Sunday, February 26, 2006

Stanley Fish: Still Weak

Well, there's this.

Some people think that Stanley Fish is an idiot. I don't think that. He's a person of more-or-less ordinary intelligence. What's baffling is that he is one of our most prominent public intellectuals. He's not stupid, but he's just not that smart, and his stuff is usually a mish-mash of truth and falsehood that almost anyone could have produced. In fact, quite frankly, it usually just isn't very good at all. He got famous by spouting postmodern nonsense--and by ruining the Duke English department. At least he seems to have throttled back in recent years, but, well, intellectually speaking there's still not much there there.

So, am I going to go through the above piece in detail, tidying up Fish's mess for him? No, I am not.

36 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winston,

If you really want to read commentary that's not kind to Fish, see here:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/02/stanley_fishs_a.html

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I especially like Fish's sophistry here:

"One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in the media of many Arab countries. After all, what's the difference? The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.

But I would bet that the editors who have run the cartoons do not believe that Muslims are evil infidels who must either be converted or vanquished. They do not publish the offending cartoons in an effort to further some religious or political vision; they do it gratuitously, almost accidentally. Concerned only to stand up for an abstract principle — free speech — they seize on whatever content happens to come their way and use it as an example of what the principle should be protecting. The fact that for others the content may be life itself is beside their point.

This is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors."

Yes, those anti-Semitic cartoons in the Muslim world are so much more admirable because they're backed up by genuine hatred! And a willingness to act on that hatred with violence. Bravo!

And Fish completely misses the point that just because in some instances despicable individuals will publish offensive material, solely for the purposes of generating shock and outrage, doesn't mean that the right to free expression is thereby devalued. It's a measure of the debased character of the purposeful antagonizer alone; the fact that he uses the beneficial principle of freedom of speech to convey his idiotic instigation does not thereby diminish the principle.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Fish kicks over some promising rocks, but misuses what he finds.

But if you're not going to fisk him, I certainly can't fisk your ad hom. (Not that Fish has ever impressed me either.)

BTW, his distinction is between the cartoonists and the protesters, not the anti-Islamic cartoonists and their anti-Semitic counterparts. If Jews (and their sympathisers, say, me) protested anti-Semitic cartoons printed in America, I'd say Fish's argument would apply there, too.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Tom but his implication is obviously that the protesters believe the content of the anti-Semitic cartoons too, otherwise they would be out protesting them too. Or at least they should. Either that, or it doesn't really matter whether the artist really believes the content of the cartoon, right?

I mean, if the protesters are going to be labelled hypocritical, what difference does it make what the ARTIST believed? Unless you're going to say that in BOTH cases it was known that the artist really didn't believe in the content, or that in BOTH cases the artist really did believe in the content - and that that somehow was the motivation for the protesting. That's why:

"After all, what's the difference? The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content"

Is unmitigated bull$hit.

P.S. It's not ad hominem when you point out the vacuousness of a person's argument.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

(The ad hom was WS'.)

"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels."---HL Mencken

So I get Fish, Islamicism, and the cartoonists. Hooo Boy.

You rightly cite the weakest part of Fish's argument. I think he's trying to illuminate (perhaps in an ultratolerant, pro-Muslim way) that these are grave matters for Muslims, and an academic exercise for the Danish cartoonists. (He has no way of knowing that the Danes were not actually of the opinion that bin Ladenists understand Islam correctly, not incorrectly, and that is an equally grave concern to the West. As I indicated, I do not like his argument.)

Regardless, the Danes' defenders are of the converse opinion, defending the cartoons in the same academic/theoretical way.

As for the society angle, it is significant that the Muslims got little support from their European countrymen. In the US, I think if a US paper had originated the cartoons, there might have been a bigger price to pay from society at large. Certainly there would be if the subject were Jews, gays, or blacks (unless the caricaturee is, say Condi Rice).

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed it here:

"I think he's trying to illuminate (perhaps in an ultratolerant, pro-Muslim way) that these are grave matters for Muslims, and an academic exercise for the Danish cartoonists."

