Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 21, 2008

Butterflies and Wheels

Filed under: science — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

Last Thursday a link titled “The case against Christopher Hitchens” on Bookforum pointed me to an article on the website Butterflies and Wheels. April Fools must have fallen on July 17th this year since the article really was making the case for Hitchens:

A one-time Marxist, Hitchens’s politics could be defined not so much as ideological but a broad opposition to establishment power and discourse, and solidarity with victims of cruelty.

Something suggests that the author of the article, a 27 year old aspiring novelist, might have been attempting fiction when he wrote that Hitchens was opposed to “establishment power”, but apparently not. The defense of Hitchens jibes with the editorial slant at Butterflies and Wheels (referred to subsequently as B&W), a fountainhead of Islamophobia that you can also find on Harry’s Place and Norm Geras’s blog. There is the usual defense of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, etc. There are attacks on other religions as well all in the name of the kind of scientific rationalism epitomized by Richard Dawkins’s recent atheist tome.

In addition to religion, the website mounts attacks on multiculturalism and other forms of “fashionable nonsense.” Kenan Malik, a Spiked Online regular, seems to be a designated hitter when it comes to such matters. In an article titled “Identity is That Which is Given” that currently appears on B&W, Malik argues:

You do not even have to be human to possess a culture. Primatologists tell us that different groups of chimpanzees each has its own culture. No doubt some chimp will soon complain that their traditions are disappearing under the steamroller of human cultural imperialism.

This clever phrase is just the sort of thing you can find on New Criterion, a magazine edited by the neoconservative Hilton Cramer or any other rightwing standard bearer in the “culture wars”. Under the guise of enlightenment values and the brotherhood of man, what you find basically is seething hostility toward any national minority trying to defend itself against forced assimilation. B&W, of course, defends the French government’s banning of the hijab.

Alan Sokal

Curious to see what drove these people ideologically, I went to “About B&W” and discovered that my old friend Alan Sokal was their primary inspiration:

Butterflies and Wheels has been established in order to oppose a number of related phenomena. These include:

1. Pseudoscience that is ideologically and politically motivated.

2. Epistemic relativism in the humanities (for example, the idea that statements are only true or false relative to particular cultures, discourses or language-games).

3. Those disciplines or schools of thought whose truth claims are prompted by the political, ideological and moral commitments of their adherents, and the general tendency to judge the veracity of claims about the world in terms of such commitments.

There are two motivations for setting up the web site. The first is the common one having to do with the thought that truth is important, and that to tell the truth about the world it is necessary to put aside whatever preconceptions (ideological, political, moral, etc.) one brings to the endeavour.

The second has to do with the tendency of the political Left (which both editors of this site consider themselves to be part of) to subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral frameworks. We believe this tendency to be a mistake on practical as well as epistemological and ethical grounds. Alan Sokal expressed this concern well, when talking about his motivation for the Sokal Hoax: ‘My goal isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we’ll survive just fine, thank you), but to defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself. Like innumerable others from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, I call for the Left to reclaim its Enlightenment roots.’

This confirms for me once again how troubled the Sokal hoax was, even though at the time I greeted it with great enthusiasm. Initially, my impulse was to hoist Alan on my shoulders since I thought it was about time that somebody stuck it to the dirty postmodernists who were writing all those attacks on Marxism as an oppressive “grand narrative” using language of the kind that was eligible for Denis Dutton’s yearly “Bad Writing” award.

It took about five years to figure out that things were not so simple. To start with, Social Text, the journal that was suckered into publishing Alan’s hoax in a special “Science Wars” issue, had been prompted to put out a special issue as a reaction to a conference at NYU that had been organized by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, two of Alan Sokal’s colleagues. Levitt, a mathematician who taught at NYU alongside Sokal, was acknowledged by Sokal as a primary inspiration for his hoax.

