July 16, 2002
A Policy on Politeness, on Acceptable Comments, and on Other Matters
I'm not surprised that I have to do this: civility and politeness are always in short supply on the internet, for complicated ape-psychology reasons that I do not fully understand.
But it turns out that I do have to declare and enforce policies. Hence these notices:
1. Comments on this website will be polite to me and to other commentators, or their comments will be deleted. Further steps will be taken against repeat offenders. I think that this is an important policy to enforce, in order to avoid the bad corollaries of Godwin's Law and to preserve a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio.
For example: Commenters who compare others (or me) to Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, or Mussolini should not expect their comments to remain in the database.
2. People who impose an unreasonable administrative load on me should not be surprised to find themselves unwelcome: having to delete multiple identical extra copies of a single post is not how I want to spend my day.
3. Posting under the name of historical figure is fine, but the position adopted in the post must be that of the historical figure in question for... aesthetic reasons.
For example: No Joseph de Maistres celebrating the rights of man, please.
In whose judgment? Mine, of course.
4. All weblog-related emails that I receive that do not expressly request privacy are fair game for me to post, and use as I see fit.
Posted by DeLong at July 16, 2002 12:42 PM
It's a sad commentary on our times when you can't even call someone a "theocratic intellectual zombie" without getting harshed.
Ann Coulter, call your office!
Civility and politeness being in such abundance from Prof. DeLong, who recently called Andrew Sullivan a "truly loathsome toad" for the crime of telling an unfunny joke.
For those of you who have been deprived of the opportunity to read what Brad doesn't want you to, go to:
And ask yourself, what's not civil and polite?
Brad, it's your play-pen, use it as you wish. In the last 18 hours I have been called, in MY comments section 'genocide-boy, 'racist swine', 'punk-ass' and i'm not sure what else. But yiy show yourself to be a true wuss if yiou can't take the heat. I leave ALL my comments up. In the event someone anon spewed racist drivil, i would remove it, but as i'm not a Liberal, I guess that I can take it. You can't, and I think that that speaks vloumes about your lack of character and backbone. Get tough or lose the blog. buh-buh~
Dear Professor DeLong,
I really enjoy your blog, and I think you have a lot of interesting things to say. That Robert Musil is so, well, impolite - I'm glad you deleted his thoughts! I wanted to give him a good, hard shake, he made me so MAD.
I would never dream of comparing you to Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, or Mussolini! That is so RUDE.
However (and please don't take this the wrong way), every so often - just once in a while, you understand - I am tempted to slip in a little thought along the lines of suggesting that you may be just a little bit of a theocratic intellectual zombie, a strange creature from the ranks of the undead, a creature that belongs at the benighted court of the medieval imperial Pope.
Is that OK? Would you delete my comment if I wrote that?
Also, I know you are very busy. But when you have some time in your hectic schedule of a Berkeley on-the-go left-wing activist professor, could you post a list of all the people we ARE allowed to compare you to - so we can avoid being rude like that terrible Mr. Musil? Is it OK to compare you to, say, Liberace, but maybe Motley Crue or Richard Strauss would be going too far?
Again, I love you blog. I'm one of your biggest fans!
Mayhap these creative energies could be diverted by a CONTEST: Be the first to post an intellectually-rigorous comparison of our host -- or other living human notable, for that matter -- to Pol Pot, or to a stew pot, or melting pot, or poker pot, or any other kind of pot.
Suggested prize: virtual immortality, plus a couple of virtual utiles to be budgeted rationally within this unlimited virtual lifetime.
Dr. DeLong, let me introduce you to Godwin's Law and its corollaries, a powerful set of web discourse forecasting tools. :)
Boy, we have a lot of work to do here, folks. After we work through the legends of history (Attila - out? Nero - in?) we have the whole animal kingdom. Loathesome toad - in! Lying snake - who knows? Ape-psychology - in!
And I suppose there are any number of inanimate objects that might be candidates for inclusion, or exclusion. "You, sir, are a pot-holder!" Hmm, does that mean he can take the heat, or is it an insidious Pol-Pot comparison?
