convince people of anything. The only question which remains, I believe, is whether he's trying to be a preacher or a clown.
6.30.2005 10:27am
TD0 (mail):
There is no doubt, of course, that Prof. Leiter has every right to decide not to persuade people. The biggest problem I have with his post is the dichotomy between "hard" and "easy" questions. Leiter says that, for example, whether the US invasion of Iraq was justified is an easy question. Perhaps it is, for him. I've struggling with it for some time, and still am. Does this make me some intellectual lightweight, not worth taking seriously?

Leiter attempts to foreclose debate by defining (without justification) some questions as easy. If they're easy, reasonable, educated people will agree. If they disagree, they're not worth arguing with. But why is it Leiter who gets to decide what an "easy" question is?
6.30.2005 10:41am
Daniel Berczik (mail) (www):
Telling unlike-minded people to "go away" seems quite an illberal thing to say, doesn't it?
6.30.2005 10:50am
T. Gracchus (mail):
With a couple of exceptions, the comments here confirm Leiter's position. Which is unfortunate.
6.30.2005 11:24am
Andy Freeman (mail):
Blogs, like other distributed opinions, are also crib-sheets for discussions in other venues. I wonder how Leiter's arguments fare in those discussions.
6.30.2005 11:35am
Jim O'Sullivn (mail) (www):
Well, I've never read this (Leiter's) blog before, and I never will again. Anybody who can use the word "hermeneutic" without blushing, where the word "interpretive" would fit just as well is not trying to communicate, but trying to impress. There are a lot of things about the universe I can't answer, but there is one universal truth I have figured out for sure: anbody who is trying too hard to convince you that he is smart is not as smart as he wants you to think he is. For example,who does he think he will impress with a "hard" question like this: Does the now orthodox thesis of the token-identity of the mental and the physical (the supervenience of the mental on the physical) have the unintended consequence that the mental is epiphenomenal? Well, of course that's a hard one for those who think that theses have intentions. Those of who know that they don't are spared the waste of time. I know that the creators this comment section frown upon personal insults, but, my goodness, what a snob! There are more interesting people in the blogosphere than this professor.
6.30.2005 11:37am
Leiter is so right when he says that the question, "Is there a social security 'crisis'?" is one of the questions as to which "there is no serious--or at least no honest or intelligent--dispute about the epistemic merits of the possible answers."

Right on. As Paul Krugman wrote in 1996:
Where is the crisis? Just over the horizon, that's where. * * *

Responsible adults are supposed to plan more than seven years ahead. Yet if you think even briefly about what the Federal budget will look like in 20 years, you immediately realize that we are drifting inexorably toward crisis; if you think 30 years ahead, you wonder whether the Republic can be saved.

Peter G. Peterson states the reason for this succinctly in his brief, scary new book, "Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old?": "By 2025 at the latest, the proportion of all Americans who are elderly will be the same as the proportion in Florida today. America, in effect, will become a nation of Floridas -- and then keep aging." As one of his chapter titles puts it, "demographics is destiny." Because baby boom was followed by baby bust, the United States a generation from now will have far more retired people than ever before, while it will have hardly more working-age residents than it has today.

* * * Well over half of Federal spending -- other than that on national defense and interest on the national debt -- goes in one way or another to retired people, mainly in the form of Social Security and Medicare, but also via Federal pensions and veterans' benefits. * * *

Generous benefits for the elderly are feasible as long as there are relatively few retirees compared with the number of taxpaying workers -- which is the current situation, because the baby boomers swell the workforce. In 2010, however, the boomers will begin to retire. Every year thereafter, for the next quarter-century, several million 65-year-olds will leave the rolls of taxpayers and begin claiming their benefits.

The budgetary effects of this demographic tidal wave are straightforward to compute, but so huge as almost to defy comprehension. Mr. Peterson, the chairman of the Blackstone Group, a private investment bank, informs us that "the combined Federal cost of Social Security and Medicare, expressed as a share of workers' taxable payroll, is officially projected to rise from the already burdensome 17 percent in 1995 to between 35 and 55 percent in 2040. And this figure does not include the many other costs -- from nursing homes to civil service and military pensions -- that are destined to grow along with the age wave."

* * *

In short, the Federal Government, however solid its finances may currently appear, is in fact living utterly beyond its means. While the present generation of retirees is doing very nicely, the promises that are being made to those now working cannot be honored.

* * *

Both Mr. Morris and Mr. Peterson offer plans to avert the crisis ahead. The details differ, and Mr. Peterson's proposal is more completely fleshed out, but the general thrust is clear: slow the growth in benefit levels, gradually raise the retirement age, impose limits on expensive terminal medical care that prolongs life for only weeks or days and -- last but not least -- raise taxes moderately now, rather than massively later. We need not dwell on their sensible proposals, however, because there is not the slightest prospect that they will be put into effect -- or indeed that we will do anything serious about the looming crisis . . . . * * *
Glad to see that Leiter agrees with Krugman, who repeatedly invoked the word "crisis" when talking about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Or wait, was Leiter implying that the opposite view of Social Security was too easy to be worth debating? This is so hard.
6.30.2005 11:40am
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
Maybe someone can help me with a simile:

"Strident rhetoric is like curry powder: delicious when it's applied to something with a lot of body to begin with, but unpalatable by itself, and contemptible when it is deliberately used to cover up rot."

Is there a way to rewrite that better?
6.30.2005 11:41am
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
lots of people interpret a dismissive tone as a sign of weakness

That is very true. Even more, there is at least one time when Leiter has opened comments, lost an argument and then deleted all the comments. That gets discussed. I was hoping he had come back and won the argument, but requests for a copy of all the comments resulted in silence, which suggested to me that there had been no comeback and those who pointed to that exchange were right. Sigh.

Is there a social security "crisis"?

Obviously -- but because of the massive budget deficits we are running. Which calls for a different solution, but a solution none-the-less.

Thinking of "easy" questions, recently Leiter has discussed that constitutionalism does not predetermine the answer to the question about whether or not the constitution's meaning is frozen by the same process that freezes the constitution itself.

He has been very dismissive of the thought that if we agree to a supermajority requirement to change the constitution's language, it is also implicit that the same requirement exists if we intend to change the constitution's meaning (which is the heart of the particular argument he is addressing).

Maybe that is an easy question that doesn't call for a longer answer. But the thought that one is free to change the meaning by redefining words when one can't change the words -- that doesn't seem quite as obvious to me as it does to Leiter.

I read his blog to get an alternative view and to sometimes change my own. As time goes on, I find him less persuasive and less interesting. On the other hand, if he feels he needs a blog to vent in public, one can assume that is a legitimate purpose for a blog.

What is interesting is that he is going to split the analysis from the venting and is joinging -- which is a good move.

Finally extremists love being viciously attacked by someone like Leiter -- that is exactly on target. It gives them legitimacy, affirms their position that the academy is filled with elitist leftists who are not interested in civil discourse, and encourages politicians.

Over and over again people he attacks are proud of it and gain status from his attacks. Though sometimes, his over-the-top approach makes one wonder if he has thought it through.

Ask yourself if there were really fascists in government and they really decided on a "No Tenure for Traitors" bill, (perhaps merely redefining tenure as a way to change a contract without amending it) would the arguments be the same?

Who knows, but the opposit approach, "no tenure for those on the right who disagree with me" surely implies that disagreeing with a strident leftist is a mortal sin in academy. Which implies that the right wing is right.

Is that really true? The posters who insist that they speak up for Leiter but can't identify themselves because it would be seen as sucking up (tenured law professors at UT who are afraid to be seen as sucking up to a colleague -- that speaks worlds about the world), they imply that it is. Maybe Leiter does have the influence he claims.

I could be wrong, but then I read blogs to change my mind and learn things, I can do my own venting. But if he is venting and not tryign to accomplish anything else except validate some of those he disagrees with and intimidate the rest, maybe he is accomplishing his goal and is on target to satisfy his own will (to power or otherwise).

The whole thing has started me thinking, though I obviously don't have any firm conclusions. Leiter may be right and may be doing what he wants to do. In that case, I'm not sure there is much to say. There are thousands and thousands of bloggers who act that way. So he isn't normative, makes alot of people happy and meets his own goals. That may not be bad.
6.30.2005 11:47am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I wish Prof. Leiter would post the answers to two questions:

(1) What political view of his has he ever changed because he realized he was mistaken?

(2) What view of *any* sort has he ever changed because he realized he was mistaken?