Which is why I believe it was truly so offensive; it was like they took particular amusement in the fact that they were free to offend a large group of people. One word Fish used that was spot on was 'gratuitous'.

As for the lack of support from European Muslims, I'm not so sure that's true. Some of my European friends have told me that there have been some rather large demonstrations over there; although without a lot of violence and property damage, the press hasn't given them the attention of the mayhem in the M.E. You know, that idiotic 'If it bleeds, it leads'.

"In the US, I think if a US paper had originated the cartoons, there might have been a bigger price to pay from society at large."

I'd like to think so.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, I meant European non-Muslims supporting their minority Muslim countrymen. Such a thing might only happen in the US. I'd like to think so, too, but these are interesting times.

I'm glad I nailed that one thing, but messed up my meaning in the next phrase. What if true Islam is really the bin Laden version, which is what the most-circulated cartoon might very well say?

It turns the conventional wisdom discussion of this whole thing on its head, that there are misrepresentations happening here. All of a sudden there is no theoretical discussion...

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What if true Islam is really the bin Laden version, which is what the most-circulated cartoon might very well say?"

Well, not being an expert on Islam or the Koran, I can only say that I hope your above statement is tantamount to saying "What if true Christianity is really the Koresh version". ;)

11:55 AM  
Blogger Leontophonos said...

Dear Winston,
The NYT column has the following byline, "Stanley Fish is a law professor at Florida International University." This suggestst that the Stanley Fish who wrote the piece in the Times is NOT the Stanley Fish who is a Scholar of English Literature.
Leontophonos

12:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Leon,

Probably the same guy. He's held law positions, too.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

LC---It is the comfort food of the West that bin Laden is Koresh. A bit of study indicates that might not be so.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom,

Do you mean in terms of dissimilar distortion of what's in sacred texts or dissimilar following/adherents?

4:18 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I mean that bin Laden might not be distorting what's in there. Which means the cartoons are not just provocation, but literal truth.

Then where does freedom of speech leave us?

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shorter Stanley Fish: Liberals are not Religious Fundamentalists.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I mean that bin Laden might not be distorting what's in there. Which means the cartoons are not just provocation, but literal truth.

Then where does freedom of speech leave us?"

I don't know. Personally, I think it pretty much leaves us where we are right now - you're free to either tell the truth of lie.

But I'm sure that's not what you really meant, so maybe you can expand on it? Is it then less or more valuable?

10:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The more unpleasant the truth, the more prudence is needed in dispensing it.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, there's certainly no shortage of Muslim scholars who would disagree with OBL:

http://www.cair-net.org/html/911statements.html

12:35 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

A discerning inquiry, or even a poke below the surface of the Qur'an and CAIR itself prohibits taking such comforting fictions at face value.

2:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom

Did you read ALL of the postings at that site?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I didn't read any of them. I'm quite familiar with CAIR and Ibrahim Hooper.

Counterjihad ain't my thing, so I pass on getting into it. However, I do hope you'll have the time to read all you can on the issue.

There's a bit of the fever swamp over at the Infidel Blog Alliance, but not much. Most of their sources are in the world press, and present a very different picture than the media in the fat and happy US, where jihad is considered just a managable inconvenience.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, LC, out of intellectual honesty, I went and read them.

It takes awhile to learn how to read these guys, and take notice of what they don't say.

Notice that (perhaps there's an exception or two) nobody condemns bin Laden. They condemn the "deaths," they say that bin Laden misinterprets Islam. They condemn the act (for only very narrow reasons), but not the perpetrator.

There is a very careful semantic game going on, but without an idea of its foundation, the Qur'an, the Hadith tradition, and the prevelant Muslim thought that is voiced when no infidels are around, it is impossible to know what CAIR, et al., are saying, and most importantly, not saying.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Notice that (perhaps there's an exception or two) nobody condemns bin Laden. They condemn the "deaths," they say that bin Laden misinterprets Islam. They condemn the act (for only very narrow reasons), but not the perpetrator.

There is a very careful semantic game going on, but without an idea of its foundation, the Qur'an, the Hadith tradition, and the prevelant Muslim thought that is voiced when no infidels are around, it is impossible to know what CAIR, et al., are saying, and most importantly, not saying."