I did not know at the time that the Gross-Levitt conference was made possible by funding from the Olin Foundation, a long-time backer of ultra-right causes. If I had, I never would have been so enthusiastic about Alan’s hoax. While he was politically to the left of Gross and Levitt, and had even taught in Nicaragua as a Tecnica volunteer, there was sufficient reason for me to be a bit more wary of the hoax given the initial inspiration.

What would be the Olin Foundation’s motivation in funding a conference on the Science Wars? Did it think that “intellectual relativism” was eating away at the fiber of the American academy? I don’t quite know how to put this, but the idea of the Olin Foundation coming to the aid of “enlightenment values” strikes me as almost as ridiculous as Christopher Hitchens opposing “establishment power”. Their main interest should be obvious. Olin doesn’t want leftwing scientists mucking about on issues such as global warming, carcinogens in the food we eat, water and air pollution, etc.

Just to take one example, the Olin Foundation donated more than $25,000 to an outfit called the American Council on Science and Health.  Other donors included the General Electric Foundation, the Monsanto Fund and other such bodies dedicated to fighting bad writing and fashionable nonsense.

If you go to their website, you will find an article on the home page titled “Claims of Industry Tampering with Science Are Overblown”. Well, I should have known. The executive director of ACSH, who claims that “A new scientific McCarthyism is alive and well in America today”, was introducing an ACSH study titled “Scrutinizing Industry-Funded Science: The Crusade Against Conflicts of Interest”, written by one Ronald Bailey. Bailey argues:

Why should having once consulted with Pfizer or DuPont disqualify a scientist from serving on a government advisory board or writing a review article in a scientific journal, while being a lifelong member of Greenpeace does not? And if owning $10,000 in Dow stock represents a potential conflict of interest, surely $10,000 in funding from the Union of Concerned Scientists does too.

This argument raises speciousness to stratospheric levels. The mission of the Union of Concerned Scientists is to search for science-based solutions to problems facing society as a whole. Nobody has ever accused the Union of bias, except perhaps against corporations that have a well-documented history of screwing the public in pursuit of profits.

Ultimately, outfits like B&W and Spiked Online, which focus on restoring “enlightenment values”, are really more about defending the status quo than debunking “fashionable nonsense”. It is easy for some naive leftists to get confused about their goals since who could possibly be opposed to clear thinking and scientific rationalism–that is, unless you have a class analysis of bourgeois society. When I once suggested to Alan that he read Richard Levins or Richard Lewontin, he appeared loath to waste his time reading other scientists who were far more skeptical of the “free marketplace” of ideas than he was. When Pfizer, Monsanto, General Electric and the Olin Foundation are doling out millions of dollars to refute their leftwing enemies, the idea of a level playing field seems utopian at best.

The last time I saw Alan Sokal was at conference at the New School co-sponsored by the libertarians at Spiked Online and Reason Magazine. His colleague Norman Levitt was one of the main organizers. The purpose of the conference was to refute the environmentalism associated with Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other groups that have not been corrupted by corporate payoffs. This was the trajectory of the Sokal hoax, a virtual repeat of the Gross-Levitt conference funded by the Olin Foundation. I have no idea who funded this one, but imagine that there are always buckets of cash available for any attack on outfits such as Greenpeace or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The B&W website is not particularly concerned with such issues, preferring to bash religion rather than environmentalism. There is one exception, however. They do seem to get worked into a lather when it comes to the animal rights movement, which they obviously consider an impudent assault on the absolute rights of Scientific Research. They have taken up the cause of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a company that has been the target of the Animal Liberation Front.

I first came across Huntington in the course of a movie review of “Your Mommy Kills Animals“, a documentary that is sympathetic to the Animal Liberation Front. Things sort of come full circle now that I look at what I wrote at the time:

There’s quite a rogue’s gallery in opposition to animal rights. We see Christopher Hitchens holding forth on how the activists become self-righteous absolutists in their desire to crush their enemies. Hearing these words coming out of his mouth was sufficient to get me to bag up all my leather shoes and bring them down to the thrift shop and to swear off chicken and fish (I have already given up red meat because of my blood pressure.) We also see Ron Arnold, the author of “Eco-Terrorism”, making the case against animal rights. Although I am very familiar with Arnold from past debates with his British allies, the ex-Marxists organized around the website Spiked Online, I have never heard him before. Arnold is an odd character. He couches his anti-environmentalist and anti-animal rights arguments in populist rhetoric, but has been exposed as a tool of big timber and mining interests.