Leiter's echo-chamber notion of political conversation is ironically similar to that which appears to be shared by President Bush.
6.30.2005 11:52am
Jayne (mail) (www):
Speaking as one of those people who did change their opinions because of reading political commentary on blogs that I wasn't getting in the MSM, I think Leiter is being a bit short-sighted. As others have noted, many people coasting about are those in the middle, who aren't trying to find their closest echo chamber but instead looking for intelligent analysis of the issues - from all sides. I'm much more likely to take someone seriously who tries to honestly address a position and include the criticisms against that position as something they must take into account.
6.30.2005 12:27pm
Crank (mail) (www):
Fine analysis as always, Orin. I do think there's a time and a place to be snarky, dismissive and even vitriolic. Sometimes, you see something outrageous or just funny about which you wish to share a laugh with like-minded people. Sometimes, you may just be sick and tired of making the full-dress argument on a point for the 1,000th time (e.g., the justifications for war in Iraq - almost everyone in the blogosphere has beaten that point beyond death). And it's human nature to get snippy if you've been hounded by hostile trolls in your comment section.

That said, it's almost always counterproductive to persuasion to be overly dismissive, excessively potty-mouthed, or to constantly engage in question-begging, and arguments from authority. Not only do you not persuade nobody on the other side, but you wind up disserving like-minded readers who would appreciate a more detailed refutation of opposing arguments that they can crib from.

And ad hominem assaults on other bloggers really should be limited. It's a great way to make enemies and convince people that your opinions are correlated with you being a jerk.
6.30.2005 12:44pm
David Mader (mail) (www):
My concern is as a conservative-minded Texas Law student. Leiter tends to be very well-regarded among students, as best I can tell, and certainly I've had no indication that his political views affect his academic evaluations (in other words, how he grades).

But I can't help but be apprehensive about taking a class with a man who would apparently label me as "completely unable to follow a rational argument," "astonishingly backwards and reactionary," "brainwashed," "cowed," "fooled by the daily servings of moral parochialism and factual distortions from Fox TV, and CBS, and NBC, and InstaIgnorance, and The New York Times, and on and on," a "pathological liar[] and intellectual buffoon[]," a "purveyor[] of lies and half-truths," and /or a "crytpo-fascist[] and grinning apologist[] for inhumanity."

This sort of - what's a polite euphamism that would pass Prof. Leiter's 'rhetorical approach' test? - ardent political disagreement might not matter in a first-year torts class: there are only so many elements to negligence. But I'd suspect that such disagreement might become manifest in a class on jurisprudence - although not having taken the class yet, I freely admit that I might be wrong.

More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Leiter is - for obvious reasons - the faculty advisor at the law school for students who are interested in academic work. Can a conservative student be confident of a fair evaluation and positive guidance from a man who remarks that "[t]he pathological liars and intellectual buffoons of the right haven't succeeded in making a real dent, yet, on the universities (though they have their sights set on them, as we had occasion to note many times before)"?

The answer may well be yes - as I say, I've had no indication that Leiter's politics carries over into his professional responsibilities as a legal academic or as a faculty member. His post focused on the blogosphere specifically, and it may be that he successfully compartmentalizes his political and academic views.

But I think it's quite natural to feel apprehensive. And that, it seems to me, is really too bad.
6.30.2005 12:44pm
washerdreyer (mail) (www):
Leiter uses the word hermeneutic in much of his scholarly work, it is for instance the title of one his major essays, "The Hermeneutics of Suspicion." He could not use the word interpretation there. It is also so common in discussion of certain philosophers that ruling it out rules out any discussion of their work. And it doesn't mean interpretation, but an aid to interpretation.

I stopped reading Leiter's political posts back in December, despite agreeing with almost all of them which don't cite zmag or common dreams.
6.30.2005 12:49pm
Shelby (mail):
I used to be irritated by Leiter until I "reinterpreted" the meaning of all his words. Now I agree with him (or he with me), and I'll be happy to explain anything he says. ;-)

More seriously, does anyone know whether Leiter's tone in writing is replicated in his classrooms? It certainly isn't an attitude I'd want in any school. "See it my way, or shut up and leave" is a poor instructional method at best.

Eric Rasmusen: Interesting. I think it's phrased pretty well as is.
6.30.2005 12:49pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
Here's classic Leiter:

<i>One should not be polite and dispassionate with respect to the folks at the Discovery [sic] Institute: these pathological liars and wannabe theocrats want to harm children, make them stupid, and timid, and twisted in their own image. </i>

Rhetorical excess, No?

Err, How about simply? The Discovery Institute is wrong because.......

Leiter has his pet causes (which is fine), and even had a decent blog entry recently defending an Indiana Professor who was being "borked" by the tenure committee, apparently for his conservative views.

But, Leiter's tone and style (on the internet) are abysmal --- and revealing. God help us if he ever assumed the reigns of power over us (except his poor students:)
6.30.2005 1:13pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
"civil and respectful comments only."

Then I guess I will have to sit down.
6.30.2005 1:52pm
In my experience, whenever someone asserts, "Most people are idiots" they are are really asserting, "Compared to me, most people are idiots." Or more succinctly, "Look at me! I'm brilliant!"

In the face of such unresolved recognition needs, I just move on. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.
6.30.2005 1:55pm
Chris L. (mail):

"When it comes to politics, things get far worse: reasons and evidence appear to play almost no role in changing anyone's views."

If this is true, then it's reasonable to assume that reason and evidence play almost no role in forming anyone's views either -- in which case, Prof. Leiter's political convictions are no more sound or reasonable than anyone else's.

Moreover, while he asserts "reason and evidence" play no role in changing views (or, as he later puts it, "it is quite rare to persuade anyone by a careful, reasoned argument"), he suggests no alternative, in the political process, to persuasion by reasonable discourse. As far as I can see, that leaves only two alternatives in the political process: either (1) persuade by means other than reasoned argument (i.e., by deception), or (2) eschew persuasion altogether, in which case politics becomes solely a means of gaining power in order to coerce the unpersuaded.

Of course, Leiter is talking only of blogging, not of participating in the political process directly. But then what is the purpose of his stated goal -- "to alert like-minded readers to ideas and evidence and arguments which help strengthen their convictions regarding the truths they've already understood or glimpsed"; i.e., what are "those whose convictions are strengthened" supposed to then do with those strengthened convictions? If it is not to influence the ideas of others through persuasion -- which Leiter has deemed to be extremely rare if not impossible -- then it must be either of the above alternatives. And in that way Leiter's argument eventually, if not directly, rejects the idea of the consent of the governed. (Not that this bothers Leiter, who thinks the goverened are too stupid to know better.)

Leiter's blog is the best argument I've seen against giving big microphones to people with little to say.
6.30.2005 1:59pm
As a "intellectual lightweights with trite opinions and limited analytical skills", I'm thankful that my vote still counts as much as Leitner's. Over and over again I've taken the easy way out and haven't taken the time to understand the more sophisticated arguments of the left. I am unable to see the science in "Scientific Marxism". I fell victim to Reagan's oxymoronic "Peace through Strength" slogan. Bamboozled again by Bush's claim that tax cuts would pull us out of the recession and strengthen the economy. And even now I can't understand why my social security money is safer if congress spends it now, rather than putting it in an account where I can invest it in money making enterprises, just like I've done with my 401k for the last 15 years.
6.30.2005 2:10pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
I, like Robert Schwartz, find it difficult to be civil and respectful about Professor Leiter; however, I will try. I am among those who find his tone so obnoxious that it is difficult to pay attention to his content. A more courteous tone, as is found in the posts of many of the contributors here, is generally far more successful in changing my mind, whether that means changing my position or just re-examining it but keeping the position.

I'm probably pointing out the obvious here, but superior intelligence does not have to be accompanied by a condescending attitude. I have the honor or knowing two Nobel Prize winners (one in physics, one in economics). Both are courteous and charming men, and each has been quite patient in explaining to me the work for which he received the Prize.
6.30.2005 2:17pm
Tbag (mail) (www):
I took Professor Leiter's Jurisprudence class this last semester.

David - don't hesitate to take it. In the classroom he is evenhanded, sincere, and his pedagogical skill is unmatched. I am certain that you will enjoy the class. I am even more certain that any contrary political views you may have will in no way change that or affect your grade.

Best class I've taken in law school so far.
6.30.2005 2:43pm
Turlough (mail):

First, my sense is that Leiter underestimates the number of his readers who are smart people open to persuasion on big political questions.

Without a doubt. And I think this can be applied to blogtopia as a whole. Intelligent people can always be persuaded, on at least some issues. However, these people aren't the types to send emails or post in comments. It is very easy for a blogger to become convinced that his/her entire readership is comprised of raving lunatics (see the comments on any kos or lgf article).

it is quite rare to persuade anyone by a careful, reasoned argument--indeed

Yes it iss rare. But its also the only way it ever happens.
6.30.2005 3:12pm
I sent the following email to Leiter:

Mr. Leiter,
Your identification of hard and easy questions is telling. You find pointless brain teasers to constitute the hard questions, but dismiss more relevant matters of interpersonal and intercultural conflict as easy. Thus you reveal where your gifts and energies lie—that is, not with the subject matters which you dismiss as easy.

