Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unfortunately, sophists know sophistry

I watched about 30 seconds of Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC this afternoon. He had a guest on about Warren Jeffs, fugitive polygamist who is currently in a Las Vegas jail awaiting his being returned to Utah. The guest was going on about how bad a man Jeffs is, how he is a rapist. Tucker Carlson cut him off as being “self-righteous”.

Self-righteous? Certainly the guest was being judgmental, but I had no sense that he was boosting himself at Jeffs’ expense. The guest was just detailing how Jeffs is a bad man. The only self-righteousness I saw was from Tucker Carlson pulling out an insult like “self-righteous” when he wanted to shut up his guest. Maybe that was a controlling tactic rather than self-righteousness on Carlson’s part, but “self-righteous” sure sounds like a putdown to me. Carlson might have said that Jeffs is not a convicted rapist (as far as I know), if that was his point. To attack the other person instead of the issue is what so many conservatives know to call ad hominem attacks when it’s done to them. Many are not so careful the other way around.

Maybe Carlson would have chosen his words differently if he knew he would be judged by those words. But no one of importance is going to judge Carlson for such an attack in this life. I’m sure that’s part of why so many people say so many things just to beat their verbal opponent, when there’s no defense for those things in the long run, when it’s pure sophistry being employed.

I’m used to using the word “propaganda” to describe most of what is said by people politically and religiously. There aren’t that many outright lies told, though, or incredibly outrageous spin on events. What I usually call propaganda is often sophistry, where people say that their prejudice is supported by reasoning. Take another time when I think Tucker Carlson was spouting nonsense, a show at least months ago when he said that homelessness was all about the mentally ill not taking their medications. As someone who works with the homeless as well as other needy, I know that’s ridiculous. The biggest reason for homelessness is unemployment. I could write Mr. Carlson with specific data, but do you think he’d retract what he said? He might qualify it and say he was talking about long-term homelessness, though his statement isn’t true for that either. One way or another, if there was any response at all, I’d expect to see Mr. Carlson to pull out some self-serving reasoning, maybe based on a few facts, maybe none at all, to defend himself that he knew what he was saying, despite that what he was saying is such a oversimplification, it can only be for the sake of propaganda.

Since I went online in 1998, this is most of what I see from people all across the political spectrum and religious spectrum, defensive, self-serving reasoning. The other day I looked up “sophist” in my dictionary. The key phrase was how a sophist engages in “self-serving reasoning”. Yes, that is what I’ve seen for a long time. I’m sure it’s always been a human thing to do. Only what do I do with that information? For myself, it’s helpful to realize that not only are people engaging in propaganda even when they say they are for the truth, but it often is this particular sort of propaganda disguised as legitimate reasoning.

It’s not as though I’m going to do better calling someone on their “sophistry” than I have on their “propaganda”. I did some searches on Google using “sophistry” with other words. I see more sophists accusing their opponents of sophistry than the other way around. That’s one thing wrong with all these wordy, pseudophilosophical defenses. The guys who know words the best already have their pseudophilosophical insults lined up. If someone doesn’t want a dialogue, I can’t force them or shame them into one.

Maybe even “propaganda” is too gentile. So many people are self-serving liars. If liars burn in hell, that’s where Tucker Carlson and many others will burn. Maybe it’s a professional hazard of relying on words and popularity so much. If God prefers they just die a natural death, then that’s where they will end up. If God chooses to forgive people their lies, selectively or generally, so be it. For my own sanity, maybe it’s best for me to know that liars are liars, whatever other words one might use. My experience is that liars don’t stop being liars for me, maybe not even for God. Maybe that’s one reason God doesn’t even want to deal with them to punish them. He’ll save punishment for actually doing evil instead of just lying about it, if He needs any vengeance at all by then.


elbogz said...

I've watched the news of this polygamist on local tv. What a sick #$(*. It saddens me, that once again, in the name of "God" someone does such unspeakable things. I noticed they nabbed him with 50,000 cash in church money and a bunch of laptops and cell phones.

The whole community in AZ lives in this lie. They dress simple, have multiple wives, girls are given to old men when they hit puperty.

We must have evolved from apes because this is just monkey crazy.

DavidD said...

Why yes, apes aren't monogamous, are they? One can wonder how much we are. Some believe genetics point to polygamy in our prehistoric past, as well as that of powerful men in history, but there is something about bonding to one person, isn't there? Also there's something in both genders waiting until they're emotionally mature enough for mates and children.

I've wondered what our future is this way, what God wants, what nature pushes us toward. So many modern people settle for serial monogamy. Is that the biggest reason our divorce rate is about 50%, wanting to move on? Would people be happier if it were higher? Not from the second marriages I've seen, but who knows?

Sometimes sex and love go together. Sometimes they don't. How much of our history is tied up with that? I'm open to God's plan being anything from the absolute monogamy traditionalists preach to all sorts of variations on that, but I can't imagine any part of God's will in this is about using people as Warren Jeffs did or many other men and women do in either the name of sex or love. We have a long way to go to overcome our nature on this one.