I would not be surprised to discover that B&W gets some funding from Huntington and other such animal torturers. One of these days, the victims of the corporations and the governments that act in their name will get sick and tired of the pollutants that kill them, the rotten health care system that fails to treat them, the foreclosures, the job losses, and the daily indignities of wage labor and rise up against the system that perpetuates them. A working class in power will then have access to the dossiers that contain all this information about who paid the piper. God protect the souls of those who fed at the trough of the big corporations and the intelligence agencies since an aroused people will have properly earned the right to extract justice.

25 Comments »

  1. I, too, thought the Sokal hoax was both hilarious and troubling, and I appreciate your analysis of the political-economy of the whole thing, which put quite a bit of it in perspective. B &W strikes me as being part of the same intellectual trajectory as John Silber, President/Chancellor/Dictator of my old alma mater, Boston University. Silber was famous for pushing for the teaching of the enlightenment traditions of truth and knowledge, at the same time as he pushed for DOD contracts, tried to kick out any vaguely or actively left-wing scholarship, fought unionization among workers and graduate students, and quashed student newspapers. The calls for the return to “truth” strike me as decidedly two-faced when they come from people like Hitchens, the Olin foundation, or John Silber.

    Comment by whenelvisdied — July 21, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  2. Do you think if you examined Hitch’s radical period writing, you’d find the roots of his turn, or is it just a $$ thing?

    Comment by Renegade Eye — July 22, 2008 @ 1:19 am

  3. Yes, you can find the roots in his stuff on Yugoslavia.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 22, 2008 @ 1:50 am

  4. Louis,

    It would seem to me that Sokal/Jean Bricmont’s demonstration of idiocy of PoMo is separate from right-wing attack on environmentalism, greenpeace, global warming etc.

    That said, I should say I don’t any merit in PoMo. The merit of Sokal hoax was to show that PoMo is a waste of time and resources.

    I don’t know Sokal’s politics, but his co-author Jean Bricmont seems to be anti-imperialist and no apologist for right wing nonsense. See:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/bricmont09042007.html

    Comment by Abu Spinoza — July 22, 2008 @ 3:13 am

  5. @ whenelvisdied

    Have you ever read B&W (specifically the stuff on the blog)?

    Comment by Thomas Greenan — July 22, 2008 @ 3:30 am

  6. Apparently this Jeremy Stangroom of Butterflies and Wheels was outraged that anti-war protesters during the last Isreali-Lebanon war were smiling at a demonstration. Photos are on the linked page. A commenter noted that it appears that mainly the Middle Eastern people at the event were the ones doing the smiling, the nerve of them, while the English were not! LOL

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=1514

    Comment by Sheldon — July 22, 2008 @ 3:33 am

  7. ‘A working class in power will then have access to the dossiers that contain all this information about who paid the piper. God protect the souls of those who fed at the trough of the big corporations and the intelligence agencies since an aroused people will have properly earned the right to extract justice’.

    I’m sure the idea of class revolution arouses you, but the key problem you fail to face is that it’s never going to happen. Marxism is a failed ideology. Oh, and by the way, having worked a number of jobs amongst people who are very much working class, please allow me to educate you on the fact that they aren’t interested in all this class war bullshit. In reality, the only people really pushing this outdated claptrap are middle class wannabe revolutionaries.