A good mother knows the difficulty of raising children, and would never dismiss the pursuit as easy, as might an ignorant bachelor. Likewise, you have a respect and gift for the philosophical nicities. Hence, you recognize their subtlties and regard the questions as "hard." And like a self-assured bachelor, you reveal a failure to grasp the profundities involved in the world of politics when you dismiss the matters as "easy." Probably best to leave those questions to professionals, in that case.
6.30.2005 3:27pm
Jim O'Sullivn (mail) (www):
So, he couldn't call his book "The Aid to Interpretation of Suspicion" or "Aids to..." because he would lose too much of the nuance of his meaning. Really? And if all of the members of a group are pretentious snobs, well, that doen't make them any less pretentious, except in relation to each other.
And as long as I'm back, I'll address Leiter's dismissive attitude toward his "easy" questions. Take the Darwin question. If you read the wording of his question literally, of course it's easy. It's a scientific theory, and it's well-confirmed, as these things go. Even many creationists would acknowledge that it's a "well-confirmed scientific theory," but they reject it anyway But I don't think he meant that. I think he meant "Darwin's theory explains how we came to be, it always will, and anybody who expresses disagreement with that statement thereby demonstratates his inferiority to me." How can he possibly know that? Newtownian physics was a well-confirmed scientific theory until Einstein came along. Or does Leiter think he is to biology what Einstein was to physics?
6.30.2005 3:37pm
Dales (mail) (www):
"First, my sense is that Leiter underestimates the number of his readers who are smart people open to persuasion on big political questions. Leiter is right that lots of people are hellbent on sticking to their guns, whether those guns are left or right."

I suggest that it may be that Leiter is projecting his own intellectual rigidness on everyone else. It is one reason that, after having added him to my regular-reads list on the recommendation of some of my readers from the other side of the political aisle of me, I took him off after a month or so.
6.30.2005 3:39pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Newtownian physics was a well-confirmed scientific theory until Einstein...

As someone with a physics background, I'd like to point out that Newtonian mechanics (and Maxwell's electromagnetism, and Bolzmann's thermodynamics) is still very much alive and enormously useful. Einstein and the arcitects of quantum mechanics didn't prove Newton "wrong," they discovered theories of broader application of which Newton formed a subset. Someone who declared confidently that Newton had it right and, say, adherants of a heliocentric "crystal spheres" universe had it wrong, would still be right today.

So if evolution is as well-confirmed as Newton was 200 years ago (a question I'll leave open), Leiter is on perfectly solid ground, both as to the science and the intellectual dubiousness of those who reject it.
6.30.2005 3:53pm
ecce homo:
I think one thing that's unfortunately been left out of discussions Leiter is that he is not just a Nietzsche scholar, but would appear to be an actual Nietzschean in style and (illiberal) tactics.
6.30.2005 4:20pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Some words in Leiter's defense: for heaven's sake, we (those of us on the left) have tried to get reasoned and careful argument through to the public for years. It makes no dent.

Left-wing politicians constantly get cast aside by the public as "nerds" or "too intellectual." Because, heaven forbid, they actually make ARGUMENTS for their positions! Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, etc. etc. etc.

I was personally told, at the recent Volokh Conspiracy happy hour in D.C., that I was "saying too many words, and they make too little sense" by an insanely arrogant conservative law student who couldn't stand still long enough to listen to my entirely coherent, if fairly contestable, position that what he was suggesting would create a collective action problem. (Something about pollution credits, as I recall.) And this was a law student at a top 20 school!!

The people regularly vote against their economic interests. They regularly vote for insane forms of discrimination (like the anti-gay-marriage state constitutional amendments) that bear absolutely no relationship to their interests and do nothing except harm disfavored classes. They regularly vote however their preachers tell them to.

In this atmosphere of pervasive anti-intellectualism and mass stupidity, why waste effort patiently explaining things to people who will either refuse to listen or be completely unable to understand? Let slip the dogs of war.
6.30.2005 4:25pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Paul, I'm so terribly sorry you had to put up with an "insanely arrogant" law student. It strikes me that he might have had a similar descrition for you, since you seem to think that you know better than other what their interests are, and consider them "insane" for disagreeing with you. And it seems you haven't bothered to listen to the "entirely coherent, if fairly contestable" arguments for their positions.

As for why you should "waste effort" trying to explain things, I'll just suggest that, all other things being equal, I don't vote for or otherwise support those who have as much contempt for me and mine as you do. And since your views are currently in the minority, your contempt for the majority is strikingly against your interests. Assuming, of course, that you define your interests as "acually enacting left-wing policy prescriptions."

For my part, I don't vote against "intellectuals" because they make arguments, I vote against them becaue I think they're wrong. And, often, insanely arrogant.
6.30.2005 4:35pm

I gather from your comment that you believe you are much smarter than most people, even most people with so-called "elite" credentials. Assuming I am right about that, can you explain why you think that? I'm not asking to be snarky; I'm honestly curious.

6.30.2005 4:43pm
Gene Vilensky (www):
There are a couple of things that I find quite interesting about Brian Leiter.

1) He is actually a pretty crummy philosopher. He never defines his terms and his categories are hopelessly vague, to such an extent, that they either encompass everything or nothing. Take for example his post on the Myth of Left-Wing Harvard. In that post, it seems that he has two working definitions of Conservatives. The first one, "Those who believe in evil" and the second one, "Someone who has at some point agreed with something that some conservatives at some point said." That's how he can classify Mary Ann Glendon, Alan Dershowitz, and Michael Ignatieff as clear conservatives. Do you think that either of these definitions is a useful way to define a political philosophy and then show how some group of people fits that definition? Do you think that this is worthy of a well-regarded academic philosopher?

2) He never states the first principles upon which his assumptions depend nor why we should adopt those first principles. This is how he can talk about things like the Iraq War being an easy question for him. Well, on what basis does he make that claim? Is he a pacifist and thinks that all War is bad? Well, that's a tenable intellectual position to take. Or is he a realist? That too, would be a tenable intellectual position. But he doesn't make any of this clear. "Iraq War! Perpetuated by fascists and Lysenkoists everywhere!" is about the extent of his reasoning on the subject. He just expects all of us to adopt his first principles.

3) He undermines his own claims of objectivity on academic hiring all of the time. But I have never seen him refer to a conservative academic without some kind of dismissiveness on his blog. How can he treat people fairly, if he thinks that every conservative is a crypto-fascist or a Lysenkoist? If he were a private employer and he wrote those kinds of things against women, I think that there would be more than enough ammunition for someone to use in a potential hostile work-environment case.

4) He often displays intellectual cowardice. The best example of this is his deletion of the comments section when he lost the argument. Another piece of evidence on the intellectual cowardice charge is the ultimate reason behind criticism #2 I made above. If he does stake out a specific first-principle or metric on which he makes decisions, then we could criticize his positions on those issues because we know on what grounds to critique him. But that would involve him losing face some of the time (since no one is right ALL of the time). It is far more convenient to not stake out a coherent position and just snipe at people instead. That way, his views can never be critiqued and his criticisms of other people can never be critiqued either because he provides no basis, no metric on which to evaluate them. Convenient, no?
6.30.2005 4:45pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Orin: I think no such thing. (Or, if I do, it's not conscious enough to monitor.)

First of all, re: the Georgetown law student, I didn't claim that my argument is necessarily superior to his. I didn't claim that he is stupid, or that I'm smarter than him. I claimed he was part of a pervasive trend of anti-intellectualism, because he refused to listen to an (entirely politely stated) argument relating to his positions on the patently absurd ground that it contained too many words. He refused -- a Georgetown law student! -- to listen to an argument because it was too complicated. That's anti-intellectualism, and it exemplifies a trend in American public life that makes it bloody difficult and pointless to actually have anything approaching an intelligent discourse. And, once again, this simple refusal to listen to a complicated argument is exhibited from someone who is presumably in the top 10% or so of the society in terms of things like critical thinking and reasoning skills, and is of at least above-average intelligence.

In terms of the mass of people generally, I think there's a difference between intelligence and socialization. I think I overstated the case when I said "mass stupidity." "Mass intellectual prejudice" is more to the case. I think the public is conditioned to obey certain authority figures, and only with training in critical thinking and reasoning that the public education system, frankly, has shown itself to have no interest in providing, will this be changed.

And that's why as education increases, political views move further to the left: people strip away their automatic rote obedience to the authority figures who command conservatism, like preachers and government.

It ain't about intelligence. It's about conditioning and socialization and skills.
6.30.2005 5:01pm
none (mail):
Vilensky says "I have never seen him refer to a conservative academic without some kind of dismissiveness on his blog."