This could be complicated. Maybe, most honorable and respected Professor, the laughing academy currently employing you has a speech code you could publish as a time saver for all of us. Maybe we could ask the whole blogosphere to adopt it. We will ask politely, of course.
Taking one step back, I find it revealing that it is after criticizing a (Christian in this case) religious fundamentalist that Professor DeLong was to be flamed...
Besides, it is obvious that some sort of standard of politness have to be observed. I have seen too many discussion forums, newsgroups, etc. degenerate into complete vulgarity and nonsense because of an uncontrolled slip in that direction...
Nevertheless, I do think that comparing Brad to Pol Pot is actually a very very funny comparison, especially knowing how un-communist he is :) Does anybody needs a lesson in comparative economics?
From the Encyclopædia Britannica:
system of political and economic organization in which property is owned by the state or community and all citizens share in the common wealth, more or less according to their need.
I think that requiring a certain level of politeness is essential to the maintenance of a high signal-to-noise ratio in any internet forum. I don't want to have an internet space in which people feel comfortable calling each other "genocide-boy" or "racist swine." It's not a lack of character or backbone, it's a desire to avoid the more unpleasant corollaries of Godwin's Law.
After reading this post, and his post on health insurance "Health Insecurity", I think Bradley D is an a******e.
I'm sorry professor, but I'm not buying this. First of all, it's obvious that you devised this policy only after you'd decided to delete Musil's posts from your comments section.
Second, as has been demonstrated by the quotations above, this policy, if implemented Internet-wide, would most likely result in the deletion of a fair amount of your own work.
In the end, I can only conclude that your "Johnny come lately" policy was merely a convenient after the fact excuse for not having to put up with someone who disagreed with you. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid from now on I'll look upon anything and everything you do with a jaundiced eye.
Then again, when you're only comfortable arguing in an echo chamber of your own making, why would it ever really matter to you?
Gee, I never saw the comment where someone used the phrase "genocide-boy", or "racist swine". Your quick editing, most exalted excellency, or just a strawman? A beautiful, well shaped, artfully crafted strawman, of course, sir, no disrespect intended, sir.
Ah. I see that you have learned that if you start from license, where everything appears to be permitted, then punishments must be draconian and idiosyncratic if anything like the order the magistrate holds in his mind is to be realized.
If you had started with a much more restricted set of liberties, might you not have been able to maintain civil discourse by gentle persuasion than by naked force? (Albeit naked force of a purely virtual kind.)
Joseph de Maistre, amused
Did "de Maistre" just say "You reap what you sow"?
Actually, I remember a post way, way, back, right after plastic.com opened, where Brad posted something along the lines of "the level of discussion is silly, forget this."
'Mr. "Musil" was much less "impolite" than you routinely are.'
Might I suggest there's a difference between '"The DeLong hatchet job is worth reading as evidence of the ongoing academic degradation and dishonesty in American universities...' and 'theocratic intellectual zombie'?
'He almost sounded as if he was preparing to do something to get Justice Scalia. Maybe as a woman I'm more sensitive to these things, but I didn't like it at all.'
Oh, good lord. Have you been paying attention to anything said in politics for the last 30 years? Wallace, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Reed, Cheney, Delay, Liddy, Drudge, and Atwater, off the top of my head, have spewed invective at such a level that Brad's comments are the equivalent of a schoolyard taunt: remember when Gingrich blamed the Democrats for Susan Smith killing her kids in South Carolina? Forgive me, but it's pretty hilarious for the right to discover an intense fondness for respectful writing when a milder version of their own rhetorical ammunition is turned back on them.
Fred does make a good point; I think there's a slight distinction between accusations of academic dishonesty and a snarky description of Scalia's political opinions in favor of Brad, but it's splitting hairs. So: do you really expect to be able to post insulting comments to someone's own blog?
Say, has this comment section been lobotomised?
So many comments have been deleted from this site that it's impossible to even understand what Jason is responding to. Isn't that getting to be a bit much.
