Tag Archives: political correctness

How Not to Argue: Begging the Question

Pretending that no debate exists or is possible between reasonable people may be my least appreciated debate tactic, because it’s such a cheap trick. It’s a moralistic trick as well as a fault of argumentation. And yet it draws in third parties on your side, which is really the whole point of being unfair to your opponent(s) in these cases.

Let’s take an illustration that I’ve seen quite often, an argument, well more of an assertion, that consists of complaining about the rude, mean people who just don’t play along with the approved terminology of “political correctness,” which simply means “being polite,” as far as you’re concerned—that’s “you” the hypothetical complainer. (NB: This is just an example of a tactic promoting a position I’m neither arguing for, nor against, at least in this post.)

Is the cheat quite clear, here? It’s the deeply disingenuous pretense that those people already subscribe to the same interpretation of “political correctness”: that it simply consists of politeness. They aren’t debating anything in that case. They’re simply misbehaving. So you-the-complainer don’t have to listen to their opinion, and you’ve pretended away the debate.

Of course, in reality, the debate is about whether “political correctness” is more about thought policing, than mere “politeness.” Those who think the former don’t share the same premise, and they (actually do) dispute yours. THAT is what the debate is about—NOT about how impolite those people therefore are, under your moral judgment, for violating your terms of “political correctness.” What PC stands in for, operationally, is the whole debate. And in fact, let’s briefly note that using this end-run tactic supplies a supportive, albeit anecdotal point to the “thought-policing” side!

No matter what you personally think is irrelevent, and that isn’t the point at the moment; it should still be possible to engage in a debate by admitting it exists, NOT by pretending it is already resolved and people who disagree with you are all bad people. That eliminates the agency of others entirely and insults their intelligence.

Of course, SOME people who disagree may behave rudely in their manner, besides. This is entirely beside the point that denying their substantive disagreement by dismissing it, and presuming the matter resolved, is fallacious argumentation* that proves nothing… except that there is more than one way to be rude.

Rinse and repeat for climate change, and a batch of other hotly contested issues. Be fair to your opponents’ positions, and be sure you’re representing them adequately. If you can’t debate the best possible version of their position, it’s because you have something to learn from it after all.

* The original referent of “begging the question” is the logical fallacy of petitio principii, a form of circular reasoning. There is also an aspect of an ad hominem fallacy at work in this case.

The Political Correctness of Death Threats, and the positive right to not be offended

In a blog post I recommend, Katabasis writes about multiple cases in Britain in which “Three separate University Atheist / Secularist student societies have come under attack from islamists” but also politically-correct peers. One case involved a cartoon depicting “Jesus and Mo.” In another at Queen Mary:

students had organised a talk on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’. An Islamist thug turned up (with help apparently), filmed members of the audience and threatened violence against them if he heard of any “insult to the prophet”.

Having now spent some time with the Queen Mary students to find out first hand what happened I can tell you that these kids are feeling not only scared, but also very isolated. Not only do the various students unions involved in these debacles appear to be uncritcially taking the Islamist side against all reason, demanding that the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist societies censor themselves or – in the case of LSE – face expulsion from the Union, but I’ve heard a number of them asking ‘where is the left’?

The university “left,” mired in PC culture and allergic to offense to the point of a zealot’s intolerance in their own right, responded by attacking the victims of death threats such as beheading. Take for example the LSESU Socialist Workers Society statement: “The Atheist Society’s efforts to publish inflammatory “satirical” cartoons in a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims serve to highlight a festering undercurrent of racism.”

It is disgraceful but typical of PC reactionaries that actual oppression doesn’t matter compared to conceptualized victimhood—on behalf of someone else!—or rather some collective identity idol that’s not intended to be interactive or reflective of real people.

The entire account of the surreal PC university culture from the LSE Society is here and worth reading, as is the entire post by Katabasis, particularly to get a sense of just how serious these threats have been, and how unserious and inadequate the response of offense-policing censors and offense-averse police has been.

An American observer may note the irony here that the “creeping tide of sharia” feared by so many anti-Muslim bigots in America since 9-11 is to some extent a reality in exemptions from British law, but while almost exclusively nonviolent and mostly moderate Muslims have been persecuted extensively in the US, actual violent Islamists have been allowed to force their sensibilities of offense upon British society and threaten critics, while those critics have been dutifully attacked for stirring up trouble.

Non-white Muslims are among the special, protected groups under a sanctimonious, multicultural (that is, anti-white, anti-Western, and anti-Anglo) regime of victimhood—so much so that pretend religious adherence can be used as a defense for savagely attacking a woman for being white.

(Americans should also note that Britain is a country where people who defend themselves may be prosecuted, and will be excoriated by the politically correct. In that linked case, the woman’s boyfriend had the gall to fend off four women ripping her hair out, which in its threatening maleness was seen as a mitigating factor by the judge.)

The British infection is at a very advanced state. But I’m not talking about the Islamists, for if they were not treated to special rights to threaten others and impose their will by force, they would stop. Far worse is the cultural infection of pusillanimous political correctness which routinely blames real victims even as special victimhood is cultivated like a renewable resource.*

It’s a predictable disaster when people allow free speech to be trumped by the presumed right to not be offended.

This is an ideal occasion to explain the difference between negative rights and positive rights, the importance of the distinction, and why positive rights set a dangerous precedent.

Traditional, negative rights like freedoms of expression and private property are simply based on people being left alone to do what they will, or treated equally from an official legal perspective—like rights of the accused.

The “right not to be offended” is an example of a positive right. In order for you to not be offended, someone else has to be MADE to shut up. Who’s going to do that? And of course, someone has to determine what the fuck “offensive” means, even though it’s clearly in the eye of the beholder. So with that one pseudo-right, we would empower an entire social apparatus of political correctness to adjudicate and require compulsive thuggery on a massive scale if we wished to enforce it.

Officializing such a right makes these problems even worse, not only metastasizing the state to control citizens so they refrain from “offense,” but ensuring arguments over the official definition. Real illustrations extend from mandated censorship of “bad words” in broadcasts (see George Carlin’s seven dirty words routine) to censoring dissidents during every major war—for nothing is more offensive to jingoes.

Other examples of presumed (positive) rights include food, jobs, high wages, housing, etc. Someone else must be compelled to provide these things for you, so they inherently violate negative rights. They violate the freedoms not to be forced to serve others, or comply with the demands of others.

Positive rights aren’t rights in the traditional sense at all, they are demands on others.

It’s worth noting that “human rights” documents such as the European Convention on Human Rights and UN Declaration  make no proper distinction between the two, in addition to qualifying rights so that they are subject to interpretations of political and bureaucratic officials, and thus useless. The common public perception of human rights is a muddle between licenses to enable tyrannical demands in the name of good ends, and rights that were devices used to help ensure personal freedoms since the Magna Carta and more recently, the American Constitution.

*Addendum: In another stark indication of this abysmal cultivation of victimhood even at the expense of real victims, the violence, hooliganism, and thievery of opportunist rioters in 2011 provided an opportunity for many PC British leftists to sermonize about racial and economic justice, privilege, and other buzzwords, and lecture about the plight of the downtrodden in underprivileged welfare communities—never mind that many of those subsequently arrested turned out to have good jobs, and never mind that the rioters’ targets were often the local businesses serving these communities.