Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Having a Form of Scholarship But Denying the Power Thereof

Rock Waterman: Deane spends more time engaging in ad hominem attacks and comparing his own academic credentials to Anderson's than he does informing the reader as to what is actually contained in Anderson's book, as though the honors of men are pertinent in any discussion of the Lord's rules of engagement.

Irvin Hill: Mr. Deane is a highly credentialed–as far as the state is concerned–teacher at BYU-I, and former Marine.

In my FAIR conference presentation I talked about having a form of scholarship but denying the power thereof. Those attending chuckled at the joke, which I intended. But I had a specific set of people in mind when I made that comment. Since that time my interactions have only reinforced that idea, so I thought I would explain the concept in more detail. The explanation is not as complicated as the form of godliness upon with the scripture is based (2 Timothy 3:5).  Some people like to use footnotes, talk about thesis statements, and all the forms of scholarship, but when challenged by actual scholars they claim that God does not approve of their interlocutor’s arguments,  and they often don’t use the methods that makes scholarship so powerful.

The Form of Scholarship

Kendal Anderson’s horrible book is a good example of this phenomenon. He has footnotes where he cites his supposed research. But he explicitly wrote about rejecting formal schooling because of its establishment “pap”(pg. 8), and that he only spent a “few months” studying the text(pg.9). His explicit rejection of formal training is obvious. More egregious than his many factual errors and use of clich├ęs was his discussion of the American Civil War. He expressed many arguments, but because didn’t know what the Lost Cause was, he ended up aping that school of thought unaware that it is thoroughly discredited.  In contrast, I studied this school of thought extensively during my academic training and had to write essays on it. This is a good example of how somebody can attack scholarship and academic training as useless and elitist, but then in the very same breath they make rather bush league mistakes that some basic academic training would have prevented. 

It’s possible to make really good arguments without formal training. But that training is much like a driver’s license. With a license the driver at least has a basic standard of knowledge and they are likely to know how to obey the rules of the road and perform complicated maneuvers like parallel parking.  It is possible to be a good driver without a license, and a person can make sound scholarly arguments without degrees. But without that license, or academic training, that individual is often just as conspicuous as that beat up truck going 35 on the highway who can’t stay in their lane. It’s not elitist to suggest that perhaps they should learn how to drive if they want to be on the road. Rock Waterman, Kendall Anderson and so many more punks and posers like to use words like thesis statements, but they misidentify  thesis statements, are unaware of the location and availability of sources, commit basic logical fallacies, don’t support their assertions with broad research, and generally fail to follow academic standards despite having that appearance.   

The Power of Scholarship

“Scholarship” for most people consists of reading some books or websites, perhaps combined with a google search to form what they think is an argument.  To use the apocalypse as an example, that is like scavenging for bullets. These dilettantes don’t know the chemical formula for gunpowder, or have the skill to make it.  But there are bullets of information out there, and they might even have good aim and know nice spot with which to ambush their opponents.  But being a scholar means that, like Captain Kirk , a person know so much about the topic they can make their own rounds.

I’ve seen too many people who think they know a great deal.  Their ignorance is only matched by the arrogance and pugnaciousness with which they state their opinion.  What many don’t know about history is that it is not a recording of what happened. It’s the record of what people say happened. That is an important distinction as it means it’s the historians role to help interpret and reinterpret history so that new understanding is produced.  History is sometimes compared to Swiss cheese, and there are numerous holes and gaps that historians then try to fill with judicious assessment based on their research.  The most important way to do this is through primary research.  Many people have mistaken assumptions about Mao’s theories and leadership and I’m one of the few scholars in the world that is studying the early insurgency of Mao Zedong to help adjust that understanding. If I were arguing with people who had a form of scholarship but denied the power thereof, they would be really good at quoting Mao’s writings. They might even have read a few biographies of him, and they can drop quotes pretty well on discussion boards, in between their insults and bullying of course. Somebody who knows the power of scholarship is familiar with the secondary literature, Mao’s words, but also studied the archived resources about his leadership, local newspapers, the journals of his associates, an extensive background in military thought and theory- particularly insurgencies, and so much more to produce a nuanced and fine understanding of the subject.  In short, when I make an argument, I know that I have entire cases of ammunition that I’ve made, while my opponents likely have a six shooter they scavenged.

The Result


The result is that people who try to use the language of scholarship without being scholars are left with few options. They can try to insult the person. In conversations with radical libertarian trolls and the subset of people who oppose war they frequently use war monger, Gadianton, anti-Christ, liar, disingenuous, sophistic, and so much more on a regular basis.  Most of those are just in that one thread to which I linked above!! The historian in me wants to footnote more, but I think you’ve got the point with the other links thus far.  They also try to claim some sort of moral superiority. They testify as though they are just honest interpreters of the Lords will, and my arguments are just credentials from the state and hiding behind the honors of men. Its true that we are often discussing the Lord's word concerning warfare, but the strength of argument is what matters. Their interpretation is no more favored than mine. The strongest arguments are based on solid research into primary sources, judicious analysis, and the cogent arguments they provide. 