The careful semantic game going on seems to be your mind reading of these guys and the strawman you're constructing about their failure to condemn Bin Laden.

Remember the point was about whether, as you said:

"I mean that bin Laden might not be distorting what's in there. Which means the cartoons are not just provocation, but literal truth."

I'm willing to consider that you're correct about that, but so far you've presented no evidence of such. I confessed that I'm not much of a Muslim scholar, so I realize I'm pretty much appealing to authority on this one, but that's a pretty good littany of Muslim scholars saying that OBL is distorting Islam.

7:58 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

I think I'm with tvd here for once - anyway, I see the cartoons as being in the cause of free-speech and not as antiIslamic. Well, I don't so much agree that Condi Rice should be considered holy.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm willing to consider that you're correct about that, but so far you've presented no evidence of such. I confessed that I'm not much of a Muslim scholar, so I realize I'm pretty much appealing to authority on this one, but that's a pretty good littany of Muslim scholars saying that OBL is distorting Islam.

Yes, LC, it's certainly prudent not to come to any conclusions based on this poor correspondent's assertions and your reading of a single webpage from CAIR. It would be like trying to discuss Aristotle based on watching 10 minutes of Oliver Stone's Alexander.

I'm sure that if you seek to inform yourself on this, the most important issue of our time, you will come to an educated and principled opinion.

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fine. Except the original operative theory, proposed by you, was:

"What if true Islam is really the bin Laden version, which is what the most-circulated cartoon might very well say?"

I'm saying I don't know one way or the other, but at least I offered SOME evidence for one possible answer. What you've offered, plus $2.00, can get you a ride on the subway.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

LC, I don't perceive any acknowledgement that you actually read the links I so often painstakingly provide, like I already did in this thread.

Is it that you don't know to click on them, since I imbed them in the text and don't write them as URLs? That would explain a lot, and I mean that straight-up.

Otherwise, I'm dumbfounded.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the link, but since I'm so challenged, perhaps you can excerpt some piece of your link to brilliant analysis that illustrates your point, since I don't see anything of substance validating it there.

And if you pretended that the statements I provided came from some site other than CAIR, since we know a priori that nothing posted there could be accurate, maybe you would consider that there are a number of respected Muslim scholars quoted there, varying both by geography and sect.

Am I supposed to believe what you say about Islam, as opposed to the Muslims I know and many acknowledged scholars? Am I supposed to believe that if they were being true to their beliefs and to 'The Book', they should be plotting to kill me and my family? It would be the equivalent of believing that *good* Christians and Jews should be mobilizing to stone adulterers and homosexuals, endorse slave-owning and expel worshippers of false idols. You're either a literalist or you're not.

Give me a good reason to believe that Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell are the true representation of Christianity and I'll believe Bin Laden might be the true representation of Islam. If faithfulness to the sacred text is your standard, you can always make that case.

My impression right now is that fundamentalism and the rejection of modernity are the real enemies. They need an Enlightenment. They need to live in the 21st century, not the 12th.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also point out that there are at least four relevant points:

1. What does it say in the text?

2. Must one strictly adhere to the exact literal interpretation of that text to be considered an adherent of that faith?

3. If no to #2, what degree of deviance from it makes one different in 'kind', rather than 'degree' from a strict literalist? In other words, no longer a 'Muslim' or a 'Christian' or a 'Jew'.

4. Who gets to decide #3?

11:27 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, you're on the right track---Islam hasn't had a reformation. So bin Ladenism, with a few bendings of the law, is Islam. Stealing a helicopter and ramming into the Pentagon would be just fine, especially if you bailed out first.

As for the Jews, well, they're apes and pigs. Literally.

If you knew a little more about the New Testament and indeed what Falwell in particular actually says about homosexuality, you'd admit that stoning people, etc. is inconsistent with it and not a reality worth bringing up. Even a fundamentalist view of the Christian Bible isn't what you apparently make it out to be.

As for the Jews, they had a reformation a long time ago, starting around the fall of the Second Temple (70 CE). Before they became apes and pigs. (Or was it after?)