And Jason's comments don't suggest that he thought he was responding to anything unusual.
What's going on here?
But these links to the good faith comment policies of other blogger sites are not germane.
As other people have also correctly noted, your so-called policies are "merely a convenient after the fact excuse for not having to put up with someone who disagreed with you."
It's not appropriate to reference the considerations of other bloggers who are trying to address real issues on their sites, when what you are doing is something entirely different.
You have had no real problem with impoliteness. Mr. "Musil" was much less "impolite" than you routinely are. In fact, "Musil" points out today on his blog that while you write seriously that Justice Antonin Scalia supports those who collaborated with Hitler ("Charles de Gaulle for his rebellion against the collaborationist French government of Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval stands, in Scalia's eyes, condemned as an enemy of God.") you pretend to be "offended" by "Musil's" obvious non-serious joke ("And I love the witty "Capiche?" at the end, Brad. You sound just like Mussolini when you say that while you pull the plug on nearby dissent, you old cutie. I’ll bet the girls love it, too!").
Don't you realize how bad you make yourself look with this posturing?
>>while you write seriously that Justice Antonin Scalia supports those who collaborated with Hitler ("Charles de Gaulle for his rebellion against the collaborationist French government of Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval stands, in Scalia's eyes, condemned as an enemy of God.")<<
It's St. Paul who says that the power that is--for example, the Vichy government--is ordained of God, and to be obeyed. If Scalia thinks that St. Paul is correct in his claim that the powers that be are ordained of God, I don't see how he can escape the conclusion. Do you?
You neatly bypass the basic question. Why is it acceptable for you to seriously compare Scalia to a Hitler collaborator, but not acceptable for "Musil" to joke that "You sound just like Mussolini when you say that while you pull the plug on nearby dissent, you old cutie."
There is a biblical story about the man who can see the sty in his neighbor's eye, but not the plank in his own.
This is ridiculous. Pointing out that Scalia's position appears to intellectually commit him to supporting Petain against De Gaulle and George III against George Washington is a reductio ad absurdum of his argument (though frankly, since he stands condemned out of his own mouth on the issue of Martin Luther King, reductio ad absurdum might not be such a powerful tool here). It is in no way "seriously comparing him to a Hitler collaborator" and it is either mischievous, malicious or unforgivably dense to pretend not to be able to see the difference. The knockabout rhetoric I must confess to finding a bit tiresome, partly because I don't think Brad has enough malice to write it very well, but tastes differ.
Accusing Brad of academic degradation and intellectual dishonesty is a much more serious charge, and when it comes in the context of a boilerplate rant about academics in general, does not belong in the comments section of somebody else's weblog. Particularly when that rant seems to regard the major slur on Brad's academic entity as having been his failure to read every single right-wing blog extant and take everything they say as gospel. If I call my local cheesemaker a bastard, he is unlikely to retaliate except perhaps by repaying the compliment. If I say that he sells mouldy cheese, I have to expect that he won't let it pass. That is the principled distinction here -- aside for the fact that Musil did not even have the courtesy to write a proper comment on Brad's article rather than (as far as I can tell) simply cutting and pasting what he wrote for his own weblog.
Furthermore, your and Musil's attempt to pretend that the posts were deleted because of the "Mussolini" remark are wholly specious. It is very clear from looking at the facts of the case that the Mussolini remark was made *after* Brad had already deleted Musil's first post.
I will be happy to continue the discussion of the source and interpretation of the Biblical quote relating to motes and beams in the comments fora attached to Musil's weblog, I believe that the URL is http://musil.blogspot.com/i_should_cocoa
Perhaps all the righteous posturing of Tom McGuire et al might be more convincing if Brad had posted his original comments on Antonin Scalia's own web site...
The right wing herd is coming to the resuce of one of their own again, I see.
Your weblog, your commentspace, your rules.
What's ridiculous here is that DeLong has been deleting so many posts by so many people that Jesse above had to ask if this section had been lobotomised. Just what is Jason answering?
Where the comment section of most blogs can be followed as coherent threads, this one is just a jumble of deleted references because DeLong has been chopping so much.
