Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stanley Fish, Limbaugh, and Maher

David Henderson points out a pretty disturbing op-ed from Stanley Fish on why we should differentiate Maher from Limbaugh that basically amounts to "Maher is a good guy, Limbaugh is a bad guy, so the double standard serves the cause of the good".

The op-ed was especially offensive to read because there was no need to invoke anything like that to differentiate Maher from Limbaugh. The way I've viewed it is that there are some offensive things we can say that are generic insults, and then there are specific commentaries on behaviors. Limbaugh was identifying women who (1.) use contraception and (2.) are sexually active and (3.) are open about it and (4.) think it's a worthwhile policy discussion to have as being "sluts" or "prostitutes" because they do those things. That's considered beyond the pale because he's passing judgement on these things that most of us think reasonable modern women should feel perfectly comfortable doing.

Bill Maher isn't really commenting on behavior. He just doesn't like Sarah Palin and is grabbing for a mean word to throw at her. It's not exactly nice, but it's a different goal altogether than Limbaugh's.

I wish there was a good conservative counterpart to Maher, but there really isn't that I can think of. Maybe it's best to use an apolitical counterpart like Louis CK. He has a foul mouth and he uses all those insults. But like Maher (and unlike Limbaugh) Louis CK is not vilifying reasonable behavior: he's just lobbing insults.

There's a good reason to be angry at Limbaugh and not Maher, but Fish did not reach for the good reason.

17 comments:

  1. This isn't about Maher. It's about the justifications Fish made.

    There are no equivalents to the statements that Fish made because that person would be labeled as a neo-nazi and would never get anything published mainstream media again.

    Instead of jumping to Maher, look at the comments Henderson points to and just freaking IMAGINE what the conservative versions of them would even look like.

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    1. Well this IS about Maher.

      Henderson's post, which inspired me to write this, was about Fish, but this post is about Maher and Limbaugh.

      As I said - I agree with Henderson on Fish. There's not much more to be said than that, while I did have a few more things to say about Maher and Limbaugh.

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    2. I think you're stretching it though - I think there is more than enough of this on all sides. Certainly I've heard all kinds of "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" from libertarians. People get like this about ideology - it's ugly, but it's not exactly original or exclusive to one side.

      But like I said - I agree with Henderson. There's not much more to say on the point.

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    3. A good example is Russ Roberts's post where he openly embraces doing things for ideology and simply presumes that Krugman does the same thing.

      That was a big eye-opener for a lot of us. I was even shocked to read Russ say that, and I've never agreed with him all that much. I don't see that as being all that different from Fish. Some libertarians shared my surprise - for others, it didn't even phase them.

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    4. I'm tempted to straddle the line between trolling and saying things I really believe, but instead I'll be real.

      You present yourself as a centrist. When, in the last two year, have you felt something the left has done is morally outrageous in the same sense Roberts crossed the line?

      I'm not saying this is true -I think my blog demonstrates that I don't easily follow this narrative- but one can quite easily frame Krugman in such a way that he is doing little but advancing the objectives of certain democrats. Prove me otherwise with a "left-neoliberal" post where he says (recently!) the democrats should favor deregulating an industry it is unpopular to regulate.

      I don't get morally shocked when I hear Maher or Limbaugh say what they said. Let me propose this. I am moderately socially right. You are moderately socially left. People REGULARLY go against my social convictions about what should be said. But whenever people go against what you say, there's hell to pay.

      Society has convinced me to shut up because otherwise you end up with what Fish said, but on the right. If you convince me you are justified in demonstrating that the OP is a tremendous ethical travesty, I will feel justified in demonstrating the Catholic Church's position on the provision of birth control is ridiculously underplayed.

      Does that give you a sense of the moral asymmetry I'm working with?

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    5. re: "Does that give you a sense of the moral asymmetry I'm working with?"

      I think you're badly misdiagnosing the asymmetry here.

      People who talk openly about things like contraception and public policy are accused of being opposed to religious freedom or worse. You can't talk about any kind of policy solution these days without talk of socialism coming up. Freaking Americorp gets identified with Hitler Youth. Among libertarians, I can't even talk to reasonable people like Bob Murphy about foreign policy without it eventually turning into me being non-chalant about murder.

      Some days I'm tempted to say that the asymmetry is against the left. You have people like Krugman and DeLong saying certain conservative and libertarian views are dumb and stuff like that, but you don't get this paranoia and this nastiness.

      I do acknowledge that that sense of asymmetry against the left is probably just bias on my part. I'm able to take a step back and recognize that in reality it goes in both directions all the time.

      But I certainly wouldn't concede any moral asymmetry against you guys.

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    6. "When, in the last two year, have you felt something the left has done is morally outrageous in the same sense Roberts crossed the line?"