    As for ‘Islamophobia’, a ridiculous term dreamed up by Islamists in an attempt to gain them victim status and place Islam beyond criticism, how sad that a so-called Marxist is joining the queue of airheaded dhimmis lining up on bended knee, waiting for the chance to abase themselves before the anti-human rights, anti-rationalist and fanatical strands of Islam that think publishing silly cartoons should be illegal, and who, incidentally, would have you and yours safely locked away in a prison if they ever gained any real power. You really think the same courtesy and pandering subservience you so-called Marxists show to Islamists would be reciprocated?

    Comment by Edmund Standing — July 22, 2008 @ 7:29 am

  8. It’s true that the forced optimism of the paragraph cited might make a reader smile. But the misunderstanding of Islam on Standing’s part is narrow and provincial. He claims to know the (Western?) working-class. What’s his experience of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world?

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 22, 2008 @ 9:24 am

  9. Well, Mr Byrne, the reality of the ‘Muslim world’ is that any country which claims Islam as its central guiding principle becomes infected with ignorance and superstition. Those societies are governed by the crippling principle of ‘Insha’Allah’ (that all that happens, happens if ‘God wills it’), so consequently, if a despotic regime is in charge, it must be God’s will. Real scientific advancements are held back by the promotion of anti-evolutionary pro-Creationist views, and an overriding suspicion of science as ‘Western’ and ‘non-Islamic’. The joys of life are trampled upon – most art and music is forbidden by Islam, the drinking of any alcohol is forbidden, free association is forbidden, independent thinking is forbidden, true freedom of speech and expression are forbidden. Women are second class citizens in Islam, no matter how much Muslim apologists may try to sugar coat this, homosexuals are persecuted, and an obsession with Jews runs through much Islamic thought, not simply the modern ideological outpourings connected to Israel. Anyone outside the monotheistic religions is anathema, and Christians and Jews are expected to accept a lower status than their Muslim overlords (Dhimmitude). The punishments of Islamic law take us back to the middle ages, and the holding up of Muhammad as the ‘perfect man’ means that Muslims are called to emulate an historical figure whose life is wholly incompatible with modern civilisation (his marrying a six year old and having sex with her at nine is but one example – see al-Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88). Point to any example of a Muslim society that does not look as bad as this, past or present, and you will find that this is only the case where strict adherence to Islam has slipped. Muslims in the West who are liberal, open to non-Muslims, promoters of democracy and human rights, and non-imperialist in their thinking are not so because of a close reading of the Qur’an and Hadith and a deep devotion to Islam. They are only this way because they have chosen to jettison key aspects of their faith and embrace key elements of secular modernity, in much the same way as most modern Jews and Christians have done.

    I would say that it is you who has a misunderstanding of Islam.

    Comment by Edmund Standing — July 22, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  10. Are we talking about people of Muslim faith in Kenya, Montenegro, Indonesia, Turkey, Michigan or Hampstead, U.K? Most of them would be no more impressed by bogeyman quotes from the Koran than my Roman neighbors are impressed by the more outrageous papal anathemas. How satisfying it must be to sit at one’s desk in the glorious West and to reduce 1.5 billion people to a few cliches. That’s what the most ingenuous type of Marxist used to do.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 22, 2008 @ 10:50 am

  11. Those “rationalist” sites (like B&W) can’t rationally analyze their own fallacious thinking.

    Jean Bricmont, Sokal’s co-author, is well worth hearing. There’s a 90+ minute audio interview with him at this link, in which he discusses his excellent book Humanitarian Imperialism: http://www.electricpolitics.com/podcast/2007/07/a_belgian_intellectual.html

    Comment by john — July 22, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  12. What a silly article.

    Let me get this right. You disapprove of Butterflies and Wheels because one of their inspirations was the Sokal Hoax. You have doubts about the Sokal Hoax (and Sokal himself) because two of Sokal’s colleagues organised a conference that was funded by a foundation of which you disapprove.

    This is the type of argument B&W campaigns against. It involves the basic logical fallacy of guilt by association. In this case the association is so vague it is ludicrous.

