Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Ignorant Shadow Boxer

My initial claim of Jonathan Chait's Opinion Duel victory by points has been proven correct. Even though Goldberg had yet to make his final argument, I felt confident in declaring an early victory because Chait's final response was solid, to the point, and fairly deft in his handling of the subject. I was fairly certain that Goldberg could not provide any kind of rational response back; thus giving the win to Chait by default.

Well, Goldberg has now given his final argument and it's just a mess. It's obvious that he believes (fears) that Chait won and is now thrashing about wildly throwing punches without the slightest ability of knowing whether any will land. In boxing terms, his eyes have swollen shut and he's just hoping that one of his random haymakers will somehow land on Chait hard enough to knock him down for the count. Unfortunately, those aren't haymakers, and he's actually been in the locker room shadow boxing for the last half hour. The fight was over after Chait's final response, and nobody had the heart to tell Goldberg. I'd feel bad for Jonah, but he's just a punkass who brought this onto himself and will continue to do so in the future.

Shadow Boxer

And the problem for Goldberg is that he really has been shadow boxing this whole time. He can't disagree with Chait's argument because he's too ignorant to understand it. And his inability to understand it is solely due to the fact that he's really not a conservative and clearly believes that True Conservatives are fools. He's not arguing against Chait; he's debating against the truth of his own ideology.

And that's what his problem is. He wants to believe that conservatives are right, but he doesn't actually agree with them. He likes the rhetoric, but fails to understand the ideological underpinnings of it. So he can't understand what the hell he's talking about. Before he can possibly argue against Chait, he needs to first get his own mind straight. As it is, he is simply fighting against himself, with Chait only serving the roll of the trainer yelling instructions from the sideline as to what the shadow is supposedly doing.

Mindless Name-Calling

And the evidence is obvious from this final entry. His whole piece can be summed up as: "Jonathan, how dare you define the terms "Conservatives" and "Liberals" in such a way that doesn't make me sound like a Conservative. I get to define those words and I do it in a way that makes me sound like a Conservative, and for Liberals to sound like fruitcakes". That's it. That's everything that he says. And he takes a long time saying it.

And what's worse, he doesn't actually get around to defining any of those terms. He isn't offering up any kind of argument whatsoever. He's just flailing back against Chait's, but unable to counter it. More specifically, he never gives us any kind of rational criteria for which we can identify conservatives or liberals. He offers examples that he believes undermines Chait's criteria, but nothing to establish his own. And because he fails to grasp even the most basic points, all of Chait's points sound like name-calling to him; which is itself an insult. But he honestly can't tell the difference.

He's the equivalent of a moral relativist who understands the flaws of moral relativism, and therefore chooses the title of moral absolutist; but lacks the intellectual powers of actually forming absolute morals. They apply a hundred little rules to a hundred little situations; unable to form big rules which cover multiple situations. But unable to comprehend true moral absolutism, they wrongly adopt that title and fail to identify their own multiple standards.

For them, moral absolutism just means having a tough attitude towards people they identify as immoral; rather than a set of rules used to define immorality itself. Their's is the kind of mind which strongly defended the attacks on Bill Clinton and his moral relativist "anything goes" attitude while dismissing any attacks on Bush as the work of mindless and partisan "Bush-haters"; and believe that "9/11 changed everything". Wait a minute. Goldberg IS a moral relativist who wrongly thinks he's absolutist; so I guess that applies to him too. Their mantra: If it feels good, believe it.

Goldberg Example Proves Chait Right

In this case, he attacked Chait's absolutist arguments because they might not be "catch-alls"; but he does it from a shifting position which is only difficult to counter because it's entirely relative and even he doesn't know where he stands. And even then failed to cite any real examples which defy Chait's definitions.

In one of his few examples, he attacks Chait for citing conservative economist Robert Barro who wrote several years ago that Private Accounts didn't really solve anything, but that he preferred them anyway for ideological reasons. Chait correctly used that as an example of an important conservative who supported an ideological argument in spite of his acknowledging that the facts were against it. In response, Goldberg cites a recent column in Business Week by Barro as proof of that same conservative accepting facts over ideology; and thus refuting Chait's point.

But either Goldberg failed to read the column and based his opinion solely on the title "Why Private Accounts Are Bad Public Policy" (PDF), or he's just too ignorant to understand it. Here's the money quote on why Barro now opposes Private Accounts:

Contributions that fund just the minimum cannot go into a meaningful personal account. People would opt for too much risk, knowing they would be bailed out if they fell short. Also, contributions that cover the minimum provide no individual return and, therefore, amount to a tax that discourages work.

Personal accounts have to supplement the minimum payout. But then why have a public program at all, rather than relying on individual choices on saving? I think there is no good reason to go beyond the minimum standard; that is why I view personal accounts as a mistake -- they enlarge a Social Security program that already promises too much.

So it's not that Barro has changed his mind about Private Accounts being good for freedom, per se; but rather that he now sees Private Accounts as being worse for freedom because they won't be done the way that he wants. He's not foregoing his Freedom argument in now denouncing Private Accounts; but rather the opposite. He no longer sees Private Accounts as a way of improving freedom, and believes it to be an implied tax; both of which he denounces on conservative ideological grounds. So, far from Barro showing his empiricist over ideologue attitude; we see that he was once willing to trump ideology over facts several years ago, but backed down now that he sees that his ideology shouldn't support it either.

Chait wins again...assuming you actually read the column Goldberg referenced (without linking to). But Goldberg wasn't looking for the truth when he found that quote. He just wanted something to back up his point; which is all that he thinks facts are good for. And he does that, not as a conservative, but as one who is forced to adopt conservative methods. And so all he can see are things that back up his point, and anything else is ignored.

Anti-Empiricism vs. Stubbornness

And again, Goldberg's problem is that he's too ignorant to actually understand what conservatives are saying. I believe that he DID read that column. Furthermore, I believe that he honestly believed that the column proved Chait's premise wrong. His problem is that he fails to even grasp what Chait is saying about empiricism, and really does think it's a fancy word that Chait uses as a weapon against conservatives. He wrongly believes that Chait is accusing conservatives of being stubborn, rather than anti-empirical. Because that's what Goldberg keeps addressing: conservative stubbornness and tries to cite example of liberal stubbornness.

And that's the point. Goldberg sees Chait's argument as an insult against conservatives; rather than a fact that any real conservative would agree with. They don't care about the facts, they just don't like government; even if the facts showed that it worked (especially then). Goldberg can cite stupid liberals who are just as stubborn as stupid conservatives, but fails to cite any intelligent liberals who are as anti-empirical as intelligent conservatives. And that's the thing. Chait was never denouncing their stubbornness, nor even accusing them of it. He was citing a fact about intelligent conservatives and what we need to do about that. It was only Goldberg who saw it as an insult because he doesn't understand the ideology he wants so badly to believe in.


And this is why Goldberg hasn't presented a coherent argument: because he doesn't have one. Instead, it's just one giant dissembling mess; and not even a good one. In fact, this whole time, he hasn't been trying to make an argument; he's just been attacking Chait's ability to do so. And his final post is the worst of the lot. Chait offended Goldberg due to Goldberg's own confusion, and he has been fighting himself this entire time.

My initial entry into this debate stated that Chait arguing against Goldberg wasn't fair and that Goldberg wasn't mentally capable of participating in such a debate. Goldberg has only served to prove me right. This wasn't a debate; it was an embarrassment. And, as usual, the most embarrassing aspect is that he's too ignorant to be embarrassed by it. But we knew that going in, didn't we. Way to go, Chait. You proved the obvious. Now get back to work and make us liberals proud.

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