An obvious counterexample is the introduction of Richard Posner as a guest blogger.
6.30.2005 5:14pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
I think the public is conditioned to obey certain authority figures...

Which shackles you have, presumably, thrown off. Which means you do think you are "smarter" than other people, at least in the sense that you are able to think critically whereas "the mass of people" is not. Go ahead, say it.

You also need to distinguish, very carefully, between different kinds of "political" views. Are most educated people tax-and-spend liberals on economics? Do most of them favor or oppose school vouchers? Do most of them favor or oppose abortion? How do "most" educated people feel about free trade treaties? Heck, does the "left" have one consistent position on, say, legalizing prostitution, never mind everyone with a BA? Are not the poor and uneducated supporters of welfare programs? Does anyone with a college degree oppose affirmative action? Etc.

And Paul, what makes you think that the only reason to hold conservative views is that the preacher man tells you to? Is, say National Review--or for that matter The Volokh Conspiracy--too wordy for you to read in the search for intellectual justification of conservative politics?
6.30.2005 5:21pm
Gene Vilensky (www):
Good point re: Posner, though Posner is also not really a mainstream conservative by any sensible definition of the term. I like him a lot, and probably agree with him on more issues than I agree with more mainstream conservatives. Regardless, touche. But can you name any other time? He's even made snarky comments towards people like Volokh.
6.30.2005 5:23pm
Chris L. (mail):
Following up on Gene Vilensky's point #1: If I were to adopt the view of Leiter and his ilk that what we really need are philosopher-kings who understand our interests better than we understand them ourselves, I'd at least opt for a better philosopher.

"Just trust me," "I'm right and anyone who disagrees is stupid, evil, or both," and "it's us against them" smacks too much of the faith-based demagogue for my taste.
6.30.2005 5:25pm
Paul Gowder (mail):

"Smart" implies an inherent quality, something in one's nature.

Training in critical thinking is a developed quality, "nurture."

Big difference. I say that I (and you, because you're here and engaging in an intelligent argument) have more training in critical thinking than most people. I take no position on "smart."

Are you abandoning the constantly-heard conservative position that educated people, particularly academics, are overwhelmingly liberal, and that the "silent majority" are the conservative force?

Are you renouncing all allegiance with the Pat Robertsons of the world and the countless other conservatives who exhort their followers to vote based on nothing but their word as to what an inaccessible God intended?

I never said that there were not intelligent, well-thought out conservatives. I never said the only reason to take conservative views was because the preacher man told you to. I said that this is what is motivating the actual votes of the actual people: authority only, not argument.

For example, as of Feb. 05, 64 percent of the population thought that Saddam Hussein "had strong links to al-Qaeda" -- a 2% INCREASE from November of the previous year.

This can't have been based on evidence or reasoned argument for this position, because there has been absolutely no, nil, nada support for that position from any quarter. The only way that many people could believe that is if they heard George W. Bush repeat the words "terrorism" and "Iraq" in the same sentence so many times that they'd been hypnotized into belief. Another poll revealed that many Bush supporters didn't even know what the Duelfer report said (pdf., pg. 6, and see contra a critical excerpt from the actual report)

In the same report as the previous link, on page six we learn that fully 20% of Bush supporters believed -- DESPITE NO EVIDENCE that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11. Another 55% believed, also with no evidence, that Iraq gave al-Qaeda substantial support.

This is entirely consistent with the "people vote the way they're told" thesis, and entirely inconsistent with the "people make reasoned decisions about how to vote" thesis.
6.30.2005 5:40pm
A Blogger:
Paul Gowder writes:

"As education increases, political views move further to the left: people strip away their automatic rote obedience to the authority figures who command conservatism, like preachers and government."

Is it that, or is that they simply replace their automatic rote obedience with automatic wrote obedience to the authority figures who command liberalism, like academics?
6.30.2005 5:43pm
Jim O'Sullivn (mail) (www):
Rob Lyman;

OK OK. Newtonian physics, uh, mechanics, will still tell us how long it will the the apple to hit the ground when it falls from the tree,. We know that, but I'm sure you understand my point, whether you agree with it or not. I should have said, 30 years ago, most scientists in relevant fields agreed we were experiencing dangerous global cooling... by the way, the whole point of this article is the tone of the internet, and I can't help but remark that both of those that have taken the trouble to respond to / correct my comments have expressed their disagreement with no snark.
6.30.2005 5:46pm
Jim O'Sullivn (mail) (www):
Rob Lyman;

OK OK. Newtonian physics, uh, mechanics, will still tell us how long it will the the apple to hit the ground when it falls from the tree,. We know that, but I'm sure you understand my point, whether you agree with it or not. I should have said, 30 years ago, most scientists in relevant fields agreed we were experiencing dangerous global cooling... by the way, the whole point of this article is the tone of the internet, and I can't help but remark that both of those that have taken the trouble to respond to / correct my comments have expressed their disagreement with no snark.
6.30.2005 5:46pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
(Redirected from Hermeneutic)
Hermeneutics (Hermeneutic means interpretive), is a branch of philosophy concerned with human understanding and the interpretation of texts. Recently the concept of texts has been extended beyond written documents to include, for example, speech, performances, works of art, and even events.

The word hermeneutics has two derivations. One is from the Greek god Hermes in his role as patron of interpretive communication and human understanding, while the other is from the syncretic Ptolemaic deity Hermes Trismegistus, in his role as representing hidden or secret knowledge.

Just FYI
6.30.2005 5:53pm

It sounds to me like your arguments are more reasons in favor of offering careful reasoning than against it. If your opponents misunderstand the issues because they haven't been trained to think critically, then don't you have a special obligation as one of the people trained in critical thinking to help your opponents understand?

Also, if you don't mind me pressing you on this point, what is the training in critical thinking that you have that most others don't have?

6.30.2005 6:07pm
BigMacAttack (mail):
A few random thoughts.

I agree that is extremely difficult to change fundamental commitments and beliefs.

But I think that in this nation we mostly share the same fundamental commitments and beliefs. (Even if many, if not most of us might find it difficult to enumerate and even explain those commitments and beliefs) Or at the very least a significant number of people who share fundamental commitments and beliefs differ regarding a wide range of important policies.

It is probably unfortunately true that a distressing large number of people frequently mistakenly adopt a particular policy as a fundamental belief. They conflate the fundamental belief that drives to endorse a particular policy with that particular policy. But since they really don't fundamental believe in the policy, I think there is much greater chance they can be persuaded that the policy is wrong than there is of persuading them that their fundamental belief is wrong.

And even if I am wrong I still believe that at the very least a significant number of people who share fundamental commitments and beliefs differ regarding a wide range of important policies.

Even if this number is smaller than I think and even if the range of policies is narrower I still think persuasion would be important. I hate to use such a dirty trick but I will anyway

Here is Leiter on narrow differences and outcomes

'Kerry is sometimes described as Bush-lite, which is not inaccurate, and in general the political spectrum is pretty narrow in the United States, and elections are mostly bought, as the population knows. But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. And in this system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes.'

So even if the number of people is small and range of policies is narrow I think that small differences can result into large outcomes.

And I do believe that people who share the same fundamental beliefs can be persuaded by reason and evidence. I wonder has professor Leiter looked at the polls regarding Iraq lately? It seems as though the great unwashed masses are perhaps open to being persuaded in some way closer to Leiter's views by evidence.

I agree that contempt and arrogance can be used to persuade. People do respond to hyperbole and polemic. Assuming an air of authority and superiority can be a useful tactic. Especially if there is some basis for assuming that air. And Leiter is quite clearly intelligent. I think you are the greater fool if you don't pause every now and than and ask yourself how can so many people who are so smart disagree with me(you)(whatever!)? Perhaps just perhaps they might know a little something that you(I)(whatever) don't.

Why not remain agnostic on the question of what catches more flies? Why not use both?

This is just shoddy work --

'Recently, a former student, Trevor Rosson, wrote:'
Not so long ago, I was a student in your jurisprudence class. You'll be proud to know that I respected you as a teacher. You were wonderful, and I said as much on your evaluation. Today, I'm a regular visitor to your blog. I don't understand why you often sound like a lunatic on the left. Your intemperate rhetoric only alienates folks in the middle. It is indeed strange that a professor who prides himself, rightly, on his analytical rigor and logic habitually resorts to words like "pathological" and the like to do his heavy lifting. Am I mistaken?

'More interesting, though, is the fact that Mr. Rosson really doesn't disagree in principle with my rhetorical approach at all: without pausing, he simply writes off a whole range of opinion as the "lunatic...left."'

