Sunday, February 7, 2010

Idiots, Dummies, and the Like

James Taranto called it "the politics of intellectual contempt." (My thoughts here.)

In today's Washington Post Prof. Gerard Alexander writes an excellent column suggesting that liberals have cornered the market in intellectual condescension. Link here.

I will leave it to you to decide whether condescension and contempt are the exclusive property of liberal intellectuals. More importantly, Alexander points out that name-calling absolves the name-caller of any obligation to engage with alien or disagreeable ideas.

So much for the marketplace of ideas; so much for free and open debate; so much for those who insist they want to hear what the other side has to offer.

If they practice intellectual contempt or intellectual condescension they content themselves with flinging tired ad hominem arguments, the better to ignore the substance of the argument.

Take Joan Walsh's column today about Sarah Palin, someone who elicits torrents of intellectual contempt. After watching Palin's speech to the Tea Party Convention, Walsh called Palin dumb, mean, a liar, and guilty of running a racket. Link here.

Remember, Palin's ideas, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, have been victorious in three high profile elections these past three months.

The ideas that Walsh dismisses won the Massachusetts Senate seat for Scott Brown.

When this happened there was some considerable discussion, as there still is, over whether or not Obama and the Democratic party would learn the lesson of the Brown election and to engage with the ideas that are being proposed by the loyal opposition.

While Obama, at least, gave lip service to a willingness to engage, far too many on the liberal left are as unrepentant and close-minded as before. Witness the witless Joan Walsh.

If Walsh thinks that she can maintain her membership in the liberal intellectual elite by penning a tired ad hominem screed, she is probably right.

At the same time she is diminishing the proud tradition of Western liberalism, the tradition that coined the expression, "free trade in ideas."

Those who labor under the banner of intellectual contempt and condescension cannot tolerate having anyone challenge their opinion. They are extremely thin-skinned. So thin-skinned that they cannot even muster the least gesture of respect for someone who disagrees with them.

But it also means that they are incapable of mounting a serious intellectual response to an alternative point of view and that they are not capable of granting credence to such a position.

If they cannot do that, they are nowhere near as smart as they think they are. I suspect that, in the depths of their souls they suspect that they are impostors.

[One final note: in my prior post on intellectual contempt I quoted David Axelrod's effort to establish his boss's intellectual bona fides by saying that Obama had, as a law student, worked with Lawrence Tribe on a paper arguing for the relevance of Einstein's relativity theory to the law.

I thought it was a silly notion. I still do. Today, I had the privilege of reading a commentary on the Tribe paper by Prof. Frank Tipler, a man who has considerable expertise in Einstein's relativity theory. Link here.

Tipler's conclusion: all of Tribe's assertions about modern physics are fundamentally wrong. The law professor might well be smarter than you and I, but that does not mean that he understands Einstein's theory or modern physics.]

1 comment:

Rogue Male said...

This reminds me of a cartoon I once saw posted in the Sciences building at the University of Calgary, showing a prof writing "E=" and just about to continue, with 29 of 30 students watching with thought bubbles over their heads all reading "mc2", with 1 student's bubble reading "Elephant", captioned: "Spot the Engineer". Only in this case, it would be "Spot the Harvard lawyers."