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Well, you're on the right track---Islam hasn't had a reformation. So bin Ladenism, with a few bendings of the law, is Islam."

So who's going to tell the Pope that he's not really a *Christian*? You know, the Catholic Church didn't really buy into that whole 'Reformation' thing.

It's not the Reformation, but the Age of Reason and The Enlightenment that were the crucial events. The development of the idea that knowledge can be gained through reason, not simply by illumination, and the belief that God and logic are not necessarily imcompatible. This naturally led to the resulting tenability of the belief that if one's reason and received religous wisdom conflicted, the religious edict might possibly be wrong.

In that regard, Voltaire made a most astute observation:

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Falwell has a better answer than stoning, anyway:

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

And by the way, despite what fundamentalists want us to believe, we're all descendants of apes and pigs. Do you honestly think that that site is a genuine representation of what Muslims believe in general? Do you know many of them that endorse such views? Do you in fact, know any at all?

10:06 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

It would be better if you did, since by your own account you know little or nothing about Islam. Then you could answer your own questions, and answer them for me too. I'm afraid I'm weary of having you half-read a link I provide and then reject it out of hand without substantive comment.

Please let me know what you find out, LC, and we can reverse roles. You can assume the burden of proof for a change, and I can poke holes in it and fire off a rejection of whatever you say. That would be much easier and far less time-consuming.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It would be better if you did, since by your own account you know little or nothing about Islam. Then you could answer your own questions, and answer them for me too. I'm afraid I'm weary of having you half-read a link I provide and then reject it out of hand without substantive comment."

That's cool. Just make a claim, provide some link that's nowhere near an authoritative source on your claim, and then admonish the questioner of your claim for not assuming the burden of proof.

Do you consider yourself a scholar of Islam? At least I don't make definitive statements about a faith with which I'm not familiar.

If I attempted to characterize Christianity by linking to some page with bigoted, hateful quotes from Fred Phelps or some such person, and ignoring people like Reinhold Niebuhr or C.S. Lewis, you'd rightly tear me a new one.

If I condemned Christianity because not enough of its US figureheads denounced the murderers of abortion doctors or the Matthew Hales of the world, would I be making a reasonable accusation? How about if I linked to a page where they were quoted ad nauseum criticizing the crimes as an abomination of Christianity without explicitly denouncing the criminals? Is it then OK to presume that those criminals represent *real* Christianity?

It's weak. Very weak.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The link I provided was supposed to be the beginning of your inquiry, not the end of it. There is far more to the question than can be covered in the comments section of a blog. Instead, you troll for the goods on Falwell.

Further, your comments indicate that you did not read the link or if you did, you did not comprehend it. You seem determined to remain as ignorant of the Qur'an as you are of the Bible, so that you can continue to make fatuous equivalencies between the two.

You cannot cloak your ill-informed assertions under the guise of Enlightenment reason. You cling to your absurdities as much as any religious fanatic.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only absurdity that has been offered on this thread so far is the undeniable conclusion, based on your statements, that in order to be a good Muslim, one must adhere to the gospel as pronounced by Bin Laden, something which has been greeted with responses ranging from laughter to disgust by Muslims whom I know.

They consider it absurd that anyone would characterize all Muslims based on OBL, and that anyone would necessarily believe that just because he believes only in a literal interpretation of the Koran, his interpretation is correct.

Maybe I should tell that Tom Van Dyke said that they're not real Muslims.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

You are doing a victory dance over something I did not say, and unintentionally proved what I actually did say.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering all the verbal twister you played, it's hard to figure out exactly what you said, but the gist of it seemed to be that the Bin Laden version of Islam is the *true* version of it, or some such thing.

Since I'm not Muslim, I don't really have a philosophical ox to gore in this case, but I hardly think that finding some truly offensive quotes by some fundamentalist preachers qualifies as dispository.

And when I pointed out the quotes from scholars insisting that Bin Ladenism was not true Islam, your first reaction was to dismiss them because of the site on which they appeared, and question their sincerity because they didn't make the effort to personally attack OBL.

7:08 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home