I am sure Trevor Rosson does write off a whole range of opinions as the lunatic left. But that is not what he said and did. I hate people who admire Nazis. I … admire Nazis. Quite a difference. And there is also a big difference between lunatic left and a lunatic on the left. One is gross generalization the other is not.

Why not combine dispassion, reason, and evidence with passion and polemic. Why not prick consciences and engage? Why not use some of the same exacting attention to detail he undoubtedly uses when writing about philosophy when writing about politics?

If you made it this far, finally --

I agree it is largely all a question of where to draw the line. But keeping mind the idea that small differences can have large outcomes why not draw the line as far out as possible?

Phew, I am exhausted and it might be better for everyone if Leiter just ignored the advice of an unwashed mediocrity.
6.30.2005 6:12pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):

Fair enough on "smart." I take "smart" to mean "ability" whether inate or developed, and also the application of that ability (I regard people who fail to apply their gifts and training as stupid), and use "intelligence" to denote purely inate ability. A semantic distinction which is unimportant.

Are you abandoning the constantly-heard conservative position that educated people, particularly academics, are overwhelmingly liberal...

I can not claim to speak for all conservatives, but I have never heard the argument that "educated people" are liberal. I have only heard that academics--meaning usually professors at universities--are liberal. These are two vastly different claims, as thare are huge numbers of people justly thought educated who are not academics. And there are of course also a number of academics whose education and critical thinking skills are subject to considerable doubt.

I am more than happy to renounce any association with Pat Robertson. As for voting based on what you believe God would want, that is 1) not confined to the Right, as there are numerous liberal churches and religious societies who view politics as an extention of faith, and 2) not substantially different from voting based on what your political party tells you, which obviously many people of all stripes do.

I said that this is what is motivating the actual votes of the actual [conservative] people: authority only, not argument.

I submit that there exist ignorant, uncritical liberals who also vote based on authority, not argument, including well-educated but ignorant and uncritical liberals. I cannot estimate the relative population of ignorant liberals vs. ignorant conservatives, although I have certainly encountered both. If you have some way of making such an estimate and showing that ignorant conservatives are more prevalant, please share it.

This is neither the time nor place for an Iraq war debate, but to engage your assertion that there is "absolutely no, nil, nada support" for the claim that Saddam had ties (or "strong links") with al-Qaeda, I submit that there is such evidence. Now, you may think the evidence is of poor quality and inconclusive, or that it is rebutted by other evidence, or that it justifies a belief in "weak links" but not "strong links," but to say "nada" is incorrect. I would argue that makes you a liberal who has spent so much time listening to liberal authority figures that you have failed to examine all the evidence critically.

Now, as for the notion that Saddam was directly involved in 9/11, that is indeed unsupported, and people who believe it are plainly wrong. Can you think of any beliefs that might be widely held among liberals that are incorrect? How many liberals believe that, for instance, the US has a higher rate of violent crime than Great Britain? ("[T]he "victimisation risk" England and Wales is higher...than in America.") How many think that minorities are killed in combat in disproportionate numbers?

I submit that ignorance, obedience to authority, blindness to contrary evidence, and even anti-intellectualism are human vices, not conservative ones. And I further submit that they are cured not by invective or high-handed dismissal, but by education and reasoned debate.
6.30.2005 6:19pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
I recently had someone point me to a long piece on single-payer medical insurance. I waded through it and found out it did not address any of the points I thought were important. I think it was my fault, because I linked a supporting piece which made points in support of my position that also weren't very important to me. His piece rebutted that piece. I said shorter please, and also requested an executive summary.

You see, although his piece had merit, I found it entirely beside the point. Sometimes a complex argument really is a waste of time. For me, the key is the tyranny inherent in single-payer medical insurance - that is, the obvious potential for deliberate government abuse, as well as the equally obvious potential for accidental government abuse. (Remember, your political opponents will at some time control such a system. Consider the things a single-payer medical insurance system could do to keep doctors from prescribing medical marijuana, as an example.) Since the piece did not address my concerns, an executive summary would have saved considerable time.

Don't you wish this comment had been shorter?

6.30.2005 6:23pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
I don't particularly mind being pressed. I have a b.a. and a j.d. same as you (but minus the m.s.), and earned both. I had the good fortune of being raised as a young child with a strong orientation toward things like reading and skepticism, as opposed to television and faith. I've had the good fortune to have studied, worked or associated with a series of very smart and challenging people who have forced me to reexamine my views on a lot of things.

Unfortunately, the educational system seems to fail many people.

In terms of your substantive point on offering careful reasoning: acceptance of reasoning processes is not something that can be trained by someone writing in a blog. No matter how careful, moderate, incisive, and articulate someone is on some web page, and no matter how well-constructed their argument, people are exposed to web pages for very short lengths of time, with no social surrounding encouraging critical inquiry like in a school. I find it highly unlikely that any web page will ever convince anyone of anything to the contrary of their established positions. Cf. the numerous psychological studies indicating that people seek out information to justify their previously held positions, rather than to challenge them, the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, and various other well-established cognitive concepts.
6.30.2005 6:26pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Jim, it was not my intention to be snarky, and I think I may have failed understand your point. It was my intention to point out that thinking evolution is and will always be correct might not be crazy or incorrect, or evidence of intellectual arrogance. Certainly thinking that Newton was right and always will be right is not crazy. Thinking that any scientific understanding is and always will be complete is a different matter.

As for whether evolution, or the current worry about global warming, has the status of Newtonian mechanics from a philosophical or scientific perspective, I cannot judge.
6.30.2005 6:34pm
Paul: For example, as of Feb. 05, 64 percent of the population thought that Saddam Hussein "had strong links to al-Qaeda" -- a 2% INCREASE from November of the previous year.

This can't have been based on evidence or reasoned argument for this position, because there has been absolutely no, nil, nada support for that position from any quarter.

Really? Try reading this. Agree with that article or not, you can't deny that it does constitute "support" for "that position." And there are plenty of prominent Democrats who also made a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda when it suited their purposes.
6.30.2005 6:37pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Rob: I agree that this isn't the time or place to enter debate on the Iraq war (difficult as the restraint may be for me). I also agree that "ignorance, obedience to authority, blindness to contrary evidence, and even anti-intellectualism are human vices."

I hold to my position, however, that conservatives display these vices to greater degree than liberals. Organized religious voting isn't a liberal strategy, it's a conservative one. The major religious voting blocs in this country aren't liberal, they're conservative. Candidates who are smeared as "too intellectual" aren't conservative candidates, they're liberal ones. (Indeed, I challenge you to find me a single conservative candidate in the last fifty years or more who has been characterized as too intellectual!)
6.30.2005 6:37pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Just some data points and analysis many people seem to have missed. The preachers I listen to have, in general, been as well or more educated than any lawyer. They are accustomed to giving reasoned argments about their beliefs. In fact, since most of them are fundementalists, they are quite good at determining the meaning of an unchanging text. Plus, they spend much of their time dealing with good and bad precedent in the form of a wide variety of theological positions from the past two thousand years. Now, here comes the tricky part: Those preachers are successful and in demand because their followers desire those characteristics on their part.

In short, those who denigrate preachers and their followers may be ignorant, may not have exercized their observational skills, or may not have exercized their critical thinking skills.

How 'em I doing on this one?

6.30.2005 6:41pm
Chris L. (mail):
For example, as of Feb. 05, 64 percent of the population thought that Saddam Hussein "had strong links to al-Qaeda" -- a 2% INCREASE from November of the previous year.

This can't have been based on evidence or reasoned argument for this position, because there has been absolutely no, nil, nada support for that position from any quarter.

One problem with taking such extreme positions (no, nil, nada) is the risk of being wrong.

From the 1998 U.S. Grand Jury Indictment of Usama bin Laden:

"In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."

From H.J. Res. 114 (Oct. 10, 2002) ("To authorize the use of United States armed forces against Iraq"):

"Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing re-sponsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens,and interests, including the attacks that occurred on Sep-tember 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq;"

That's support from official findings of the judicial and legislative "quarters" (just for starters), suggesting that 64% of the American public are better informed than you apparently think.
6.30.2005 6:45pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
"God says so, and I believe in God by faith" is by definition not a reasoned argument. A reasoned argument relies on evidence, not faith.

It doesn't matter how educated the preachers are, or how well developed their arguments from faith are. They are still arguments from faith, rather than arguments from evidence.
6.30.2005 6:45pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

As I read Jim, he was slyly complimenting you on your lack of snark. I'll come straight out and compliment you on the tone of your comments.

I'm afraid I'm the worst of the lot. I was trying to keep the snark out, but some has crept in. Please disregard it, except the bit at my own expense. That I intended and refuse to retract.

6.30.2005 6:47pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

You are incorrect. Most, if not all, reasoned arguments start from a basic premises, such as faith in God, and proceed from there. One of the best things about preachers is that their basic premises are identified and not hidden.

