One More Post, About Motivations:

Eric Muller writes, in comments to an earlier post:

[Quoting me:] "[I]t is perfectly legitimate to identify people who have expressed reprehensible views, and to publicly condemn them."

Eugene, I don't think anyone is contesting the legitimacy of such an effort. I think what people are wondering about is

(a) the wisdom of such an effort,

(b) what might motivate a person to launch it, and

(c) how such an effort will contribute to, or, more likely, detract from, reasoned public discussion and debate of a matter that greatly concerns and affects all of us Americans--the "good guys" who support the war in Iraq, and the "bad guys" who don't.

(1) A commenter wrote, "That said, the phrase, 'I think this is a good opportunity to collect examples of such people, to show that they do exist, and are worth criticizing.' is disturbing. Give me names, quotes and sources? Nothing stifles open debate like a witchhunt." Later, Prof. Muller himself labeled the process as a witch-hunt (though possibly on narrower grounds). Last I checked, labeling an effort "witch-hunt" does contest the legitimacy of the effort.

(2) In the post to which Prof. Muller was commenting, I wrote "I was challenged to try to come up with such lists, by people who seemed to suggest that there were no such supporters, at least in positions of any significance (see, e.g., this comment, among others)." I cited this comment, though I can also point to this post.

I criticize a group. Others argue that the group has no members, or a trivial number of members. I think the implication was that I must be really trying to criticize some other group, since what's the point of criticizing an empty group -- but even if I'm misreading this implication, the explicit assertion is that I'm being foolish in criticizing people who don't exist.

What am I supposed to do? Leave the criticisms unanswered? Say "Oh, there are such people, but because I don't want to be a McCarthyite, God forbid that I should name names and give quotes and sources to make this a witch-hunt"? Yeah, that would have been highly persuasive.

So people who want to criticize the supporters and justifiers of the Iraqi insurgents are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If we don't mention names, we either look dishonest or foolish. If we do mention names, we're witch-hunters -- but no, no-one is contesting the legitimacy of our effort by calling us witch-hunters -- and our motives are questioned because of that. No, thank you. Take your accusations to those who'll take them lying down.

(3) Publicly condemning murderers -- whether Iraqi insurgents, anti-abortion terrorists, racist killers, or whoever else -- probably doesn't do a tremendous amount of good. But I suspect it does some good.

But the follow-up posts, of course, had little to do with any such public-spirited motivation on my part. I posted them because a lot of people -- including prominent bloggers such as Prof. Muller and posters at Crooked Timber -- were condemning me, some using quite harsh terms. When people do that, I often try to defend myself by providing facts and arguments supporting my position (and spend much more time and energy than I'd have preferred doing so).

So don't criticize me, insult me, and yet when I try to round up facts and provide arguments supporting my position, suggest that my responses somehow don't much advance public debate.