    Disconnected from this, you also dislike B&W because they are suspicious of (some) animal rights groups.

    This is because they are pro-science. I hope you don’t take any serious pharmaceuticals? They will have been tested on animals.

    Is this the best you can do?

    Comment by Tzimisces — July 22, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  13. Edmund Standing seems anxious about the lack of alcohol in Muslim lands. I suggest a reassuring wine-tasting tour. He could begin among the non-Christian minority of Bulgaria that produces work-a-day reds. Over in Turkey they’ve been making wine for two millennia and are now striving to meet French and Italian standards. Anyone who has lived in Damascus knows about the excellent vintages from neighboring Lebanon.Towards Europe there are the heavy, soporific reds of Algeria and Tunisia. Am I being facetious? No. There’s a difference between how people really live and the dirt you can dig up against them by thumbing through their book of Holy Writ in a fever.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 22, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  14. Mr Byrne, your responses have added nothing.

    As I said:

    ‘Point to any example of a Muslim society that does not look as bad as this, past or present, and you will find that this is only the case where strict adherence to Islam has slipped’.

    Regarding Turkey, try to keep up with reality:

    April 10th, 2008:

    ‘Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government has clamped down on the pork industry since 2004, closing all but two of the country’s 25 pig farms and revoking slaughterhouse licenses. Kozmaoglu, unable to add to his meat supplies, spends most of his time shuffling paperwork as he seeks permission to reopen his abattoir’.

    (http://tinyurl.com/6s8a6g)

    May 13th, 2008:

    ‘Law No. 5752, which will take effect tomorrow, bans the sale of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes “by breaking its packaging or dividing them.” Sector representatives say if implemented, it would mean that the sale of alcoholic beverages by the glass at establishments like restaurants and bars would not be allowed … Under the law no cocktails will be made by mixing different kinds of alcohol, and giving alcoholic beverages as a gift is also banned’.

    (http://tinyurl.com/3mlaam)

    And here, again, is the problem. When Muslims take their Islamic beliefs seriously, repression follows.

    Comment by Edmund Standing — July 22, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  15. Yes, this “difference between how people really live and the dirt…” is despite Islam, not thanks to it. Ophelia at B&W never attack Muslims as a whole, indeed she has time and again correcting people who make the mistake you point out (“Are we talking about people of Muslim faith in Kenya, Montenegro, Indonesia, Turkey, Michigan or Hampstead, U.K?”) and consistently rages against those who pretend to speak for the “Muslim community”.

    May I suggest you allow shades of gray in your approach to criticism? One can criticize Islam without being a rabid Muslim-hater (indeed one can do so out of concern for some Muslims, the issue of women rights comes to mind) even if some far-right assholes are only too ready to jump on that bandwagon, or point out the fallacies and the violence of some in the animal rights movement without strangling kittens in their dreams…

    Comment by Arnaud — July 22, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  16. No idea where that winking smiley came from, please disregard.

    Comment by Arnaud — July 22, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  17. “Do you think if you examined Hitch’s radical period writing, you’d find the roots of his turn, or is it just a $$ thing?”

    I think in Hitchens’ case, “theophobia” has played the same role that Stalinophobia played for many of the New York intellectuals of the 1930s (Max Eastman, James Burnham, Sidney Hook, etc.) in their trajectory from anti-Stalinist leftists to supporters of US imperialism.

    Comment by Phil Gasper — July 22, 2008 @ 7:13 pm

  18. Why are you bothering so much about Hitchens and his ilk?
    It would only have any useful purpose if it was a debate about Left wing tactics/strategy of some description.
    Hitchens, the Spiked Online prats, Harry’s Place and Geras’ Euston Manifesto bunch are a small meaningless group of washed up journalists and intellectuals whose connection with and importance to the workers movement is receding fast into a distant past. The one common thread with many of them is on overfondness for the bottle and an unbending Zionism. You would find it hard to come across even a sliver of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.