What is also ridiculous is to argue that "Musil" wasn't excluded because of his joke about his Mussolini remark. DeLong deleted "Musil's" second comment, which didn't include any of the material you're focusing on now and at the same time created his obviously fake "politeness policy" that expressly referenced Mussolini. Who do you and he think you are kidding?
DeLong is not just making a "reductio ad absurdum" argument. He believes what he says and he says Scalia supports Hitler collaborators and is a theocratic religious zombie, etc. (whatever that all means), just as he obviously is serious in calling Scalia "unAmerican", which I have never seen a serious person do outside of Joe McCarthy (if you want to count him as "serious"). DeLong says that Scalia is a real threat to America - is "unAmerican," in DeLong's actual phrasing.
If DeLong can't take the heat, he shouldn't be writing superheated screeds himself. A lot of people here have told him that. Any blogger can tell you that if you post something as over-the-top as DeLong's original post, you are going to draw some strong dissent on your comment page - and rightly so.
By the customs of the blogoshere, the heated original post is an invitation to strong rebuttals. The custom is also that you don't delete except for religious or racial bigotry. But DeLong doesn't abide by that rule, either, if the bigoted post supports DeLong.
Pretending otherwise is just ridiculous. This is the web. Everyone sees what's going on here.
And it's also weird to even be writing this comment, since DeLong is obviously just deleting almost everything he doesn't like. It's fairly obvious he will delete this comment, too.
How "American" is that?
>>Pointing out that Scalia's position appears to intellectually commit him to supporting Petain against De Gaulle and George III against George Washington is a reductio ad absurdum of his argument (though frankly, since he stands condemned out of his own mouth on the issue of Martin Luther King, reductio ad absurdum might not be such a powerful tool here)<<
I thought reductio ad absurdum was when you got behind the wheel of someone's argument and drove it much further than they wanted to go?
Scalia wants to use St. Paul to condemn civil disobedience--Martin Luther King and company. If saying, "God loves authority and wants you to obey its laws so Martin Luther King's civil disobedience was hateful to God," is--say--driving the argument 100 km down the road, then surely by that time we have long since passed George Washington and Charles de Gaulle? I mean, rebellion and treason are worse crimes against authority than sitting at a whites-only lunchcounter.
So "reductio ad absurdum" does not seem to me to be the right phrase...
just two responses; unlike Brad, I like flamewars, and he should feel free to delete my comments if he doesn't wish to finance my indulgence:
>>What is also ridiculous is to argue that "Musil" wasn't excluded because of his joke about his Mussolini remark. DeLong deleted "Musil's" second comment, which didn't include any of the material you're focusing on now and at the same time created his obviously fake "politeness policy" that expressly referenced Mussolini. Who do you and he think you are kidding?<<
If he has been "excluded" at all, he has been "excluded" for the same reason I am "excluded" from two bars in my part of town; for annoying the management. Which is a reasonable reason to exclude anybody, and certainly a better reason than the reason given for excluding Martin Luther King from lunch counters.
His "Mussolini" comment was presumably deleted because it was a pointless flame at Brad, and was therefore off-topic in a discussion about Antonin Scalia. "Delong" (to follow your usage of bizarre scare-quotes) deleted Musil's first comment before the Mussolini jibe had even been made.
>>DeLong is not just making a "reductio ad absurdum" argument. He believes what he says and he says Scalia supports Hitler collaborators and is a theocratic religious zombie, etc. (whatever that all means), just as he obviously is serious in calling Scalia "unAmerican", which I have never seen a serious person do outside of Joe McCarthy (if you want to count him as "serious"). DeLong says that Scalia is a real threat to America - is "unAmerican," in DeLong's actual phrasing.<<
"DeLong"'s actual phrasing was thus:
"There is something profoundly wrong about Scalia's worship of the state--any state, or, perhaps, any state that is not more oppressive than the Roman Principate that executed St. Paul--as something holy that commands our obedience for moral reasons. It is idolatrous. It is blasphemous.