Do you have any unidentified premises?

6.30.2005 6:51pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Paul, if you hold to that position without systematic evidence, but based on your perceptions (or what you read in the New York Times, a liberal authority figure), are you not subject to the confirmation bias you mentioned earlier? Are you not failing to exhibit the skepticism and rigor which you claim voters ought to exhibit?

And if you're right that liberal candidates but not conservative ones are smeared as "too intellectual," aren't you making the problem worse by promoting the stereotype of the liberal-as-educated-conservative-as-boob? Doesn't the existence of that stereotype, in the media and population at large, facilitate the populism of Harvard MBA Republicans and tend to make Boston College JD Democrats more subject to the charge of excessive intellectualism?

A final point: my personal anti-intellectualism isn't aimed at the notion of reason or debate. It's aimed at intellectuals, many of whom are pretentious idiots who think they know best how I ought to live my life (a charge which is also made--hypocritcally but justly--by some liberal intellectuals against some social conservatives). Brilliance in one area of endeavor does not guarantee it in others, but sometimes the brilliant forget that. I think (without evidence, I admit) that this arrogance is at the root of much popular distain for intellectuals, and that it bleeds over into disdain for intellectualism.
6.30.2005 6:53pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Rob: I suppose I'm basing my perception re: religious voting on authority, to the extent that the authorities are where I get the empirical data like this

Highlights of the linked CNN poll include:

Those who attend church more than weekly votes 64% for Bush. Weekly voted 58% for Bush.

(Education levels were pretty evenly split.)
6.30.2005 7:00pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Paul Gowder writes: "Organized religious voting isn't a liberal strategy". He seems to have forgotten that Democratic candidates routinely campaign inside Black churches during Sunday services, with the preachers openly urging their congregations to vote Democratic.

As for the challenge to name "a single conservative candidate in the last fifty years or more who has been characterized as too intellectual", that's just too easy: Steve Forbes. I don't know if anyone used those precise words, but the reason his Presidential candidacy never went anywhere was that his excellent ideas were expressed in the manner of an unusually dull and pedantic professor. (Being enormously wealthy and lacking previous political experience didn't help.)
6.30.2005 7:03pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Fair enough on religous voting, but of course that doesn't tell us that people are voting for Bush because the preacher wants them to. Maybe they attend church because Bush wants them to :) (Or maybe conservatives are more likely to vote for Bush and attend church often.)

More seriously: note a similar breakdown for union members. Is "vote this way because the shop steward wants you to" better than the preacher?
6.30.2005 7:07pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Anyway, I have a class to teach. Paul, it was a pleasure, last word to you.

6.30.2005 7:11pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Paul Gowder writes: "Some words in Leiter's defense: for heaven's sake, we (those of us on the left) have tried to get reasoned and careful argument through to the public for years. It makes no dent."

Two possibilities for you to consider:

1. The masses are too stupid to understand your thoughtful and intelligent arguments, so they are clearly too stupid to make important decisions, like voting.

2. The masses understand your arguments, and find them insulting. Your statement:
Organized religious voting isn't a liberal strategy, it's a conservative one. The major religious voting blocs in this country aren't liberal, they're conservative.
This is essentially a statement of your contempt for the religious values of the masses.

3. You claim:
The people regularly vote against their economic interests.
Really? Has it occurred to you that perhaps the people--you know, the ones that don't work in an ivory tower--have a better understanding of what is in their economic interest than you do? If we aren't smart enough to figure out what is in our economic interests, how can we be trusted to vote?

They regularly vote for insane forms of discrimination (like the anti-gay-marriage state constitutional amendments) that bear absolutely no relationship to their interests and do nothing except harm disfavored classes.
Again: what gives you so much confidence that you are right, and the masses are wrong? And how can we possibly trust the masses with elections if they are so consistently wrong on this matter?

They regularly vote however their preachers tell them to.
I've never had a preacher tell me for whom to vote. I've attended church regularly for more than 25 years, generally churches that are a bit more fundamentalist than I am--and the only time that I have ever had a pastor encourage the congregation to vote a particular way was concerning the Briggs Initiative on the California ballot in the early 1980s. (I didn't vote for it; today, based on twenty more years of experience in the real world, as opposed to all sorts of wonderful but wrong theories, I would probably vote for it.)

I am often surprised and a bit irritated at how many of my fellow churchgoers vote for Democrats. It isn't a majority, but they aren't a tiny minority, either.

I keep in mind Jacob Bronowski's closing to The Ascent of Man:
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge or error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."
On rare occasions I meet people who are overweeningly certain of themselves as Professor Leiter--and they are the type of religious fanatics who Leiter holds in such contempt. Any guesses as to why he has such hostility to people with whom he shares so much?
6.30.2005 7:12pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Rob: I'll take that last word you offered with thanks! :-)

I understand the objections to intellectual arrogance, but sometimes, people who have devoted substantial time and energy to studying issues really do know more about the interests of "the masses" than those who don't. If a doctor tells me it's not in my interest to smoke, I don't castigate him for his arrogance, I listen and consider what he's saying.

Of course, the line between that and the authority I condemn is thin, but I'm not claiming, on behalf of intellectuals everywhere, the right to tell the public what to do. I'm claiming the right to say, when one does have fair confidence in one's knowledge, what that knowledge is without being called to the carpet as arrogant.
6.30.2005 7:18pm
Gene Vilensky (www):

In regards to the idea of experts knowing more than masses:

What if the masses have placed different values on various goods than the experts? Wasn't this the problem with the Soviet Union? Suppose the government "experts" say that we should produce X amount of bread and Y amount of blue jeans. But people turn out to want Y+1000 amount of blue jeans and X-1000 amount of bread. This is why there was a thriving black market in blue in jeans in the Soviet Union because the so-called experts guessed wrong regarding what the people valued.

As for your smoking example... What is the problem with someone making the rational decision that he would rather die 10 years earlier, but during the time in which he lives, he chooses to live an enjoyable life? A doctor can't resolve this question. Sure, he can give you better ideas and facts as to what the tradeoffs are. But he might place a different value on enjoying your time alive than the person who chooses to smoke.

This is the problem with the tone Brian Leiter uses. He never acknowledges or wants to acknowledge that the values he places on goods are maybe different from the values placed on those same goods by other people. Maybe equality is important and that's fine. But liberty is important too. I choose to place a much higher value on liberty than on equality. Hence I'm a libertarian. Bernie Sanders of Vermont places a higher value on equality. That's why he's a socialist. It would behoove people when they argue to admit the first principles from which they argue rather than yell at people like Brian Leiter does "How can you fascists not realize that cutting taxes will cause inequality!? Paul Krugman says so!" This is one place where Leiter's arrogance comes from.

His arrogance also appears in that Myth of Left-Wing Harvard post (sorry to bring it up again, but it just so brilliantly illustrates the problem with Leiter's rhetoric). He attacks Greg Mankiw on economics. But what expertise does Leiter have in this area? Does he have specific evidence for Mankiw's lack of economic expertise? Is there a particular paper of Mankiw's that Leiter has an objection to? This is what is called arrogance! I wouldn't attempt to criticize a polymer chemist on his research since I know nothing about it. Why does Leiter think that he has the expertise to criticize Mankiw's economic theories?
6.30.2005 7:41pm
Quilly Mammoth (mail) (www):
Someone tell Gallup that he's been barking up the wrong tree. People's opinions _never_ change. At least that's what Leiter's argument seems to say. So why not be abrasive? The people who oppose you always will and the people who agree with you enjoy the show.

Oddly Lieter's argument reminds me of the argument that Brad DeLong made in court during the Florida fiasco. Essentially Prof. DeLong made the case that the votes for a particular county could be foretold by statistical analysis...sort of like Azimov's Psycho-history could predict the future:

J. Bradford DeLong, a $500-an-hour Harvard-educated statistician, analyzed voting patterns, exit polls and party affiliation and used statistical models to come up with a range.

He told Judge Nikki Clark she could disqualify between 1,504 and 1,779 votes for Bush in Seminole County.

That, he said, would eliminate the pool of ballots that came from tainted applications.

See, we already know how everyone thinks why bother with persuasion? Or for that matter the actual vote.......

6.30.2005 8:10pm
frankcross (mail):
If all the remarks in this thread are considered "civil and respectful comments only," I hardly understand the objection to Brian's tone.
6.30.2005 8:18pm
Jim O'Sullivn (mail) (www):
Rob Lyman:

i did not mean to imply that you were snarky. Au contraire!
6.30.2005 8:25pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
If all the remarks in this thread are considered "civil and respectful comments only," I hardly understand the objection to Brian's tone.

That was good.

I am informed that the reason that the comments were closed and the existing comments were deleted on Leiter's blog (in regards to the essay he had on the proof that liberals were smarter than conservatives) was not what I inferred.

