2013-08-20

Empty Rhetoric

Sometimes you wade far into the deep end of the pool of conversation only to discover that the person with whom you're conversing wasn't interested in swimming in the first place. Commonly, we call this "trolling," but it's not always trolling. Sometimes people try to make an argument for points they haven't given long enough or hard enough thought.

I am not sure whether The Anonymous Reach is an immigration troll, or whether he merely believes in immigration restriction, but isn't sure why. In either case, his rhetoric is problematic. Consider the following.

By now it is totally clear that what he really means is that, no matter what open borders advocates say, he just isn't convinced. That would be perfectly fine were he not also tossing around phrases like "intellectually dishonest" and "failed to make a case" and "two-stepping" and "changing the subject" and so forth.

Limits To The Benefit Of The Doubt
I am indebted to Fake Herzog for helping me better understand The Anonymous Reach's use of language. To hear FH tell it, CR isn't really comparing immigrants to rapists and murderers (even though he is); he's just engaging in a reductio ad absurdum. This means that if we give him all the benefit of the doubt, his reasoning is just fallacious, not insulting. I am willing to accept that. The only problem is that this position gets harder and harder to maintain the more times CR makes this comparison.

Similarly, FH claims that Steve Sailer's obvious (to me) racism is also a sort of rhetorical flair used to get to the heart of the matter in a snarky sort of way. And, again, I will concede this possibility but note that it becomes progressively more and more difficult a position to hold the more Sailer engages in overt racism.

There are limitations to giving someone the benefit of the doubt. If a certain kind of rhetoric becomes a regular, annotated feature of a person's argument, then it ceases to become a manner of speaking and instead turns into an actual position.

Think of it this way: Suppose you accidentally got something wrong, and your friend said to you, "Good going, Einstein." You'd laugh it off, because it's just a joke. But, suppose your friend made a habit of saying, "Good going, Einstein," each and every time he disagreed with you about something. Suppose he also took pains to showcase the weaknesses of your point, all the while referring to you as "Einstein" in a heavily sarcastic way. Now, in the first case, we'd all agree that your friend was making a joke. But in the second case there are only so many times your friend can do this before you have to admit that what he's really doing is calling you stupid.

So it might not be that Steve Sailer is a racist, if we only consider his blog posts from the past week. But instead what we have is years and years' worth of Sailer blog posts and articles promoting the idea that whites have higher IQs - and are thus more intelligent - than non-whites; articles suggesting that non-white immigrants are physically unattractive, destructive to communities, violent, lazy, and so forth. After years of this treatment, what we understand about Sailer is not that he likes to use colorful rhetoric, but rather that his position is that non-whites are inferior to whites on many levels and ought to be prevented from entering the country.

Of course, if I'm wrong about Sailer - which I truthfully could be - then he could easily write a blog post renouncing his rhetoric (or clarifying it) and making a case against immigration that doesn't assume any of that stuff. The more time passes without his making this case, the more untenable it is to suggest that Sailer isn't just a racist.

And yes, similarly, The Anonymous Reach may just be a snarky blogger. But the more continuously he calls open borders advocates intellectually dishonest people who have failed to make a case for their position without constantly changing the subject, moving the goalposts, and refusing to address his position, the more unreasonable it is to say that he's just being "snarky."

How many times must he hit you before you realize he doesn't love you, right?

Conclusion
Of course, on some level I am secretly cheering against the benefit of the doubt, because a world in which Steve Sailer is a racist and The Anonymous Reach is a stubborn fellow who refuses to acknowledge when other people make good points is a world in which the job of an open borders advocate is incredibly easy.

If the most intellectually persuasive immigration restrictionists are racists and disingenuous debaters, then the case for open borders has already been made. No one wants to be a racist, because we all agree that racism is untenable and evil; no one wants to be a bad arguer, because bad arguers have bad arguments. If immigration's opponents are more or less like Steve Sailer and The Anonymous Reach, then we have already won the debate, and the only thing left to do is sit and wait while those people in the general public who haven't been keeping up with the debate gradually become aware of what happened in the debate and come on-board.

So here's hoping.