It is unAmerican. "
It is very clear here that the referent of "it" is the abstract concept "Antonin Scalia's worship of the state" and not the person Antonin Scalia. Your statement that Brad has called Scalia UnAmerican is outright false, and is so obviously false that it is hard to find the charity in me to describe your use of the phrase "DeLong's actual phrasing" as honest hyperbole.
>>If DeLong can't take the heat, he shouldn't be writing superheated screeds himself. <<
Or, perhaps, he should follow Musil's example and continue to write superheated screeds, but not enable comments on his weblog. Frankly, if I were him I would be abandoning the comments experiment right about now.
>>By the customs of the blogoshere [...]<<
The only custom of the blogosphere I can see here is that monkeys of a feather stick together, and that people are happy to cry wolf about "censorship" even if doing so makes them look like big fat hypocrites. I repeat my offer to discuss this charge of hypocrisy at length in the comment forums at http://musil.blogspot.com
The scare quotes are around "Robert Musil" because it is a pseudonym; the real Robert Musil was a Dutch novelist, playwright, and essayist who wrote, among other works, an incredibly lengthy novel called "The Man Without Qualities".
Musil uses Blogger Basic, which doesn't have comment capability.
And Musil has offered to post anything DeLong e-mails to him. (Have you sent him an actaul comment and asked him to post it? From what you write, it doesn't seem like you have.)
You would know all this just from reading the comments here, but DELONG HAS DELETED ALL THE POSTS WITH THAT INFORMATION.
There is also a comment on the origninal DeLong post that makes a pretty convincing argument that DeLong's postis religiously bigotted.
In addition, suppose someone wrote about Senator Lieberman, who often quotes from the Torah in political contexts, that his quoting showed him to be a theocratic intellectual zombie, a strange creature from the ranks of the undead, a creature that belongs at the benighted court of the medieval Prague Rabbis. Everyone would know the author of such a comment is a raving anti-semite, and it wouldn't matter if he pretended to put on a fig leaf that he was just making some "reductio ad absurdem" argument.
And, by the way, mathematicians use "reductio' arguments all the time to prove real theorems that they and everyone else thereby accept as true. It's a standard technique. DeLong gets no shelter there.
I wholly endorse Daniel Davies view that we should attack a person's ideas, and not the person himself. This is in response to the Davies' exchange above:
"It is very clear here that the referent of "it" is the abstract concept "Antonin Scalia's worship of the state" and not the person Antonin Scalia. Your statement that Brad has called Scalia UnAmerican is outright false, and is so obviously false that it is hard to find the charity in me to describe your use of the phrase "DeLong's actual phrasing" as honest hyperbole.
I would like to offer a possible explanation as to how someone might have thought Bradford's piece was an attack on Scalia. The title is:
"Whoa! That Antonin Scalia Is One Mega Scary Unrighteous Dude, Man"
OK, it's meant to be funny, and certainly the argument that follows supports the possibility that we have blundered into a Cheech and Chong skit. Nontheless, the article begins with a personal attack.
Are there other personal attacks? Reasonable minds may differ, but how about:
"Is Antonin Scalia about to abjure his oath "
"We know that Scalia condemns Martin Luther King, Jr. as a moral cretin "
Thus Charles de Gaulle... stands, in Scalia's eyes, condemned as an enemy of God"
So, in the build-up to the un-American crescendo, there does seem to be a bit of blurring between the man and the ideas, a trend that seems to be continued afterwards near the big finish:
"One of the nine justices of our Supreme Court is a theocratic intellectual zombie,"
As I said, folks may differ, and there are other cites where Bradford does mention that it is Scalia's ideas that are in question, but Davies' position that:
"Your statement that Brad has called Scalia UnAmerican is outright false"
strikes me as a bit of hyperbole.
Hope that helps, hard to be optimistic.
On reductio ad absurdum:
You're taking logic lessons from me? Hard times. The basic idea of reductio ad absurdum is simple:
If A is true;
and if B is true;
then C is true. However, suppose we have other evidence that "C" is false. Then, we can conclude that at least one of the two premises is flawed.