I retract the statement.
6.30.2005 8:28pm
AST (mail):
Hey, why get advanced degrees if they don't entitle you to be dismissive of those who don't agree with you?

Some people blog just because they like to pontificate. I think that I blog for several reasons:

1. It helps me gather my thoughts and test the logic for my opinions, especially when I'm trying to explain why I disagree with someone.

2. It lets me vent.

3. It gives me a feeling that I'm participating in the national debate.

4. I am creating a journal of the things that interest me. Maybe someday, someone will read it and get to know me better. In some ways it's like writing a stream of consciousness novel. I've tried journals but burned them afterwards because they made me feel exposed and foolish. With a blog, I don't have that feeling.

5. I can use the practice in expressing myself.

Leiter seems to think he's performing for an audience and is at his best when dispatching hecklers and that most of the audience is with him. The problem with that is that too often you begin to think you're right when you're really just in an echo chamber. In the post linked, he excuses name calling and dismissal of those he disagrees with by asserting the futility of trying to persuade them, and besides, "Even quite intelligent individuals, people with PhDs from MIT no less, turn out to be completely unable to follow a rational argument!" Say, isn't that just more name calling?

Leiter writes I am not interested in persuading anyone. Bear in mind that we know relatively little about how persuasion in general works. It may well be that the specter of an educated person giving the back of his hand to the mass-media-sanctioned wisdom of the moment is, in fact, much more persuasive than dry, disapassionate argument. This seems to be a variation on "Don't throw your pearls before swine." How can such respect for his audience fail to win them over?
6.30.2005 8:56pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
BTW, I should also note that the discussion came from a cite of Benjamin Hellie by Leiter. For some background:

link one

and replies to critics.

link two

link three

I am informed that the software in use at the site deleted all comments if they were closed, so if one attempted to close comments in order to block pornographic advertisements, etc. or just to freeze things, all of the comments would be deleted.

My apologies for any lessening of the discussion or imperfect implications.
6.30.2005 9:00pm
I am a relatively new reader and commenter on this blog. In all honesty, this type of controversy doesn't grab me and may significantly detract from the blog's value to me and to whatever class of readers I may represent.

I'm here to see an interesting, hopefully thoughtful conservative/liberatarian perspective on current legal and judicial issues, a perspective I won't always share on every issue.

To me, sideshow potshots at various liberal academics, along with pokes at Bush critics, defenses of Bushisms, etc., detract from this purpose. It gives more the feel of volleys at enemies than thoughtful discourse.

Professor Kerr and others on the blog have apparently had a long history of argument and controversy with Professor Leiter and others. They have every right to use their blog to this end. All I can say is, just from an outsider's perspective, that this sort of thing isn't what I'm here for. This whole controversy strikes me as having greater capacity for heat than for light.
6.30.2005 11:53pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Leaving aside whether or not people can change their mind, I see at least three flawed assumptions about rudeness that permeate not only this discussion, but the online community as a whole:

Misconception #1: Rudeness justifies rudeness. Leiter says: What always strikes me in debates about "tone" and "civility" is that the critics, without fail, will abandon civility and adopt a harsh tone in the presence of the views that they deem "beyond the pale."

This is so true it should be engraved somewhere. As frank notes above, folks here certainly haven't been polite. But that's okay, because Leiter's rude and besides, he's not "here". Most people believe that rudeness is a punishment, doled out to those who deserve it--and, as Leiter points out, they are just offended because others draw the line more narrowly than they do.

The flip side of this, naturally, is the belief that polite behavior should be reciprocated. See next misconception.

Misconception #2: Rudeness is morally inferior to respect. People who value politeness often do so on moral grounds and, when discussing it in the abstract, always declare that every idea is best handled with respect or ignored entirely. But it's easy to come up with any number of hypotheticals to smash that. Suppose that a blogger promoted pedophilia, claiming that children enjoyed sex with adults. Naturally, he's very polite.

Who would advocate polite respect in responding to his claims? Who would argue that rude dismissal is morally inferior to ignoring such a cretin?

Rudeness and respect are ethically neutral and, I would argue, morally neutral as well. Politeness isn't an obligation, but a choice. It's not always the right choice and can be every bit as damaging as rudeness. Likewise, rudeness is often a moral necessity.

Misconception #3: Rudeness is less effective than respect. Since when? Effectiveness begins with attention. You tailor your message to reach the people you want to reach. What actual proof does anyone have that polite respect and detailed responses do better to convince than rudeness--and did anyone mention this to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly?

One of the best ways to smack a long-standing assumption in the face is to dismiss or mock it. The ideologically certain will take offense, of course, but there's plenty of people in the middle who never questioned their ideas and are shocked into reviewing their positions. There's no reason to assume that Leiter isn't actually convincing people with his rude dismissal and attacks.

Last year, I authored a 527 organization website (Football Fans for Truth: Kerry Campaign), dedicated to establishing that John Kerry was unfit to be sportsfan in chief because he threw like a girl.

Was it polite to point this out, and worse, post every single AP photo that demonstrated his incapacity? No. Did we convince people? I don't know. Did we reach more people with mockery and disrespect than we ever would have with a sober, respectful diatribe about John Kerry's pretense to athleticism? You betcha.

I can't think that anyone here would disagree with this, either. And yet here everyone is, moralizing about the persuasive value of politeness. It is to wonder.

I'll shut up now. Sorry, but this whole online obsession with the supposed superiority of respect is an ongoing irritant for me.
7.1.2005 12:41am
John Ray (mail) (www):
I am actually amused by Leiter's far-Left dogmatism. It means he has despaired of persuading anybody. All he can do is preach to the choir. It is a confession of defeat.

And it is no good saying that nobody can be persuaded. There are heaps of libertarians in the blogosphere who could (and do) go either way on Left/Right issues.
7.1.2005 6:26am
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Prof. Gowder: People vote their apparent interests. I do not.

I vote in accordance with the immutable Law of Hilarious Political Irony. So, I wanted to bash people on welfare, get rich, and widen the asset gap with those poor people, shrink the deficit, and the size of government, encourage business ventures. I voted for Clinton, the first time around. I did not vote for him the second because of a higher rule. All second terms are bad news (no exception). That was correct.

Next, I wanted to explode the Federal Register, the government deficit, the size of government, pointless government welfare jobs at airports, strip search grandmas going to Disney World, not to mention people fitting the terrorist profile, namely, every buxom blonde, set off a catastrophe that removed $7 tril from the economy, and go on a world wide nation building rampage. I voted for Bush.

The second time around, I was really torn. I wanted to bash the lawyer, and pass real tort reform. The obvious choice was to vote for a trial lawyer and his heinous, supercilious, pompous ass, personally unbearable, Yale type, hate America boss. I am still waiting for the horror of the second term re-election. It is coming. I am too ashamed of what I did to reveal it in public.

Anyone disobeying the Rule of Hilarious Political Irony is not bright. In order to persuade, argue against the position. People will take it up in opposition. I know that what I propose in lawyer and judge accountability will make the lawyer rich and more powerful. If I prevail, lawyers will fund Saddam size statues of me.

Mr. Lanier: You are a great leader. Superb points.
7.1.2005 8:53am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
As a Christian who believes in the Golden Rule I would have to say:

1. Rudeness does not justify rudeness.
2. Rudeness is morally inferior to respect.
3. Rudeness is usually less effective than respect. The reason people invented politeness and enforce it through social sanctions is that it works. Different rules work better in different places and with different people. But no rules are effective in all cases.

7.1.2005 11:57am
Paul Gowder (mail):
Mammoth: how often DO people actually change their opinions on hard fought political issues. Seriously, now. I'm not talking about the kind of politician that changes their mind to conform with what they see their constituents as likely to buy. I'm talking about honest, yet passionate, people. How many people do you know who suddenly saw some piece of evidence and said either "oooh, I see now, I was wrong all along, the war in Iraq really was/was not justified?"

It doesn't happen.

(Claus: I ain't "prof" anything)
7.1.2005 12:30pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Wince--yeah, but you're wrong. </dismissal>

Claus--I'd say thanks, but I worry that's your Hilarious Political Irony at work.
7.1.2005 1:59pm
Brian Tamanaha (mail):
This post turned out to be an invitation to pile on Leiter, which I assume was not the intention.

I find his blog to be intelligent and thought provoking, information filled, often entertaining, and occasionally harsh, a lot like the posts on Volokh Conspiracy. I regularly visit both sites because the intellectual payoff is high, and I usually get a couple of laughs.

I admit that I cringe at some of the things he writes, and I would hate to be in his cross hairs, but I admire his conviction and his courage to say what he believes, knowing that it will bring a backlash.