      Well I wouldn't say that Russ was "morally outrageous". All kinds of people are motivated by ideology and there's nothing obviously morally wrong about that. What was so surprising about Russ is that he is ostensibly an objective economic scientist, and he also spends so much time accusing others of being motivated by ideology that it was surprising to see him then admit that he was too.

      I don't think that's morally wrong, but I think it's bad form for an economist - show me someone on the left that's in the same boat with Russ and I'll have the same opinion of them. I can't think of anyone else (an economist) off the top of my head - left, right, center, or libertarian - that has made the same sort of claim. But I'd find it just as off-putting regardless of who does it.

      We all have our values and ideologies - that's perfectly fine. I think it's very dangerous to mix with science, though.

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    7. On Krugman and regulations... the fact that we don't prioritize regulatory burdens at a time like this in the way that - say - libertarians do is hardly a meaningful test of whether Krugman is a shill for Democrats.

      A good example is probably that while politicians of all stripes have been complaining about oil speculation, he's been clear that it has nothing to do with speculation. And there was a period where he did think speculation played a role in price swings - but then he made a point of explaining that speculation wasn't a bad thing.

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    8. "People who talk openly about things like contraception and public policy are accused of being opposed to religious freedom or worse."

      Who, because they OPENLY TALKED ABOUT CONTRACEPTION, has been accused of being against religious freedom?! Who exactly is it that thinks people shouldn't TALK about contraception? Certainly not the Catholic Church: it openly talks about it, or we wouldn't know that it opposes it!

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  2. "You have people like Krugman and DeLong saying certain conservative and libertarian views are dumb and stuff like that, but you don't get this paranoia and this nastiness."

    There was a recent piece by Krugman implying that Steve Landsburg was a Republican pretending to be a libertarian--because his response to Limbaugh was not to attack him but to point out that Fluke was neither a slut nor a prostitute, she was (more precisely wanted to be) a free-loader (not sure if that was Steve's term—it's late and I don't feel like looking up the posts—but something along those lines). Either Krugman is a good deal less intelligent than I think he is or he was being both nasty and dishonest, since Steve's comment was consistent with both his usual style and his expressed views.

    Or, possibly, I'm making a mistake posting on memory, but I don't think so.

    For an earlier case, Krugman accused Milton Friedman of being dishonest in blaming the Fed for the Great Depression, on the grounds that Friedman's scholarship implied that the problem was not things the Fed did but things it failed to do. It's hard to believe that it never occurred to Krugman that banks would take fewer precautions against the possibility of a run after the federal government established a lender of last resort that was supposed to solve the problem, hence that first establishing the Fed to prevent runs and then having it fail to do so produced a worse outcome than never establishing it in the first place.

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    1. A while back there was a dust-up between David Henderson & Tyler Cowen plus Bruce Bartlett on whether Milton Friedman did/would have favored bailing out banks. Henderson replied with a quote from "Free to Choose". I checked it out and on the previous page (82 on google books) it states that had the Federal Reserve system never been established, a restriction of payments would have taken place like in 1907. This would have resulted in fewer bank failures, and a recovery would have begun in early 1931.

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  3. So, you're saying that simply generically insulting people because, well, you don't like them is ok, but insulting them specifically because of some behavior you think is immoral is off-base? I can call Pol Pot a "douche," but if I call him a "mass murderer," I've stepped over the line?

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    1. I quite obviously didn't say that - I'll get back to this later today.

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    2. "Quite obviously"? Well, no, what I posted follows from what you said. I posted this because I was sure that wasn't what you MEANT, but it does seem to be what you imply.

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    3. It's a trope, Daniel. A says X. B believes that X implies Y, but that A doesn't really want to imply Y. So B says, "Ah, so you're saying Y? Because that is implied by X."

      B *knows* that A is not saying Y. B is pushing A to clarify.

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  4. You know Gene, you're kind of a a-hole...but that was a funny comment.

    Daniel, I want to make a comment on this part of your post:

    Limbaugh was identifying women who (1.) use contraception and (2.) are sexually active and (3.) are open about it and (4.) think it's a worthwhile policy discussion to have as being "sluts" or "prostitutes" because they do those things.

    Did you just word that poorly? Because at face value, it shows you have completely missed the point Limbaugh (and then Landsburg) were making. This isn't about women having a "policy discussion," this was about (in their minds) a woman saying she thought certain goods she bought were expensive, and wanting Congress to make sure somebody else paid for them. Since the goods involved sex, Rush made the (invalid) leap that she wanted to be paid for sex. And the rest is (an unfortunate) history...

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  5. The serious yet joking yet serious piece written by the clever minds over at popehat addresses this issue head on.

    http://www.popehat.com/2012/03/12/the-difference-between-us-and-them/

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