If Scalia applies his view of "Romans 13 and the
Death Penalty" consistently across the human experience;
and If Bradford DeLong is correctly extrapolating Scalia's logic;
then Scalia thinks George Washington is a bum.
Well, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that Scalia's opinion of Washington is somewhat higher. Therefore, Bradford has either proved conclusively that Scalia does not apply the logic of Romans 13 equally and everywhere; or, that Bradford is not able or willing to project the logic of Scalia's mind; or perhaps, both.
Well, a foolish hobgoblin is the consistency of little minds, or something. I am prepared to beleive that Scalia can be inconsistent. I can even believe that Bradford is not the best person to fairly extrapolate Scalia's thoughts. So, Bradford wins - Scalia applies his values differently in different contexts. Wow. Or, maybe wow, since Scalia isn't here to present himself, and evidently some of his supporters have been dumped as well. I, on the other hand and to the Professor's credit, am still standing, so go figure.
As a "reductio ad absurdum" Bradford wins a minor victory. However, given the title of the piece - "Scalia Rocks Hearty, Dude" - No, that is not right, it's something about mega-scary; anyway, it does seem as if Bradford has taken his potential victory to a strange place. If Bradford had said:
Either Scalia believes this nonsense, or he is a flip/flopper! Well, we can talk.
But if Bradford is really following his presentation, from scary dude down to theocratic zombie, to the conclusion that Scalia actually believes this stuff, despite no evidence in support of the Washington theory and what strikes me as self-evidently abundant evidence against it, well - live it up, Professor! It's your blog, and everyone is entitled to a good rant. Hey, I do it all the time, and I am much more civil at cocktail parties later, not having to regale my fellow imbibers with tales of the latest outrage from Scalia, or Krugman, or whoever. So party on, dude. But I'm still not fully convinced as to your Scalia theory. You got off to a good start with the doper thing. By the end, the "theocratic zombie" tone shift probably fooled some of us.
'There is also a comment on the origninal DeLong post that makes a pretty convincing argument that DeLong's postis religiously bigotted.'
No, it just stated that he was bigoted. I fail to see how declaring someone dangerous because they (implicitly) support the right of the Pope to do away with government's he doesn't like is "bigoted." Bigotry is disapproval for existence, not opinions, and in this case the target is an opinion.
'So, Bradford wins - Scalia applies his values differently in different contexts. Wow.'
Yes, this is a 'wow', because to listen to the right you'd think Scalia was some sort of logic-eating, correct jurisprudence-making, original intent-divining, legal machine. By contrast, all those liberal judges just use their personal ideology to decide cases, not on the merits.
Brad's just pointing out the same applies to Scalia, and his particular brand of ideology is, yes, dangerous, especially if Bush uses him as some sort of model of ideal judgeship.
So, Jason, you seem to be acceding to my point that DeLong's piece only makes sense if the conclusion is "Scalia's view of Romans 13, as DeLong has managed to infer it, is not consistently applied by Scalia across all of the issues of today and history". That, I hope, roughly summarizes my "Bradford wins! - wow!" comment.
If we have achieved agreement on that point, and I am relying on:
"...to listen to the right you'd think Scalia was some sort of logic-eating, correct jurisprudence-making, original intent-divining, legal machine. By contrast, all those liberal judges just use their personal ideology to decide cases, not on the merits.
Brad's just pointing out the same applies to Scalia, and his particular brand of ideology is, yes, dangerous..."
then perhaps you can square that with the rest of DeLong's text and help us all figure out why DeLong closed with the "theocratic zombie" line.
And could you guide us to the passages where DeLong states, implies, or suggests that his point is not that Scalia's ideas are un-American, but rather that Scalia is roughly as unpredictable and inconsistent, or guided by personal ideology, as the "activist judges" Scalia often criticizes.
I think Bradford could have at least attempted to ride his horse into that particular stable. You seem to think so too. I, however, think he kept riding.