They often try to sound really knowledgeable. But without that scholarship they are just loading their gun with somebody else’s bullets.  They have a form of scholarship but deny the power thereof. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Of Punks and Posers


I’ve never really enjoyed the long back and forth of political or religious arguments.  The very small enjoyment factor of sharing ideas quickly dissipates in the face of angry rhetoric, insults, and juvenile games.  Over the years I’ve started to notice the same behaviors from these insincere people. The most amazing part is that these behaviors are the same despite widely varying topics ranging from sports, to politics, to religions, and I’ve even been harassed by Alien Covenant fanboys.  Because I choose to focus on serious and substantive discussions of topics instead of insincere flame wars that at best feel good in the short term but don't lead to substantive discussion, I have written down a list of behaviors that these people exhibit and which act as a deal breaker for me:

Fallacy cop:
This is an individual that always manages to find a fallacy.  While nobody is immune from occasionally using fallacious reasoning, these posers often invent fallacies and then use the manufactured mistakes to ignore the substance of the argument. For example, one individual cited a book that I happened to review. That review was negative, but I made sure to describe the shallow arguments. I deliberately refrained from commenting on the author’s character, even though I had been the subject of his personal attacks. But instead of reading the review and commenting on its substance the individual simply hid behind the supposed fallacies I committed.

The fallacy cop trick is further enhanced, well diminished actually, when the individual actually commits the same fallacy in their response to me. It tends to be one of the most used and abused fallacies out there, so instead of playing fallacy cop I tend to mock how silly those terms are by simply using them.

Related to the fallacy cop is the pettifogging grammarian.  That's just a fancy way of describing somebody who will obsess over a typo or two, which are common in extemporaneous writing on social media, instead of engaging the argument.  I encountered this annoying behavior so much I actually looked up a word for it. Pettifogging is excessive or undue emphasis on petty and unimportant details.  As you'll begin to notice, its a perfect word for describing the nonsense in many of the online debates you'll encounter so you should keep it handy. 

Burden of Proof:
At some point in a discussion somebody will demand evidence. This is insincere because instead of discussing the merits of the argument being debated, it places an unfair burden on one side or the other.  Social media isn’t really conducive to citing evidence to begin with since there aren’t ways to place substantive footnotes in them. You can only cite one link at a time, and inline citations are time consuming. But the people requesting these items don’t really care to read or look up the footnotes on their own. It is usually just a smarmy way to appear interested in the conversation without offering real counter evidence or cogent rebuttal. It’s a way to manipulate the situation to make it look like an opponent is an insincere blowhard, when it’s usually those that request proof that are insincere.

Pet Nicknames:
This is less mature than a 7th grader but still frequently used. Mitt Romney was called Mittens, Trump is Cheeto Jesus, and so on.  This is pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many otherwise educated people do this. These are terms of derision that do nothing to enhance the discussion.

Editorializing:
This one is harder to notice but much more pervasive. There is such a thing as describing events which is different than offering an analysis of events. An example might be the time I had to delete and moderate the insults of radical libertarians on my blog.  I clearly explained in the comments why I did so. They had called me every name in the book on multiple occasions and they had no right to do so on my blog. They unfairly interpreted the event and said that I had “thrown a tantrum.” Well no, that’s editorializing to make me sound like a child, it’s not accurate, and its actually just a more subtle insult. I had deleted their comments because there are only so many times I can be called a sophistic, terroristic, warmongering liar and anti-Christ. (Those insults are both real and common in discussing with the Geoff Biddulph Connor Boyack strain of radical libertarianism.) 

Those are the major discussion deal breakers that transcend boundaries, here are some uniquely Mormon deal breakers:

Gratuitous Comment about Underwear

Unfavorable Comparison to Lord of the Rings

Questioning of intelligence and mental health (a subtle but real form of ad hominem)

Calls for Peer Review

Conclusion:
The last part of the equation is knowing when to walk away. The biggest factor for me was realizing that most of my arguments online were a way to show how much I knew. Ironically enough, it was a product of my insecurity that forced me to prove how much I knew.  They weren’t designed to win friends or convince opponents, except to convince them of my superiority. Most of my opponents were the same way, or they simply wanted to cast insults, vent their anger, or use shallow debating tricks without actually having a conversation.   But nobody ever ends the conversation saying something like, “You have utterly defeated me with your superior intellect.” Online conversations will go on as long as you invest in them but quickly die when you don’t.  The handful of opponents fanatically devoted to the argument will think you’re an idiot no matter how many or few times you respond to their (often) insincere requests. All things being equal then, it makes sense to spend less time than more on a fruitless debate.


So in short, the best way to win online arguments is simply to walk away. At the very least, I’m sure you have better things to do with your time, and don’t need to fluff your ego with online fights.  I’m secure enough in myself, my education, my well thought out positions, and my career as a writer that I don’t need to prove it to every punk and poser on the internet.  This might open me up to charges of being arrogant, or “hiding” behind my degrees. But ironically enough, those arguments are just more editorializing and personal attacks that won’t goad me into an argument. They do just the opposite in fact as I know who I am, what I’m capable of doing, the better ways I could use my time, and I have a clear list of deal breakers that my potential online opponents too readily provide. Thanks for reading and make sure to check out one of my recent journal articles. I’m off to work on my next book! 

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