    Comment by Doug — July 24, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  19. Blimey Doug, that was a quite brilliant contribution. You must be one of these organic intellectual fellas…

    Comment by Jeremy Stangroom — July 24, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

  20. Stangroom is a supporter of the Iraq war.

    Some of his nonsense here
    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=31
    ‘Causal relations and Stop the War nonsense
    Posted on April 1st, 2007 by Jeremy Stangroom

    Few things work me up into a state of foaming at the mouth fury quite like the Stop the War Coalition. (Well obviously there’s the BHA, as well.)

    Today it is this statement that has induced apoplexy:

    Don’t attack Iran: Stop the War statement

    We urge the speedy release and return to this country of the detained sailors and marines. Their detention is a consequence of the illegal occupation of Iraq. Whether they were in Iraqi or Iranian waters is immaterial. They should not be there at all and we demand the withdrawal of all UK forces from Iraqi territory.

    Okay, so here are the things that I’m not going to rant about: the fact that there is not one word of condemnation of the treatment of the captives; the fact that the StWC think that it is neither here nor there whether the sailors were in Iranian waters (so much for international law; and there is an irony here that even the Iranians (claim) that this matters); the fact that a bunch of Socialist Worker Party no-hopers (sorry that’s not very philosophical) think they are in a position to demand anything. I’m not ranting about those things.

    What I am interested in is the notion of fundamental causes; here expressed as the idea that the detention is a consequence of ‘the illegal occupation of Iraq’ (interesting that legality is important in this context).’

    Comment by resistor — July 26, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  21. To be fair to Stangroom, I would describe the piece forwarded by resistor as being more in the spirit of “anti-antiwar” rather than prowar. This outlook is similar to the “anti-antifascism” analyzed by Lillian Hellman in “Scoundrel Time”. People in the 30s went nuts over the Abraham Lincoln Brigades in the same way that Stangroom goes nuts over the SWP. This does not mean that they support either Franco or Bush, but that they hate those who organize to fight against them. Make of that what you will.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 26, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  22. That was a philosophical argument about counterfactual conditionals. And Resistor, if you’d like to let me know which bit was “nonsense”, then that would be very useful (and for God’s sake change your name!).

    It is true that I find the StWC extremely annoying (but frankly that’s mainly because of the stupidity of their public pronouncements, plus a whole distaste for political ritual and secular religion). But the trouble with some of you guys – and indeed people on my side of the fence (assuming I am a Decent) – is that you deal in caricatures. For example:

    “I would not be surprised to discover that B&W gets some funding from Huntington and other such animal torturers.”

    Well I founded B&W (though it is now run by Ophelia Benson). I’ve also been a vegetarian for twenty-five years. It receives no money from Huntington, nor anybody else. (Except The Philosophers’ Magazine pays for its web hosting).

    Other stuff you won’t care about: I’ve been beaten to a pulp by skinheads in the Underground at Liverpool Street Station after an ANL rally; I thought the Danish Cartoons thing was problematic; I think Richard Dawkins should probably keep quiet about religion (indeed I’ve written several pieces on the Talking Philosophy blog attacking him for not understanding religion properly); I tend to think we should tax the rich until they squeak; etc; etc.

    Obviously you don’t care about any of that. And I don’t care that you don’t care. But I don’t understand the attraction of attacking a caricature of a person.

    Isn’t it just boring?

    Comment by Jeremy Stangroom — July 30, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  23. ‘And Resistor, if you’d like to let me know which bit was “nonsense”, then that would be very useful’

    Well, here goes

    1. Stangroom doesn’t deny he is a supporter of the Iraq war, because he is.

    ‘Okay, so here are the things that I’m not going to rant about: the fact that there is not one word of condemnation of the treatment of the captives’

    2. Why should they, the captives were treated extremely well. We have seen how the British and Americans treat their captives with no complaint from Stangroom.