'And could you guide us to the passages where DeLong states, implies, or suggests that his point is not that Scalia's ideas are un-American, but rather that Scalia is roughly as unpredictable and inconsistent, or guided by personal ideology, as the "activist judges" Scalia often criticizes.'
It's a subtext, and I could have sworn I remember seeing a previous post about how Scalia isn't as beholden to original intent as he insists. I also brought it up after you logically derived it:
'Well, a foolish hobgoblin is the consistency of little minds, or something. I am prepared to beleive that Scalia can be inconsistent. I can even believe that Bradford is not the best person to fairly extrapolate Scalia's thoughts. So, Bradford wins - Scalia applies his values differently in different contexts. Wow. Or, maybe wow, since Scalia isn't here to present himself, and evidently some of his supporters have been dumped as well. I, on the other hand and to the Professor's credit, am still standing, so go figure.'
At least, I think so.
Thanks, Jason. I guess. Don't you just hate it when you see someone's post is riddled with typos, and then you realize they are just quoting your own earlier post? I couldn't "beleive" it. Anyway, as to the subtext argument - you are surely right that Bradford approaches Scalia with a bit of baggage, and it is unlikely that the three links he provides will represent the full foundation of his argument. I actually may soon offer in a longer comment which will represent my closing arguments. Since you seem to be the best candidate for "last man standing", let me salute you in advance.
Cheerio and all that, old chap.
DISCLAIMER: This post may contain some “magic words”, but despair not: the intent is innocent.
Well, it’s been an interesting day at Camp DeLong, with much to reflect on. Since these comments link to the new “Politeness Policy”, let me start there.
“Robert Musil” suggested that DeLong’s post was suggestive of academic dishonesty. I disagree. In fact, I will pound the table and say that such a suggestion is ludicrous. (Sorry, Man sans Qualite). DeLong is an academic economist who also runs a blog where he expounds on whatever the hell he wants, like the rest of us. His piece on Scalia was clearly way out of his area of expertise, and should not be taken to reflect on his academic integrity.
Now, as to banishing “The Man”: Well, the dishonesty charge could have been rebutted. A simple “Hey, if you get golf tips from a heart surgeon, you may be asking an expert. But you can’t sue for malpractice if you hit it into the water.” would no doubt have cleared things up. On the other hand, “academic dishonesty” is fighting words to an academic, so what the heck: bad accusations sometimes spawn bad responses. By the time we get to the “Mussolini” crack, I think its fair to say that we weren’t seeing anyone’s best manners.
Now, let me gracelessly segue to content. Scalia was participating in a panel discussion titled “Religion, Politics, and the Death Penalty”. The presentation was prepared remarks followed by Q & A. Although the theme was the death penalty, Scalia made a couple of interesting side comments:
On judges choosing between their conscience and “the law”:
“He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty—and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.”
Interesting. Does this mean that some revolutions are OK? Does Scalia back Washington with this, or DeGaulle, or Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, or even Castro? Hey, that would be a great blog post, “Scalia comes Out Swinging in Support of Fidel”. I wonder what Scalia means by this? But, he moves back to his original theme, so we are left hanging.
And here we have the bit on civil disobedience:
“The mistaken tendency to believe that a democratic government, being nothing more than the composite will of its individual citizens, has no more moral power or authority than they do as individuals has adverse effects in other areas as well. It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed.”
Now, when I see “civil disobedience” I think of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Thoreau. Maybe Scalia does too, and is slyly condemning King. However, a quick “google” on civil disobedience” turns up Thoreau, international electronic hackers, Act-UP, animal rights groups, and groups that look as if they might be related to G-7 protests. My sheltered life. And where are the tax protestors? So, who among these might Scalia be chiding? Maybe he thinks animal rights activists need to get a grip. But I think it would be a major leap to conclude that he has King in his sights, especially weighed against his previous excerpt on revolutions.
And here is an interesting aside about Roe v. Wade:
Thus, my difficulty with Roe v. Wade is a legal rather than a moral one: I do not believe (and, for two hundred years, no one believed) that the Constitution contains a right to abortion. And if a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law for the same reason that I vote against the invalidation of laws that forbid abortion on demand: because the Constitution gives the federal government (and hence me) no power over the matter.
