Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who You Gonna Believe, Me Or Your Lyin' Eyes?
Mac Thornberry Edition

At Sullivan's digs.

Proof that talk is cheap.

And here I don't just mean inexpensive and easy-to-come-by, but, rather: flimsy. One thing about words is: the logical connections among them are weaker than our wills. Someone dedicated to ignoring certain logical connections in order to force words and ideas into whichever shapes are required in order to point toward a favored, pre-ordained conclusion can do so with great frequency--though not always. If you're talking instead of reading, and if you talk fast enough, then the distortions can sometimes pass for plausible, especially if the hearer is devoted to the same conclusion, hence willing to suspend disbelief on roughly the same points. (If this had a name, it should probably be: the Limbaugh Effect).

I continue to think that the questions here are somewhat more complicated than some folks I trust and admire think they are...but on some issues I'm slow like that. One thing that is clear, however: the Bushists have not abandoned their disdain for reason.

(But let me say for the thousandth time: though there are obviously good things about shows like Matthews's, there's something bad about them, too. They're largely gladitorial, and this makes it even more difficult for people to admit their errors, and to admit when their opponents/tormentors have important points. One effect of such shows is--or so it would seem--to polarize and ossify. Emotional engagement is not always a bad thing, but this sort of thing seems to engage our emotions in a bad way. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself here.

Peirce points out that cheating in your reasoning in this way has the secondary effect of devaluing reason by helping to convince people that it is a mere tool of the salesman, that it has no independent power to lead us to truth, but merely serves to help us "rationalize" positions we hold on non-rational grounds. Straight-out liars are less reprehensible than sophists because of this.)

Two of Thornberry's sophisms deserve particular attention. First, his suggestion that the morale of the CIA would be harmed by an investigation of "higher-ups," and the coordinate suggestion that considerations about the CIA's morale are weighty enough to count significantly against an investigation. Matthews busts him on this point, but Thornberry tries to weasle out in the manner of a true sophist. Thornberry did, indeed, suggest that considerations of CIA morale were weighty enough to count against the moral issues in play; Matthews simplifies by saying that he has presuposed that issues about morale are more weighty than morale issues. Thornberry notes that technically he did not say that...but this is a mere debating point. What he said did not entail that morale issues are more weighty than moral issues in something like a 1-to-1 comparison (WTF ever that would mean); but he did indicate that the morale issues were weighty enough to count as significant reasons against investigation. About that, he is full of shit. Matthews was right, Thornberry was wrong. He threw out a bullshit point, got busted on it, then weasled away from it. It's too bad that we don't view this as being as despicable as it actually is.

Second, you have to love Thornberry's regurgitation of GOP talking points about the "perpetual campaign" against Bush. Here we have a party that genuinely did conduct a laughably mendacious eight-year campaign against Clinton--a president who, for all his defects, left us a peaceful and prosperous nation--and three months into Obama's tenure, they're basically complaining about the fact that everyone knows that this mess is Bush's fault. They can't even honestly complain that Obama is doing it...rather, it's simply a fact that everyone knows. Once again, the GOP's beef is, in fact, with reality.

It's far from clear at this point that Bush or Cheney or anyone else should be thrown in jail. But what is absolutely clear is that there must be an independent, objective, non-partisan investigation into this matter. Lackies like Thornberry will continue to throw up verbal smokescreens. Their sophistry powers are strong, but the facts are on the other side. And in this case, the facts might just win out.


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