    ‘the fact that the StWC think that it is neither here nor there whether the sailors were in Iranian waters (so much for international law; and there is an irony here that even the Iranians (claim) that this matters’

    3. The British Navy were intercepting ships in disputed waters just off the coast of Iran – piracy by any other name. Imagine if the Iranian navy did the same off Baltimore or Southampton? Also the British claims to have been in Iraqi waters have been revealed to have been lies.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3761058.ece

    ‘Fifteen British sailors and Marines were seized by Iran in internationally disputed waters and not in Iraq’s maritime territory as Parliament was told, according to new official documents released to The Times.

    The Britons were seized because the US-led coalition designated a sea boundary for Iran’s territorial waters without telling the Iranians where it was, internal Ministry of Defence briefing papers reveal.’

    ‘the fact that a bunch of Socialist Worker Party no-hopers (sorry that’s not very philosophical) think they are in a position to demand anything. I’m not ranting about those things’

    4. Stangroom says, ‘I don’t understand the attraction of attacking a caricature of a person.’ It seems that consistency is unnecessary if you are a philosopher

    What I am interested in is the notion of fundamental causes; here expressed as the idea that the detention is a consequence of ‘the illegal occupation of Iraq’ (interesting that legality is important in this context).’

    5. I don’t think you have any interest in exploring the ‘notion of fundamental causes’ other than to smear the opponents of a war whose blatant illegality has even less interest to you.

    ‘and for God’s sake change your name!’

    6. Why should I? You have the name that sucks!

    Comment by resistor — August 3, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

  24. Dear Resistor

    Thanks. Your points in turn:

    “1. Stangroom doesn’t deny he is a supporter of the Iraq war, because he is.”

    Well obviously if I am a supporter of the Iraq War then I don’t think it is wrong to support the Iraq War, so I’m not going to accept that as a criticism. However, I think that possibly I’m not on record about where I stand on the Iraq War (though maybe perhaps in the odd comment at B&W?). Certainly I’ve never articulated my “thought-out” position (yes, yes, I know that you won’t think it thought out!).

    “2. Why should they, the captives were treated extremely well. We have seen how the British and Americans treat their captives with no complaint from Stangroom.”

    Yes, but I wasn’t commenting on this story; or indeed the British and American treatment of captives. The StWC were commenting. But anyway for what it is worth I have certainly written on the whole issue of punishment (see http://www.incharacter.org/article.php?article=77). If you read the piece – it’s a bit long, sorry! – you’ll find that I’m am very doubtful that there is any justification for punishing somebody (and I say this as someone whose brother was murdered). Obviously that’s not quite the same as the whole Guantanamo Bay thing (though you may be able to guess my view about that from the In Character essay).

    “3. The British Navy were intercepting ships in disputed waters just off the coast of Iran…”

    Yeah. But my complaint was that the StWC didn’t think it mattered whether the sailors were in Iranian waters. Your response kind of proves my point (it matters!).

    “4. Stangroom says, ‘I don’t understand the attraction of attacking a caricature of a person.’ It seems that consistency is unnecessary if you are a philosopher”

    It’s a fair cop. Except I’m not a philosopher. Also, you might notice the “sorry that’s not very philosophical” bit. I was fully aware that I was just ranting.

    “5. I don’t think you have any interest in exploring the ‘notion of fundamental causes’”

    Right, except you don’t know me, so you have no idea what I’m interested in. As it happens, I think the whole area of counterfactual conditionals is fascinating.

    “6. Why should I? You have the name that sucks!”

    Yeah, it’s a burden I’ve had to live with. But hey – you should still change your name. You’re a student, right? (I really hope you’re a student!). You’re going to look back at your “resistor” days, and you’ll cringe. Call yourself Bob, or something. Much more dignified.

    Comment by Jeremy Stangroom — August 6, 2008 @ 1:17 am

  25. [...] [5] Louis Proyect (2008) ‘Butterflies and Wheels’. [...]

    Pingback by La campaña de la extrema izquierda para silenciar a los críticos del Islam — November 19, 2009 @ 2:49 pm


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