So he could in good conscience support a state law allowing abortion demand. The Times missed that.
Anything else? Well, in the Q&A, Scalia touches on Godwin’s law:
…what it proves is that if one uses an evolving theory of the Constitution you can sometimes achieve wonderful results. I don’t deny that. You can sometimes achieve wonderful results with tyranny. I mean, Hitler produced a wonderful automobile. A stopped clock is right twice a day.
There’s your soundbite: “Scalia for Hitler and Better Cars!” Oh dear, the Times missed that too.
Do I have a point? Yes, Scalia made a couple of off-topic comments about civil disobedience which no one in the audience or on the panel questioned, and DeLong draws a conclusion that:
“We know that Scalia condemns Martin Luther King, Jr. as a moral cretin for failing to obey the segregation laws of his day.”
Well, I don’t know it. Not from this, anyway.
All of which proves what? That it would be hard to take this speech and infer a coherent description of Scalia’s world view, as DeLong claims to have done. Perhaps Scalia could do it, but with these cryptic asides, I don’t know how someone else could.
Leaving us where? I think a fair, open-minded individual such as myself (he said to general guffaws) could look at Scalia’s speech and DeLong’s comments, and say “Huh? How did he get this from that?”
And so what? This is DeLong’s blog, and he is under no obligation to be fair or open minded. Here’s a tip - he doesn’t like Scalia, or the 2000 election, or the cabal that installed the current…. Oh, you know what I mean. DeLong sees “Scalia” and he sees red. He read this speech with the goal of twisting the words to fit the worst possible image of a man whose ideas he loathes. Good for him. To evaluate on its intellectual merits a piece that was clearly an indulgent, therapeutic rant seems to be silly. In fact, the first time I read it, I skipped over the comments and kept moving, having no desire to argue with a man who was enjoying listening to himself scream. My complete absence from the early posts on this subject is my only evidence of that, however.
And why the change? I’m posting now. Look, I would have had a totally different take if DeLong’s first comment in defense of this had been something like this:
“Yes, I said that, and it felt great. Time was, I read Scalia’s name and I had to shampoo, because my brain felt dirty. After that blast, I am going to laugh every time I think about that theocratic zombie. I could write a piece like that once a week for a year, and never stop loving it. I tell you people, I have climbed Mt. Everest, I have walked on the moon, I have had sex while sky-diving, I have won the lottery, and nothing - NOTHING - felt as great as unloading the dump truck on that pompous Scalia fool.”
With that defense, I would have stood up for a blogger cheer. I know the feeling of a good rant, believe me. And look into your dark hearts, people - many of the folks here have had the same guilty pleasure, I am sure. And to the crank who wonders “Skydiving? Was it good for…“ - BEHAVE.
Regrettably, but understandably, DeLong has taken a different tack. Academics are trained to defend their ideas. You don’t submit a paper to a journal and then, when the referee has a few questions, just say “Psych!”. So, we are asked to take this piece seriously, and we have a new speech code, and I feel a certain obligation to Fight for the Right, so here we are.
Or were. I am intrigued, in a ghastly way, as to how this is resolved. Defending this Scalia post can’t have been as much fun for DeLong as writing it, but I don‘t expect we will pummel him into disowning it. Way back when, on something else entirely, DeLong totally misrepresented my views, suggested I couldn’t follow simple arguments, and compared me to a small bird. Whatever. Now the bird I feel like is a vulture, which is not really my style either. So for myself, this is over. I know there is a certain message board ethos suggesting that unrebutted arguments have been abandoned. Well, whatever to that too. I’ll be disagreeing in my heart, though. And if I am not appearing, it is not a “politesse violation”, either. Self-imposed exile, not banishment.
Jason, last man standing, nice going. Bradford, great party, heck of a mess. Time for me to fly.
I see that only certain types of "civility" are observed at this site. You can sling shit at Jeb Bush and his family, but it isn't "civil" to question the shit slinger's motives.