Leiter is a unique blog personality in the WILD blog world. His site gets over a hundred thousand visitors a month. Good for him.
7.1.2005 3:40pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

I change mine. I now wish I'd voted for Reagan not Carter, Reagan not Mondale, Bush not Dukakis, Bush not Clinton, Dole not Perot and Gore not Bush. I was uncertain about the Iraq War for months. I can tell when an important political view is changing - and they do.


So you don't believe in the Golden Rule?

7.1.2005 5:25pm
Quilly Mammoth (mail) (www):
Paul Gowder,

How many people do you know who suddenly saw some piece of evidence and said either "oooh, I see now, I was wrong all along, the war in Iraq really was/was not justified?"

It doesn't happen.

Sorry, but that flies in the face of the evidence. If what you say is true why bother with polls? If what you say is true people _never_ change their minds. Maybe not always by argument, but surely by events. There are quite a few, Charles Johnson of LGF for example, whose worldview changed after 9/11. There are people whose position on Palestinian Statehood is changing.

And there are people whose view on the Iraq war _is_ changing. In both sirections but it seems that more are starting to come down on the side of "I was wrong all along, the Iraq War was not justified."

Often argument plants the seed that events water. The appearance of the spread of Democracy in the event...clearly affected some people's point of view. OTOH, the recent death of six female Marines has been a tipping point for others. Events that are processed through the light of argument.

Though Cal Lanier makes a good point, sometimes a mocking slap in the face is needed, being bileous and crude as a norm means many people won't listen to you. Particularly those who disagree with you. Which is a valid position to take if one feels that people _never_, _ever_ change their minds. In which case why spend all that money on teh election process when a simple statistical analysis would do?

7.1.2005 7:56pm
CrimeAndFederalism (mail) (www):
Mr. Gowder, you wrote that the student "refused to listen to an ... argument relating to his positions on the patently absurd ground that it contained too many words." You then wrote that "[h]e refused ... to listen to an argument because it was too complicated."

I'm not sure verbosity equals complexity. Perhaps the student was bored by your prolixity. It's just a thought; I could be wrong. But your comment reminded me of what a lot of crappy lawyers say after losing a jury trial: "The [dumb, stupid, uneducated, etc.] jury just didn't get it!" Of course, juries "get it" when lawyers like John Keker and Fred Bartlett explain it. So, perhaps the fault lies not with the listener, but with the speaker.

Again, it's a just a thought.
7.1.2005 8:52pm
Bob Doyle (mail):
Paul Gowder says:

[H]ow often DO people actually change their opinions on hard fought political issues. ... I'm talking about honest, yet passionate, people. How many people do you know who suddenly saw some piece of evidence and said either 'oooh, I see now, I was wrong all along, the war in Iraq really was/was not justified?'

It doesn't happen.

It doesn't?? Let me see ... Irving Kristol, David Horowitz, Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz, James Burnham, Michael Novak, Jean Kirkpatrick, Whitaker Chambers, and a whole host of other neocons, Dick Morris in politics, perhaps, and on Iraq and the war on terror, in particular, Christopher Hitchens. Given a few more minutes, I'm sure I and others could name many others who changed their world view quite drastically when they awoke, in some cases suddenly, in others, over time, to a new perspective of reality.

Bob Doyle
7.1.2005 9:32pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"Though Cal Lanier makes a good point, sometimes a mocking slap in the face is needed, being bileous and crude as a norm means many people won't listen to you. "

I never said anything about rudeness "as a norm". I disagree with your assertion, but don't introduce new criteria.

So what if "many people won't listen"? Many other people will. If you wish to assert that more people won't listen than will, provide a cite because a simple assertion in the face of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Mark Steyn won't cut it. For that matter, assertions in the face of Hitler, who said some terribly rude things and convinced a lot of people, won't cut it. Rudeness can be very effective.

Notice that you said "needed", implying some sort of moral judgment. That's part of the problem I'm addressing. Rudeness requires no moral justification. People use it because it works to achieve their aim. Any discussion of "need" is rationalization after the fact. You appear to be falling into exactly the behavior Leiter mentioned that I quoted in my first post.
7.1.2005 10:12pm
CrimeAndFederalism (mail) (www):
Add to Mr. Doyle's list: George Will's views on the death penalty changed for the "better."

I wonder ... given Mr. Doyle's list ... will Mr. Gowder's view that "honest, yet passionate, people" never change their views "on hard fought political issues" itself change? Or will conservatives like me who "have tried to get reasoned and careful argument through to the public for years" ask: "[W]hy waste effort patiently explaining things to people who will either refuse to listen or be completely unable to understand?"
7.2.2005 6:15pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
I'd question the categorization of any of the above-listed neocons as "honest," but, nonetheless, whatever it is that lead to their collective stampede to the right, I seriously doubt that the then-equivalent of the sort of casual discourse one finds in the blogosphere today had even the slightest thing to do with it. (Frankly, I think the whole neocon movement is a collection of opportunists who go wherever the political winds seem to be blowing. Witness, for example, Podhoertz's quick switch to the left in the 50's and equally quick switch to the right in the 90's. I still get nauseated when I think of tripe like "ex-friends.") (I'm given to understand, though I've not read that particular book so I could be wrong, that "Making It" openly admits Podohertz's overweening ambition.)

People change their worldviews in drastic ways all of the time, because of life experiences, contact with inspiring personalities, etc. -- not because of blog posts!
7.3.2005 10:25pm
CrimeAndFederalism (mail) (www):
Mr. Gowder wrote: "People change their worldviews in drastic ways all of the time, because of life experiences, contact with inspiring personalities, etc. -- not because of blog posts!"

Kerr's posts on the PATRIOT Act have changed my views substantially.
7.4.2005 1:42am
Paul Gowder (mail):
C&F: how so? And were you predisposed to agree with Kerr otherwise beforehand?
7.4.2005 1:11pm
CrimeAndFederalism (mail) (www):
My views on the PATRIOT Act were reactionary: It's evil, etc. Through Kerr's posts I've come to see the PATRIOT Act for what it is - just another power grab that, like all power grabs, can be used for good or evil. (E.g., before, I was opposed to giving the gov't the power to subpoena library records. Now I'm not so sure). Anyhow, I now see the PATRIOT Act as yet another reason for eternal vigilance - but not a reason to move to Montana.

I don't think my amended views are particularly profound. But given the current PATRIOT Act = sky is falling mentality, I'd say it's an improvement.

I was absolutely positively 100% not predisposed to agree with Kerr. So it's one example of a blogger changing someone's deeply held (contrary) views. Indeed, a post of mine on Roper changed a few minds re: the juvenile death penalty. And I've shown quite a few people who hated Lopez and Morrison that limiting Congress' powers actually helps disfavored groups.

So, my point is simple: People change their views after reading blogs. Will some of Clayton Cramer's more embarrassing views ever change? Of course not. But I don't write for Clayton Cramer, or any other right- or left-wing hack.

I write for thoughtful people who, while holding different positions than mine, are nonetheless ready to examine their views. If I insult those views, I've lost an opportunity to persuade. If I listen to them, then I'll be able to persuade a few of them.

It won't always work. But it works often enough that I'm not going to turn my blog into a cannon for fire and brimstone.
7.4.2005 5:43pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
being bileous and crude as a norm means many people won't listen to you

Setting aside the tone of the comment, the real problem is that people will use your comments as a sounding board and a standard to represent your side.

Botton line is that by being harsh you can become the voice the other side uses to portray your side's positions and "real" intents and beliefs.

I've changed a number of my thoughts and positions based on things I've read. Why else read?
7.4.2005 6:09pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
C&F: I'm very tempted to insist that you didn't actually change your views in order to demonstrate by my own refusal to change my views that people don't change their views (parse that sentence!). :-)

Nonetheless, I'll concede a small part of the point: some people change their views as a result of blog posts. It doesn't keep me from defending Leiter, mind, since (a) that fact doesn't compel the conclusion that one should write blog posts with the aim to change people's views -- his reasons to blog (demonstrate like-mindedness, supply arguments, give voice) seem perfectly sufficient to me; and (b) your counterexample just refutes my categorical claim that nobody changes their opinions via blog posts. It doesn't give any idea of the extent of such opinion changing, or the consequent efficiency of spending the effort to carefully construcy respectful arguments on a blog for the expected impact. Perhaps that effort might be more efficiently spent on some other communication medium with a higher persuasion rate. We don't know, and in this absence of knowing, Brian Leiter's choice seems entirely appropriate.
7.4.2005 9:26pm
not you (mail):
I am not interested in persuading anyone.
A statement made by a lawyer and one who teaches law?

(Apologies for the lack of further pithy intellectual comment, but I know when I am out gunned. Have certainly enjoyed reading the comments tho...)
7.6.2005 4:04am